High School Redesign: Unanswered Questions

PPS to hold High School Redesign Meeting, Friday December 18th.

A group of Portland TAG parents has developed a list of questions concerning the High School Redesign process:

Under the district’s proposed redistricting plan, while many schools that have few advanced classes will now offer more, some schools that currently offer many advanced classes will lose classes. One example is that Grant HS will go from about 25 advanced classes to between 10 – 16 advanced classes, the plan’s district standard. The same is true for Lincoln and other schools. At the same time, there will be a district-wide “no transfer” policy for the new comprehensive high schools.  This plan raises several fundamental and urgent questions for TAG students that require serious thought and resolution while the redesign plan is still in its infancy:.... read more 

-              What will happen to upper level students that early on complete all the advanced courses that a high school has to offer but cannot transfer out under the new policy?  For example, what if an 11th grader has already completed Calculus AB and BC, English 7-8, or AP European History?  

-              Similarly, what will happen to TAG students whose high school does not offer the advanced courses they need, but they cannot transfer out?  Such as a student who has completed three years of French, but whose HS offers only AP Spanish?  Or who attends a high school only offering AP Biology - but not AP Chemistry or AP Physics - how will a student planning on majoring in the sciences get access to these advanced classes? 

-              What will happen to TAG students in ninth and  tenth grade who need advanced classes starting as freshmen but are assigned to comprehensive schools that only offer IB classes in 11 and 12th grade?  

-              Currently, when a HS does not offer TAG students the courses they need, TAG students sometimes receive study halls or early dismissal, or are made to repeat material they already have learned.  Can we expect these practices to continue, at an even greater rate since there will be fewer advanced classes?   

-              Many TAG students will have already completed high school level courses in math, sciences, English, history and foreign language by the time they finish the 8th grade, particularly coming from the ACCESS Academy. For example, most entering 9th graders from ACCESS will enter high school with 8 credits and will have already completed Algebra 1-2, Geometry, Algebra 3-4, English 1-2, Modern World History, Spanish 1-2, Spanish 3-4 and Fundamentals of Physics and Chemistry by the 8th grade. Will all high schools recognize credit for prior coursework in the same way?   

-              Will incoming 9th graders be able to receive credit by exam for prior work, or to place out of classes such as 9th grade English if they have already taken this course at the middle school level? What access will 9th grade students have to advanced course work under the new system? Will they be expected to retake courses they have already completed in 6th, 7th and 8th grade or will they be allowed to take advanced courses at their appropriate level as freshmen? What advanced classes will such students be allowed to take under the new system? 

-              In mixed level classes, will there be differentiated instruction for TAG students so that they are learning at their appropriate rate and level?  Is professional development planned for teachers so they can do this effectively? 

-              Currently all PPS HS students have equal access to classes at local colleges and universities such as PCC, PSU and Reed, so they can fill in gaps in their high school course offerings.  Will this continue, and equally important, will there be counselors to create and facilitate such relationships?  If not, will all students lose this opportunity or only students at certain comprehensive High Schools?   

-              Peer grouping is essential for TAG students, especially in the critical adolescent years, and is the most important point mentioned by the high school TAG students we have spoken with. What support will there be for TAG students, so that they don’t suffer the serious effects, such as depression, and/or harassment, that come from isolation? What work is being done to provide HS administrators with the knowledge that will enable them to understand the unique needs of these students?  The ACCESS program at Grant successfully provides peer support at that school – will it continue? What will happen at the other high schools? 

In other words, what is the current thinking for how the plan will fulfill its directive to provide appropriate instruction to all students if there are fewer advanced classes and no transfer policy?  If all high schools only have 10-16 advanced classes available, how will there be enough advanced courses available to allow TAG students to stay in high school for 4 years?