Friday, March 10, 2006

Fun at the WERA conference

For the past two days I've been attending the WERA conference at the Hilton Hotel in beautiful (?) Sea-Tac. I didn't even know there was such a thing until my principal wandered in a couple of weeks ago and asked if I would like to go, but it's been well worth attending.

There was only one session this morning. I went to an update on this year's recently completed legislative session, and there were a couple of things that jumped out:

1) Teachers will be getting a 3.2% COLA next year. At a $30,000 base salary that means an additional $960 per year, or $80 a month. Cynics may say that's just enough to cover the inevitable rise in health premiums, but wouldn't you rather have it than not?

2) At one point Terry Bergeson had proposed that anyone who gets a Professional Certificate, the new level of competency that the state put in about 5 years ago, be given a 5.5% pay bump (see here for more info). So far there aren't all that many ProCert people around the state, so it wouldn't have cost much, and it would have been a nice way to thank those of use who have had to put up with the constant changes and trials that have been inherant in ProCert from the beginning.

3) Collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) can now be approved for up to 6 years, compared to the 3 that we do now. I asked the presenter what she thought the practical impact of this would be, but she wasn't sure. I would think that it could be a hell of a tool at the bargaining table--what would a district give to have 6 years of labor peace?

An interesting note to the above is that she said this change was initiated by the classified employees union, and that the WEA didn't really take a position. In looking at the bill here it clearly applies to more than just the teacher's unions and had bi-partisan support, which is a happy development when you're talking unions.

4) There were also several interesting things relating to alternate pathways to earn the Certificate of Academic Achievement. OSPI is going to establish baselines for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT that would allow those tests to be substituted for the math section of the WASL. This is huge for that 50% of the kids who can't pass the test. There was also discussion of allowing portfolios to be used to prove mastery.

The most controversial (and least refined) alternate pathway was a plan to allow grades to be used to prove that the student truly did know the WASL material. Under the idea presented, if a student who failed the math section of the WASL had a better GPA in their math classes than at least 6 students who did pass the WASL, that student would be given credit for passing (more information here, scroll about halfway down).

There were quite a few objections raised to this plan. Could a teacher give extra credit to a student who was lagging, artificially putting them ahead of the rest of cohort? What about the difference in teachers, i.e. soft graders vs. hard graders? Would Mrs. Smith call the school to make sure that Little Johnny was given the "easy" teacher, thereby ensuring a high GPA?

It's a work-in-progress, to be sure, and I give OSPI credit for trying to find a way. This seems to open us up to criticism from the Checker Finns of the world, and quite appropriately--can anyone really argue that these changes aren't a step down from the rigor that we were pushing for?

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