Science curriculum changes are back in front of the ICCSD School Board on Tuesday. They will be asked to approve the 2017-18 Program of Studies and specific course changes, which include changes to the secondary science curriculum and the science course acceleration proposal.
The Board will be under pressure to adopt these changes, as any delay for community feedback and changes will reportedly delay student registration for the 2017-18 school year. I hope that the Board will resist that pressure, at the very least, with regard to the acceleration proposal.
The acceleration proposal would permit students to take the new Earth and Space Science (ESS) course as an 8th grader only if they scored a 95th percentile or higher on the 7th grade Iowa Assessment in Science.
The Iowa Assessments are not placement exams and the administration has provided no evidence that this particular cut score would predict success in the new ESS course or that students with lower scores would not be successful. In other words, without further evidence, this requirement looks like a fairly arbitrary one, set to exclude a large number of 8th grade students.
I was interested to see how the numbers of 8th grade students who would be eligible to enroll in the ESS course under this proposal would compare to the number of students who have historically skipped Foundations III. The District reports that 164 students in the current senior class skipped Foundations III; no numbers are reported for other classes.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find the numbers I wanted. So I pieced together these numbers from reports from the DE (2015-16 enrollment by district, grade, race, and gender), the ICCSD 2015-16 Enrollment, Demographics, and Class Size Report, and the ICCSD 2015-16 Annual Progress Report.
Because I couldn’t find demographics by grade level, I multiplied the total number of 2015-16 7th graders  by the best percentages I could find (demographics by junior high school building, except for male/female percentages, for which I had to use the percentages for the District as a whole). I also rounded the numbers up or down to avoid fractional students. Consequently, these numbers are best estimates, not actual numbers. The number crunching is further complicated by the fact that the District doesn’t use consistent reporting categories for subgroups between the enrollment report and the annual progress report.
Keep in mind that the Annual Progress Report Above Proficient designation relates to a 90th percentile score or higher related to the 2000 national sample in order for proficiency scores to remain comparable over time. Current percentile rankings are based on a comparison to the 2011 national sample and a grade 7 science score that would have earned a 90th percentile ranking compared to the 2000 sample only earns an 87th percentile ranking compared to the 2011 sample. Which, I think, means that students reported as Above Proficient could have scores from 87th percentile to 99th percentile, and we can’t tell how many would meet the 95th percentile or higher standard being proposed. I do think we can safely say that these numbers likely overstate the number of students who would be eligible to take ESS in 8th grade.
In any case, I hope you didn’t miss that the administration is proposing a rule that would essentially exclude Black or African American students from taking ESS in 8th grade. As a matter of equity, I hope the Board will press the administration for actual numbers on how the proposed eligibility rules affect the participation of students in various subgroups in accelerated science course work and for actual evidence that the proposed rule isn’t essentially arbitrary and needlessly restrictive.
I attended a high school that allowed students to choose honors or non-honors versions of core courses and it seemed to work well. If not completely open, perhaps a rule based on actual performance in 7th grade science might be more inclusive.
Also, the proposed rule about dropping the course if grades fall below a B- seems to need clarification. At any time? So one low grade could force a student out without an opportunity to raise their grade by the end of the trimester? It seems more reasonable to me that, if this rule is needed, it apply only for grades at the end of the first or second trimester.
With regard to the AP Science Courses Review information provided, I would urge the administration and the Board to consider that packing a schedule with AP courses isn’t the only reason students may want to accelerate in science. The option to accelerate in science is also important to serve the needs of students who are simply ready for more challenge than the one-size-fits-all science courses offered in junior high. In that vein, I would also urge the Board to press the administration to design honors-level courses in ESS and Biology to better serve students who want or need more challenging science coursework.
As an incidental matter, it isn’t at all clear whether students choosing the ESS/Biology/Physical Science course sequence would meet the minimum course requirements for admission to Iowa’s state universities.
Finally, I would urge the Board to ask the administration to share with the community more details about instructional methods and materials the administration proposes to use in implementing the new science standards. If you’re wondering why I keep bringing this up, check out this NGSS-inspired lesson shared on the Iowa Core website. Read it and take a guess about how much these students actually learned about surface tension. Note that the teacher isn’t even certain what, if anything, his students learned.
The State Board of Education adopts standards but has no authority to require our District to use any particular instructional method or materials. Engagement, collaboration, and busyness can happen without any actual learning. It is important for our students that the District get this right.