Does Self-Contained Program Have a Magic Number?

gate-2Among the questions we asked yesterday, regarding the GATE/AIM issue, was are you concerned that the program is too large – and if so, what size would you prefer?

We have had this discussion on the record with a number of people, and we end up with some differing opinions here. One person said that studies suggest that only about 6% need to be in GATE, but they figured that in Davis, with a larger population of highly educated parents, perhaps a more reasonable number would be 12%.

On the other hand, Don Shor, an advocate for the current program, argued yesterday, “The focus on size is totally misplaced. Like other communities near UC campuses, Davis has a high percentage of students who identify via testing for GATE.”

He cited Goleta (near UC Santa Barbara) at 30%, Irvine at 25%, Berkeley at “more than one-third of sixth graders” and La Jolla which hosts UC San Diego at 51-54 percent.

He writes, “There is no ideal size or number of students for AIM. I believe there can be logistical issues with filling classrooms with sufficient numbers, maintaining good teacher:student ratios, having a sufficient number of GATE teachers. I think those are largely administrative issues.”

Others have the impression that DJUSD is focused only on a self-contained GATE program.

On the other hand, a strong proponent of the self-contained GATE program pointed out to me that self-contained GATE was supposed to only incorporate the top 98 or 99 percentile of students with some form of differentiated instruction or other focus for the 94th through 97th percentile students.

So, is there a magic number? Or are we focusing on the wrong thing when we worry about size? These are critical questions for our community.

Along these lines I found a couple of columns from 2013.

On January 29, 2013, Anupam Chander (UC Davis Law Professor) and Madhavi Sunder (UC Davis Law Professor who is currently on the school board) wrote that “gifted kids need appropriate instruction.”

They wrote, “All across the country, we have seen successful programs in music, sports and arts dismantled due to lack of funds. In Davis today, we are considering dismantling the highly successful GATE program for high-achieving and high-potential children, even though it costs almost nothing extra.”

They argue that GATE programs “provide a high-expectation education to students whose parents cannot afford truly elite private schools or very expensive suburbs.”

The two professors argue, “Those arguing against GATE have offered no proof that the GATE classrooms are failing the students in them. Some 1,700 students are in the GATE program. Parents already have the option of placing their GATE-identified children in regular classrooms where they are supposed to receive differentiated instruction.”

“Research suggests that differentiated instruction, with a single teacher drawing up multiple lesson plans for every class period (not to mention homework, exams, projects, etc.), though wonderful in theory, is exceedingly difficult to achieve in practice, especially in a class of 35 students with a huge range of educational attainment,” they write. “Davis schools have a legal obligation to serve our academically high-achieving and high-potential students just as we must serve our students who are academically challenged. GATE students need appropriate instruction in order to learn to their full potential.”

In response in March 2013, Louise Angermann writes, “I disagree with their belief that removing GATE-identified children to a self-contained classroom is the only means of achieving this goal. It could very well be that GATE-identified kids would achieve their full potential by any number of other means.”

“There is ample evidence that alternative teaching strategies can and do work for both GATE and non-GATE-identified children. The Davis Joint Unified School District’s own GATE program 2008 Master Plan includes alternative delivery models such as cluster grouping, flexible grouping, split-site enrollment and high-achieving/honors/advanced placement classes at the three junior highs. Apparently, the authors did not believe that self-contained classrooms were the only effective method,” she writes.

Ms. Angerman continues, “There is strong evidence of successful alternatives to self-contained GATE classrooms right in our own, excellent community schools.”

She writes, “I am not suggesting that GATE be dismantled and self-contained classrooms disappear. Some children may require that. But, I do believe that if the Davis school district actually would implement the GATE Master Plan it has on paper, including several methods of serving GATE-identified children that don’t require self-contained classrooms, many children could be served right in their neighborhood schools. This would enrich every student’s school experience in terms of maintaining long-term friendships, and increasing the diversity of thoughts, problem-solving strategies, strengths and weaknesses in the classroom.”

She concludes, “It would allow us to achieve the same positive results without the negative side-effects of dividing 8- or 9-year-old children into two groups: one validated and empowered, and the other, much larger group, dejected and disenfranchised. Isn’t that worth considering? Don’t all children deserve to be empowered, to have high academic expectations, and to be challenged at whatever level they are capable? Maybe I’m naive, but I believe we can have that if we are simply willing to explore our options.”

The question, I think, becomes this: are there students who would perform better in a self-contained GATE/AIM program? Are there students who would perform better in an alternative program? Are there students who would perform better in the mainstream classroom with some form of differentiated instruction?

The key is to determine which students benefit from which program. While I find it interesting that self-contained programs may not have been intended for all of the students, it seems that identifying which students would benefit from which program should not be based on scores but rather some more subjective assessment of needs.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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17 Comments

  1. zaqzaq

    David wrote,

    “it seems that identifying which students would benefit from which program should not be based on scores but rather some more subjective assessment of needs.”

    Using some sort of subjective method of evaluation will only result in a lawsuit challenging the process if there is any category of students under represented.  That is why they use the test scores which are IQ tests.

    Prior to the implementation of the lottery system in response to a lawsuit the 99s were admitted into the program and then the 98s followed by 97s and then 96s.  In reality a child needed a score of 99 or 98 to get into the program with the children who scored 97 and 96 going into mainstream classrooms.  The lottery was implemented in my opinion as a means to avoid a lawsuit by in essence having the school district not making a decision on which of the eligible students get into the program.  Thus they cannot be taken to court because there was no process that discriminated against a protected class.  Now the children with scores fo 99 or 98 who are more likely to need the self contained classroom are not getting in due to the lottery.

    Ms Angerman’s position below really irritates me because it is not applied in other school activities or non school school activities for children. I also believe that it is the perspective of parents and not the children. Parents of children who complain about their child not getting in to the AIM program in front of their children are perpetuating this perspective.

    “It would allow us to achieve the same positive results without the negative side-effects of dividing 8- or 9-year-old children into two groups: one validated and empowered, and the other, much larger group, dejected and disenfranchised. Isn’t that worth considering?”

    Throughout life children are often grouped or identified by ability whether it is in athletics, music, or academic success.  Children receive grades for performance in school.  Children in classes know who get good grades and who is failing, in other words who is smarter.  Some children will never be selected for a Little League all star team or a travel team based on their athletic ability although they many love the game more than their more athletic peers.  Children encounter these life challenges at an early age.  Children are selected to solo for musical events based on their ability.  Many of the school activities are limited based on ability.  Students try out for musical groups in high school based on ability.  Who gets the lead in a play is based on ability.  Same for junior and high school athletics.  Children can try out for a team but the coach will play the most athletic students in order to win.  Only one child can play quarterback at one time on the football team.

    In Ms Angerman’s world we would have a society where no group is validated and empowered while another is dejected and disenfranchised.  We would have a community with no grades in school, participation in activities, whether in or out of school by lottery and not ability and competition for success in every endeavor would be eliminated for children in order to avoid hurt feelings.  Every student would get an A in each class to prevent students from feeling dejected or disenfranchised.

    Bottom line parents make choices for their children in a large number of activities based on what is the best fit for their child.  The AIM program is popular and parents choose to put their children in that program over mainstream classrooms, Spanish immersion, montessori, or DaVinci.  If students are being placed in the AIM program by uninformed parents for the wrong reasons then there needs to be an educational campaign for parents to explain the program.

     

     

    1. wdf1

      zaqzaq:  Some children will never be selected for a Little League all star team or a travel team based on their athletic ability although they many love the game more than their more athletic peers.  Children encounter these life challenges at an early age.  Children are selected to solo for musical events based on their ability.

      This analogy gets used a lot in this sort of discussion, and I have issues with it.  In a school related sports or performing arts activity, there is inevitably more than raw talent that is considered in placing students on a team or musical group.  If a child just cannot get along with his/her peers on the team, then talent may not matter.  There are social and teamwork aspects to group performing arts and sports that make for success.  A concertmaster in an orchestra may often show the strongest talent ability, but in a school orchestra, it is often desirable to choose a student with maturity as well to sit first chair.  Why?  Because that person is setting an example for the rest of the class.  If an individual has the most talent but is irresponsible and is a jerk to other students, that’s not the person whom I would want to seat as first chair.

      Team sports and group performing arts is all about the group working well together.  There is not necessarily an authentic group or teamwork performance component to being in GATE.

      Another angle to this is that in using the analogy to sports or performing arts tryouts, there are more dimensions than just being the best overall athlete/musician.  In standard GATE identification in the district, identification is almost exclusively based on test scores.  If your test score is high enough, then you’re in.  In sports and music, there are positions as well.  For instance, violins are a dime a dozen.  Same for flutes and clarinets.  If maybe I wasn’t necessarily a great musician but I wanted to secure a position in an audition group, then better I play viola or tuba or bassoon.  It’s harder to find individuals who play those instruments. There are similar aspects to certain sports.

      Yet another angle to this is that at one point I was told that GATE identification involves innate traits, i.e., something that is a product of nature rather than nurture, or rather, “you’re either born that way or not.”  On the other hand, there is other evidence that suggests that GATE identification is something that one can be prepped for.  While it is true that some students may have a certain kind of natural aptitude for certain skills, in general there is a narrative for sports and music that if one practices with dedication and purpose, that one will succeed in making the team or in passing the audition.  This understanding is not exactly aligned with a “born that way” view.

      Using the sports/music analogy doesn’t clarify or convince me of anything other than the shortcomings of a cognitive-only assessment in GATE identification.

      zaqzaq:  Using some sort of subjective method of evaluation will only result in a lawsuit challenging the process if there is any category of students under represented.  That is why they use the test scores which are IQ tests.

      My concern as a parent is that I want to see this district care more than just cognitive issues in school.  I want to see (for my kids, one of whom was GATE identified but did not participate in self-contained GATE) genuine concern “about the whole student,” both cognitive and non-cognitive traits.  IQ test scores will say something about cognitive aptitude.  What does that say about developing non-cognitive traits?

      Again, I acknowledge that self-contained GATE serves a valid purpose for parents who might think it to be appropriate for their child.  I hope to see a credible differentiated instruction option considered for families who would like that option.

      1. zaqzaq

        Many individuals have called for a pilot differentiated teaching program with a high percentage of AIM eligible students.  I would also support that pilot program.  We could then compare the test scores, especially on math, to see if there is a difference.  Parents would then have a CHOICE to put their students into the pilot program or the self contained class.  The AIM advanced track math program could be incorporated into the pilot program.  It would have to include the same number of students in the class as the AIM program.

        Show me another program in the schools or outside the schools in Davis where a lottery system like the one used for entry into the AIM program is used to determine membership.  The previous system was based on the objective score on a test.  Now membership in the lottery pool is based on test scores.

        The whiny cry the my child was stigmatized because he did not score high enough to get into the AIM program has no validity.  Children face disappointment in all sorts of activities as they grow up.  They may not do well in class, whether in AIM, mainstream, or Spanish immersion.  They may not be selected for an all star team, travel team or get to play the position they want.  Good parenting involves helping your child face disappointment and helping them succeed.  Lobbying to get rid of all star teams because your child was not selected is just plain vindictive.  So is attacking the AIM program because your child did not qualify.

  2. MrsW

    In Ms Angerman’s world we would have a society where no group is validated and empowered while another is dejected and disenfranchised.

    Mine, too.  Particularly not in primary school.  I know that human beings develop and mature at different rates.

    If students are being placed in the AIM program by uninformed parents for the wrong reasons then there needs to be an educational campaign for parents to explain the program.

    Good luck with that.  At this time, the people in charge of the program can’t describe it, let alone explain it. Or be held accountable for meeting its stated purposes in any way, either for an individual or population.

    1. Frankly

      This brings to mind another problem with a self-contained solution.  Parents of GATE-identified kids tend to be the most active with the schools.  Once they get their beloved carve-out, the regular school no longer gets the attention of these parents.

      Every community is going to have a percentage of parents that, for what ever reasons, pay more attention to the schools and give more time to the schools to ensure the schools are doing a good enough job educating their kids.   Davis probably has a high percentage of those parents.  However, most of those parents will generally only advocate for the school their kid attends.

      All the more reason to keep all the kids in a single school that is highly differentiated.  All parents would then be advocating for high quality differentiated education that benefits all students.

      1. Don Shor

        Parents of GATE-identified kids tend to be the most active with the schools. Once they get their beloved carve-out, the regular school no longer gets the attention of these parents.

        Self-contained GATE classes are part of the “regular” school.

          1. Don Shor

            I think your theory has no evidence. As a parent who was very active in my kids’ schools, your assertion does not comport with my observations. But it’s conjecture and is neither provable nor falsifiable, so we probably won’t get anywhere on that.
            This is surely one of the more bizarre arguments I’ve seen for differentiated instruction.

        1. Frankly

          This is surely one of the more bizarre arguments I’ve seen for differentiated instruction.

          Less an argument for differentiated instruction, more an argument against moving students to self-contained classrooms that are really separate schools.

          It amazes me the dripping irony of those that oppose vouchers because it would carve out the good students and leave the most vulnerable and difficult students back at the regular school.  Yet most of those same people are pushing hard for a carve-out of the gifted kids… basically doing the same.

          So if my argument is bizarre apparently so is the primary opposition to vouchers.

          1. Don Shor

            I oppose vouchers because it would take money away from the public schools. Maybe you’ve been arguing with somebody else on that issue. But that’s another topic.
            Self-contained classrooms are not “separate schools.” Not in any sense. Spanish Immersion is a separate school. DaVinci is (now) a separate school. GATE classes are just that: a classroom full of GATE-identified kids being taught by a GATE-trained instructor, in a school that also has lots of non-GATE kids in other classrooms. Those classrooms are right next door to each other, in the same school. GATE kids interact with the other kids at recess, in some other classes, in extra-curricular activities, in drama and arts and music programs, in other classes at the junior high, and in school-wide activities. Parents of GATE kids contribute to the schools in the same way that other parents do. This whole line of reasoning just isn’t making any sense.

  3. ryankelly

    The magic number depends on how you view GATE.

    If you view it as a program as an honors track for smart, high-achieving students, then it is larger, but not too large to in order to maintain its special status.

    If GATE is for extremely intelligent children who are so far advanced of their peers that they do not thrive in a classroom with even high-achieving students, then it would be much smaller – tiny.

  4. MrsW

    Using some sort of subjective method of evaluation will only result in a lawsuit challenging the process if there is any category of students under represented.  That is why they use the test scores which are IQ tests.

    No one seems to question that, in Davis, fear of being sued is reason alone to both get and stay out-of-control of your school programs.  Other districts, like Palo Alto and Berkeley use a process that includes recommendations and other lines of evidence.  Is it because Davis is such a small district and we don’t have the numbers of various under represented groups to have meaningful statistics we are so vulnerable to being sued?

    1. Davis Progressive

      i think part of the problem here is the continued viewing of gate as a status.  i think there are ways to resolve that issue, but it’s delicate.  perhaps the answer is have random track names – circle, square, octagon.

  5. sos

    Here’s how you fix the question about the size of AIM…all evaluations for entry must be clear and consistent. If the cut-off is 97, the cut-off is 97. If some students only get one try at the test, then all students only get one try. The community isn’t going to accept a program that claims to require a 97, but actually admits students who score down to 92…or retests one “at risk” child because his parents are divorced, but not another whose parents argue every night. Develope a legitimate and defensible admission process, and the community is likely to get behind the program…and the size will fix itself.

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