Parents, district partner on student progression plan updates

In this file photo, the Manatee County School Board discusses issues.
In this file photo, the Manatee County School Board discusses issues.

Parents concerned with the Manatee County School District’s use of state test scores for remediation and advanced placement classes are working with the district and the board to make sure their voices are heard as the district updates the student progression plan.

The school board took its first run at proposed changes to the student progression plan — the district’s guidelines for promoting students from one grade to another — during a workshop Tuesday, when they heard from a number of parents who were concerned parents’ rights were being stripped from the process and that students who opted out of state tests as a form of protest would be negatively affected.

“I urge you to look at it from the big picture,” parent Lisa Hotaling said during the workshop. “Right now it sounds scary; let’s make it all-around positive and good for our kids.”

Many of the parents who spoke to the school board Tuesday represented a growing contingent of parents in Florida who are choosing to opt their children out of the state-mandated exams, called the FSA, because they feel the tests are not in the best interest of their child.

That creates an issue locally, as the district’s student progression plan routinely relies on FSA scores to determine whether students need extra help in subjects through remediation or, on the other end of the spectrum, whether students are academically eligible to be placed in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and other high-achieving programs.

“Our progression plan should also have contingencies in place to support students appropriately,” parent Amy Lee said.

Remediation remedy

Board members were responsive to parent concerns, and the board and district staff worked out some of the problems raised by parents.

One major win for parents?

A proposed change that would give the principal and parents power to remove a child from remediation courses because of a Level 1 or Level 2 score on the state exam. Right now, the district automatically provides remediation for students who receive the two lowest possible levels on the state exams. But some parents argue the remediation is not effective, especially if the student has good grades and is a poor test taker.

Board member Charlie Kennedy said that as a former high school teacher, he’s seen forced remediation kill a child’s will to come to school. Board chairman Bob Gause suggested a change in the student progression plan of one word, changing “must” to “may,” which Gause and other board members said would give the parents and principals more flexibility to decide whether remediation will help the individual student.

“It’s not taking remediation away as an option. It’s merely giving an additional option,” Gause said.

Superintendent Diana Greene said she’d accept the “must” to “may” change when it comes to remediation, but also cautioned wording should be included for the principal to, at some point, override the decision to keep a child out of remediation.

“At some point, the principal has to step in and help,” Greene said. “I don’t know what that would say, but it’s got to come back eventually.”

Advanced placements

Another issue realized as the district and parents worked on the student progression plan was the current plan uses FSA scores as part of the decision for students who want to take advanced courses, both in middle school and high school.

Among other factors, most of the district’s advanced courses require student score a Level 4 to be placed into the advanced classes during middle school. Parents are worried students who opt out of state test are going to be closing the door to more academically challenging coursework.

“There is still language in the middle school section that indicates a principal can override the criteria,” said Ryan Saxe, executive director of secondary schools.

For the high school level, proposed changes state a student must have a Level 3 or higher on the FSA to enroll in AP, IB or AICE courses.

“It appears that this means anybody who opts out can’t be part of these program,” school board member Dave Miner said.

Saxe said students have to have some type of score to prove they’re ready for the more challenging work. A 3.0 grade-point average is also necessary. A concordant score on tests like the ACT, SAT and PERT can also be substituted for the FSA.

Sometimes, middle school students who haven’t taken the SAT or the ACT want to take a high school course and some of the younger high school students may not have taken the equivalency tests yet, either.

Zero middle school students take the ACT, Executive Director of Secondary Schools Cynthia Saunders said in response to a question from Miner. Saunders said there is no requirement to take any of the equivalency tests.

Miner said the only criteria should be the student’s GPA.

The board did not come to a conclusion on how to handle advanced high school courses for students who don’t take the state exams and who haven’t yet taken a state-equivalent test.

Next steps

The student progression plan will come back to the board again on Monday, incorporating more changes, before the board holds a public hearing and vote on the proposed changes.

The public hearing and the vote have already been scheduled for July 26, even though Miner wanted to wait on scheduling the hearing until the document was done.

“I think we wait until we all feel comfortable then set a time for public hearing for approval,” he said. “I think we’re quite a ways from that.”

Gause said the board could always hold the public hearing and then table the vote to a later date if the felt the plan wasn’t ready to be approved.

“If we get to the point where we feel it’s not where it needs to be, we can push it at that time,” he said.

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney