By 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.