Summit County Schools: Equal access – what it means |

Summit County Schools: Equal access – what it means

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news

The crystal ball isn’t clear for Summit School District board members or parents when it comes to equal access implementation at Summit Schools.

Some say the idea – to offer advanced learning opportunities to all students and give every student the chance for high achievement – hasn’t been communicated well. Board members recently called for presentations from Summit Middle School principal Joel Rivera and Summit High School principal Drew Adkins so they’re better informed on the reform tactic. They got that presentation last week.

They also called for a public forum between district staff, parents and the interested public to get feedback on equal access and to answer questions. That forum is slated for 6:30-8:30 tonight in the Summit High School Media Center.

“We want to offer high-level curriculum for all students and we believe all students can access it,” Rivera said during last week’s equal access board update. This year’s middle school-wide implementation of equal access is part of a district initiative to close the achievement gap and a call to educate the way a 21st-century classroom is supposed to. Summit High School still has four classes operating under the equal-access method.

One of his teachers, Ashley Smith, described how equal access works in her language arts classroom. She said she has seven students in the English-language learner or special education category, seven labeled gifted or talented and the rest are at varying learning levels.

For the assignment Smith described, every student was tasked with writing a five-paragraph essay. And everyone could do it, she said, even if it seems daunting for sixth-graders – some of whom need additional assistance.

But by asking questions of varying difficulty about oceanography, all of Smith’s students achieved the task. The lower-level learners wrote about the color, size and weight of an ocean animal of their choosing. Mid-level students described how a creature’s appearance helps its survival. And the highest achievers examined how the loss of habitat affects human society. She said it’s her responsibility to track students and know how to challenge them.

“It’s not more work for high-achieving students,” Rivera said. “It’s facilitated, differentiated instruction and grouping. Behind the scenes, all this planning went in.”

He said it’s been met with success – with students who would never have signed up for an honors class opting for more challenging coursework when placed in the same classroom as all levels of peers.

Which is all fine and good, some parents said at the meeting. But how does that allow high achievers to stand out and be ranked?

Adkins said that, once students get to 11th and 12th grade, International Baccalaureate takes over, and students who qualify for and opt into those classes stand out as Diploma Program students. Colorado Mountain College and advanced placement offerings also help further a child’s college application, as do the high school’s new Bonus 8 partial-credit courses designed to enrich and extend learning for high achievers and intervene for those who need it.

Parents also asked if all teachers are prepared to do the work Smith and her high school colleague, Jamie Lambrecht, are doing for their students. They said they have first-hand accounts of some teachers being less prepared than others to implement the new tactic.

Rivera said all of his teachers are trained in equal access instruction, with the exception of five newcomers. He, Adkins and board members said it’s natural for some teachers to excel over others – but parents didn’t buy it. They demanded high standards for all instructors.

The parents weren’t the only ones asking questions.

Board member Erin Young, acknowledging low achievers benefit from seeing the accomplishments of high achievers, wanted to know how high achievers benefit in the same situation.

And Brad Piehl asked, “Is honors for all different than honors?”

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