Imagine you are an eighth-grader planning classes for your freshman year of high school. You don’t know yet if you want to go to a four-year college or head straight into the workforce.
For math, you can choose taking Algebra 1, a college preparatory class, or high school algebra, a slower-paced class. But will the CP class be too hard? Will the slower class shut the door to college?
These questions and their implications were debated by Lodi Unified School District board members as well as the public for more than three hours Tuesday night, continuing an information item from a study session meeting on Oct. 25.
Since 2003, high schools have been required to offer only college prep classes. However, a directive from Dec. 14, 2010 required all high schools to offer non-college prep courses, leaving the final choice on where to place a student up to the school.
The lengthy discussion aimed to find out how well the directive was being followed, and if it was truly helping students to succeed.
While the board was satisfied with the level of flexibility students had in signing up for classes, concerns remained.
One concern was whether high school administrators place students in courses they might not be ready for in order to boost API scores.
The state and the district expect teachers to produce high API scores. Students who take non-CP or remedial courses do not score as high on those tests because the lower classes do not teach students everything they need to pass. It might not be in the best interests of the district in reaching those high-scoring goals to place students in lower classes.
Assistant Superintendent Odie Douglas assured the board that this was not the case. Instead, principals are directed to place students where they can best be successful and to provide the courses that they feel work best.
“We give them maximum flexibility based on student needs,” said Douglas.
As a result, each high school has a slightly different menu of courses.
A line of 15 teachers and counselors came to the podium to express their thoughts and concerns about requiring high schools to offer non-college prep courses.
Feelings were mixed, but almost every speaker mentioned their worry that a non-college prep class would turn into a dumping ground for problem students. It could include those who simply don’t want to try, are lacking in skills, have behavioral issues or are special education students.
Robert Calderone, a social studies teacher at Lodi High School, spoke of his experience in teaching non-college prep courses.
“I think you really need to have the resources to work with non-college prep courses,” he said. He mentioned that while the official expectation in the district is to get each kid to college, teachers are focused on getting them through their classes.
Board members asked the superintendent to provide more information about programs that are focused on bringing students back up to grade level, like AVID, a study skills and college readiness program, and Read 180, a reading skills intervention class.
In the end, the board appeared to be learning toward the idea of using non-college prep courses as a kind of intervention for students in need of basic skills. It was repeatedly mentioned that Lodi Unified is a data-driven district, so it ought to be possible to use that data to place students in classes they can succeed in.
“We are opening up course work so students can succeed,” said trustee Ron Heberle. “The courses I’m envisioning are foundation courses that don’t close the door to college.”
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IN OTHER ACTION
As of press time, the board had not yet voted on the remaining agenda items. This includes a resolution to allow bidding to begin for an alternate location for Katnich Community Day School, currently at the Henderson School site.
Also on the agenda was a discussion of the process to fill the seat left open by former trustee Ken Davis’ resignation, and approving the appointment of trustee Bonnie Cassel to the board of directors of the Giving Opportun-ities to Kids Foundation.