Personalized Pathways (PP) is a program being implemented in MMSD high schools (see the PP link for details). This website is an effort to organize and make available the information from conversations among those interested in the PP program. Here I list specific questions and concerns that have been raised by parents, teachers, staff, students, and community members. I have interacted with the MMSD Administration in an attempt to get these questions answered, and I thank them for being responsive both in person and over email.

Below are questions and comments. Responses by the MMSD administration are given in blue.

I hope that this website will lead to clear answers to the questions and concerns detailed below. If you have relevant comments, please email me and I will post them. Thank you! Updates are given in purple.

About the author: My husband, two children (ages 9 and 11), and dog live in the West High neighborhood. You may reach me at c.kendziorski [at] gmail.com.

Background: Personalized pathways was announced early in 2016, supported by a $400,000 grant awarded to the Foundation for Madison Public Schools by the Joyce Foundation (see the WKOW announcement). Many parents and teachers have expressed concerns, some of which are detailed below. Additional related concerns are detailed in this letter (I was not involved with this letter, but learned about the concerns after reading it). As noted in the announcement, on the PP FAQ page, and interviews, the program is being put in place to close the achievement gap and, specifically, to improve graduation rates. Clearly, this is a problem that must be addressed. However, while the PP program has outlined many potential advantages, there has been less discussion of questions that need to be addressed, as well as potential disadvantages.

The plan, as detailed by MMSD, has been for the PP program go “wall-to-wall” within the next few years. The school board will vote on an option for the 2019-2020 school year in April or September of 2018. See around 1:40 of the Board of Education Instruction Working Group Meeting.

Specific questions are organized by topic areas.

UPDATE: Questions Q1-Q3 below relate to the impact of pathways on science courses. In short, the courses required for science were reduced in grades 11 and 12 (details below); and PLTW courses were possible options, but most do not satisfy entrance requirements at most four year universities. See UW's statement on PLTW courses. I am happy to note that the March 2017 personalized pathways newsletter indicates that "All four high schools have made a collective decision to eliminate the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) classes from the Program of study due to capacity challenges." Given this, concerns associated with Q1-Q3 no longer apply. PLTW courses will still be available as electives, as they are now. Another update: In April 2017, MMSD added the option of math physics or general physics back into the curriculum for 11th grade and left the option of a science elective for 12th grade. Thank you, MMSD! More info is here.

Breadth and depth of courses offered.
Clearly, resources are limited. With teacher resources devoted to teaching PP courses, will the variety of science and other electives currently available continue to be offered?

Q1: Once the PP program is implemented wall-to-wall, will students continue to have access to the science courses that are currently available?

This is no longer a concern given the updated science curriculum.

Q2: Will the science courses that are currently offered at West remain offered in spite of limited resources and what may be reduced enrollment due to the addition of PP courses?

This is no longer a concern given the updated science curriculum.
Q3: Assuming these courses will still be offered, will a student be able to opt out of PP PLTW courses but still receive credit for other science courses such as earth science, chemistry, physics, and so on?

This is no longer a concern given the updated science curriculum.

Q4: Once the PP program is implemented wall-to-wall, will students have access to the art, music, and language options that are currently available?

MMSD response to Q4: Students will have opportunities to take up to four years of a world language, if this is an area of interest for them. The listing in our program of study is in reference to our new graduation requirement as of July 1, 2016. One of the new requirements is that all students must take 1 credit in either the Arts (visual, music, or theatre) or World Language. Through the Academic and Career Planning process, where students consider their future goals, they will be advised to pursue additional courses to be college, career, and community ready; as well as pursue other areas of interest including art, music, theatre or world language.

Implementation and evaluation of experiential learning opportunities. The first pathway involves field trips, guest speakers, mentors, case studies, mock interviews, and internships.

Q5: Will you please provide examples of the types of activities that students will engage in during the first pathway, with the names of mentors, guest speakers, and internship opportunities included.

Our response to Q5: These have not yet been determined, and MMSD has noted that some students "may take ownership of their own learning by making their own connections".

MMSD response to Q5: Experiential learning is an instructional strategy that can enhance, reinforce and bring relevance to classroom instruction. Teachers will determine when this instructional strategy is most appropriate to support students in mastering required knowledge and skills. To ensure that experiential learning activities are directly tied to classroom learning, teachers will facilitate, with support from school and district staff, connecting activities before, during and after the experiential learning event.
When appropriate, students will have the opportunity to work with mentors and/or participate in internship experiences. The district has developed partnerships with the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin and others, to assist in connecting students with mentors and internship placements. Students may also take ownership of their own learning by making their own connections. Adults working with students without school personnel present must go through the district background check process. The district already has a process in place to vet and screen adults working with students as mentors and tutors (e.g., AVID Program). The Pathways instructional model will increase the number of students who are able to take advantage of the assistance of mentors and tutors.


Q6: Who will oversee the implementation and evaluation of these activities?

MMSD response to Q6: Experiential learning activities that are embedded as part of classroom instruction will be facilitated and evaluated by the classroom teacher, with support of school and district staff, based on predetermined quality indicators. Students engaged in experiential learning activities that are tied to their learning goals, being completed more on an individual level, will be assisted by the Experiential Learning Liaison at their high school; again, based on a set of quality indicators and best practice processes.

Our response to Q6: It is not clear how classroom teachers will have time to oversee the mentors, guest speakers, case studies, and internships that are part of the PP program. It is also not yet clear what is meant exactly by "predetermined quality indicators" and "best practice processes".

Q7: How will mentors be vetted and evaluated?

MMSD response to Q7: Mentor training will be provided to all mentors, either in person or online. Mentor expectations will be clearly shared, and students and staff feedback will be collected to ensure that mentor expectations are being met.

Q8: How will case studies and/or internships be structured and evaluated in such a way that ensures meaningful learning?

MMSD response to Q8: Quality indicators, based on best practice, will be used to ensure quality internship programs. An internship handbook has been developed as an implementation guide that clearly states the roles and responsibilities of all parties engaged in an internship experience. Prior to an internship experience, students will determine learning goals with the assistance of the Experiential Learning Liaison and mentor. Student progress will be formally monitored on a quarterly basis, with the mentor completing a performance evaluation where progress toward goal attainment is monitored. The student, parent, mentor and internship coordinator will meet no fewer than three times per year in person.

Evaluation of the PP program and its effect on all students.

Q9: In addition to graduate rates, what criteria will be used to evaluate the PP program?

MMSD response to Q9: We are beginning these conversations with our board on Monday, March 6, and will continue to build out a strong three-year evaluation plan that includes input from various stakeholders.


Q10: How often will evaluations take place, and how will the results be made available to the teachers, parents, and students?

MMSD response to Q10: We are beginning these conversations with our board on Monday, March 6, and will continue to build out a strong three-year evaluation plan that includes input from various stakeholders.