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North Clackamas School District electives could make way for 'core' programs

North Clackamas School District’s band, orchestra and choir teachers feel that they are being targeted by a proposal to change middle school schedules so that students would no longer take these classes every day.

NCSD’s four middle schools now run on six-period schedules, and a proposed 5x5 block schedule would reduce the number of minutes for these elective classes from 9,900 to 6,480, in favor of math, science and social studies. NCSD’s middle schools have had double-digit drops in the test scores for reading, science and math over the past five years.

Renè Ormae-Jarmer, director of Rex Putnam High School’s Kingsmen Thunder drum line, has been pointing the public to research showing that better funding of arts education could help turn around, for example, Putnam feeder Alder Creek Middle School’s five-year 28 percent drop in math scores.

“This [schedule proposal] would negatively impact all arts, music and P.E. to basically cutting it 35 to 50 percent,” Ormae-Jarmer said. “As an arts advocate and music teacher, I strongly disagree that longer math and science classes while reducing daily band will raise any grades. It will have the opposite effect.”

Gwen Dewar, whose doctoral work in parenting science has been hailed by Education World as “a fantastic aid to parents and educators,” is another active local parent who has been testifying against the schedule-change proposal. Dewar has two kids in the district, one in middle school.

“The district has indicated that its plan is meant to address falling test scores,” Dewar said. “But I’ve demonstrated that the consensus among researchers is that we cannot conclude that changing schedules will raise test scores or improve student achievement.”

Libby Miller, who is leading the district’s effort to design a middle-school schedule, acknowledged that the district “can’t do everything.” Therefore, Miller said, the district’s first priority has to be time on “core programs” to address the falling reading, science and math scores in middle school.

“Those test scores show we’re really falling short in delivering our core content minutes, and that needs to come first,” Miller said.

Currently, band, orchestra and choir classes have twice the number of minutes as science and social studies. But less than a third of middle school students currently take band, orchestra or choir.

Miller is excited that the new schedules would allow middle-school teachers to offer eight sections of an elective, compared with five currently. Possible additional courses to be offered under the new schedule include leadership, cooking, musical theater and digital art.

If the school board approves the new schedule on Thursday, Miller said, NCSD will still offer more band, orchestra and choir classes than most other districts. Sixth-graders taking band, orchestra and choir will still have more minutes than they had in NCSD’s elementary schools.

“We feel really great about our work, and the committee is so excited about this proposal that could be so good for kids,” Miller said.

Competing websites have been set up at https://www.facebook.com/northclackamasmiddleschooldesign and http://www.nclack.k12.or.us/Page/28749.