Discussion: The Issue of GATE Figures to Rise Again in This Year’s SB Elections

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gateThe school board elections, at least based on initial discussion, will be one that figures to take on some of the more meaty issues and not just the budget which, as an ongoing concern, has dwarfed most other issues for some time.

To that end, Jann Murray-Garcia’s column today under the provocative title “Will GATE be Davis’ Watergate?” is worth reading in its entirety and not just in the chunky morsels I am about to feed you.

Dr. Murray-Garcia spills her beans early on about her discomfort “about labeling some of our children as ‘gifted,’ and, by default, other children as ‘not gifted.’ “

She argues, “These labels, most often conferred on both sets of students in Davis in the third grade by a 45-minute IQ test, follow each student into the junior high tracking system, regardless of how that student has performed or developed in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades.”

“We define our children as gifted or not gifted with tests known since their inception in the days of the eugenics movement to be both culturally biased and economically exclusive,” she continues.

She argues the need for multiple assessments due to the potential for racial, class and linguistic discrimination.

She argues, “The fact that these alternatives to identification are expensive and labor-intensive is moot, unless we will say that we as the Davis community have accepted injustice and racial and class discrimination because it is the least expensive alternative.”

She continues after a brief discussion of testing methods, “In a fascinating twist, some Davis children are defined as possessing ‘risk factors’ (district term) for not being identified as ‘gifted’ within Davis schools. I think the notion of ‘risk factors’ is fascinating because it implies that something is deficient in children’s families or culture.”

She argues that “it is the test… and not the children or their families or cultures that have been demonstrated to be deficient.”

“The recent history of GATE identification in Davis has been rife with race, class and linguistic inequality, artificially created and accepted by us as a community. That the district is now being held legally accountable for these inequities in its process of identifying and labeling children as gifted (or not) makes it a good time to collectively think about what we are doing and paying for in our local public education,” Dr. Murray-Garcia argues.

She references Attorney David Meyers, who filed a complaint on behalf of an unidentified student “for the discriminatory practice of ranking those who were administered the alternative TONI test lower than those students who scored at the same percentile on the OLSAT test.”

She further notes that the district allows “parents to pay to have their children privately tested by outside psychologists, instead of accepting the district’s testing process.”

The problem with that approach could be a racial imbalance. She writes, “The proportion of white and Asian students and students from high socioeconomic families who qualify for GATE by private testing is three times as high as the proportion of black, Latino and poor families who were awarded the GATE label by private testing.”

“This is a mess we have to figure out,” Jann Murray-Garcia writes. “It is clear that our definitions and process of defining and identifying and labeling and segregating students as ‘gifted’ are not scientifically neutral and certainly not without the kinds of injustice that puts our district at legal liability. We need to do the soul-searching about the anxiety of some of us in securing extra advantage for our children, for purchasing that label, that status, for buying automatic admission to a junior high school curricular track, and ultimately for the impact that differential status has on our entire community of impressionable, developing minds.”

“Some kids do need an accelerated program, and other prodigies an alternative to a traditional classroom, but isn’t each child of yours gifted?” she asks.  “It’s not the same as the elective activity of a sport or music endeavor. These are school communities that our children are legally mandated to attend, for half their waking hours, that together we create unequal and stratified to both their peril and ours.”

I won’t weigh in my personal view on the subject other than to suggest I can see both sides of this issue.

I will note that Susan Lovenburg, a school board member who is up for reelection, made a brief comment on this, on her Facebook page noting: “Thoughtful article by Jann Murray-Garcia in today’s Davis Enterprise.”

She added, “I agree that the GATE program needs an independent assessment of how well it serves our children. This conversation needs to be driven by research and evidence, not by fear, anger or accusation. We want the best education possible for all kids, not just our own.”

I hope we can have a good discussion of this and other critical issues in the coming months.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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35 thoughts on “Discussion: The Issue of GATE Figures to Rise Again in This Year’s SB Elections”

  1. Mr.Toad

    Gate is supposed to serve the top two percent of students who are at risk for having behavioral, social or emotional problems due to their cognitive abilities. In Davis, I believe you can score as low as the 93rd percentile and still qualify for the program, making it a exclusive honors program.

  2. Mr.Toad

    As for private testing, parents are allowed, I think under federal law, to have their children tested at their own expense for all sorts of issues related to special needs.

  3. hpierce

    [quote]the top two percent of students who are at risk for having behavioral, social or emotional problems due to their cognitive abilities[/quote]YHAT is a very strange, and somewhat disturbing statement from someone whose previous posts, is associated with the local educational system.

  4. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Gate is supposed to serve the top two percent of students who are at risk for having behavioral, social or emotional problems due to their cognitive abilities.[/quote]

    This is news to me. My understanding of GATE was/is that it is a program for “gifted” students, to allow them to excel beyond what they would get in a normal classroom. It could also include more independent learning styles.

    My one limited experience with the GATE program from many years ago was not good. Another mother convinced me that both her and my daughter should test for GATE, w the hope that both would get in. I was extremely reluctant to do it, and against my better judgment I went ahead and had my daughter tested. The other woman’s daughter got into the program, and my daughter just missed out. As you can imagine, my daughter felt like a failure, and I had to deal with the aftermath. I was so angry at myself for having been lured into doing something I thought unwise.

    The same sort of thing was going on in my day – it was called an “honors program”. I never was a part of the honors program, yet I now hold a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Math and a Law Degree. My sister was part of the honors program in high school, and just barely made it through college (was on academic probation twice). I’ve known honors students who did well, others that didn’t.

    As a parent, I think you have to take the whole honors program thing with a grain of salt. It might or might not be suitable for your child. And it is hyper-competitive, with a lot of social pressure attached to it.

  5. Siegel

    “The same sort of thing was going on in my day – it was called an “honors program”. I never was a part of the honors program, yet I now hold a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Math and a Law Degree. My sister was part of the honors program in high school, and just barely made it through college (was on academic probation twice). I’ve known honors students who did well, others that didn’t.”

    So your N of 2 dataset with a program you are assuming was comparable and some vague anecdotal evidence leads you to believe that GATE is not effective. I’m sure there are actual studies with adequate sampling sizes, I’m sure you know how to use Google sufficiently to find them.

  6. Mark West

    Elaine: “[i]My understanding of GATE was/is that it is a program for “gifted” students, to allow them to excel beyond what they would get in a normal classroom. It could also include more independent learning styles.[/i]”

    This is the unfortunate belief of many in Davis. The GATE program is intended to serve the small population of students (1-2%) who’s brains develop and function differently from the rest of the population. It is not an issue of innate intelligence, though that is how it is often perceived, but rather a recognition that these students learn differently than their peers and are best served by a separate program. Research shows that the other students are also best served when GATE identified students are segregated as GATE identified students often cause major disruption in standard classrooms due to their ‘behavioral, social or emotional problems’ as Mr. Toad notes.

    GATE is not intended as an honors program, though that is how it is perceived, and unfortunately, what it has become in Davis. We would probably be better off if the GATE program was described as a specialized program for students with a specific type of learning ability, which in fact is a disability in regards to a standard classroom. These students are best identified through observation by trained classroom teachers with confirmation by a 1 on 1 evalution by a psychologist. The standardized tests we are using are a cheap, but extremely poor substitute for proper evaluation.

    The major problem with the Davis program is that it has evolved into a ‘high achievement’ program instead of the original intent. High achieving students need opportunities to excel and be pushed, but they are poorly served by a program focused on the learning methods designed to help GATE students. The greatest value to helping GATE identified students is to work with them at young ages, so a well designed program would identify them at the earliest age possible, with a goal of helping their learning development when they are young, and then reintroducing them to the standard classroom as they get older. For that reason I think GATE should be focused at the elementary schools, starting in 1st or 2nd grade, and then be phased out in Junior High. I see no value in a GATE program at the High School.

  7. Marie

    E.R.M.- I’ve also had limited experience w/ gate. Both my children attended public school k -12 in Davis. The one GATE experience I recall vividly was downright strange. I had to take a class to keep a traffic ticket off my record. (It was for not using my turn signal, as I recall.) The class was all day on a Saturday. I mentioned to another Mom in the class that I didn’t know much about GATE. She then proceeded to spend the entire Saturday, on every class break, telling me about her experience, that her son was in GATE one year but got “bumped” for “political reasons”. It was a bizarre day. The only other experience I’ve had, over the years, is hearing my co-workers in Sacramento try to work into any casual conversation that their child is in the GATE program. Reminds me a little of Select Soccer. ‘Nuff said. I’m sure there are many bright, wonderful kids in the program, and in select soccer, too. It’s just the parents that occasionally get on my nerves….Because I believe every child is gifted.

  8. wdf1

    Among older DJUSD parents, I have been told that GATE did have an original goal of addressing certain emotional issues of high aptitude students. This section ([url]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gifted_education#Emotional_aspects_of_gifted_education[/url]) of the wikipedia article on GATE programs addresses what those issues are. It seems that the GATE program has exploded in enrollment in recent beyond the original intent owing to families wanting their students to be identified as above average, to be labeled “gifted and talented.”

    And it seems that the term “gifted and talented” was used originally to put a positive spin on kids in a tough emotional situation.

  9. hpierce

    Mr Toad: I know a lot of very bright/talented students who have been labelled weird, spazs, geeks, and had their own flavor of bullying, ostracism, etc. Many more were popular, well-adjusted individuals. Your statement appeared to imply that those with high cognitive ability are somehow more likely to have more behavioral, emotional, and/or social problems. I don’t buy that.

  10. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]So your N of 2 dataset with a program you are assuming was comparable and some vague anecdotal evidence leads you to believe that GATE is not effective. I’m sure there are actual studies with adequate sampling sizes, I’m sure you know how to use Google sufficiently to find them.[/quote]

    I make no judgment on the GATE program – if it serves some kids well, great. It is important not to make too much of it one way or the other and keep it in perspective, for those who do not “get in”… so they don’t feel like failures. There is a danger in that too…

  11. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]erm: Elaine: “My understanding of GATE was/is that it is a program for “gifted” students, to allow them to excel beyond what they would get in a normal classroom. It could also include more independent learning styles.”

    Mark West: This is the unfortunate belief of many in Davis. The GATE program is intended to serve the small population of students (1-2%) who’s brains develop and function differently from the rest of the population. It is not an issue of innate intelligence, though that is how it is often perceived, but rather a recognition that these students learn differently than their peers and are best served by a separate program. Research shows that the other students are also best served when GATE identified students are segregated as GATE identified students often cause major disruption in standard classrooms due to their ‘behavioral, social or emotional problems’ as Mr. Toad notes.

    GATE is not intended as an honors program, though that is how it is perceived, and unfortunately, what it has become in Davis. [/quote]

    From where I sit, limited as my experience with GATE has been, it seems as if GATE is being used as a status symbol. Now I suspect that is an over-generalization, since I cannot help but believe the GATE program serves many students in them quite well. It is the parents that need to “chill”, and stop using the GATE programs to climb some mythical social ladder…

    Thanks for the background on what GATE is supposed to be. I do have a question though. Is GATE different from “honors courses”? I’m assuming GATE takes place in elementary and junior high, and then stops? Is GATE available in high school? How is GATE integrated with honors courses, if there is GATE in high school? I need some clarification here…

  12. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Among older DJUSD parents, I have been told that GATE did have an original goal of addressing certain emotional issues of high aptitude students. This
    section of the wikipedia article on GATE programs addresses what those issues are. It seems that the GATE program has exploded in enrollment in recent beyond the original intent owing to families wanting their students to be identified as above average, to be labeled “gifted and talented.” [/quote]

    I could not find any reference to GATE specifically in the link you cited. Is GATE a nationwide program, statewide program, or just local to our county or city?

  13. medwoman

    [quote]GATE is not intended as an honors program, though that is how it is perceived, and unfortunately, what it has become in Davis[/quote]

    I would like to offer a personal, single anecdote that I believe illustrates how GATE is distorted by some in our community and how this can be detrimental to all involved. While my children were in grade school the family next door had similarly aged children, and all four were academically similarly “gifted” in the sense of being easily straight A within the elementary school that all four attended. That family’s children were identified as GATE eligible as was my daughter, my son did not test.
    We ultimately decided my daughter would not attend GATE. My kids were then taunted by theirs in ways fairly subtle, and in some much less subtle ways, such as ” We are smarter than you guys because we are in GATE”.
    The outcome of this as one might imagine was that the kids stopped spending any time with each other. But, the bigger issue is how this affected each of the kids individually. From my point of view, this led to a less than desirable and unearned sense of superiority on the their side of the fence. On our side my daughter, the golden girl, was essentially unaffected since she was well aware of her strengths and weaknesses. I will always wonder if this may not have played a role in my son’s perception of himself as “not quite good enough” which it has taken him years to overcome.

  14. wesley506

    Perhaps DJUSD should classify all those students who are not in the “Gifted and Talented” program as belonging in a “Wonderful and Exceptional” group of students. Status seeking helicopter parents whose ego has been hurt will then also have something to brag about.

  15. medwoman

    Wesley 506

    That was worth a big smile from me as a mom who was constantly attempting to stay out of “hover” mode despite my inherent tendency ; )

  16. Don Shor

    GATE is just as important as Special Ed, has similar purposes, and both were crucial in the educational success of one of my kids. Jann Murray-Garcia has identified a testing issue (which, I would note, we heard about as a problem years ago as well). That seems like a fairly easy thing to fix, and it’s a shame that it may take a lawsuit to get it changed. The school board can avoid needless expense by implementing the suggestions she references in her article.
    There is nothing wrong with private testing. Perhaps she didn’t mean this, but I sense that her concern is with the demographic outcome of who ends up in GATE. Again, as Mark West states, it isn’t intended as an elite or prep program, though that is the perception now. Change the name if it is bothersome.
    One thing that did bother me when my kid was in GATE was the overt hostility of some parents toward the GATE program.

  17. hpierce

    Wesley brought back another memory, going back ~ 45 years… in the school district I attended, one school was the “magnet” for the “gifted” and for the developmentally challenged”. Same school, same ‘short bus’ to transport them together. We need to employ teachers, who themselves are gifted and talented enough, to teach all children to their abilities.

    My experience is that many teachers in the Davis Gate program, over the years, are their students’ “inferiors”.

  18. Ryan Kelly

    The GATE program in Davis is a tracking program, pure and simple. The children who they purport to be serving – the students who are at risk – are often unsuccessful and ill- served in the program due to the competitive nature of the classroom environment, over-bearing parent community, and teachers who believe learning disabilities or emotionally handicapped students don’t exist or don’t belong in their elite classrooms. This extends from the test in 3rd grade onward. I don’t know how they can change it now since it is so engrained in the system.

  19. Mr.Toad

    “Mr Toad: I know a lot of very bright/talented students who have been labelled weird, spazs, geeks, and had their own flavor of bullying, ostracism, etc. Many more were popular, well-adjusted individuals. Your statement appeared to imply that those with high cognitive ability are somehow more likely to have more behavioral, emotional, and/or social problems. I don’t buy that.”

    It is how i learned it many years ago in a class in teachers school on special needs children. After reading the Wikipedia article it seems my perception is out of date. Apparently there is no official generally accepted criteria for gate and in some places children at the 90% level are accepted. The article also challenges the notion that that children in the top 2% have more problems than other kids.

    Still I think the program has become too elite. Why we need a program like this in a community where 2/3 of the adults have at least one four year degree is worth questioning. i have no doubt that the recent lawsuit will test our local practices.

  20. wdf1

    I wonder if the community would accept the labels, “segregated tracking” meaning the current GATE model, or “integrated tracking”, meaning non-GATE model. I recognize that the words segregated and integrated are loaded terms for a certain generation, but it begins to describe what is going on. Even the term “tracking” provokes negative reactions among some. Perhaps there are better terms. I can see that parents would have preference either way. But it would be a good idea to get away from the terms “gifted and talented” though, because it implies that non-GATE students are ungifted. Teachers in non-GATE classes are supposed to be able to accommodate varied levels and abilities; perhaps it doesn’t always work that way, but I’ve seen many teachers do well with varied levels and abilities.

  21. Mark West

    I don’t have the exact enrollment numbers for the district, but if we take the eight K-6 elementary schools and an estimated 700 students per school, then we can assume a population of roughly 5600 students, with approximately 800 per grade level. A program designed to address the needs of the 1-2% expected to be GATE identified would have roughly 8-16 students per grade level district wide. A single class of 32 would be more than double the expected need for the district, which was what we had in the ’90s when the program was at Valley Oak. The expansion that we have seen since was both unnecessary, and in my opinion, unwise.

  22. wdf1

    Mark West: [i]I don’t have the exact enrollment numbers for the district, but if we take the eight K-6 elementary schools and an estimated 700 students per school then we can assume a population of roughly 5600 students, with approximately 800 per grade level.[/i]

    FYI: a more realistic range is 500-600 students per school, and about 600 per grade level.

  23. Marie

    My son and my daughter had some excellent teachers in Davis, and some that were not stellar. There are many challenges w/ public education in Davis; GATE is just one. I get uncomfortable reading postings from people who may or may not have the proper training, but they are diagnosing a child. When Ritalin and the ADHD dx became “fashionable”, I heard teachers in Davis casually throwing that dx around.
    Now I’m reading posts about cognitive ability,behavioral and emotional “problems”. When my husband & I separated, immediately there were questions about my children having these “problems.” If the teachers had never heard that we were separated, would they have thrown those words around? There are so many factors that contribute to a child’s ability to learn. I work for a nutrition program. So I’m going to diagnose “poor diet” and “not enough exercise.” Someone else will have other life experiences, and focus on those.
    What bothers me about GATE is that there are so many challenges in raising a healthy, happy child. What if your child appears to be totally devoid of compassion or kindness? How are they “tested” for that? Where is the GATE program to help your child with that challenge?
    My opinion on raising happy children: when 2 people work full time, it is impossible to raise happy children. There are not enough hours in the day to satisfy your child’s needs, your employer’s needs and your partners needs. So all the GATE programs in the world aren’t going to solve that challenge. We have to choose between hours spent with our child and hours spent on the job. That is where it all starts. (Well, actually, I believe prenatal care & breastfeeding is where it all starts…)

  24. medwoman

    Marie

    I would actually put it back even a little further. I believe that if every pregnancy were wanted and carefully planned for in advance, emotionally and financially, we would all be better off. However, we have strayed significantly….apologies to Don, I am now through.

  25. Don Shor

    GATE isn’t intended to make your children happy or compassionate, any more than Special Ed is. It is intended to give your child the appropriate level of learning to his or her abilities. A high-testing child is more likely to be bored and less likely to learn well in a regular environment (and is likely to become disruptive due to boredom). A child with learning disabilities is less likely to learn well in a regular environment. It’s all about finding the right placement for the child to excel academically, and providing the tools needed. More challenging curriculum, more demanding teachers, more support for specific disabilities.
    One of my kids wouldn’t have gone into GATE even if testing had indicated that placement. The other one probably wouldn’t have graduated without the support and tools available through GATE, Special Ed, and independent study. That was obvious as early as 4th grade.
    I learned very early on that parents need to be aware when things aren’t going well, try to ascertain why, avail themselves of the many tools the district has, and don’t take what the district says for granted. If a particular placement isn’t working, try something else. You may have to push hard for that; there is a strong institutional tendency toward tracking students in a particular way. GATE is one tool; a very important tool for some kids. Rename it if you have to. Modify the testing if that will help avoid the disparities that have been identified.

  26. hpierce

    Don makes some good points… I was reading (not being read to, although that happened earlier) Winnie the Pooh by the time I was 4… my kindergarten teacher wanted me “held back” because I was “slow” (was never on the right page in the ‘Dick and Jane books, because I wanted to see how the story turned out). The teacher was incompetent. I’ve been in both parts of the “system”… gifted/’genius’ and “normal”… the gifted teachers were the difference… most were in the “normal system”, but they represented about 5% of my teachers. I suspect that %-age has not changed.

    Yet the teachers’ unions say that more pay will improve that… I don’t buy it.

  27. medwoman

    hpierce

    [quote]Yet the teachers’ unions say that more pay will improve that… I don’t buy it.[/quote]

    There are two quite distinct points to that assertion:
    1) More pay to current teachers wil improve that…
    2) More pay to attract better teachers to the field with improve that ….

    Do you not buy the first, the second, or eiher ?

  28. hpierce

    Mainly, the first… the issue of attracting/retaining the best and brightest, arguably is important, but on a National/State/Regional basis, not local, in my opinion.

  29. medwoman

    [quote]the issue of attracting/retaining the best and brightest, arguably is important, but on a National/State/Regional basis, not local, in my opinion.[/quote]

    Why would you see it as potentially important on a broader level, but not locally ?

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