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Lukewarm response to new Berkeley High accreditation goals

By Jeffrey Obser Daily Planet correspondent
Friday September 07, 2001

The Berkeley School Board on Wednesday adopted a new set of educational goals for Berkeley High, intended to buttress the school’s beleaguered accreditation standing – even as some board members and parents expressed disappointment and warned the new Expected Schoolwide Learning Results (ESLRs) may still be insufficient. 

“I feel these goals are very weak and don’t represent what any parent wants their children to achieve,” said Shirley Issel, the board’s vice president. “I would like these ESLRs to state very clearly that upon graduation from high school, our students will be able to undertake post-secondary education without remediation.” 

“There’s not one thing in these ESLRs about sending students to college,” said Terry Doran, the board president. 

“They’re probably, in my view, a little too general,” said Berkeley Schools Superintendent Michele Lawrence on Thursday. “In some instances they’re a little difficult to measure. But I think they’re a healthy and productive start.” 

Under the direction of Vice Principal Mary Ann Valles, the school developed the new ESLRs with input from an October, 2000 school-community forum and a workshop last April that she said included “parents, staff, and a few students.” 

“We looked at some examples, we looked at a few articles, we looked at some essential school information and we looked at some basic educational research,” said Valles. “(The ESLRs) are fine statements that give a good description of what a well-rounded person should look like when they exit high school.” 

“I am satisfied ,” said Lawrence, “that people had an opportunity at the local site, with input from parents and staff, to make a determination on what the ESLRs should look like.” 

Valles said that at a staff development day before the first day of school, individual school departments had already started work on ways to measure student progress in the new ESLRs. 

“The ESLRs themselves are general statements, but the application comes in the curriculum area,” said Berkeley High Principal Frank Lynch. Each department, he said, would now “take maybe one, two, or three of those ESLRs and say, ‘What does being a good communicator mean in terms of math or science?’” 

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges granted Berkeley High a relatively short one-and-a-half-year accreditation this spring after a highly critical review that cited “strong evidence... of no overall plan or will to develop overall school standards.” 

In its previous review, two years before, WASC had reported that the school’s ESLRs needed “to include meaningful and authentic examples or benchmarks for assuring successful completion by students” and that their attainment required more collaboration between the various subject departments trying to implement them. 

A lengthy pause ensued at Wednesday’s board meeting after Terry Doran, the board president, introduced the ESLR adoption measure. Nobody seconded it, Doran suggested it might die, and then Issel said, “Oh, okay, I’ll second it.” 

In a brief ensuing discussion, director John T. Selawsky took issue with the statement that Berkeley High graduates should be effective communicators who “write coherent essays and reports relatively free of grammatical errors.” 

“The word “relatively” jumped out at me,” Selawsky said. “It’s a very relative term.” 

“It reminds me of what we expect in a president,” said Doran. “All of our students can get C’s at Yale.” 

Doran suggested removing the entire clause, leaving “write coherent essays and reports.” Issel objected to the word “basic” in the statement calling for “masters of fundamental skills who integrate the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic into meaningful activities and projects.” 

“Is that what we’re aspiring to?” Issel said. “Don’t we want proficiency?” 

The measure passed unanimously, with only the word “relatively” deleted. 

In public comment at the end of the meeting, Berkeley High parent Iris Starr chastised the board. 

“I think you will be embarrassed to have adopted these,” she said. “WASC will not accept these.” 

In a later interview, Starr questioned whether math teachers had been present at the April 2000 drafting meeting. “If you look at ‘arithmetic,’ you know,” she said. “Arithmetic is what you do in second grade.” 

Board directors Issel and Selawsky both asserted Thursday that the ESLRs could be revised before the next WASC committee visit, in October, 2002. “If it needs revision, we can revise it,” Selawsky said. “It was my understanding that there were staff and administrators involved. Now if that’s inaccurate, then we have to take a look again at the document and perhaps recreate it in some way.” 

Lawrence, however, said the new ESLRs could be revised, but “probably not until after the visiting committee makes their assessment.”