Berkeley Unified School Board discusses Next Generation Science Standards

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The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education discussed Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS, and the Common Core mathematics standard at its regular meeting Wednesday.

During the meeting, the board had its first reading of the NGSS — a proposal for new science curriculum standards at Berkeley High School that aims at helping students succeed in class. The board also received an update on the Common Core mathematics standards, which was implemented in 2014.

NGSS would create a new three-year sequence of teaching science at BHS, which would start at Berkeley International High School and the Arts and Humanities Academy in fall 2017, and for all BHS students in Fall 2018.

With the NGSS model, all BHS students will be taking physics in ninth grade. Currently, the students’ science class choices are life science heavy, and only 20 percent of graduating students have taken physics. Student will take chemistry in 10th grade and biology in the 11th grade. Math and lab work for the science classes will be designed to correspond with the math levels for the respective grade levels.

“I’m glad to see that the science department like the math department is looking at reviewing its practices, particularly in line with common core and the need to really, in general, beef up our quantitative fence in our schools,” said board member Karen Hemphill.

Before the school board will vote on the proposal at a future meeting, an information night will be scheduled by April 18. Middle and high school families will be invited to attend the meeting.

The board also discussed the Common Core math curriculum — a standard in teaching math that was implemented in 2014 which aims at preparing students for real-world issues and helping students of all levels succeed.

BHS principal Erin Schweng discussed the breakdown of the rates of ninth-graders who received Ds and Fs in Math 1. The rates were higher than expected, showing an increase from 16.7 percent in the fall 2015 semester to 24.6 percent in fall 2016.

BHS teachers emphasized that the district has introduced co-teaching lessons, shared resources for teachers and more support for students, including tutoring programs. Schweng said many of the students who are earning Bs are attending tutoring lessons, but fewer of the students who are at risk to fail the class attend.

Board Vice President Josh Daniels said he appreciates that the teachers are willing to share data that isn’t positive.

Approximately 20 Washington Elementary School parents and some students came to address the board with their concerns. Several parents spoke, expressing their discontent with the situation of overcrowding and lack of staff at the school, which they said has deteriorated over the past few years.

“This is what it feels like at Washington,” the parents said, closely gathering around the speaker’s lectern, in order to visually demonstrate the overcrowdedness of their children’s school.

Other parents from Washington Elementary School and Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary School expressed their concerns about harassment and assault at elementary schools, as well as out-of-control classrooms.

Some of the parents raised concerns about BUSD’s harassment complaint process, alleging that BUSD handles complaints too slowly. Superintendent Donald Evans said BUSD and the district’s new Title IX coordinator, Dana Clarkwho took office March 8 — will make joint efforts to work through the complaints and to see what policy changes they should implement.

“We have been working together in trying to work through the complaints and also looking at what needs to be changed on the policy,” Evans said. “We have been working on that, we try to make changes as fast as we can and we are working really hard with them.”

Next week’s special school board meeting has been postponed to Oct. 4. The next regular meeting will be held April 12.

Charlotte Kosche covers schools and communities. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharlotteKosche.