High school students schedules likely to change next year

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego High School English teacher Andrea Dunn said, even in a supportive community such as Lake Oswego, adjusting to the Common Core State Standards hasn't been easy, and professional development sessions help teachers determine if students needs are being met.

The Lake Oswego School Board recently approved a change in high school schedules to accommodate teachers’ instructional planning — but schedules will change again in the wake of an Oregon Department of Education order issued to Portland Public Schools last week.

The local school board on Feb. 24 approved early release days, providing teachers with instructional planning time related to assessing the implementation of Common Core State Standards. That schedule change is probably not going to happen now — but changes to students’ instructional hours likely will take place.

The Portland-based Parents Coalition complained of too few hours of classroom time for Portland high school students, and state education officials sided with the coalition and issued an order on March 13, potentially changing how school districts statewide interpret instructional time requirements.

Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton ruled that Portland Public Schools has not offered adequate instructional time since moving from a seven-period to an eight-period, A/B schedule in 2011, which allowed for smaller class sizes but potentially less time in a particular course.

Lake Oswego high schools for decades have had a similar eight-period schedule. Lake Oswego High has A and B days and Lakeridge High has blue and white days when students have different classes on different days, taking first to fourth period on A or blue days and taking fifth to eighth period on B or white days.

The Portland school district must submit a corrective action plan for next year by June 11, or it will be deemed a nonstandard district, and “by law I must withhold state school funds,” Saxton said in the March 13 order.

The state is seeking to ensure that students at all districts have access to the state minimum of 130 hours of class time per course as well as 990 instructional hours annually for grades ninth to 12th. High schoolers in Lake Oswego School District meet the requirement of access to a minimum of 990 hours, but the district does not meet the 130-hour requirement for students — as interpreted in the recent ruling, Superintendent Bill Korach said.

There is an exception in state administrative rules for the requirement: if students complete classroom or equivalent work to measure “proficiency or master of identified standards (knowledge and skills) in class or out of class, where hours of instruction may vary.”

Saxton’s ruling finds that the exception does not absolve the Portland school district from its duty to provide the option of obtaining credit through a course of at least 130 hours. That affects how other schools interpret the law, Korach said.

Lake Oswego School District is just shy of the requirement at 129.15 hours per course, not counting academic activities that state rules had indicated allowed for an exception, such as supervised independent study, career-related learning activities and project-based learning.

Korach said one problem is that there are three furlough days per year for teachers, and when teachers can’t teach, students aren’t in class. Buying back the days in employees’ contracts may prove difficult because the district instituted the days to address a budget shortfall.

“If we didn’t have furlough days, we’d still be fine, but, with the furlough days and this new interpretation, we’re not fine, so that means we have to make adjustments for next year,” Korach said.

Korach said he is seeking clarification from the state department as to the interpretation of state rules regarding classroom seat time. He and other district administrators are seeking solutions they will present to the board later this year. He said he did not yet know how the district will be able to make time for teachers to have that instructional planning time that previously was approved for next year.

The board on Feb. 24 approved early release for high schools on some days next year to provide teachers with the instructional planning time desired for continued Common Core State Standards curriculum development. Local schools have been implementing English and math curriculum in keeping with Common Core, although it is officially to begin next school year with accompanying state testing.

The board on March 10 approved lengthening an inservice day on April 14 from a half day to a full day to provide teachers with more time for a professional development workshop to prepare them for “the high expectations of the Common Core State Standards,” new state testing and other changes, district documents state. Teachers lost a half-day inservice to a snow day earlier this year. The board voted to change the April 14 inservice back to a half day for high schools and middle schools during a special board meeting held Wednesday morning. Elementary schools still will have a full day inservice.

Teachers, including Andrea Dunn of Lake Oswego High, have been adjusting to the curriculum changes. She said it’s valuable for teachers to have opportunities “to look back and scrutinize and make sure we’re meeting students’ needs.”

Dunn, who teaches English, said she loves her job and administrators and community members are supportive, but transitioning to Common Core, like any big change, isn’t simple.

“It can be overwhelming because you’re learning a new system, but you still want to do everything you can do to be there for your students ... and prepare them to be successful,” she said.

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