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Grapevine-Colleyville curriculum plan angers parents

02/01/2012 11:17 PM

02/02/2012 8:43 AM

Grapevine and Colleyville parents are unhappy with a reorganization of the middle school curriculum that will mix students taking advanced placement courses with classmates who previously enrolled in more basic courses.

Officials say the change will merge the present track for students taking primarily pre-AP classes with students in what has been called on-grade-level course work into a college-ready program. The curriculum for gifted and talented students will stay the same.

Grapevine-Colleyville district officials say the change will bring the middle school curriculum into alignment with the district's 2021 strategic plan, increase the depth of learning and student performance, and better prepare all middle-schoolers for advanced high school and college-level work.

"We're not changing the curriculum, we're changing the sequence of how kids get the curriculum," said Rick Westfall, the district's chief learning officer.

"There's a misconception that we're doing away with the rigor of the pre-AP courses, but we're just including everybody in that rigor," Westfall said. "We're really doing away with the on-level classes."

But some parents are unconvinced. About 130 parents filled the Glenhope Elementary School cafeteria on Tuesday to voice their concerns.

"It seems like they're shrinking the pre-AP track into a single, on-grade-level track," said parent Paul Adams, who earlier said the measure was passed "with very little notice and no discussion" by the school board on Jan. 23.

The district in fact had a two-tier instructional program for middle schoolers as recently at four years ago. At that time an accelerated track was added to the on-level and pre-AP tracks.

Lisa Hatch of Grapevine, a parent of four who attended the Glenhope meeting, said she is concerned about higher-achieving students in the present pre-AP strand having to work alongside the distraction of unmotivated students.

"Our main point is, it's not so much about separating kids by ability, but by motivation," she said.

District officials have called an informational meeting for 6:30 p.m. Mondayin the Panther Den at the GCISD Professional Development and Education Center,5800 Colleyville Blvd..

Adams was at Tuesday's meeting to hear four teachers and administrators from Cross Timbers Middle School explain the changes and talk about the new courses. The meeting was arranged by Glenhope Principal Wynette Griffin in response to parents' concerns.

Adams said he found out about Tuesday's public meeting at Glenhope from a note that came home Monday in his fourth-grader's packet.

Westfall said he and other officials "underanticipated" parental anxiety about the shift.

"The plan was to get the word out at registration, which starts in a couple of weeks," he said. "Now we realize it should have been out there in a more timely fashion. It wasn't meant to surprise them, or be a gotcha or an attempt to sneak something by."

Incoming sixth-graders will be only ones affected by the new system in 2012-13; then it will gradually expand in future years until all three middle school grades are under the plan.

Some parents say the shift, coupled with a new state student accountability program, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, is too much for their children to deal with as they grapple with their first year of middle school. STAAR takes the place of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

"We already feel that fifth grade is the guinea pig class because STAAR has already been an issue," Hatch said.

District officials targeted the middle-school level for change in order to address achievement gaps and several years of stagnation in state accountability scores. High schools have seen increases in AP performance and participation during the same period.

Adams, a father of three, said he was involved in the 2021 strategic plan and was excited about each child having an individualized learning plan.

"It seems like we're going the complete opposite," Adams said, "locking them in instead of having individualized plans."

"A learning plan is going to be a pathway, so students, parents and teachers all know the direction they're trying to get to," Westfall said. "We're not trying to pigeonhole them."

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @startelegram

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