The outgoing Republican majority on the Wake County school board could vote today on the new middle school math placement policy that could be tossed out or revised in a few weeks by the new Democratic majority.
As noted in today's article, the second and final reading of the math policy is on today's agenda. It still has the support of the Republican board members while drawing concerns from current and incoming Democratic board members.
It's possible the vote may be pulled from the agenda (see end of the post for more details). Assuming the vote still occurs today, the issues of using an EVAAS probability predictor of 70 percent as the floor and the restrictions on the use of teacher judgment still divide the board members.
Democratic school board member Kevin Hill said he agreed that Wake previously had held back some students who should have been allowed to take Algebra I in middle school. But he said the new policy should have a higher EVAAS cutoff.
“I’ve talked with a number of middle school principals and math educators who feel that having 70 percent as a floor isn’t acceptable,” Hill said.
Hill said he agrees that Wake should be making sure that appropriately qualified students are placed in Algebra I in eighth-grade. But he said the key word is "appropriate."
Hill doesn't believe it's necessarily appropriate to place students who have between a 70 to 79 percent probability of success. Wake's data has show those slightly more than half of those students who were placed in Algebra I last year passed the state exam.
Newly elected Democratic school board member Jim Martin said they shouldn’t be placing students into Algebra I unless they can get an “A” grade or high “B” grade. He said placing middle school students in Algebra I when they’ll only barely pass or will fail will hurt them in high school.
“I’m much less concerned about when a student takes a course than for them to have mastery of that course,” Martin said.
Hill and Martin said the board should consider delaying the vote until after the new members are sworn in Dec. 6.
“It wouldn’t hurt to delay such a substantive decision to Dec. 6,” said Hill. “It’s only a few weeks away.”
Republican school board vice chairman John Tedesco said the current majority will continue to implement the policies it feels are in the best interests of the school system.
“If they don’t like the policy, they’re free to make changes in a few weeks,” Tedesco said
Tedesco said he’ll support a compromise in which parents of students who have a 70 to 74 percent probability of success would meet with teachers and guidance counselors before a placement decision is made. But he said the final decision should still rest with the parent.
Hill questioned the time that would have to be spent by teachers and counselors on these parent-information meetings.
Tedesco said he wouldn’t support changes such as using a higher EVAAS percentage than 70 percent. He said he wants to make sure these students are given the chance to take Algebra I in eighth-grade since it's a gatekeeper course for future academic success.
“If they want to take away opportunities from students to succeed, they can choose to do so,” Tedesco said.
Even if the policy is changed, Tedesco said he's hoping the new majority won't undo the steps taken by staff in the last two years that have nearly doubled enrollment in Algebra I in middle school.
Looming in the background are the new common core standards that North Carolina agreed to adopt to get the federal Race to the Top money.
Tedesco said the policy might be removed from the agenda if staff feels there are too many questions to be answered about how it would be impacted by the common core. He said removal would be a "last-minute decision."
For instance, Hill points to how the common core would have Algebra I being taught in ninth-grade. But Tedesco said that shouldn't prevent students from being able to take in the eighth-grade. Tedesco said that Algebra I taught in ninth-grade is less rigorous than in middle school.
On a related note, Tedesco said he's hoping the new majority will review how the common core would impact the compacted fifth/sixth-grade math course being taught in more elementary schools. Critics of the class have called it at an attempt to skirt the new policy by allowing academically gifted students to take Algebra I in seventh-grade.
Click here to read the revised version of the policy the board is scheduled to vote on today.