Federal Way schools' new policy automatically enrolls students into advanced classes

The Federal Way School Board approved a measure that will bring more students into advanced classes.

The Academic Acceleration Advanced Programs policy measure passed unanimously on Tuesday.

The move will now have students “opt out, not in” for more challenging classes. Students who meet the standard, to be set by the district, will automatically be put in the more rigorous classes such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge.

Students who did not wish to take the classes could then “opt out” with parental permission.

The district hopes the move will create a more accurate representation of the district in the challenging classes. Currently, minority students are a small percentage of the students in those classes, but a large population of the school district.

There was plenty of public comment on the measure — some against, but more positive.

Todd Beamer High School teacher Josh Smith was one who spoke out against the measure. He said he felt the measure was setting kids up to fail, and that it might make them resent the class and the teacher.

“It’s a one-size-fits-all measure,” he said. “I’ve found those rarely work. (Some students) will really be out of their league.”

Joni Hall, a teacher at Illahee Middle School, was in favor of the measure, which she said will help all students, especially those whose parents do not have a comprehensive understanding of the opportunities in the district.

Federal Way High School teacher Pam Ashe seconded that opinion. Ashe said that at FWHS, the move has been for years to bring as many students as possible into the advanced classes.

“Why not make the (district’s) motto, ‘every student college ready?’” she asked.

Teaching for Learning Director Josh Garcia said that the district has heard some concerns about the program, namely that students couldn’t do it. However, he said that the “opt out” portion of the policy should help with that.

“Parents will always have that option,” he said.

Garcia said there are hundreds of students who currently meet standards, but are not enrolled in any of the advanced classes.

Students can still opt into the programs if they haven’t scored high enough on the tests to automatically qualify. The “opt out” form will look similar to one the district already has for students whose parents allow them to opt out of taking the WASL. The form will require signatures from parents as well as the students and a school administrator. School board members also felt the move was good for students.

“If you are at this level, then this is where you ought to be,” board member Suzanne Smith said. “We want them to be career and college ready. Just the experience alone helps you. You can do it. You have shown you can do it on these other assessments.”

The measure also sets the rule that the superintendent will establish criteria for a student’s aptitude, whether through a state test like the High School Proficiency Exam or Measurements of Student Progress, or a district assessment.

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