Edmonds School Board Report: New science testing requirements causing confusion

By Florine Gingerich

Expect a year of some confusion around new science testing requirements. That was the message Dr. Tony Byrd, assistant superintendent for student learning, and Dana Morrison, K-12 math and science coordinator, conveyed to the Edmonds School Board at its Oct. 11 meeting. That’s because beginning this year, the federal No Child Left Behind law requires that sophomores take a science test.

The state had intended to create three separate tests by this time, but due to funding cutbacks it has developed only one, the biology test. Some students who are tested will have studied biology this year; some will have taken it last year, and some – it isn’t known how many – will have to take the test without ever having taken a biology class. Passage of the test isn’t a state graduation requirement, and current juniors and seniors will be unaffected, though all students must have two science credits to graduate.

Superintendent Nick Brossoit told the board that this should be a non-issue in future years. Board Member Anne McMurray stressed the importance of explaining the new requirement to the community, especially to parents whose children will have to take the exam without having taken the biology class.

Byrd also updated the board on various student learning matters, including book rooms in elementary schools, which are set up across the district to ensure that there will be reading-level appropriate reading materials available for each student, whether or not they are reading at grade level. And he reported that the Move 60 classes in the first schools to offer the program have been filled instantly, and that expansion of the English Language Learners program to additional schools has been well-received. Board members identified several questions about the effect of ELL expansion they would like the administration to track over the next year.

Limits on students’ cell phone use in classroom

A proposed policy covering use of telecommunication devices by students also generated significant discussion, and especially comments from the student advisors to the board. Dr. Ken Limon, assistant superintendent for middle and high schools, introduced the policy, updated to formalize and strengthen existing procedures, and to take account of recent developments such as the increasing student use of smart phones. The Edmonds Education Association asked the district to develop the policy to address their concerns about unauthorized filming of teachers that sometimes has ended up on YouTube.

The proposal would have prohibited all use of such devices during the school days. Board members voiced concerns about that, noting that students do text and check messages between classes, and questioning the wisdom of a policy that thousands of kids would violate every day. The student advisors confirmed that students will use their phones and iPads between classes and at lunch regardless of the policy. McMurray proposed that the prohibition be limited to use during actual class time. She supported the policy, if narrowed in this way, as a means of helping students learn what is appropriate in a business setting, where most often it is frowned upon to use such devices during meetings.

Bullying policy implementation

The board approved a checklist for harassment, intimidation and bullying policy implementation. Debby Carter, executive director for human resources, updated the board on implementation of the new state law requirements, which go into effect this fall. As part of the process, all adults who are regularly in the schools have been or will be trained about responsibilities under the law. This includes not just administrators and teachers, but everyone: bus drivers, janitors, food service workers, and even parents and other community members who are regularly on school property. Coaches will be trained at the start of their sport’s season, and new hires as part of orientation.

Information about the policy, and the forms to report harassment or bullying, are available on the district website. The forms are available in five languages, and policies and procedures are also in the process of being translated. Information is included in the student handbook, and already more schools have staff out monitoring passing periods.

Affirmative action plan for district hiring

Carter also introduced — and the board approved — an affirmative action plan for 2011 to 2016. Since the last analysis, district performance in some areas has improved. Women are now appropriately represented on the janitorial staff, as are minorities in office personnel, non-certified, professional and technical employee positions. A significant exception is in certified administrators and teachers, where the district has lost ground in the last five years. Human resources will continue to discuss how to increase minority representation in the applicant pool.

Concerns about music graduation requirements

During the public comments, College Place Middle School teacher Kate Labiak spoke on behalf of the Sno-King regional music educators about a State School Board proposal to reduce elective class credits required for graduation from 5.5 to 4. The group is concerned that if adopted, the requirement would make it harder for students to stay in music through high school. More broadly, all students interested in the arts could be adversely affected. Board members were familiar with the issue and appeared sympathetic to her concerns.

Florine Gingerich

My Edmonds New school board contributor Florine Gingerich has a son who attended Edmonds public schools, where she volunteered in roles ranging from pouring juice in kindergarten at Madrona K-8 to serving as president of the Edmonds-Woodway Music Boosters. With her husband, Doug Purcell, she practices law at Purcell & Adams, PLLC, a South County firm emphasizing business law, real estate and estate planning. Visit them at purcelladams.com, or contact her at fgingerich@purcelladams.com.

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