Opinion

Island Forum: Cooperation key for educational excellence

By Brent Davis

Island Forum

I love hearing that Mercer Island test scores are rising, because the private school I lead, and the tutoring company I direct, contribute to that public school victory, along with all of the other great teachers, tutors, coaches, clubs, churches and schools -- volunteer and professional, public and private -- working hard to help our children perform at their best.

We're all part of a great team. We help raise many scores. Parents in affluent communities like Mercer Island have the opportunity to provide and should provide their children with advantages like tutoring, coaching and private instruction. However, I've recently heard a concern voiced: ``Considering the growing number of individual course grades being transferred to Mercer Island High School, should the school alter its policy of including those grades in calculating GPA and class standing?''

MIHS has a long-standing policy of accepting courses for credit as dictated by its accrediting body. Perhaps that policy needs firming-up, but it is appropriate, and drastic changes would be a mistake. Any new formal policy should take into account three important principles: understanding, fairness and cooperation for educational excellence.

First, everyone concerned should understand that MIHS does not accept merely ``state-approved school'' credits; it only accepts ``accredited school'' credits.

Accreditation entails not only state approval but also meeting the criteria of the accrediting body, including: on-site reviews to ensure the institution actually follows state regulations, properly certified teachers, courses that meet the state essential learning standards, and mechanisms for quality control and continual improvement.

Our school, American Academy, is the newest accredited Mercer Island school, utilizing a proven curriculum developed by Hillsdale College. Concerned individuals should also understand that not every curriculum, teacher, class-setting, or pedagogy works for every child's maximum learning and preparation. This understanding justifies parents' finding various solutions for their particular child's needs, and they should not be penalized for getting their children what they need, whether medication, tutoring, or courses for credit.

Second, student effort and parental sacrifice should be recognized fairly.

The school district is looking into requiring MIHS-standardized entrance examinations for certain advanced classes, in math for instance, which can be a great idea for ensuring student readiness and instructional continuity. Current research justifying the push for broad AP enrollment indicates that students do better in college if they take hard classes regardless of whether they are ready for or do well in those classes. Nevertheless, entrance examinations could increase confidence in the credits students earn from other schools, ensuring such courses meet requirements and never dilute the value of MIHS transcripts.

The biggest differences, however, among MIHS classes and among the various private schools are in teachers and pedagogy. Unfortunately, though, not all MIHS students can take the ``best'' teacher or have the ``best'' class setting. Teachers and classroom environments differ significantly. It is not fair to penalize a student's GPA and class standing because of a teacher or classroom situation the student cannot change. It is also unfair not to count a good grade in the student's GPA or class standing ``just because the parents spend money'' on tutoring or a class for credit, which may sometimes be the student's only satisfactory option.

Finally, we will we achieve the highest level of educational excellence if we cooperate. This cooperation encompasses: inclusion, trust, negotiation, competition and communication. Let's include all parties in policy formulation, realize we're all out for the student's best interests (until proven otherwise), rationally work out the ground rules, try to outdo each other in providing the best for students, and meet together to make all islanders aware of the full range of their options. Far from detracting from student standing, value-added educational elements earn MIHS students extra college admissions points.

Let me close with a true story. American Academy uses the ``world best'' Singapore math curriculum for gifted students, like the MIHS student who was not going to be able to take calculus as a junior. We tested this particular student and she was able to test out of pre-calculus math and so she took the next level Singapore ``College Math.'' She found this class extremely challenging, needing a high ``A'' on her final to keep from getting an ``A-minus'' in the class. She worked her tail off and earned her ``A.'' Now she is one of the top calculus students at MIHS as a junior.

Students like her certainly deserve their accredited course grades figured into their GPA and class standing.

Mercer Island resident Brent Davis is president of American Academy.

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