It has been two weeks since Farmington Hills resident Richard Lerner asked members to take a hard look at how the district treats advanced math students.
To standardize the way students are accelerated, or moved up a grade, the district on three standardized test scores. But a handful of parents, including Lerner, argued at the board's Oct. 4 meeting against denying students the chance to move up because they missed the mark by as little as a single percentage point on one test score.
"I'm disappointed to be back here tonight discussing the matter again and to report, from my perspective, a lack of progress," Lerner said.
Lerner said he met with his sixth-grade daughter's teacher, principal and other district staff before he spoke to the board. "I really feel I've gone through the proper chain of command," he said. "I think this should have been dealt with in the school building. I don't think it should ever have gone this far."
He repeated his concerns about the lack of teacher input, which was eliminated because school officials felt it was inconsistent. He said a better solution would have been to create a way to standardize teacher contributions.
Farmington Schools Assistant Superintendent Catherine Cost said the policy change to benchmarks for acceleration was made for several reasons. She cited changes to math curriculum for lower elementary and upper elementary/middle schools during the past three years and said the district identified a gap in knowledge with students who made the jump.
"By skipping that grade level, that important content was not mastered, so that put a student at a deficit as that student progressed in their mathematical experiences," she said. "That was stressful ... and we saw a decline in the number of students who continued in the honors track later in their high school career."
However, Lerner said there is no way to determine a correlation between the standardized test scores used to draw the line for acceleration and the existence of a math gap later in a child's education.
Based on feedback from the last board meeting, Cost said John Manier, Farmington Schools executive director of instructional services, went in search of information about how to include more input from teachers and parents.
Manier contacted experts at the University of Iowa and asked them about the district's process, teacher/parent input and whether an effective appeals process exists.
"In the world of academia, there's no easy answer, is what we found out," Cost said. Instead, "they gave us more research to look at." She said in the end, that will give the district a better result, but it won't address parents' current concerns.
Manier said the district is examining rating scales, which would create a standardized way to include teacher input. "We need one that's manageable and useful and doesn't require too much training," he said.
Also being investigated is an appeals process, from those who would serve on an appeals committee to what data they should consider. Manier said he thinks the direction the district is heading is the right one and will make the process stronger.
For those students who score high in math and need additional challenges, he said, principals, families and teachers will sit down to create additional ways to keep them engaged, including some online resources.
"I know we can meet the needs of those students," he said, adding that the district has already achieved success with some families.
Lerner remains frustrated; he told officials that he has spent five weeks trying to get his concerns resolved. "I appreciate that we're trying to do the right thing here and fix this, but we're not yet addressing the needs of students who were left out right now. ... Let's turn it back to the schools ... let the people who see these kids every day do what they know is the right thing to do."
Cost and Manier will meet Oct. 26 to discuss math and accleration issues with the members of Together for All Learners (TAL), an organization formed to advocate for gifted students. More information is on the TAL website.