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State rules Ashland's TAG program out of compliance

The Ashland School District does not meet the state’s minimum standards for ensuring its talented and gifted students receive appropriate instruction and must submit a corrective action plan by June 15 or risk losing a portion of its state funding, according to a ruling handed down Friday from the Oregon Department of Education.

The district has 60 days from the date of the ruling to ask Oregon’s Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Salam Noor to reconsider the order and is also entitled to seek a judicial review within the same time frame. But Samuel Bogdanove, Ashland's director of student services, said the district will not go that route and has already began working on its corrective action plan.

“I think even when the complaint was at the district level we acknowledged that there were some ways that we wanted to grow and we’re always wanting to do that,” Bogdanove said. “And the things that they’ve asked us to do are very reasonable. … So I would anticipate, barring any surprises, that we would be completed with that by June.”

The five-page ruling, addressed to Ashland parent Matthew Richards and interim Superintendent Suzanne Cusick, was the ODE’s “final order” to an appeal by Richards. A father of two Ashland students who currently attend Ashland High School and Ashland Middle School, Richards filed an appeal to a decision by the Ashland School District issued July 27, 2016, alleging the district was in violation of requirements that teachers to provide instruction to TAG-identified students designed to accommodate their accelerated rates of learning.

Richards said he first confronted the district about its TAG deficiencies shortly after moving to Ashland from the Three Rivers School District in September of 2011 precisely to enroll his children in Ashland’s highly regarded schools — five local schools received “Outstanding” scores from the state in the fall of 2011.

In  the 2016 three-paragraph response to Richards’ claims, the district determined that its “ongoing implementation of tiered instruction can provide a long-term answer to Mr. Richards’ concerns.”

Richards disagreed, and said Tuesday the state’s ruling of his appeal came as no surprise.

“I knew that they were going to find Ashland out of compliance because it was not even remotely close to being in compliance, and they did,” he said. “It’s a good thing in that what it will do is it’ll cause the district to make sure that they are doing differentiated education — they’re teaching the kids at rates and levels that are appropriate to them, rather than a more one-size-fits-all approach. ... I think Ashland’s an amazing school system that does a lot of things really, really well. But this is one that we could do a better job on.”

To investigate Richards’ appeal, the ODE in January dispatched two staff members to Ashland to spend a day in the district observing high school, middle school and elementary classrooms. They discovered a mixed bag of compliance, noting in Friday’s ruling that an advanced placement English teacher was able to “differentiate instruction” during a Socratic circle exercise, while another teacher’s attempts to address “rate of learning” was mostly unsuccessful.

“For example,” read the report, “in one classroom the rate of learning was initially addressed through opportunity to advance to subsequent problems without pacing from the teacher. After five minutes, however, the rate of learning slowed to the pace of the struggling students, one problem was presented at a time, and students who were ready to move on were not able to do so.”

The ODE investigators, which included legislative coordinator Emily Nazarov, also used two surveys to determine other shortcomings.

The report concluded that Ashland’s corrective action plan must include “specific discussion” of three elements: professional development for teachers around “how to effectively use rate and level” in the classroom; improving and ensuring access for all teachers to information about which of their students have been TAG identified and their individual TAG plans; and implementing a consistent opportunity for parents to review their student’s TAG plan.

Nazarov said Ashland is currently the only TAG appeal case in the state, and there are currently no outstanding TAG complaints.

“I’ve been at the department 3½ years,” she said, “and I’ve seen two ... TAG appeals come through. One was when I first started, and (Ashland).”

According to the report, the district will be categorized as a “conditionally standard school” once its corrective action plan, which must be approved by the School Board, is received by the ODE. The district will be re-established as a “standard school” once its plan has been successfully implemented.

Nazarov suggested that news reports which focus on the possibility of state funds being withheld from Ashland School District, while technically accurate, are somewhat alarmist.

“I keep hearing about funds being withheld,” she said. “There are two ways that that happens. The first is, if the district does not get back in compliance by either the beginning of the school year or the end of the extension period then the deputy superintendent, the statute says, may withhold portions of state school funds. It’s discretionary and it’s not the full amount.

"If the district does not turn in their corrective action plan in to us by June 15," she continued, "then the statute says that we have to withhold state school funds. That’s the piece that I saw pulled out and that’s the piece that I keep wanting to say, ‘I don’t foresee that happening.’ The district is already working on its corrective action plan.”

— Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.