Letters to the Editor

Federal Way school academic policy is flawed | Letters

The school district has a policy that states that “Federal Way Public Schools offers advanced programs and course work for all students” and also is publicizing and touting its new Acceleration Policy 2191, wherein all students who test at a certain level are automatically put into “accelerated classes,” and must opt out if they do not wish to be in them.

There are a few reasons why this is not exactly the case. We need to hold the school district to its own policies to see that they become the case.

First, the Middle Years Program (MYP) in and of itself is not an “accelerated” program. The FWPS website itself describes it only as a “framework of academic challenge,” even though at the beginning of the website it states that actual honors classes are available for all students in the district. The MYP program itself is merely a teaching philosophy wherein themes and topics are taught in an interconnected way across multiple subjects. While it is a good example of a “whole learning” teaching philosophy, that does not in any way make it an accelerated schedule of classes for any of the students enrolled in them.

In fact, colleges and universities will not recognize any class as being honors or advanced unless it says so in the class title.

So while we are being told by the district that our kids are all being put into an accelerated program, they will not be given credit for having taken any honors classes until they reach the IB program in 11th and 12th grade. That makes a student’s transcript considerably less impressive — lacking any true, officially recognized honors classes in 9th and 10th grade, even though the district states on its website that it actually does offer honors class for these grades.

And in a time where our students have to fight tooth and nail to make it into universities (competing with the greedy gleam of out-of-state-tuition-paying students at University of Washington, for example), our students need every advantage they can get. The whole point of putting everyone into accelerated classes was to give them an educational advantage they might not otherwise have gotten, wasn’t it?

But if there is nothing to show for it on their transcript, then did they really get any advantage when the rubber hits the road? Apparently not.

Secondly, when everyone is funneled into one homogenous class, it has been widely reported that the teachers cannot in fact teach at an accelerated rate, even if the class were in fact honors level.  They are forced to teach to the middle, leaving many students struggling and lost, and leaving other students unchallenged and bored.

For example, it is nearly impossible to have the thought-provoking and stimulating topic discussions or debates that are a pillar of honors-level classes when only the same (very few) students are willing to participate, but many others are checked out or causing distractions as an indirect protest to a classroom exercise that they see as boring.

Expectations for the speed at which concepts are introduced, as well as the standards for papers, projects and workload must all be lowered. So when the teachers are forced to “teach to the middle,” it by definition is not accelerated. The purpose of the schools is to provide the best education for each and every student. No one sees any problem with providing special IEP classes for students who need it, so why should there be any resistance to providing honors classes for kids who need to be pushed and challenged? Why don’t they deserve to be serviced with an excellent education like everyone else? It is district policy.

The Federal Way School District’s acceleration policy (especially for 9th and 10th graders in the MYP program) is a living example of The Emperor Has No Clothes. On paper, the policy sounds like a fabulous outfit. But if you look at it, where is the acceleration? There are no honors classes for 9th and 10th grade that will be recognized on our students’ transcripts by colleges and universities. Classes are not even taught at an accelerated rate, but merely to the middle.

The MYP organization does allow for its classes to be taught at various levels in schools. This is the standard format for implementation of MYP in other states, but this has not been explored or implemented by the Federal Way School District. The district needs to fulfill its own policies:

1) that it offers honors classes, and

2) that its acceleration policy actually brings the challenge and excellence of education to the students they are professing to be blessing with this wonderful new opportunity by automatic (and opt-out only) placement in “accelerated classes.”

If the teachers can only “teach to the middle” (in effect, regular level classes) and students don’t get any recognition on their transcript, then where is the benefit of the automatic placement? Where is the acceleration? The Emperor Has No Clothes.

Sara Wolf, Federal Way

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