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D181 Board OKs Transition Plans for Math Program, Middle School ACE

The elementary ACE transition plan is not yet ready for a board vote, the district's superintendent said.

Action was finally taken Monday night on key parts of the transition-year plan for the much-discussed District 181 curriculum overhaul.

The District 181 Board of Education voted at its business meeting at to approve three items that put in place transition plans for the middle school ACE program and the district-wide math curriculum for the 2012-13 school year, though none of the votes were unanimous.

Board members voted 5-2 in favor of the math transition plan, 6-1 in favor of the middle school ACE transition plan, and 5-2 in favor of the assessment model to accompany that ACE plan. Yvonne Mayer voted against all three measures; Brendan Heneghan voted against the math transition and the ACE assessment model.

Superintendent Dr. Renée Schuster said the district committee drafting the elementary ACE program transition plan is still working. Schuster said the elementary and middle school ACE programs are independent of one another and their transitions do not need to be approved at the same time. The middle school plan was more pressing due to the need for students to select classes before the current year ends.

The middle school ACE program curriculum will not change during the transition. However, to avoid “grandfathering” elementary ACE students automatically into the middle school program, fifth-grade ACE students, just like non-ACE elementary students, will have to qualify for the middle school program based on the results of the InView test, which was taken this spring, and several other criteria—including past scores on the ISAT and MAP tests—that make up a Response to Intervention (RtI) model.

All current sixth- and seventh-grade ACE students will remain in the program during the transition year.

Also approved with Monday’s votes was an encore social studies class for students who might not have qualified for the middle school ACE program, but who, according to board documents, have the “passion, readiness, and willingness for advanced learning.”

There will likely be two 30-student sections of the course at each middle school. Schuster said the encore class’ curriculum will not be the same as the ACE program’s curriculum, but will offer similar critical-thinking elements. It will be open to ACE students, though non-ACE students will get priority, Schuster said.

Mayer said she opposed the ACE transition because it will still be the case next year that some current sixth- and seventh-graders who were grandfathered in from the elementary program will be kept in ACE while some students who have tested better, but not well enough to qualify, will remain out of the program.

“That’s not right, it’s not fair, and as a board we have to put a stop to that practice,” Mayer said.

She said she thinks the elective encore class is not a valid solution because it is capped at 60 students and will force families to choose between ACE-like curriculum and other cultural arts classes, a choice ACE families don’t need to make.

Mayer recommended that an additional section of ACE should be added at each middle school to accommodate every student who scored better than the lowest-scoring ACE student.   

The board member made a motion to add the ACE sections; it failed to get any votes beyond her own.

Heneghan said he did not approve of the fact that sixth- and seventh-grade students will benefit from the transition by being kept in ACE automatically, while fifth-graders will now have to do more to qualify.

Board President Michael Nelson and members Marty Turek and Sarah Lewensohn all inferred that 2012-13 will not be perfect, but taking action on the transition is important.

“We’ve been flopping around here, generally heading in the right direction,” Nelson said, noting that Monday’s vote is a way of telling the administration, “Yes, we support the direction you’re going in, now flesh it the rest of the way out.”

Lewensohn said, “We have to work through the transition. It won’t be perfect for everyone, but it will be a transition so we can get to a point where there’s clear definition and we’re doing better for the kids.”

The district-wide math program acceleration will begin in 2012-13 with curriculum-compacting for second- and third-grade students and a “revised course sequence” in the middle school program in an effort to have most District 181 students on track to complete Algebra 1 by the time they finish eighth grade.

Current seventh-graders in standard math were given the opportunity to take a 25-day pre-algebra course, which is currently ongoing, in an effort to get into Algebra 1 next year. 

Mayer said she worried that there are current sixth-graders taking advanced math and wrapping up a pre-algebra course who are not getting the same opportunity to take Algebra 1 next year as current standard seventh-grade math students who were given the option of taking the 25-day course.

The board member was also concerned that some seventh-grade parents might not have heard about the 25-day course and students whose assessments would qualify them to have a chance at Algebra 1 next year won’t get that chance.

“For me this comes back to the issue we’ve been talking about for months now—being fair, being consistent, giving everyone the opportunity,” Mayer said.

Assistant superintendent for learning Dr. Janet Stutz said the advanced math sixth-graders will complete Algebra 1 by eighth grade, which is the district’s new goal.

Expressing the same sentiment as Nelson, board member Glenn Yaeger, who voted in favor of all three items Monday, said the board tasked the administration with getting to a certain place over the next couple of years in terms of advanced curriculum and differentiation, but did not demand that every district student’s situation be looked at and modified during the transition year.

“I think we as a board certainly set the goal, the finish line, but I think we need to leave it up to the administration to determine how we’re going to get there and give them some leniency during the transition to get there,” Yaeger said.

The two transition plans approved Monday will cost no more than $27,800, according to board agenda documents.

The certain cost, according to the agenda documents, is $5,800 in additional summer curriculum and professional development for District 181 faculty, which includes the transition of current gifted specialists into their role as differentiation specialists.

Up to $22,000 worth of additional staff may also be needed, depending on the number of students who will need RtI and the number of eighth-grade algebra students next year.

The district may save up to $2,300 on assessments during the transition year. No cost increase related to assessment is expected.

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