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Date: March 10, 2014

To: High School Principals

From: Susanne Griffin-Ziebart, Chief Academic Officer
Re: HS Science Course Sequence

Dear principals:

Thank you, to you, and many of your teachers for raising important issues regarding the current high school science
course sequence. In order to address your concerns, I requested a review of the rationale for our current sequence
along with analysis of some common challenges. I am attaching the review to this message.

After considering the various points of view that have been shared over the past several months, I have decided to
continue with implementation of the current course sequence. While it is clear that this sequence is not without its
challenges, it is equally clear that there is no perfect course sequence. There are benefits and drawbacks to every
option, and I believe our current sequence best aligns with MPS values and strategic direction.

The current sequence emphasizes our commitment to ensuring all ninth graders are setup to have equal access to
advanced courses by eleventh grade. By eliminating lower level courses such as Physical Science and Environmental
Foundations, we are pushing more students to take rigorous courses such as Biology and Physics to start their high
school careers. This sequence also provides all students with exposure to three major science disciplines within their
first two years, giving them a better foundation to select advanced courses which best match their interests and talents
later in high school. And because it is a common sequence, students moving between high schools in MPS can more
easily pick up their studies where they left off at another site. This also provides ample opportunity for teachers to
collaborate with one another across schools and make the greatest use of curriculum guides and benchmark
assessments developed to support Focused Instruction.

It is important that we formally evaluate the impacts of this sequence on course-taking patterns (especially equitable
access to advanced coursework) and student achievement. This year, which is the first year in which the sequence is
fully implemented, will provide important baseline data to compare to previous years. We will continue to monitor the
impacts of the sequence in coming years and make adjustments as necessary.

We know many schools face challenges in fully implementing this course sequence. In order to ensure you are
supported, I have directed the MPS science team to assist schools with resolving implementation challenges at their
sites. They are ready to partner with you on brainstorming solutions to the challenges you face. However, please also
know that they are responsible for implementing the current sequence and are not able to change it or grant exceptions
to it. They will be focused on helping make this sequence work for all MPS students.

Thank you again for your partnership in resolving issues that impact your schools and students. Please reach out to me
with any questions you have.


Susanne Griffin-Ziebart
Chief Academic Officer

Current MPS High School Science Sequence:
Grade Course Name
Biology 1 (1 semester)
Physics 1 (1 semester)
*the above courses completed in either order
10 Chemistry
Biology 2 (1 semester)
Physics 2 (1 semester)

Background on sequence decision:
In 2010, MPS implemented two major changes to the high school science sequence. The first was to establish a
standard, rigorous course sequence in 9
through 11
grades for all students. The second major change was to
eliminate lower level science courses that traditionally served as tracking mechanisms (Physical Science and
Environmental Foundations). The impetus for these changes was the passing of the 2009 MN science standards, new
graduation requirements, and a call from the superintendent to remove institutional barriers to equitable course access.

Multiple options for a sequence were thoroughly considered. The MPS science team engaged extensively with
stakeholders to determine the common course sequence:
9-12 science teachers (Upon survey in 2010, no strong preference was found. The current sequence and
another option were close to a tie.)
Curriculum Advisory subgroup of the Minneapolis School Board, which included Board and community members
Faculty from Twin Cities higher education institutions
District administration and central office departments
15 Minnesota school districts (majority of school districts still offer lower level courses in 9
grade, such as
Physical Science, and begin tracking in 9
grade or earlier)

Rationale for the current high school science sequence:
During the engagement process, key stakeholders prioritized the values listed below to guide the selection of a course
sequence. The current sequence most closely balanced and matched with the core values guiding the decision.

Value Connection to sequence
1. Equity in student access to
rigorous courses
All students enter into a common course sequence that is aligned with
rigorous academic standards.
All students enter into a common pathway that allows them the
opportunity to take advanced courses (rather than tracking in 9
2. Address MN standards and
graduation requirements
Addresses all standards in Life Science, Physics, and Chemistry and some
Earth and Space Science standards.
Addresses Nature of Science and Engineering standards in all courses.
3. Appropriate cognitive sequencing
for students
Standards placed in each grade level match the cognitive development of
the majority of students.
The sequence recognizes all disciplines have depth and complexity and
reserves more advanced concepts for later in the sequence.
Math demands of the science sequence follow and support students
development of these skills in their math courses.
4. Alignment with higher education
Majority of colleges and universities require three years of laboratory
science, indicating Biology and Chemistry or Physics, in some cases all
three. Physical Science, which MPS has eliminated with the new sequence,
is generally considered a lower level course.
The sequence ensures all students gain the necessary background
knowledge needed to answer questions on the ACT science test (which
includes biology, chemistry, physics, and Earth/space sciences).
Concerns about the current sequence
Throughout the fall and winter, teachers and administrators at some MPS high schools have raised important issues
about the current high school sequence. Based on e-mails, phone calls, and direct interactions, the following table
summarizes the most common issues raised and responses to each.

Concern Response
Students are not retaining
content knowledge well from
grade to 11
grade (e.g.,
from Biology I to Biology II)
Students actually get the opportunity to revisit and expand their learning of
content from previous years. Students experience this spiraling of content
knowledge throughout their K-8 education already.
The learning can be strengthened by a focus on the science practices and
crosscutting concepts that are endemic to all science disciplines. Our ongoing
work involves highlighting connections and crosscutting concepts throughout our
Greater collaboration among science teachers of different disciplines within
schools will be necessary to make the instruction and learning explicit for students.
Focus teaching on best practice pedagogy that promotes learning for retention will
also be necessary.
The number of content
standards makes it difficult to
teach in an inquiry-based
environment, which is
exacerbated by the split
sequence for Biology and
The state standards have varying scopes.
Adjustments will be made in Physics and Chemistry curriculum by removing some
Physical Science standards that have been added to the year-long Chemistry and
Physics courses. These courses already have specific standards that go beyond the
Physical Science standards.
The learning targets for the courses will be reanalyzed in relation the state
standards for their depth and breadth. Making adjustments could alleviate some
pacing concerns.
The Minnesota Academic Standards Nature of Science and Engineering are
intended to be embedded in the content of multiple courses. These standards are
assessed in the MCAs, along with the Life Science standards. Students are given
more opportunities to practice and master the Nature of Science and Engineering
standards in all core courses. Only 8% of students testing statewide in the Science
MCAs in 2013 were 9
graders. The MCAs must be administered upon the
completion of Biology (year-long credit).
Depending on the discipline,
students have less high
school level content
background for advanced
courses than they have
typically had in the past.
As stated by the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, students who have
undertaken the MYP program with some previous exposure to the specific subject
would be well prepared for a higher level (HL) course.
Standard Level IB courses do not require any previous science background, as
stated by the International Baccalaureate Organization.
The MPS high school science sequence allows for prior exposure in all three
disciplines and provides a balanced science background.
AP and CIS courses vary in their recommendations for prior coursework.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of the current course sequence?
See the table above relating how the sequence connects to the core values guiding the sequence decision.

Why was this course sequence selected if a majority of teachers did not support it?
The survey of teachers showed no clear preference. This sequence was supported by roughly the same number
of teachers as another sequence option. The final decision was made by the district administration after
reviewing all of the key information gathered.

Why not allow each high school to determine its own science course sequence?
Allowing each high school to determine its own science course sequence does not promote equity across the
district. The options available to a student will be limited by his/her zip code. At one school, a student may
have limited ability to take advanced coursework (i.e., transferring students).
A common course sequence also promotes collaboration across the district among teachers and allows for
targeted professional development, as expectations are common.
A common course sequence also allows for the use of the Focused Instruction process that includes the use of
curriculum guides and common assessments. If schools were placing courses at different grade levels, the
expectations and scope of learning targets would vary. The use of common curriculum guides and benchmark
assessments for these courses would become much more difficult.

How do higher education partners view the MPS science course sequence?
The higher education faculty consulted stated the sequence has the advantages of placing developmentally
appropriate content first. Upper level courses must consciously integrate the content, practices, and skills of
earlier courses.

What is the equity impact of the science course sequence?
Students at each of the high schools enter with the same possibilities for future coursework. Students of color
are not tracked into less rigorous courses at 9
grade like they were prior to this sequence. The expectation is
that students at middle schools also engage in equitable learning experiences in preparation for high school.

This sequence creates licensure issues at some schools. How has the district addressed this?
For the first two years of this sequence, the district allowed the Physics 1 course to be named Physical Science-
Physics. This gave more flexibility for the teacher licensure required to teach the course. In some cases,
teachers were awarded variances on their licenses. This allowed for a transition period during which teachers
could attain the appropriate license or modifications could be made in hiring. Beginning this school year, the
course must be named appropriately Physics 1, and taught by a teacher with the required licenses, so students
transcripts reflect the standards addressed in the course. The district has communicated extensively with
schools about implications for licensure over the last three years.

Can we reasonably expect students to carry knowledge/skills from 9
grade to 11
Students are expected to carry knowledge from earlier grades (K-8) as they spiral through content. This
expectation is not new.
The big ideas and science practices and skills are what we hope students will take with them from one year to
the next, not every content area detail.
The MCA science data (covering grades 3-5 and 6-8) doesnt indicate that we have higher performance for
standards covered in later years versus earlier years.

Dont students need more introductory science in a particular discipline (e.g., Biology) before taking an IB or AP
course in this area?
According to the International Baccalaureate Organization, the answer is no. For AP courses, offered primarily
at South High School, the sequence allows for introductory experiences.