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Pressing answers for Federal Way school issues

Dr. Josh Garcia, assistant superintendent of teaching for learning for Federal Way Public Schools, was tasked by the school board to answer a series of questions raised by parents and the community during the tumultuous meetings that have marked the 2011-12 school year so far.

Garcia came back with answers for the board at the Oct. 11 meeting, addressing concerns about foreign languages, grading under the new standards based education (SBE) system and the impact of Middle Years Program classes on student transcripts.

Garcia tackled the question of foreign language offerings at Thomas Jefferson High School (TJ). German course offerings are slowly being phased out due to budgetary constraints and low levels of student interest.

“To offer a full, comprehensive four year program, there are not enough students to continue to support that,” he said.

Garcia said those students who are currently enrolled in German classes will receive the necessary instruction to complete those classes.

One of the largest problems the district faces in attempting to offer a variety of foreign languages for students, Garcia said, is the continued budget crisis at the state and local levels.

“Until the state steps up and continues to do what they’re constitutionally required to do, which is fund education, we will continue to be challenged to offer an extremely comprehensive program,” he said. “It’s going to be continually challenging to offer a variety, a spectrum of classes, in that environment.”

Garcia also noted that foreign language offerings are not dictated from on high by the district, but by student interest.

Standards Based Education (SBE)

The next point Garcia tackled was a comment made by a parent at a previous meeting, in which the idea that a 70 percent grade in a class would constitute an “A” grade under the new SBE system. Garcia said that statement was patently untrue.

“Why do students get 70 percent of the standards and get an A? Well, they don’t,” he said. “We went through it last spring, there is a sliding scale. Basically if students receive 70 percent of the power standards, they get a C. 80 percent, a B. 90 percent, an A.”

Outside of that explanation, Garcia said that the policy as currently worded gives teachers a great amount of discretion on what “meeting standard” means.

“We said from the beginning, a teacher’s professional judgment, teacher observation is the most reliable assessment that we can go by,” Garcia said.

Middle Years Program (MYP)

Finally, parents of students where MYP is being implemented expressed concerns that these MYP classes are not being weighted appropriately on student transcripts.

The schools where MYP is being offered, such as Kilo, Totem and TJ, are “candidate” schools that still need approval from the International Baccalaureate organization to be full MYP schools. In essence, the students are taking the more difficult classes, but because those schools are still being considered as candidates, there is no official designation on transcripts that the students took advanced classes.

“One of the concerns (is) they wouldn’t be listed as pre-IB, and since were a MYP candidate school, they can’t be listed as MYP, so how do you resolve that designation of honors?,” Garcia asked. “That is an action item you can charge us to do if you choose to do so.”

The board members present — Angela Griffin, Suzanne Smith and board vice president Amye Bronson-Doherty — agreed. They asked Garcia and staff to find a way for students to have those classes be weighted appropriately during the transitional period of the schools currently being considered for MYP.

 

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