A year ago, when the first round of AIM (Alternative Instructional Model) testing results came out, they showed that very few black and Hispanic students had qualified for the AIM program. Madhavi Sunder, who was board president at the time, called the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT), and other new tests they used, a failure.
She said that 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],” were also not being identified through re-test.
However, there was push-back from her colleagues. Last April, then-Board Member Susan Lovenburg stated, “I don’t agree that the process that the board put in place is a failure. It functioned as it was intended to and, if not, we need to make changes going forward.”
Board Member Barbara Archer would later add, “I do agree with President Sunder that we have to address (it) this year, but I really object to calling our program a failure when you don’t know the percentages of third graders in the different minority groups.”
This is a critical backdrop for what happened on Thursday. Board Member Madhavi Sunder had requested a February hearing for the AIM program, but was overruled on a 3-2 vote by her colleagues, with Bob Poppenga joining her on the short-side of the vote.
During the discussion, now-Board President Barbara Archer said that the existing timeline would work, as she wanted to give staff time to bring back a full analysis.
However, Ms. Sunder objected that waiting until April precludes making changes in time to implement them for the coming year – a notion that Superintendent John Bowes agreed with.
The swing vote here was Alan Fernandes, who agreed with the need for transparency, but stated that “at the end of the day, I don’t understand what the magic is behind (discussing AIM) on Feb. 16 … We can make adjustments (to the program) with three votes” whenever the matter comes before us.
Under the new guidelines, for students with risk factors related to language or culture, the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence) may be administered. For students with economic risk factors, the Naglieri may be administered. On the other hand, the CogAT (Cognitive Abilities Test) is administered for those who scored in the standard error of measure on the OLSAT.
But there is considerable question as to whether that is an appropriate way to proceed. We have cited research from New York which implemented the Naglieri with no evidence that the use of it changed the demographic distribution of students identified for gifted classes in New York.
The stats from last year are stunning. A total of 66 Hispanics and 10 black students were rescreened last year. Of those, 48 of the 66 Hispanics were given the NNAT while 9 of the 10 blacks were. Zero of them were AIM identified through the NNAT. There were also 40 white students and 30 Asian Students retested through the NNAT, and only 1 white student and three Asian students were identified.
The bottom line here is that the NNAT was the primary mechanism by which Low SES (socioeconomic status) and Hispanic and black students were retested, and it failed to identify anyone.
Given the failure of the NNAT, both here and in New York, should we not reevaluate whether to utilize that test?
Last year, Ms. Sunder 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, which had a 14.6 percent success rate. “We didn’t give the TONI to a single low income student this year.”
This is also a process issue. Most bodies will allow a single member to place an item on the agenda. Certainly the request of two members of a governing body should be enough. Here, the board majority, with Alan Fernandes inexplicably joining in, was able to legislate through a delay.
The matter was pushed back until April, when it will probably be too late to adjust things for the coming year. While Alan Fernandes may have believed the delay immaterial, his superintendent disagreed.
The political dynamics of this issue make this decision all the more perplexing.
In the last election, Bob Poppenga, the candidate most aligned with supporting existing self-contained AIM programs in the district, finished a commanding first. A key issue that broke late in the process was the invalidation of the OLSAT for a number of students.
The district’s response to this was almost tone-deaf to the concerns of parents. Maria Clayton basically said that the situation which “resulted in OLSAT-8 testing irregularities was unfortunate but the resolution, led by the AIM office in concert with principals and teachers districtwide, was immediate, comprehensive and well-communicated to employees and parents.”
To parents concerned with their third-grade kids having to take a three-hour test, that’s not the response they wanted to hear. And this impacted 300 kids – a much broader swath than just the core AIM parents.
As one parent put it, “I want to add my voice to those who are frustrated with how the AIM program is being administered. The testing this fall, in addition to the debacle that occurred last spring with parents being uninformed/misinformed about the location of the various AIM strands suggests to me that there is a systemic problem.”
Bob Poppenga would finish first in the board election, Alan Fernandes second, and two-time board member – who had authored the AIM changes starting in the spring of 2015 – Susan Lovenberg was defeated, finishing third.
Bob Poppenga’s first-place finish followed Madhavi Sunder’s commanding first-place finish two years earlier, to give the board two solid votes to fix the problems with changes to the AIM program.
On Thursday a number of parents came out to ask the board to take up this issue in February rather than April. Most notably, one of those was Jamima Wolk, who told the board that they “should have a discussion now.”
When this was delayed, she announced on Facebook that she would be running for the school board in November 2018. That would seem to be a very credible threat, as Ms. Wolk is the wife of former Mayor Dan Wolk and the daughter-in-law of Senator Lois Wolk.
She would join Madhavi Sunder and possibly Tim Adams and Barbara Archer as potential candidates that year.
But, rather than waiting two years for three solid votes to fix this, the board should be interested in getting on top of the problem now. Zero black and Hispanic students identified out of 57 re-tested is a huge red flag, particularly after the experience of the New York school district. Let us stop playing politics here and fix the program.
—David M. Greenwald reporting