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NKSD compares seat time vs. competency

POULSBO — Competency over seat-time. Comprehension over class-time. Proficiency over credit-hours earned.

The idea that understanding material is more important than “putting in the time” in class when awarding high school credit is something that North Kitsap’s administrators and the school board readily agree upon.

The reality of how to get there is what caused serious debate at the North Kitsap School Board of Director’s meeting June 30.

The board weighed in on the discussion, during the overall topic of graduation requirements, for the first time — at least since Catherine Ahl said since she’s been on the board.

“What is the purpose of the graduation requirements?” Ahl asked. “What do we want our product to be?”

Not long after posing the question, school board member Ed Strickland cited his first concerns with how the district awards credit based on seat-time, using Advanced Placement classes (A.P.) as his example. Strickland said he disagrees with the current system of how A.P. credit is awarded on each student’s college transcript for simply taking the class. The true measure of gaining the advanced placement designation is passing the year-end A.P. test, he told the board — even if that means the student has only taken the test and not the class.

“We are not giving the kid credit if they’ve earned it,” he told his fellow board members and administrators.

Strickland cited the Guiding Principles policy — the district’s long-term objectives developed in a document by a task force two years ago — that states one goal is to “... develop a system for awarding credit based on competency.”

High school administrators stated at the meeting that through their work, as well as through the development of the Polaris International School, credit is moving to a more competency-based system. For instance, in the new small school, which begins in September with 175 students, one teacher may teach three different levels in the same class. The teacher would award grades based on which level the student chose to undertake — be it A.P., honors or at the standard level. For example, a student earning an “A” in the standard level might only earn a “B” or “C” at the honors level.

Spectrum Principal Chris Wendelyn also spoke up on the competency issue.

“The reality is you have different students ... with different levels of competency,” Wendelyn said. “They’ll also leave with a different level of competency. It’s the teacher’s responsibility to know what the child’s needs are.”

District Supt. Gene Medina said while he understood Wendelyn’s concerns, he also acknowledged the state’s role in steering what it is to be “competent.”

“The state has established standards,” Medina said. “Frankly, there isn’t an option not to obtain that standard.”

Aside from meeting state requirements for graduation, moving the district staff in a direction that promotes competency — in all levels of students — over seat time will take time, said Marylou Murphy, NKSD Executive Director of Teaching and Learning.

“This training will not be in a workshop,” Murphy said. “This is embedded in development. Teachers are very sensitive.”

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