March 13th, 2014 4:10 pm | by RACHEL GRAHAM CODY |

State Finds Portland Public Schools Violating State Law By Offering Too Little Instructional Time for High School Students

news2_pps-01_3952ILLUSTRATION: WW Staff
The Oregon Department of Education today released a sharply worded report that found Portland Public Schools fails to provide its high school students with minimum instructional requirements under Oregon law.

In his report, Rob Saxton, the state deputy superintendent of instruction, found PPS shortchanges its high schools students’ school day and school year and called the district "deficient."

According to Saxton, PPS does not provide the minimum number of 130 course hours as required by the state. Saxton also found the district out of compliance with the spirit of the state law requiring requiring 990 total instructional hours for high school students over the course of the year, though not technically out of compliance.

“The overwhelming majority of the district’s high school students are taking fewer than eight classes, which puts those students’ access to learning opportunities well below 990 hours per year, and the district appears to have encouraged this trend,” Saxton wrote in his report. “Efforts to stop students from taking a full course load where that effort is not based on an assessment of the needs of an individual student must cease.”

According to October data from PPS included in the report, fewer than half of all 9th graders take a full course load and only 11 percent of seniors.

The ruling is a victory for the Portland Parent Coalition, which since last spring has been advocating for increased instructional hours for high school students. The coalition filed the initial complaint with the Department of Education in October.

"I think this decision came squarely down on the side of students," says Caroline Fenn of the Parent Coalition. "Other districts will have to take notice."

In a prepared statement, PPS Chief Academic Officer Sue Ann Higgens pledged the district will be in compliance by the 2014-15 school year. "Portland Public Schools is committed to providing our students with more instructional time at all grade levels," the statement said.

Jon Isaacs, PPS spokesperson, says the district disputes the state’s finding the district actively discouraged students from taking a full course load, but he acknowledged there were challenges. Next year, the district will require all students to plan for 8 classes, a full schedule. “It’s a sea change,” Isaacs says.

Saxton also found the district out of compliance with state requirements for a functional, transparent and timely complaint process. In fact, the report found

PPS has 90 days to submit a detailed plan, approved by school board, to comply with state mandated class hours and to reform the complaint process.

The district, with Parent Coalition members, must also create an audit process to ensure implementation of the changes by August 15. Saxton reported he may withhold state education funds if the district is not in compliance by the start of next school year.

Saxton gave a pass to past PPS courses, but if the district is not in compliance with course hours by next year, high school credits, Saxton wrote, will not be valid.

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