Bloggers: I am submitting (in several parts) a letter I emailed the Board of Education last night. After attending the Learning Committee meeting earlier this month and listening to the podcast of Monday's BOE meeting in which curriculum and data was discussed, I felt compelled to express my disappointment and anger.
Dear Board of Education Members:
I write to you today as a former Board Member who voted to approve the Advanced Learning Plan. Out of respect for my former status as an elected representative, parent of four D181 graduates and fourteen year resident, I hope that despite the negative opinions some of you have of me, that you will each read this entire email and carefully consider its content. While some of what I will say is harsh and critical, in my opinion, there is no benefit at this point in holding anything back. The district's reputation of providing the highest quality instruction for all students is teetering on the brink of destruction because of the continuing harm caused to advanced learners by the Administration's refusal to identify and implement changes needed to reverse their academic decline resulting from the Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plans.
As you know, and as I have publicly reminded Mr. Turek since my term ended, I voted yes to approve the Advanced Learning Plan (despite expressing concerns about the plan and how it might negatively impact the district's highest achievers) because I wanted the administration to have a unanimous vote that they would take seriously. My naive expectation was that they would collect and analyze performance data to ensure that the "Raise the Floor to Raise the Ceiling" plan would actually benefit ALL D181 students. Following the vote, Mr. Turek personally thanked me for being a team player and assured me that he would make sure the data was collected and analyzed and there would be accountability.
Fast forward 3 1/2 years to Monday night's BOE meeting. The data presented to six of you on Monday night (and which was presented earlier this month at the Learning Committee meeting which I attended) established that math students performing in the top 10 percent (using Dr. Larson's virtual MAP analysls) in grades 4, 5, 6 and 8 have not met their growth targets. As Board Members Gray, Garg and Burns pointed out, the conclusion must be that the math programs implemented over the last four years have not benefited them. As Jill Quinones, an educator and parent on the Learning Committee, pointed out during closing public comment, the district is worse off today that when she moved here 15 years ago, because of the elimination of programs offered to advanced learners to meet their needs. (I urge Board Member Vorobiev to listen to the entirety of last night's meeting.)
t has been six years since a qualified Assessment Director (Dr. Strykowski) worked in D181, a position that was unfortunately eliminated at Dr. Schuster's recommendation when the BOE cut $5 million from the budget. It took six years before a qualified assessment director -- Dr. Larson -- with actual educational training in statistical analysis, was hired. In three short months she has thrown herself into her work, analyzed the performance data and publicly informed you and the entire D181 community of the lack of growth shown by the district's advanced learners in Grades 4, 5, 6 and 8.
It took Dr. Larson to analyze and explain the data, that as Board Member Gray highlighted, proves that the advanced learners in the 6th grade class have shown the most stagnation in meeting their performance goals in math. And you all know that this 6th grade class is the guinea pig class (as it has been referred to by concerned community members) that was subjected to the experimentation, acceleration for all, one size fits all, "socially just" curriculum changes in the Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plans.
Further, it took Dr. Larson to inform you that the way MAP data has been presented to you over the last several years -- Fall to Fall and by quintiles -- was inappropriate and essentially useless, and that what should have been analyzed is Fall to Spring data, using a Virtual Comparison group method. As I listened to Dr. Larson's explanation during the Learning Committee and BOE meetings, it made me very angry to realize that the assessment administrators that were promoted to that position during Dr. Schuster's superintendency, and were renewed and/or further promoted by Dr. White, were unaware Fall to Fall reports were inappropriate and never once proposed the use of the Virtual Comparison group method.
As concerned community members, including myself, have pointed out to you over and over again, D181 should have been filling administrative positions with qualified and experienced individuals, rather than with individuals who had to learn on the job, and had no educational expertise in statistical analysis or general and advanced learning curricula. Over the last four years, the district paid over $500,000 in salaries to assessment administrators who did not analyze the data correctly, yet there has been zero accountability for their failure to do so.
Over the last three years, the district paid more than $500,000 in salaries to administrators who rolled out programs that I and former Board member Heneghan kept arguing were not ground in best practice research or supporting data. You all are aware of recently released public records that show that the "best practice research" and power points presented to the BOE in support of the Advanced Learning for All Plan were virtually non-existent. Yet no one has been held accountable.
It has been nearly four years since the radical curriculum changes were rolled out that ignored Dr. Moon's recommendation that what actually needed fixing was the identification method being used to place students into advanced learning and gifted classes, and expansion of the advanced learning programs so that these students' needs would be met every day. It has taken 4 years for the data on the "socially just" programs to be analyzed by a qualified statistician and data analyst. It has taken FOUR years for a candid presentation on the findings of this data to be presented followed by an actual discussion by the board members.
It is, therefore, sad (not to mention infuriating) that despite Mr. Turek's personal promise to me that he would insist on proper data collection and analysis in order for the BOE to be able to effectively evaluate the Advanced Learning Plan as it rolled out, that last night he came off as a boorish, angry, defiant bully who wanted to ignore the harsh conclusions that you ALL should have reached following Dr. Larson's presentation. The conclusion? That D181 has utterly failed the advanced learners ever since the Advanced Learning Plan was implemented.
Yet instead of all of you who were in attendance supporting Board Member Gray, Garg and Burns' concerns about the implications of the data, and then turn to the administration to present what steps they are going to take to fix the programs THIS YEAR, Mr. Turek tried to minimize the data analysis. Equally disappointing was Board Member Giltner's suggestion that additional changes to the curriculum to address the underperformance of the district's advance learners should be delayed until more data is collected.
The time to act is NOW, not six months from now or one year from now. How many more years must D181's young learners have to wait for a program that actually meets each of their individual needs? How many more years must go by before all seven of you acknowledge that the dismantlement of the gifted program was a huge mistake that needs to be rectified this year. How many students have to NOT LEARN at their potential and NOT GROW during an academic year before you realize that the district has come full circle to where it was when Dr. Moon was hired to evaluate the gifted programs?
The flexible ability groups that you directed the administration to implement last spring as a first step to address the problem (which was becoming evident even before Dr. Larson's full data analysis) is not enough. The manner in which the administration has chosen to implement your directive is unrealistic. As pointed out by another parent during public comment last night, the administration has set cut off's that have most likely resulted in the exclusion of many advanced learners who should be learning at a faster pace or higher level in math than grade level. The cut-offs make no sense and I would ask you to direct the administration to explain what data was used (and how best practices were followed to analyze the data) to select the cut-offs.
As pointed out last night, the district has gone from identifying 1/3 of its students as needing acceleration to one where only students who have proven that they are already two years ahead in math can receive ONE year of acceleration. In other words, even these few students will not learn anything new if one applies your identification standards. Admission into any type of accelerated math program has become even more exclusive that the gifted program criticized by Dr. Moon. And yet the administration doesn't seem to be concerned about this fact.
I would remind you that you are required under Board Policy 2:020 to "[e]valuat[e] the educational program and approv[e] School Improvement and District Improvement Plans." You are also required under this policy to "[a]pprov[e] the curriculum, textbooks, and educational services" AND "represent[ ] the needs and desires of the community in educational matters."
I am well aware that since the BOE I served on approved the original Advanced Learning for All Plan, the administration tweaked and changed the plan multiple times WITHOUT ever seeking the required formal board approval. This fact was brought to your attention by existing board members, yet the Administration continued to make modifications without providing you with best practice research or data to support the changes. It wasn't until your directive last Spring demanding reinstatement of flexible based ability groups in math, that you took any action, and yet now that you have been presented data that allows you to EVALUATE the past programs, as required by board policy, Mr. Turek baulks and Mr. Giltner suggests delaying action steps.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Clarin for showing support for some of the concerns Ms. Gray raised last night. Sadly, his statement that suggested that academic mediocrity, rather than excellence, now exists in D181 is true. It is time to return D181 to excellence and for you, the community's seven elected representatives, to "represent the needs and desires of the community in educational matters," rather than the desires of certain administrators.
If the Advanced Learning Plan/Learning for All programs that were rolled out by certain administrators resulted in underperformance of the students at the "ceiling" -- a ceiling that the data has now proven has been lowered, not raised over the last four years -- then you must demand an explanation from these administrators. You must demand that Dr. White hold them accountable. You cannot simply ignore the negative impact of these programs on the students and ignore the fact that the changes recommended by certain administrators caused them.
If the data over the last four years wasn't even properly collected or analyzed, then these administrators must also be held accountable. You cannot simply ignore their missteps and suggest that another year go by with more data being collected and analyzed, this time by a qualified administrator.
And finally, if Dr. White is unwilling to hold the administrators accountable, then it is time to hold him accountable.
As our elected representatives, you hold the power. The onus is on you now to fix the mess because no one else is going to do it. All seven of you must act together now, in the best interests of all D181's children. Please don't let them down.
Former D181 BOE Member