Saturday, May 21, 2016

Flexible Pathways are not that well understood

For the nerds out there:
The text of ACT 77.
State DOE Introduction to the Law.
State DOE's Flexible Pathways webpage.

What the law says, in essence, is that schools must accept (acknowledge) and give high school credit to learning that takes place in a non-traditional setting. For example, a passage from the introduction lays out some of the possibilities for this outside-the-box learning:
Act 77 explicitly references several types of experiences that may become components in a PLP. These include: “applied or work-based learning opportunities, including career and technical education and internships; virtual learning and blended learning; dual enrollment opportunities ...; and early college programs ...” While there is an expectation that each of these categories of learning experiences will become more readily available to more students, this should not be seen as placing a limit on the possibilities that may be included in a student’s flexible pathway to graduation. (emphasis mine).
These internships, or college courses, or dual-enrollment opportunities are all at the course level and this is where the confusion comes in.

The way so many people are misinterpreting this law is in thinking it requires or even suggests that teachers must allow for different assessments for each student within a course. A fellow teacher was speaking to me (working through his own thinking, really; I was merely a sounding board) about a student who flat-out refused to take a history test -- he didn't like the course format of typed papers (Google docs), and tests with hand-written short answer and multiple choice questions. He wanted to make a video or a Powerpoint, I can't really recall which.

If you listen to my admin and others, the PLP aspect of the law would require my colleague to accede to the request. I've been told on several occasions that (paraphrased) "Flexible pathways requires that we give students the opportunity to prove proficiency in many different ways in your course.

That's flatly not the case.
Personalization is also manifested through the expectation that students will be able to engage in “flexible pathways to graduation,” defined as “any combination of high-quality academic and experiential components leading to secondary school completion and post-secondary readiness.” This concept is not to be confused with the idea that students choose from a limited menu of pathways that are pre-designed by educators. Rather, the emphasis is on “any combination of high-quality academic and experiential components.”

The drafters of the legislation chose their words carefully, always referring to  "high-quality academic and experiential components" and reiterating that the components would include "Work-Based Learning, Career and Technical Education, Virtual/Blended Learning, Dual Enrollment, and Early College." They intended to allow for non-traditional "courses," not to allow student to veto any assignment they didn't like and switch it out for something else.

In fact, they come right out and say it in the bill:
(d) An individual entitlement or private right of action shall not arise from creation of a personalized learning plan.
Individual districts may change the intent of the law to include in-class variations and treating children differently whenever they throw a temper tantrum, or get their parents to tell the school that home Internet service is "cancelled because the Internet is making children stupid" and demanding that there be no online components to a math class (true story). If the district decides that, I'm going to follow that ruling, but not because the law said so.

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