Earlier this week, a parent sent in a letter to the Vanguard. The parent was clearly unhappy that a large number of students had their OLSAT tests invalidated, it appeared, because of inconsistent handling of tests.
As the parent notes, “DJUSD gave schools incorrect instructions by handing out scan-tron answer-sheets, which are inconsistent with testbooks and should not be used. For unknown reasons, some teachers gave students the scantron sheets, while others did not. Consequently, students of 12 classes had their answers invalidated because they filled the bubbles on scantron.”
After receiving this letter, the Vanguard asked DJUSD Public Information Officer Maria Clayton for the district response. She called the problem “unfortunate.” But she added that the resolution was “immediate, comprehensive and well-communicated to employees and parents.”
The district made the determination that “a retest was necessary for some classrooms.”
However the way the district chose to handle the retest was to administer the CogAT (Cognitive Abilities Test), “a test previously approved and used for AIM-identification, to provide a testing option for any student whose scores were found to be invalid. Families with students who take the CogAT will receive results by mail at the same time as families receive OLSAT-8 results.”
But the remedy itself has problems. The OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test) contains 65 questions and is a 40-minute test. The CogAT, on the other hand, is much longer – a 170-question, 3-hour long, computer-based test that is going to be given to 300 third grade students.
That is a huge burden to put on an eight- to nine-year-old third grade student, particularly when it was a district error.
We understand that the district is in the midst of a major change to the long-time program, and that with change comes some bumps in the road. However, it is our view that the burden of these changes has fallen each time on the students.
When it comes to AIM reform, change has not come at the “speed of trust,” but rather it seems we are moving forward faster than we can accommodate those changes. It is one thing if change occurs in a bureaucratic system, but these are changes that seem to have negative consequences for children and families.
This week, a number of commentators have pointed out that, had the district retained Deanne Quinn, this problem would have been avoided. Longer-term readers will recall that former Superintendent Winfred Roberson and his staff, in the spring of 2015, recommended that the board renew the part-time contract of Ms. Quinn.
However, the board majority, by a 3-2 vote with Alan Fernandes and Madhavi Sunder dissenting, voted to overrule the superintendent and terminate Ms. Quinn’s contract. That move has consequences and one of them is the burden that will be placed on 300-plus third graders.
Were this the only bump in the road, we might be more forgiving. However, something similar happened with the three AIM strands.
As a reader notes, “3rd graders who met the testing threshold of 96 percentile received a letter telling them that they were to be placed in one of 3 AIM classrooms, Willett, North Davis or Pioneer.”
However, despite parents being told that there would be three classrooms and being directed to give their preference at some point, the board made the determination that 66 students did not merit three classrooms and that one would be eliminated.
As the reader points out: “The counter argument AIM parents gave to the board was (a) since you told us there would be 3 classrooms, just make 3 classrooms. (b) since the criteria changed a lot from last year, simply open up the classrooms to other kids who didn’t get the 96 percentile, but would have liked to be there anyway – you just had to find 9 more kids to be there (c) everyone acknowledges that testing isn’t perfect, so let’s be flexible this year.”
Again it was Alan Fernandes and Madhavi Sunder who attempted to implement the compromise, only to be overruled by the board majority.
There have been other problems as well – even before changing the qualification threshold, the number of AIM students in the self-contained program has been dwindling. Many have expressed concern about the very low levels of identification of Latino and African-American students.
However, instead of pausing further changes to evaluate whether the new evaluation system is working, the district has pushed through changes that resulted in an OCR (Office for Civil Rights) investigation into the program. While OCR closed their investigation without taking action, that investigation cost the district more than $20,000.
As Madhavi Sunder has pointed out, the new testing procedures are problematic.
She believes that the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, and other new tests they used, have “failed.” She said we need to make sure we are giving fair access to English-Language Learners, low income students, learning disabled students, and racial minorities “that we know are often unfairly disadvantaged on the OLSAT [Otis-Lennon School Ability Test].” She said they retested these groups “and we failed to identify almost any.”
Madhavi Sunder said they already have some numbers and “we are three percent African American in this district and the number that is identified is zero percent.” She pointed out that there was only a three percent success rate on the Naglieri and a 32 percent success rate for the CogAT.
“That was the test (CogAT) that we gave to more advantaged students,” she argued. “What upsets me is that we gave the disadvantaged students a much harder to succeed on test.” In the past, they were given the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence) which had a 14.6 percent success rate. “We didn’t give the TONI to a single low income student this year.”
While Tom Adams and Barbara Archer argued that TONI was to be used only for English-learners, Ms. Sunder pointed out that the makers of the test disagree and believe TONI should be used more generally for disadvantaged children who often lack the language skills of their more advantaged counterparts.
From our perspective, I think most people agreed that the private testing component was problematic and unfair. However, the district could have buffered the other changes to program.
Here again, it seems that pushing forward change is more important than getting the program correct. Each time the district has miscalculated – whether it has been on testing protocol, the three strands or now the misapplication of testing – the people who have paid the price have been the students and their families.
I think there were good reasons to make changes to the program, but unless parents are correct that the real aim is to end AIM as we know it, the district needs to do more to make sure each change is applied correctly and does not result in disproportionate impact.
—David M. Greenwald reporting