Higher-level classes to extend to all middle school students at Robbinsdale Area Schools

/ 4 January 2016 / Shawna
Joe Bowen, Sun Post, January 4, 2016

Informational meeting is Jan. 7

Robbinsdale-Logo_VerticalRobbinsdale Area Schools is rolling out a plan to place all of its middle school students in advanced classes.

Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, all district middle schoolers will receive the same Pre-Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate-Middle Years Program curriculum. The former is offered at Plymouth Middle School and the latter at Robbinsdale Middle School, but both programs have heretofore been voluntary ones with an application period.

“Starting next fall, you won’t have to apply anymore because all students will be getting our most rigorous curriculum,” said district spokesperson Joseph Palmersheim.

The district’s two middle schools funnel into Armstrong and Cooper high schools, which offer the AP and IB curriculum, respectively. Administrators at both high schools announced prior to the 2015-16 school year that the number of students there taking the more rigorous classes and sitting for the programs’ more rigorous tests has steadily increased in the past few years.

“We strongly believe – and research has shown – that raising the bar for all students will increase their learning,” wrote Supt. Carlton Jenkins in a letter to fifth, sixth, and seventh grade families.

The initiative to expand the preparatory curriculum to include all middle school students, which the school district has dubbed “Academic Excellence for All,” stems from Minnesota’s “World’s Best Workforce” education legislation. The bill was designed to eliminate racial and economic achievement gaps, ensure students are ready for careers and college, and that all students graduate from high school. It also requires school districts in the state to adopt “a comprehensive, long-term strategic plan to support and improve teaching and learning,” according to the Minnesota Department of Education website.

Robbinsdale Area Schools created the most recent iteration of its “Unified District Vision” in 2014, and district administrators and officials believe the broader application of the more rigorous coursework will help accomplish the goals set out in the World’s Best Workforce bill.

“Goal one of our Unified District Vision specifically states we will ‘implement policies and practices that open pathways for academic excellence for all students,’” Jenkins wrote. “The bar is academic excellence, and the only way to reach it is by expanding our best teaching strategies for the benefit of all students.”

Materials provided by the district claim “more than 300” studies indicate that dividing students between advanced and “regular” classes has “minimal effects on learning, but has profound negative effects on creating an equitable environment for all learners.”

District staff tested the waters for the plan at informal parent meetings last November, but declined to speak publicly about it.

Timeline

Here is the school district’s timeline for the “Academic Excellence for All” initiative:

• 6-7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 7: A meeting for parents of incoming sixth, seventh, and eighth graders with principals and superintendent at Robbinsdale Middle School, 3730 Toledo Ave. N., Robbinsdale.

• Jan. 12: Info night for fifth grade students and families at Robbinsdale Middle School.

• Jan. 14: Info night for fifth grade students and families at Plymouth Middle School, 10011 N. 36th Ave., Plymouth.

• End of January: “State of the District” address.

• February: Superintendent roundtable.

• March: “Principal coffee chats” for parents and families.

• April: Coffee with middle school teachers for parents and families.

Contact Joe Bowen at joe.bowen@ecm-inc.com