Actions by Board Demonstrate Gross Misunderstanding of GATE Identification Process

gateBy Debbie Nichols Poulos

The board’s recent actions to dismantle the AIM program demonstrate a gross misunderstanding of GATE identified students and their educational needs. I can’t help but see these students as sacrificial lambs on the altar at which some board members want to kneel. Contrary to what several board members seem to believe, identified GATE students are not the advantaged and successful students who can be compared on an achievement test score.

Many, if not most, of these students hit the artificial ceiling of achievement tests. Therefore, students who score at the same high level on an achievement test can have vastly different abilities. These students are complicated and needy. They are not all self-starters who have the skills and aptitudes necessary for them to reach their full potentials on their own. They need the support of a group of not only their intellectual peers, but also their social and emotional peers in order to find the acceptance so vital to their success.  And they need teachers who are trained to understand and address these needs.

In its infinite wisdom the board wants to reserve the AIM program for GATE identified students “whose needs cannot be met in classrooms…that fully implement … differentiated instruction.” Limiting the AIM classroom to only those students who could not perform adequately in a regular classroom would require all GATE identified students to be individually assessed. This is untenable, for each student’s social/emotional needs, as well as intellectual needs must be taken into account. In order to use the same standard for all students the district would have to hire its own evaluator, a very costly enterprise.

Returning the majority of GATE identified students to the regular classroom will put an even greater burden on teachers. Instead of allowing GATE identified students to be educated in AIM classrooms by teachers who have training and experience to meet their unique needs, these students will be spread throughout the district to teachers with little or no knowledge of their needs. With class sizes of 32 students and an even wider range of needs and abilities, all students will be more difficult to serve optimally. In its action the board has not only compromised the education of GATE identified students, but of all the district’s students.

Even with my extensive knowledge and experience with GATE teaching methodologies, applying differentiated curriculum and cluster grouping in the regular classroom was extremely difficult. To expect untrained teachers to meet the diverse social, emotional, and intellectual needs of GATE students, while also meeting the diverse needs of the rest of their students is unrealistic.

In its action the board was dismissive of the unique needs of GATE identified students in the AIM program, as well as of their specially trained and experienced teachers. Instead of addressing specific problems with the self-contained AIM program, the board has scrapped an exemplary and successful program that has served DJUSD students since the 60s.

If the board’s goal was to level the playing field, it has certainly succeeded. They have moved toward a “one size fits all” educational model. They have created an even more challenging job for Davis teachers. One wonders what programs the board will address next with this enlightened approach. It’s time to revise the DJUSD mission statement, as the board’s new direction does not “equip each student…to thrive…in the pursuit of excellence.”

Debbie Nichols Poulos is a retired DJUSD GATE teacher and a member of the Davis City Council from 1984 to 1988.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Sam

    It is sad that Davis parents don’t seem to know the difference between having a child who preforms well at school and a “gifted” child. Now a program that is supposed to help “gifted” children has been turned into AP third grade. Maybe having AP classes start in elementary school is a great idea, but everyone seems to be forgetting that you are then failing to provide services to a segment of students that really need them.

  2. Davis Progressive

    the problem i have is that gate-identification for the olsat is like 88% white/ asian.  gate identification on the olsat brings in a sizable hispanic and a larger black population.  i understand that those qualifying are not going into the program – but at least it’s a start in the right direction.  so it seems like the change will actually exacerbate gate as an ap class rather than shift it toward “gifted”

    1. ryankelly

      I agree that it is a problem – I’ve read about studies have shown that if black and other students of color are informed that a test will measure their intelligence, they will score lower, than if the student is told that it is measuring something else. (ref.

      I know that the District instruct test moderators to tell the students that it is a test to help their teachers understand how they are doing rather than a test to measure their intelligence, but I wonder how many parents and children go into the test knowing that this is the test that will determine if they are smart enough to go into GATE and run into this problem of ingrained stereotyping.


    2. wdf1

      DP:  the problem i have is that gate-identification for the olsat is like 88% white/ asian.

      The district describes the OLSAT test here.

      When I have heard the AIM/GATE program described, I have understood that students are being identified for innate characteristics, i.e., that these students are just “born” that way.

      But on the district site that describes the OLSAT, it seems to suggest ways that one could train for or develop the aptitude that is being tested for, almost like the way one would think of an SAT prep class.

      For instance:

      Nonverbal Results
      The total nonverbal score is based on “figural” and “quantitative” reasoning. The Figural Reasoning questions measure reasoning skills independently of language including similarities and differences between items or sets of geometric figures, supplying a missing element in a matrix, discovering patterns or relationships and/or predicting outcomes to solve problems through the use of numbers, and solving figural analogies that use geometric shapes to find relationships using the same reasoning skills as verbal analogies.

      Activities and games that help develop Figural Reasoning skills include, but are not limited to:

      Connect Four
      Rubik’s Cube
      Puzzles – wood frame and jigsaw puzzles
      Many of the children’s puzzles in the newspapers
      Leap Frog math games
      Checkers, Chinese Checkers

      If one is measuring developed intellectual aptitude in kids, then there would definitely be a skewing by income and family education level.  This NY Times article discusses prep programs for the OLSAT in NY City for pre-schoolers to get into the city’s kindergarten GATE program.

    3. Sam

      The problem is that the methods used are identifying the good students, not the “gifted” students. If the identification methods were actually measuring intelligence then you would identify 3%-5% of the student population that would closely match the racial makeup of the student population. The current test identifying 35% of the student population as gifted every year in the same town is a statistical impossibility. I have not done the math, but my guess is that the probability of Davis actually having that many gifted kids each year would be the same probability of the same store selling the winning power ball ticket every week for a year.

      Ace Rothstein: Four reels, sevens across on three $15,000 jackpots. Do you have any idea what the odds are?
      Don Ward: Shoot, it’s gotta be in the millions, maybe more.
      Ace Rothstein: Three f$&#*’ jackpots in 20 minutes? Why didn’t you pull the machines? Why didn’t you call me?
      Don Ward: Well, it happened so quick, 3 guys won; I didn’t have a chance…
      Ace Rothstein: [interrupts] You didn’t see the scam? You didn’t see what was going on?
      Don Ward: Well, there’s no way to determine that…
      Ace Rothstein: Yes there is! An infallible way, they won!

      Casino 1995

  3. wdf1

    Poulos:  Even with my extensive knowledge and experience with GATE teaching methodologies, applying differentiated curriculum and cluster grouping in the regular classroom was extremely difficult. To expect untrained teachers to meet the diverse social, emotional, and intellectual needs of GATE students, while also meeting the diverse needs of the rest of their students is unrealistic.

    Another school district in the Sacramento area, Rocklin USD, has a GATE program that includes both a self-contained option and cluster groupings with differentiated instruction by specially-trained teachers.  source

    Rocklin USD also seems to involve a greater percentage of their Hispanic/Latino students in their GATE program than does Davis.  source for Rocklin USD,  source for Davis JUSD

    Rocklin USD also relies more on a different set of tests to identify their students than does Davis:

    Tests include the Raven Progressive Matrices Plus, the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, or the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). A student must score at or above the gifted range.  source

    Worth checking out how they do their program?

    1. Don Shor

      From the Digest of Gifted Research (link below). Which of these steps has the school board majority taken?

      What steps should I take as a parent to initiate the adoption of a new model by a school system?

      VanTassel-Baska: Given the evidence of the old models’ effectiveness, it would be prudent to examine these models first to determine which would be most beneficial in your district. If the district has more than 20,000 students, using more than one model would be possible. Follow these specific steps to adopt a new model:

      Convene a task force of educators and parents to study the current program and possible new delivery models.
      Visit your gifted program to see how well it works and what would make it more effective. Many times a more effective implementation of the current model is what’s needed.
      Visit schools using the models under consideration and analyze student learning gains under each.
      Determine what resources would be needed to implement a new model. At a minimum, implementing an innovation in one classroom usually requires intensive professional development for teachers and building administrators, as well as new materials.
      Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the change. Then make a recommendation to the school board, including a rationale, evidence that the new model would be superior to the old one, and a budget for the support necessary to make the new model work.
      Pilot the model in one school. Monitor its implementation there. Collect data on student performance under the differentiated curriculum. Talk to teachers about their perceptions of the model.
      After one year, evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot. Decide if it is worthwhile to implement it throughout the system.

      Last sentences highlighted for emphasis. If the board majority wants to make a change, they may wish to consider piloting it.

      1. wdf1

        Don Shor:  Which of these steps has the school board majority taken?

        They’re in a discussion stage.  Or rather they’ve directed staff to come with options to discuss at a later time, within the parameters given, I suppose, once they’ve cleared the hurdle of the Vanguard’s Brown Act complaint.

  4. wdf1

    GATE is also a hot issue in the San Diego Unified district.  Some similar issues coming up there.  The article goes on elsewhere to say that this district has GATE clusters in the regular classrooms, and teachers who implement differentiated instruction.

    Schools to revamp ‘gifted’ rules

    Out of all the tests administered in the San Diego Unified School District, perhaps none riles up parents more than the exam that determines whether or not their child is eligible for the “Gifted and Talented Education” program.
    For decades, the district has used the Raven Progressive Matrices, an untimed, nonverbal test that uses a series of multiple-choice inquiries — requiring students to predict the progression of patterns and puzzles — to assess general intelligence and cognitive processing.
    The school board on Tuesday will consider a plan to scrap Raven in favor of the Cognitive Abilities Test (known as the CogAt), in addition to other criteria, including parent and teacher input.
    The shift is expected to offer a more accurate determination of who needs special instruction. The proposed criteria would likely reduce the number of San Diego students who are deemed gifted and “highly gifted,” an elite designation coveted by some parents because it steers top-scoring students into elite “Seminar” classes that are taught by specialized teachers.
    San Diego Unified is known for its unusually large population of gifted students. Some say the district over-identifies gifted students because Raven content is widely available online and sought out by heavy-handed parents. Others say the Raven needs to be normed to the population.
    About 18 percent of San Diego Unified students are identified as gifted, more than twice the percentage than the state’s 8.5 percent, according to the California Department of Education.
    “The Raven is completely compromised. You can go online and practice for it. That’s part of the reason we have too many kids identified,” said Katie Anderson, who advises the San Diego school board on behalf of parents of gifted students.

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