Wake Ed

January 2, 2014

Wake County school board members debate use of Credit By Demonstrated Mastery

Amid concerns that Credit By Demonstrated Mastery devalues teachers and allows students to game the system, the Wake County school system is delaying implementation of a program that allows gifted students to get credit without enrolling in courses.

If things had gone differently, academically gifted Wake County students would have had until Jan. 10 to apply for a new state program allowing them to get high school credit for courses they’re not enrolled in.

But as noted in a Dec. 21 article, the Wake County school system is joining several other school districts in waiting a year before implementing the Credit By Demonstrated Mastery program. Much of the Dec. 17 Wake school board discussion was about why it would be better to take a year before making the option available.

Let’s start by clicking here for a handout that school administrators gave to school board members. Click here for an implementation guide that the state Department of Public Instruction gave to districts. Click here for a FAQ from DPI.

The State Board of Education had initially voted December 2012 to offer the CDM program, which allows a student to get credit in 159 standard-level courses without enrolling. Healthful living, Advanced Placement, honors, International Baccalaureate and some career and technical education courses are not eligible.

To be eligible, students in phase 1 would have to score at least a 94 on a test for that course. In phase 2, students must show they can apply their knowledge, such as giving a performance for music credit or being interviewed by a foreign-language teacher in that language for that credit.

DPI was directed to develop guidelines for how districts would begin offering the opportunity in the spring semester of this school year with placement decisions affecting the 2014-15 school year. But with the guidelines not coming until November, the State Board voted Dec. 5 to allow districts to wait until the 2015 spring semester to begin offering the testing.

At the last Wake school board meeting, school administrators gave the school board a timeline for how they could still offer the opportunity for the 2013-14 school year along with a recommendation on whether to delay implementation.

Under the draft timeline, parents of students in grades 6 through 12 could apply between Dec. 18 and Jan. 10. The district would begin the phase 1 testing in late February. Phase 2 would run between March and April.

School districts would have to develop the phase 1 assessment for any of the eligible courses that don’t include a state assessment such as an end-of-course exam.

DPI is giving districts flexibility in how to develop the local assessments for phase 1. In an interview, Sneha Shah-Coltrane, DPI’s director of Gifted Education and Advanced Programs, said they’re allowing a teacher to use an existing local exam to meet phase I when there’s no state test.

But Todd Wirt, Wake’s assistant superintendent for academics, told the school board they’d develop a standard test that would be used across all the schools because principals said they want to provide consistency.

In another example of where Wake is going beyond what the state requires, Wirt said that students and their parents would be required to discuss their application with their counselor and/or the principal’s designee.

“Certainly we wouldn’t be in the business of denial,” Wirt told the board. “But we feel it would be our due diligence to have a conversation with the family just so they understand all the implications of credit by demonstrated mastery and what that would hold for their future progression throughout high school or potentially middle school.”

Wirt said they’re being forced to use a much shorter timeline than they’d desire for providing parental communication on the new opportunity.

School board member Kevin Hill said he was concerned they were only giving parents six or seven school days to get the information.

“I’ve got real issues with timing –or the lack of the timing,” Hill said. “I’ve asked before, ‘Do we want to do it quickly or correctly?’ If we’re not mandated to do it this year then maybe we should take the time to do it right.”

School board member Zora Felton said that they need to make sure the local assessments are worthy of showing that students have demonstrated mastery. She also asked about when and how the assessments would be offered.

Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance, said the local assessments must mirror how they handle the sate assessments, including only offering them during the school day. This means they can’t require students to come in before school, after school or on weekends.

School board vice chairman Tom Benton said they know how long and how much the state spends developing assessment. After being told by Wirt that they’re not getting state funding for teachers to develop the local assessments or to grade them, he said “it’s basically an unfunded mandate.”

Benton asked about the impact of CDM on grade-point-average. Moore answered that students would only get a “pass” grade so it wouldn’t count in the GPA.

But school board member Jim Martin said it can impact GPA by letting students start honors and AP courses sooner. Standard-level courses are on a four-point scale. But honors courses are on a 5-point scale and Advanced Placement courses are on a 6-point scale.

“Given the weighted GPA, this is yet another situation where we’re going to create a possibility to game the system by getting standard-level courses out of the way so you can do higher-point courses,” Martin said. “It is a GPA issue we need to pay attention to.”

Martin asked if there was any way they could limit the number of CDM credits that a student could get.

“I believe a Wake County diploma should mean that you’ve taken a certain number of courses in Wake County,” Martin said.

The answer is no.

“Students may earn credit using CDM for as many courses as they wish and districts may not impose local limitations,” according to the DPI FAQ. “However, students may only make one attempt per course. Students who are unsuccessful after one attempt must register for and complete the course in the traditional manner to receive credit.”

Martin said he believes students should only use CDM to reach the next level course quicker, such as skipping a math course to get to the next course in the sequence. But he said it shouldn’t be used just so that students can get credits to graduate early.

Martin also complained about the phase 2 process.

“[The state guidelines] even suggested that you could get credit for orchestra,” Martin said. “Now that makes no sense to me, because orchestra is a participatory, very team process. How do I test out of something like that? That just makes no sense whatsoever, and I think there are other classes that fit that as well.”

As the largest school system in the state, Martin said that Wake should ask for flexibility in implementing the CDM program.

At this point, board members asked staff for their recommendation. Wirt said they’re recommending waiting a year because it will give them more time to communicate with parents, to develop better assessments and to fully vet the process.

“We absolutely support what this is trying to do,” Wirt said. “We have a population of students in Wake County that can certainly benefit from this process. But we would prefer to do it well and communicate it well.”

Wirt said that the complaints that parents had about how single-subject acceleration was implemented for this school year show they need to do a better job of communication.

School board members readily agreed that a delay is warranted. School board chairwoman Christine Kushner said they can let parents know there are other options for acceleration besides CDM.

As they wrapped things up, Benton, a retired teacher and principal, charged that CDM was devaluing teachers by not requiring students to enroll in courses.

“It’s devaluing the impact (of) a quality teacher and the experiences that they provide students in the classroom, the exchange of ideas, the enrichment activities,” Benton said. “It is turning into a paper, pencil and computer type measurement of do you have a basic knowledge of a subject. And for us to go down the road of that’s all that we’re looking for and we’re missing the creativity, the originality, the sharing of ideas – all the soft skills we talk about in the 21st Century. The things that made American education a power in the world a few years ago but have gone away because of standardized testing.”

“We need to be forceful about this being a good thing for a very small universe of students and it’s not there to game the system,” Benton also said.

But school board member Monika Johnson-Hostler said whether you call it gaming or not, there are students who want other options so they can be in school a shorter amount of time.

Shah-Coltrane said Credit By Demonstrated Mastery shows the state is valuing teachers by having them work with students who want more rigorous material that will challenge them.

It’s just a one-year delay so school administrators will report back to the school board about how they’ll implement the program.

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The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui.

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