PPS looks to move forward with four-class semester schedule

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Cole Pressler

Under PPS’s current plan for the 2020-21 school year, high school students will only take four classes per semester.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that IB HL English teacher Mark Halpern has appealed to the school board in an attempt to get the planned PPS schedule changed. Halpern has not appealed to the school board.

With the fall quickly approaching, Portland Public Schools (PPS) has announced a plan that presents major issues for Lincoln’s IB program. 

Under PPS’s current plan for the 2020-21 school year, high school students will only take four classes per semester, according to the Fall 2020 Updates page on pps.net. This differs from the regular year-long, eight-class schedule.

 Gov. Kate Brown announced on July 28 that Oregon K-12 students would not re-enter classrooms for in-person instruction until Oregon sees a statewide positive coronavirus testing rate at or below 5% for three consecutive weeks. PPS subsequently announced on Twitter that they will use distance learning to teach students until at least Nov. 5, and then published their plan for a four-period schedule.

Unfortunately, [this] schedule is not aligned to IB instructional and assessment frameworks.”

— Principal Peyton Chapman

The IB program is reliant on two full years of uninterrupted instruction, culminating in IB examinations that award students college credit.

In the current PPS plan, first semester IB classes would have a four-month gap between the end of the semester and IB tests in May– enough time for students to forget the material. Students with second semester IB courses would have significantly less time to prepare for IB testing in order to receive college credit, given the externally-imposed IB deadlines for testing and IA submissions.

“The [four-period schedule] is a perfect fit for some schools… but, unfortunately, the schedule is not aligned to IB instructional and assessment frameworks,” Lincoln’s principal, Peyton Chapman, said.

Lincoln requested in June and again in August to continue with an eight-period schedule in order for students to participate in the IB program and earn college credit. If the request is denied, the school would have a two-week window before the start of the school year to build a schedule that satisfies IB guidelines so seniors can receive diplomas and earn college credit. 

“Given the timing, we would need help from PPS to create new college credit-bearing pathways [for students],” Chapman said. “We are aware the college costs have become even more daunting for our students and families during COVID and the economic downturn. It is a top priority for all of us to resolve this issue quickly.”

PPS Chief of Schools Shawn Bird intends to make “accommodations” for IB and AP students. Bird hopes to have details of these accommodations finalized by early August. 

“We continue to work with Principal Chapman to resolve the issues surrounding the unique needs of the IB program and the uncertainties we are facing regarding the coming school year,” Bird said in an email to The Cardinal Times. “Additionally, we have reached out to the International Baccalaureate Organization to see what flexibilities they are offering to school systems given the challenges that we are all facing.”

Although he is actively working to make accommodations for the IB program, Bird said that an eight-period schedule would be very challenging. 

Due to Oregon Department of Education (ODE) guidelines, teachers may not interact with more than 100 students per week if we return to in-person learning, a rule which would be hard to follow with an eight-period schedule. With the four-period schedule, students would have a more manageable caseload and ODE guidelines would be met, Bird said.

Despite potential accommodations, some Lincoln staff members are unhappy with the decision.

“As an IB math teacher, I have absolutely no idea how I would manage to help students learn the curriculum in that shortened time,” Lincoln’s IB HL math teacher, Aisha Beck, said. “I do not see how this decision would align with our equity work in the district… IB courses are two-year areas of study and to chop it up like this takes away the continuity of the learning.”

IB Coordinator Kim Bliss also expressed disapproval over the plan.

“I am concerned that the [four-period schedule] would impact the IB program at Lincoln in many ways…  it would interrupt equitable access to a free, rigorous pre-college curriculum for all Lincoln students,” Bliss said. “I’m also concerned about the anxiety and stress this schedule has the potential to incur on the social-emotional wellbeing of our students given what we would be asking them to do in order to secure college credits, as well as the impact it will have on our AVID program and the incredible elective programs at Lincoln.”

IB HL English teacher Mark Halpern has been adamant that PPS must change the schedule to fit Lincoln’s and other schools’ needs.

“It just seems like PPS is showing a lack of flexibility in demanding that all high schools follow the same schedule,” Halpern said. “All of these high schools are very different. The principals of each high school not only know which schedule best fits the population in their schools but also knows how to tweak each schedule so that it meets the needs of others. The district always wants teachers to differentiate their instruction based upon who the population is in their classroom, but the district isn’t differentiating their decision so that it meets the needs of all the students in PPS, which really is what equity is. This top-down decision making is not taking into account the nuances of each particular school in their population.”

PPS will release more information about the four-period schedule and its details regarding IB and AP students in the coming weeks. The plan will be submitted to the ODE for approval on Aug. 14. Check back soon for updates.

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