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Academic acceleration policy spreads with mixed support

Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) has sponsored companion bills in the Legislature that would require all districts in the state to adopt an accelerated academics policy similar to the one implemented by FWPS in recent years.

In a recent legislative update at the school board’s March 12 meeting, board member Ed Barney shared that the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) is not giving its blessing to a pair of bills sponsored by the district, Senate Bill 5243 and House Bill 1642, a move that left board president Tony Moore a bit irritated.

“WSSDA…weren’t too interested in supporting any bills, unless they were permissive, meaning they would allow districts to opt-in, opt-out, such as our academic acceleration bill,” Barney said. “They chose not to support it because it required all districts to be in the program.”

Accelerated Academics, as instituted in FWPS, puts all students who meet a certain standardized test metric into “advanced” classes such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge program classes. While initially met with resistance in Federal Way, the policy is now viewed as a success by the district, and by many students and families.

Moore, however, was unhappy with WSSDA’s decision to not support the district’s bill.

“At some point, I’d love for this board to have a conversation about sending WSSDA a letter allowing us to opt out of their annual payment,” he said, “and to put those monies back into our classrooms so our kids will benefit, versus their political agenda.”

Later in that same March 12 meeting, the district was called upon to support a WSSDA-sponsored resolution calling upon the Legislature to abide by the State Supreme Court decision to force the Legislature to fully fund education. Moore took the opportunity to continue his protest.

Barney said he couldn’t be 100 percent sure, but that every district he had spoken with had passed the resolution unanimously. In the ensuing vote, Moore was the only nay, meaning the resolution passed 4-1.

“I’m doing that in protest. I think academic acceleration is basic education,” Moore said.

SB 5243 was passed with a 47-0 vote, while HB 1642 passed 85-12. State Rep. Linda Kochmar (R-Federal Way) voted against the bill. She sent the following statement to The Mirror:

“Several years ago I had the opportunity to speak with a number of teachers, parents and students following academic changes in the Federal Way School District. The changes involved new standards, learning targets, and the inclusion of all students in advanced placement (AP) classes. What I learned in those meetings gives me hesitancy about the problems we could face by employing a similar policy statewide. For example, the main complaint I heard from people in Federal Way was the fact that all students were included in the AP classes. Parents worried that advanced students would be held back waiting for other students to catch up or, in the reverse, students who were having difficulty could get a lower grade. Additional concerns include helping parents who do not speak English understand how to opt out of classes if their child is having difficulty; and how OSPI will allocate funds to expand the availability of these courses. I commend the goals of House Bill 1642 and the efforts of the Federal Way School District for their programs. However, I believe the concerns brought to me by the community are valid, and I would rather err on the side of caution.”

 

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