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Parents push back against workshop policies

District invites community to talks about remedial program

In a change of heart since spring, district leaders say they'll include parents in a conversation this fall that could result in a rejiggering of policies that govern remedial workshop classes at Forest Grove High School.

Principal Karen Robinson will meet with members of the Forest Grove School Citizens Advisory within the next few weeks to review current practices relating to math and reading workshops, which enroll hundreds of students, assistant superintendent John O'Neill said Monday.

The school board will consider possible changes to workshop policy Nov. 28 after hearing feedback from the high school meetings. The panel's newest member, Kate Grandusky, has asked to sit in on those discussions.

The issue came to a head over the summer after the school board cut electives and added more workshop classes at FGHS, a move that was seen by some as taking away from a holistic education for students.

'What I'm concerned about is the kids who are in workshop semester after semester, year after year,' Forest Grove resident Monica Gorman and citizens advisory member told the board Monday night. 'I'm afraid they are not getting the same education as the other kids.'

Robinson and O'Neill, who was principal of FGHS in 2002-03 when it became the first high school in Oregon to put workshops in place, want to maintain a trajectory they're happy with - one that has brought the school multiple accolades for closing the achievement gap.

They say workshops have boosted the number of students passing state reading tests from 49 percent in 2002-03 to 88 percent in 2010-11, and the number of pupils passing math tests from 37 percent to 89 percent in the same time frame. They also credit workshops for helping FGHS lower its dropout rate from 7.7 percent to 2 percent and increase its graduation rate from 67 percent to 92 percent over the last nine years.

Other results driven by workshops include a sharp rise in the number of special ed students and English language learners passing state-mandated exams, administrators say, as well as a bump in students taking advanced placement and college prep courses after honing their skills in workshops.

'The pendulum is definitely swinging in the right direction,' Robinson said.

Potential conflict

Some parents remain unconvinced, however. They've lobbied for the use of other tools besides the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills for determining which students should be in workshops, arguing that 'best practices' demand that teachers look at work samples and consider parent and student input.

On Monday, Gorman, a teacher at Westview High School in Beaverton, alluded to a potential conflict between district policy and the U.S. Constitution's 14th amendment. It was that amendment's 'equal protection' clause that was the basis for Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that led to the dismantling of racially segregated schools.

'There must be another way so these students aren't denied access to band, or art, or whatever else they might love to take and are passionate about,' said Gorman, who pulled her daughter out of the district this fall after she fell two points short of the high school's minimum bar for exemption from reading workshop.

In Forest Grove, it's a 239

While the state requires students to score a 234 on the eighth-grade OAKS exam for math and a 232 on the assessment for reading, Forest Grove's threshold for both subjects is a 239 to avoid workshops - something parents have pushed back against for several months.

A handful of them met with Superintendent Yvonne Curtis in August, arguing that students are tested too frequently and that the district should relax its test-passing standards.

Forest Grove's Quentin Crain echoed those sentiments Monday.

'We are teaching to the test. I find that to be a problem,' he said after Robinson and workshop teachers Kari Bloomquist and Annette Faris presented their program to the board.

Oregon graduation requirements continue to rise, with the Class of 2014 facing stiffer minimum passing scores on standardized tests in reading, writing and math.

Still, O'Neill hinted at some wiggle room with workshops.

'There could be some parent choice in terms of certain students opting out,' he suggested. 'And we might possibly find a bit of flexibility with the 239 score.'