SEPAC Meeting Minutes: March 8, 2022

SEPAC March 8, 2022 Meeting Minutes

Call to Order

Introductions – Inae Hwang, Sarah Barton, Deb Savage, Amy Gabriele, Cara Hecker, Cheryl, Katell Guellec, Krasi Petkov, Lisa Welch, Liz Exton, Lori, Marais Young, Robin, Rohit Dhanjal, Sarah Evans, Sarah Forster, Sara Hamitay, Takako, Yossi Weihs, Alison Elmer, Maria Merkulova, Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, Chris Carlson, Tracy Perneta, Ben Ferber, Carolina Herrera, and Matthew Janger attended

Meeting Minutes – Meeting Minutes from February 2022 were approved.

Officer/Committee Reports

– We didn’t have many people show up to our Parent/Caregiver listening session. We had about 3 who attended, but we still had a good discussion. Representative Garballey did show up, even though he didn’t have a student in APS.

– Our survey has ended, and we are currently aggregating the results. We are having another meeting this Friday to work on a presentation.

– We hope to have a number of recommendations/issues to address on a state-wide level to bring up at our May meeting, when Representative Garballey is in attendance.

– Our April Meeting will have Dr. MacNeal and the Director of ELA, plus reading coaches and reading specialists, and they will be presenting on the General Education (Elementary) ELA curriculum and supports. It was mentioned that the District is moving on from the Lucy Calkins reading curriculum, due to its lack of explicit and direct reading instruction. The District is currently going through a process to explore replacement curricula.

-Next month we are having a morning Zoom Business Meeting, and an Evening Zoom Parent Social Hour.

APS Staff Reports

– Dr. Janger is here to talk about the Heterogeneous Grouping Initiative at the High School

Dr. Janger Presentation on Heterogeneous Classes at AHS

– Last year we were all remote at the HS, and we came back in person at the end of the year. In response to this change, they switched to 80 minute periods and heterogeneous classes. In a heterogeneous classroom, students are all in the same classroom, but some pursue the honors level curriculum and others pursue the advanced level curriculum.

– Last year they noticed the increase in students taking the honors level curriculum as a result of exposure to the material/study group in the heterogeneous classes. We are reaching a point, after discussing the matter in the heterogeneous classes working group and with intra-department discussions, some departments are willing to have heterogeneous groupings (ELA, Freshman English), while other departments are waiting to adopt the heterogeneous model until more data is known.

– We are aware that separate classes are inherently not equal, and there are disparities in certain student populations (BIPOC, Special Education) in taking honors level curriculum vs. advanced level.

– We find that more students achieve the honors level when participating in heterogeneous classes than they do with typical groupings of separate honors classes and advanced classes.

-The current proposal has a few different pieces:

            – Currently in 8th grade, teachers are making recommendations on whether they should do honors or A-level coursework. Currently there are 18 different sections of Freshman English, which would have 21 students in each section.

            -There would be teams of 3 teachers who teach these classes over 6 periods. Four of those sections would have a co-taught model, where a special educator could support students on IEPs.

            -Our expectation is that we will see higher levels of honors level participation, and higher grades/more student engagement overall.

            -The last major measure is if we see that the program is successful, we may carry the heterogeneous model over to other departments in the future.

– We have a proposal in the works that tries to answer the questions proposed by the community. Currently there are many questions about how heterogeneity is structured, such as whether honors level curriculum is taught to all. Once the proposal is shared, we will have two focus groups from the community to give feedback on the proposal. The goal is to finalize the proposal and then present it to the School Committee in April.

– Grouping practices is one of the most studied practices in education. One of the populations that benefits the most are students on IEPs. The students are participating with their neurotypical peers, and they’re getting the kind of support that they need, and they often achieve at higher levels when participating in these groupings. The results show that these groupings also aren’t detrimental, and are even beneficial for honors level students.

TASA Presentation on Advocacy Efforts in Support of Students with Language Based Learning Disabilities

– They are a private parent group of 300+ members with students with disabilities, and they have two private online forums where parents can share advocacy advice and resources.

– SEPAC is public and not limited to parents, while they are private, with parents-only membership.

– They looked at what they perceive to be system-wide issues related to reading and reading support in Arlington Public Schools. Many parents are grateful to educators who work very hard for their children, but they are working in a system that they believe is stacked against them.

– The current concern is that if students aren’t proficient readers by the spring of third grade, they will be left behind in fourth grade, when students typically go from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”. Reading becomes one of the main ways that content is taught to fourth graders, and up to half of the printed fourth grade curriculum is potentially incomprehensible to students who read below grade level. Currently, their specific concerns are that there has been an under-identification of students with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia in APS* (12.2%-17.7%) vs. the State Average (23.7%-24.7%), evidence-based curriculum (both in GenEd and Special Ed settings) isn’t currently used, and there aren’t enough staff to implement the current supports

– They perceive that there currently isn’t enough teacher training and certification in evidence-based reading instruction for Special Educators. There currently is overlap between GenEd and SPED supports within academic support pullout services. They asked that more of these supports be part of the General Education setting, such as within the heterogeneous groupings that Principal Janger mentioned.

– There are currently significant gaps between GenEd and SPED students, and parents surveyed believed that there are low expectations for SPED student performance within APS.

– Parents are pleased that APS are improving early identification of students with dyslexia and related learning disabilities. They aren’t sure how these efforts of earlier intervention and improved professional development to staff on reading-related issues compares to State Law requirements on reading intervention, and they aren’t sure what can and has been done to support older students with Language-Based Learning Disabilities.

*(Based on analysis of available data and data collection from their membership)

Public Participation / New Business / Open Discussion


– Our next meeting is on Tuesday, April 12th, at 9:00am. On that same evening, we will be hosting a Parent Social Hour at the same Zoom link, at 7:30pm.

– April’s meeting will focus on the District describing their reading programs, and what changes are starting to happen and will happen to the reading curriculum and supports at the elementary level.