by David Safier
This falls into the "Be careful what you wish for" category. I mainly applauded the Unitary Status Plan put together for TUSD by the courts. It clarified and updated the desegregation plan the district has been under for decades. And it was necessary to appoint a Special Master to oversee implementation of the plan. But Special Master Willis Hawley is getting a little hyperactive about his duties. He needs to take a breath and see if TUSD can work things out before he jumps in with both feet. We've got a new Supe in town and a reconstituted board. They're on the side of deseg. These things take time.
First Hawley wanted TUSD to scrap part of its magnet program because the magnet schools aren't sufficiently integrated. H.T. Sanchez wants some time to let the district finish its efficiency audit and demographic study, then look at holistic changes to the district. Makes sense to me.
Now Hawley is telling TUSD to scrap its new admissions plans for University High School (UHS) because he doesn't think they represent the best way to bring UHS closer to the district's racial balance. The district plans to add a motivation test to allow students who don't quite make the GPA/entrance exam cut to be accepted into the school. Hawley wants something that looks more like college application material — student essays, staff recommendations, etc. His isn't a bad idea. In fact, TUSD is looking at adding the those items for the 2014-15 school year. But once again, the district wants the chance to make a good faith effort to work things out on its own.
TUSD put out a UHS Admissions Process Revision this year spelling out its proposed two year plan for changing the admissions process. The first year adds the motivation test to the mix, and its impact will be evaluated. The second year will look at including of some of the items Hawley suggested.
TUSD's revision document mentions the experts who were contacted and the local people who were involved in making the decisions. The decisions weren't made without thought and consideration. The reason some of the other inputs such as interviews, personal essays and staff recommendations weren't included in the first year was because of the concern they "could inject subjectivity into a process, and could reduce the transparency and consistency of the admissions." Correct or not, it's a reasonable justification for taking a step-by-step approach.
The academic motivation test is the Children's Academic Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (CAIMI). From what I could glean on the web, it's a test used to assess the motivation of low achieving students for counseling purposes, and it's used with other students to determine their motivation in various academic areas. I read a summary of a 2011 dissertation on CAIMI which found the test to be valid and without bias regarding race, gender or IQ of the students. Since a student's motivation is an important factor in achievement, it's reasonable to think students with "grit" — those motivated to do their best rather than give up when the going gets tough — will be likely candidates for success when faced with the academic rigors of UHS.
Hawley's assessments and recommendations aren't wrong. They're just premature. The Unitary Status plan is new, and the Supe and Board are newer still. There will be plenty of time for Hawley to assert his authority if and when TUSD's plans fall short.