My View II: Three Words to Eliminate in the GATE/AIM Discussion

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The discussion of GATE and AIM and what to do about it in our local schools is clearly one that is divisive and polarizing. However, having had some extensive discussions with people all over the map on the key issue – what to do about the program – I perhaps naively believe that a compromise and consensus solution is possible.

Beneath the hardline rhetoric is a lot more room to maneuver than seems possible on the surface. It is going to take a lot of will and leadership to get it done, but I believe we can do it.

However, to get there I think there are three “words” we have to eliminate: gifted, segregation, and differentiated instruction (I know, a phrase is not a word, but stay with me here).

It was back in May of 2013 that the school board voted 4-0 to change the name of the district’s Gifted and Talented Education program to the Alternative Instructional Model program.

As we noted earlier this week, the notion of giftedness is an evolving concept. The district, on the AIM page, points to a publication from 2011 published by the Association for Psychological Science, “Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education.”

Rena F. Subotnik, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, and Frank C. Worrell propose a definition of giftedness, “Giftedness is the manifestation of performance that is clearly at the upper end of the distribution in a talent domain even relative to other high-functioning individuals in that domain. Further, giftedness can be viewed as developmental in that in the beginning stages, potential is the key variable; in later stages, achievement is the measure of giftedness; and in fully developed talents, eminence is the basis on which this label is granted.”

That definition taps into the duality of the current GATE program – a duality that captures both the high achievers as well as the underachievers who are intelligent but not having their needs met in the current system.

However, the term “gifted” is loaded. Many critics and skeptics see it as an elitist term. Many believe that every child is gifted in their own way. Moreover, at least some of the criticism of the program has been that it has been used as a status symbol that serves to divide children. Worse yet, we have used a lottery system as a means to select some of the students – again putting the program as a prize.

My view is to eliminate this sort of divisive rhetoric – we need to re-cast the system. Clearly, that was the aim of switching the name from GATE to AIM, which eliminates the word gifted and instead inserts the word “alternative.”

I think if we can eliminate the view that this is a program for the “gifted” and instead view the educational system as a whole, as a way of best delivering education, then we are better off.

Second, we need to stop talking about differentiated instruction. First of all, the definition is so broad that it renders it meaningless. And second, it is seen, rightly or wrongly, as the alternative to GATE.

However, it appears that differentiated instruction can refer to two separate things. Differentiated instruction within the same classroom could be what opponents of the current self-contained GATE program are pushing for. But it could also mean differentiated instruction through separated classes.

For instance, the Enterprise wrote in May 2013 that district staff was directed to “review existing (program) structures at all sites,” looking for structures that unite or divide students. For instance, Sheila Allen, Board President at this time, was supportive of “the mixing of class at every opportunity.”

However, “The school board also directed staff to start assigning all students to an ‘appropriate math placement’ when the new school year begins in the fall.”

So, at that time, the school board directed staff to offer differentiated instruction just in math for all students. (It is worth noting that two years later, none of this has had happened, but it was supported by the board as district policy).

Adding to the confusion is the California Department of Education’s guidelines on differentiated instruction, which notes that cognitive research results “suggest that a one-size-fits-all approach to classroom teaching is ineffective for most students and even harmful for some.”

The principles that point clearly to the need for differentiated instruction are listed as follows:

  • Need for emotional safety. Learning environments must feel emotionally safe to students for the most effective learning to take place.
  • Need for appropriate challenges. Students require appropriate levels of challenge. When students are confronted with content and performance standards well beyond their level of readiness, intense stress frequently results… A one-size-fits-all approach to teaching produces lessons pitched at a single-challenge level, virtually ensuring that many students will be overchallenged or underchallenged. Neither group will learn effectively. Research supports the conviction that all students should strive to meet the same content and performance standards, although many will do so at different levels of acceptable proficiency.
  • Need for self-constructed meaning. Students need opportunities to develop their own meaning as new knowledge and skills are encountered. They have different learning styles, process ideas and concepts differently, have varied backgrounds and experiences, and express themselves differently. All must be helped to assimilate new knowledge and skills within the framework of prior personal experiences.

Differentiated instruction therefore could mean GATE, it could mean everyone in the same classrooms, it could mean separate math classes, but what it means is not clear and it is now a word that has become the catch-phrase for the alternative to the GATE view and therefore we would be better off not using it.

Finally, last week, we published the column asking whether “GATE (is) a modern day segregation system.” There is a frequent complaint that GATE is in fact “segregation,” not necessarily in a racial sense, but rather in the sense that it separates the “gifted” from the mainstream students.

As we cited in our reference to the Atlantic and also the US Department of Education, there actually is a racial as well as a socio-economic component here at the national level.

On November 18, 2014, The Atlantic published an article, “Modern-Day Segregation in Public Schools.” It notes, “The Department of Education has branded ‘tracking’—designating students for separate educational paths based on their academic performance—as a modern day form of segregation.”

The publication notes, “The education department and advocates have said tracking perpetuates a modern system of segregation that favors white students and keeps students of color, many of them black, from long-term equal achievement. Now the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is trying to change the system, one school district at a time.”

They continue, “Proponents of tracking and of ability-grouping (a milder version that separates students within the same classroom based on ability) say that the practices allow students to learn at their own levels and prevent a difficult situation for teachers: large classes where children with a wide range of different needs and skill levels are mixed together. In many districts, the higher-level instruction in ‘gifted and talented’ or advanced placement classes is what keeps wealthier families from entirely abandoning the public school system.”

On the other hand, opponents argue that “the ill effects for the students in the lower-skilled classes negate the advantages that the students in the advanced classes gain. Many education researchers have argued that tracking perpetuates class inequality and is partially to blame for the stubborn achievement gap in the U.S. educational system—between white and Asian students on one side, and black and Latino students on the other.”

The use of the term segregation is clearly a loaded term, both with implications to the more national debate voices in the Atlantic as well as the historical use of the term. So let us eliminate the use of that word if we wish to reach some sort of community consensus.

In short, I believe if we are to find common ground here on this issue, we must avoid using loaded terms that could be divisive. To reiterate, I submit we stop using the terms “gifted,” “differentiated instruction” and “segregation” in this discussion.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Are there other words we should eliminate as well? Join the discussion.

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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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52 thoughts on “My View II: Three Words to Eliminate in the GATE/AIM Discussion”

  1. MrsW

    we must avoid using loaded terms that could be divisive.

    I think the divisive terms are the concepts we should be talking about more, not avoiding.   Because one-size does not fit all and DJUSD does not provide one-on-one instruction, DJUSD has to group students.  How should DJUSD organize the groupings? Is creating a class list solely on IQ test results rational given the complexity of a student’s classroom experience?   Davis is a small town and DJUSD is a small district.  Is there a point, when adult resources are so stretched, that everyone’s experience is sub-optimal?

    Once the grouping occur–does DJUSD have any responsibility to to counteract the emotional and social consequences of dividing young humans into groups?  In particular, when the groupings have the appearance of falling along identity-related fault lines? Or when rivalry occurs?

     

  2. Frankly

    three “words” we have to eliminate: gifted, segregation, and differentiated instruction (I know, a phrase is not a word, but stay with me here).

    You make a case for eliminating the first two, but you actually reinforce the case for actually focusing on the last as THE solution.  And I completely agree with that approach.  And so should everyone else.

    Just Google “differentiation in education” or “differentiation instruction”.  There are pages of links and scholarly articles.

    What people don’t seem to get is the missed opportunities for a much better student education experience caused by looking at our kids’ education needs as having to fit in 4 or 5categories.

    Davis’s claim to better schools is simply the fact that we have 4 or 5 categories compared to other school districts that only have 2 or 3.

    And if 4 or 5 are better than 2 or 3, then why not 20 or 30?  Why not 100?  Why isn’t every student assessed and profiled and giving a unique learning path that optimizes that child’s development opportunity?

    Differentiation IS the topic to discuss.  It is the holistic solution.  The inclusive solution.  The egalitarian solution.  The thing we should be working towards.

    Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.

    It would not be easy to implement, but it is completely feasible.  It would shake up the old guard, and change jobs and roles and structures.  It will require technology and more school counselors and more tutors… and teachers would have to develop additional skills.  And we would have to pay more for teachers with these skill sets.  But we would probably need fewer of them as we would offset that need with the counselors and tutors.

    No, we should not remove differentiation from the discussion.  That is 100% wrong-headed.  Although “gifted” and “segregation” should probably go.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      To be clear, I’m not suggesting we necessarily eliminate the concern, but rather the term that from what I see is amorphous but loaded.

      1. Don Shor

        The term carries some meaning in this area mainly because the group that was seeking review and replacement of self-contained GATE proposed it as the alternative. Therefore, locally, ‘differentiated instruction’ became antonymous with ‘self-contained GATE’.
        From the PAGE petition on change.org:

        We request the district to evaluate the current GATE program and its school-wide and district-wide impacts, and investigate alternatives in GATE education, including differentiated instruction and other inclusive approaches to learning.

        Alternatives = inclusive, GATE = exclusive. Etc.

    2. Napoleon Pig IV

      Frankly, on the topic of differentiation, you are articulate but naive. As an ideal, it’s great, but in real-world practice, it isn’t practical and generally fails – sort of like communism – great hypothetically, but a complete loser in practice. Along with a lot of other problems, differentiation is very expensive and requires substantial enthusiasm from and training of teachers, something that probably both the district and the teachers’ union would oppose.

      Self-contained classrooms for AIM students work. No need to fix what isn’t broken, or require large numbers of less than motivated teachers to take on unnecessary work given the excellence of the highly competent, self-selected teachers who currently teach AIM students.

        1. Don Shor

          … the research shows substantial academic effects (anywhere from 1 1/3 to 2 years’ growth per year), and small, positive gains in social maturity, social cognition, and participation in extracurricular activities; small gains are also found in self-efficacy, self-esteem, and motivation for learning when gifted children are grouped together full-time

          https://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Position%20Statement/Grouping%20Position%20Statement.pdf

        2. MrsW

          DJUSD’s program is old enough that DJUSD could have program-specific information verifying that the assertions in this article and others actually have some probability of applying to DJUSD.

    3. Don Shor

      you actually reinforce the case for actually focusing on the last as THE solution. And I completely agree with that approach. And so should everyone else.

      Sure, so long as it’s not used as an excuse to eliminate self-contained GATE.

      1. hpierce

        Are you saying that not providing the self-contained program for the 30% who appear to be eligible, strictly based on those parents’ choice, in unacceptable to you?  If the self-contained program is available to those who NEED it (as opposed to WANT it) acceptable?  What should we do with the kids who may need the level of instruction/challenge provided within the programin one or two subject areas… are they SOL?

        Meant as fair questions… I believe some kids DO NEED the self-contained program.  I don’t believe 30% of the Davis school population NEEDS it.  I believe some (quite a few) kids need exposure to the type of teaching methods, curriculum offered in GATE/AIM, but only in certain subject areas.

        To me, the main reason self-contained is needed for some is NOT for acedemic reasons, but for emotional/social development NEEDS of some children.  My experience, not based on published/citable research.

        1. Don Shor

          Are you saying that not providing the self-contained program for the 30% who appear to be eligible, strictly based on those parents’ choice, in unacceptable to you?

          I do not know what percentage needs self-contained GATE. I know that it is necessary for some kids.

  3. Anon

    “Proponents of tracking and of ability-grouping (a milder version that separates students within the same classroom based on ability) say that the practices allow students to learn at their own levels and prevent a difficult situation for teachers: large classes where children with a wide range of different needs and skill levels are mixed together.

    Ability grouping is a long-standing practice, and is particularly effective with the team teaching approach.   For instance, in junior high, the four core courses of English, math, social studies and science are taught by a team of four teachers, one who specializes in English, one who specializes in math, one who specializes in social studies, one who specializes in science.  The team is assigned about 120 students, that are divided up according to ability.  This allows the slower students to be placed in smaller class sizes; the brighter kids in slightly larger class sizes.  It also allows the brighter students to be put in classes where more challenging material is presented; slower students get the more individual attention that is needed.  Students can be fluidly transferred from one group to another group if the placement is not correct or the student improves or is struggling where they are.  The groups are labeled by color (blue; green; yellow; red) to remove any stigma associated with being in any particular group.  The other remaining classes, e.g. home ec, woodshed, etc. are not ability grouped, giving students the opportunity to interact with all types of students.

    This sort of system works quite well, but is not without some issues.  For instance, students catch on that there is ability grouping, and do recognize they may be in a “slower” group.  I, as one of the team teachers, was asked by a student one time “Aren’t I in the slower group?”  My response was, “Every student needs to learn the material, but some students learn in different ways.  All that matters is that a student learns the material.”  I was not ducking the question or rationalizing, or trying to make the student “feel better”.  As it turns out, my “slower” class very nearly caught up with my “brighter” classes by the end of the year, and got through the necessary material, because the “slower” students received that individual attention and specialized instruction they so desperately needed.  Meanwhile the “brighter” students were given some extra projects that enriched their education.  This system of team teaching and ability grouping worked extremely well.

    1. Frankly

      Excellent.  This is exactly the type of thing we should be doing more of.  “Ability grouping” makes sense, but it needs to be highly granular and inclusive… as you point out, the kids all equalized in progress by the end of the year.

      I view a public education as a model of a healthy tree and its roots.  The roots are the many learning paths each individual child can take to optimize their attainment of the core which is represented by the trunk.  From there each can branch out with an individual path of electives to take them to what interests them and what they are good at… married with what they need to meet their goals and their parents goals of perpetration for their next life step.  For example, if their next life step is getting into a good college, then of course their “electives” should be to satisfy the requirements for application.

      And along that path from root to branch, there should be differentiated instruction.

    2. MrsW

      students catch on that there is ability grouping, and do recognize they may be in a “slower” group.  I, as one of the team teachers, was asked by a student one time “Aren’t I in the slower group?”  My response was, “Every student needs to learn the material, but some students learn in different ways.  All that matters is that a student learns the material.”  I was not ducking the question or rationalizing, or trying to make the student “feel better”.

      Appreciate this.  Appreciate appropriate communication with students. Great way to respond to the issue.

  4. Don Shor

     I perhaps naively believe that a compromise and consensus solution is possible.

    The outlines of a gradual change have been discussed here on the Vanguard. Develop pilot programs that use multi-level instruction, with large numbers of GATE-identified students included. Continue providing self-contained GATE for those students who need it, presumably in smaller classes. Expand the multi-level option if demand is there and results are clear.

    Requires extensive training for teachers across the district,

    requires a higher teacher:student ratio,

    requires more targeted testing.

    Overall it will cost more and would probably require more staff resources; if not a full-time coordinator, then other administrators would be spending more time on GATE.

    If the cost of GATE resources is a major issue, this will not resolve that. So whether a consensus or compromise solution can be found really depends on what your goals are. The board needs to articulate their goals in changing the direction of GATE. 

    And none of this will satisfy those who perceive social justice or equality issues as the overriding concerns. They want all kids together in the same classrooms.

    1. MrsW

      And none of this will satisfy those who perceive social justice or equality issues as the overriding concerns. 

      What would satisfy me, is for the school adult leadership  stop acting like nothing is happening.  Anon, above, talks to her students and helps them put their experience in appropriate perspective. That shouldn’t be expensive, it should be a matter of course.

       Overall it will cost more and would probably require more staff resources; if not a full-time coordinator, then other administrators would be spending more time on GATE.

      Right now administrators are spending an inordinate amount of time on AIM because the low achievers are flooding the 504 system.  Right now three administrators and a secretary are both preparing for and attending the bimonthly AIM meetings. That’s expensive.

      1. Don Shor

        Any idea how many 504 and IEP kids there are?
        I’m not sure I see the connection between 504 plans and GATE.

        Right now three administrators and a secretary are both preparing for and attending the bimonthly AIM meetings. That’s expensive.

        And probably unnecessary, too.

        1. MrsW

          “I’m not sure I see the connection between 504 plans and GATE.”

          The chasm between the high achievers and the under achievers started to develop within my children’s Junior High AIM classrooms.  When that happens, the first place a child and parent are directed is the teacher.  When the teacher cannot address the under achieving student because s/he is too busy keeping the high achievers busy, the next stop is the counseling office. The counseling office is outside of the AIM program.  The counseling office has counseling solutions; they treat under achievement as a psychological disorder.  It’s intense.  They suggest 1)  psychological testing for dyslexia, ADHD, etc; 2) cognitive therapy (at least), and 3) initiating the 504 process.  The 504 process is time consuming (expensive) for everyone involved.   It involves meetings with all of the teachers, the district psychologist, the counselor,  paper work, administration time, secretary time, and more.

          No idea how many. Just under the impression the numbers are not incidental based on talking to junior high teachers, DSIS parents, parents in the grocery store, etc.

           

    2. Tia Will

      Don

      And none of this will satisfy those who perceive social justice or equality issues as the overriding concerns. They want all kids together in the same classrooms.”

      This would only be true if the GATE children were progressing showing more improvement over all, compared to their own previous progress, than were the non gate identified children. What this would imply is that the GATE identified children are receiving a better instructional model for their needs than are the non GATE identified children. I do not believe that this would be an equitable or appropriate outcome.

      1. Don Shor

        This would only be true if the GATE children were progressing showing more improvement over all, compared to their own previous progress, than were the non gate identified children.

        I doubt if that data is collected, or if any such data is analyzed even if it is available. But really it’s a matter of perception, not evidence. Likewise, it’s hard to find any evidence that tracking affects the achievement gap, but it’s easy to find people who assert that it does.

  5. wdf1

    Greenwald: Are there other words we should eliminate as well? 

    Part of the jist of the article seems to suggest that we should get rid of those words because they are sometimes unpleasant and challenging to talk about.  Just because these are unpleasant and challenging issues doesn’t make it bad and unnecessary to talk about.

    The problem I see with AIM/GATE discussion is that the district is identifying for cognitive ability alone.  OLSAT/TONI is a cognitive “entrance exam.”  There is no standard assessment of social/emotional temperament or development to accompany the cognitive assessment.  But there are social/emotional/developmental issues that are coming into discussion in various ways. many unacknowledged.

  6. Frankly

    So, I hear a word and it makes me so upset that I no longer listen and particiapte in finding solutions.

    And it is the word’s fault?

    So how far do we take this entitlement to be made completely “safe” from the bad feelings caused by certain words?  Seems the stuff of underdeveloped emotional control.

    Personally, I also stop listening and stop talking to people so hypersensitive and unable to control their feelings related to words because, frankly (because I am), there is just too much risk of breaking some hyersensitive PC speech code rule.  It isn’t worth it.

    And then there are those with thick enough skin that leverage this list of PC speech codes to silence those they disagree with.

    How about we just stop with that and just try to understand the points being made and respond with counter points if there is disagreement?

  7. Tia Will

    Frankly

    I also stop listening and stop talking to people so hypersensitive and unable to control their feelings related to words”

    Your point is well made. And I think that you should also understand that there are those who stop listening to your points when you start name calling and telling others what they really think. Either strategy is bad for moving the conversation forward. So how about we also stop that also and do what you said, try to understand  the points being made and respond with counter points if there is disagreement. You make some very good points when you are adhering to your suggested format.

    1. Frankly

      Ha!  You always take the point gun away and shoot back!

      I was just thinking of some interesting irony here.  I sometimes purposely label people as belonging to a category of group-think.  But what I am hearing is that you would prefer I don’t do that and instead I use high-granularity individual differentiation.  In other words, everyone is different and everyone has opinions and I should just debate those individual opinions instead of classification because in groups of opinion holders people don’t like being put into a box they don’t want to be put in and excluded from other boxes that they believe they should belong in.

      So, you disagree with me addressing you as being part of a self-contained group and would rather see me debate or discuss points as being completely individual and differentiated.

      Very interesting irony.

  8. Anon

    What would satisfy me, is for the school adult leadership  stop acting like nothing is happening.  Anon, above, talks to her students and helps them put their experience in appropriate perspective. That shouldn’t be expensive, it should be a matter of course.”

    The irony is that team teaching w ability grouping doesn’t cost any more money to implement.  Individual student needs are met.  If carefully handled, students need not feel ostracized for being in any particular group.  This is an age old remedy for addressing the problem of having a classroom full of different ability levels.

  9. sos

    Actually, Davis has already successfully used the differentiated classroom model. North Davis Elementary used the differentiated model under principal Judy Davis and it worked beautifully. It began with reading and math groups in first grade, and progressed to students rotating through different teachers who “specialized” in the 4th through 6th grade. It ended when the two lead 6th grade teachers retired in 2007. Ironically, the two teachers who replaced the retiring 6 grade teachers (but didn’t continue the program) are now AIM teachers.

      1. sos

        not so much….in the years that each of my children were in the 3rd grade, only 3 children left North Davis for the GATE program. I knew of at least 9 children who qualified on the district OLSAT test and chose not to leave North Davis (from 2 different years). One of the 3 that left returned after 2 months. He was the classic “gifted” student…brilliant, but needing to learn differently. The GATE classroom didn’t offer a different learning style and he subsequently attended a private school that provided a very different educational style intended for “gifted” students.

  10. wdf1

    Social/emotional development is a factor that regularly gets ignored in favor of cognitive aptitude and outcomes in discussions on the quality of education.  And yet studies and articles like this are coming out with increasing frequency.

    Research says this is what you need to teach your kids in kindergarten if you ever want them to go to college or get a job

    Career success could be predicted as early as kindergarten, according to a 20-year study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health.

    Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Duke University tracked more than 700 children from across the US between kindergarten and age 25 and found a significant correlation between their social skills as kindergartners and their success as adults two decades later.

    In 1991, teachers assessed how the kindergartners interacted with each other socially using a range of criteria like whether they cooperate with their peers without prompting, if they’re helpful to others, whether they’re good at understanding feelings, and if they can resolve problems on their own.

    Researchers then kept track of whether the students went on to graduate high school on time, get a college degree, and find and keep a full-time job by 25. They also monitored the participants’ involvement with crime, drug abuse, public assistance, and mental health issues.

    The results showed that socially competent children were far more likely to earn a college degree and have a full-time job by 25 than those with limited social skills. Those with limited social skills also had a higher chance of getting arrested, binge drinking, and applying for public housing.

    “This study shows that helping children develop social and emotional skills is one of the most important things we can do to prepare them for a healthy future,” said Kristin Schubert, program director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the research, in a release. “From an early age, these skills can determine whether a child goes to college or prison, and whether they end up employed or addicted.”

    The good news, according to Damon Jones, lead author of the study, is that intervention at a young age can help improve social and emotional skills.

    1. Frankly

      Good stuff.  I know a lot of straight A students that get into good colleges that lack development in social skills.  And I know kids with some of the highest social skills that struggled to get good enough grades, and lost their interest in learning, and struggled to get college credits.

      What are we measuring?

      What are we developing?

      Seems like much of the wrong things.

    2. MrsW

      Rings true to me.

      Earlier, wdf said:

      There is no standard assessment of social/emotional temperament or development to accompany the cognitive assessment.  But there are social/emotional/developmental issues that are coming into discussion in various ways. many unacknowledged.

      Well said.

  11. davis forever

    The idea of giving up the use of the term “gifted” is appealing — because no one knows what it means anyway.  David says it is an “evolving” concept, but really it is a very gray and mushy concept “evolving” into something altogether meaningless.  Under most-recent California law, it was to be defined by each district for itself, as related to the process of getting categorical funds from the DOE.  But, those categorical funds no longer exist.  The statutes regulating how districts qualify for those funds have been abolished.  The regulations implementing those statutes have been deemed a nullity by the DOE.

    In Davis, the “gifted” threshold once meant kids scoring over 90% combined on the OLSAT, then the threshold moved to 94%.  Now it means students scoring over 96% with some amorphous risk factors + students scoring over 96% on the TONI test, which is offered to nearly 200 students annually hand-picked by the AIM administrator from all racial and economic backgrounds (but withheld from other students).  At the moment it does not seem to include students who submit scores from private testing.  The category also includes a few students each year admitted under the AIM administrator’s discretion, for reasons unknown.  In other districts and states it means different things.  As for “gifted and talented,” don’t get me started — there are so many ways to define it.

    If we were to eliminate the use of the word “gifted,” it seems to me that the self-contained program loses all plausibility of being justified in any way — which is fine with me.  If someone were to approach the Davis parent community from ground zero and propose the adoption of a program like the one we have now, with a screening and selection process that moves and excludes 20% of the fourth grade students into strands at four of the eight elementary campuses, without any principled or even-handed basis for determining who can participate and who can’t, and with the designation as being “in” continuing all the way up through 10th grade, without using the crutch of the term “gifted,” I think that he or she would be laughed out of the room.  The practical and logical response would be:  “Why would we want to do that?”  And the inevitable retort that “A lot of parents really want this to happen” would be treated as ludicrous, which it is.  If a majority of teachers wanted it that way, that might be a plausible reason for it, but that remains to be seen.  But the only teachers who seem to want it are the teachers assigned to the elite — oops, is that a taboo word? let’s say “specially composed” — classes.

    What about the word “segregated” — should that be eliminated from the conversation as well?  The first dictionary hit I receive in a search defines it as “set apart from the rest.”  How can a program whose hallmark is separating kids into self-contained strands be defined as anything other than segregated?  Gifted education can be offered through a strategy of integration or a strategy of segregation.  DJUSD thus far has been wedded to the latter.

    Now, the term “differentiated instruction” –this means nothing more than taking steps to challenge children at a level that is a good academic and intellectual fit.  There are many ways to do it, and it really is “best practices,” as anyone who has recently completed a teaching preparation program (gifted or otherwise) will tell you.  In fact, the executive director of the CAG advocacy organization, whom the former AIM administrator invited to comment at board meetings although she is not a Davis resident, has made her career out of training teachers in “differentiated instruction” (as the most casual Google search will show).  She sells it for a living.  Of course, self-contained or “special day” classes are but the most extreme form of differentiated instruction, where kids typically are grouped for the entire school day and in Davis the grouping lasts for several years (i.e., tracking).  The former AIM administrator has been selling and delivering the extreme form of differentiated instruction, while at the same time scaring people to believe that “differentiated instruction” is the road to madness.  Go figure.  I think the real reason many are so fearful of the district adopting a strategy of “differentiated instruction” by using flexible ability grouping, cluster grouping, software, independent study, etc., in lieu of over-reliance on the self-contained model is that those methods can be employed without testing children’s IQ’s and classifying them by their “intellectual value” at age 8.  If we do away with the self-contained paradigm (except for the few underperforming kids who really need it), will we be on the slippery slope toward doing away with “gifted” testing altogether?  Hmmm, good question.  It happened in Palo Alto and Lafayette, and yet those districts seem to be thriving academically.

    Actually I see no reason to deem certain inoffensive words to be taboo in a public conversation by private individuals, although I do believe that careful choices regarding language can be the best way to facilitate understanding.  On the other hand, I think that elected officials and those running for office should be held to a higher standard, and should not talk about “firing” when they really mean non-renewal of an annual contract of a retired consultant, “decisions in the dead of night” when really the decisions were preceded by hours of discussion by many participants over several public sessions, and “Brown Act” problems without providing the context of (1) what was actually decided; and (2) what was on the noticed agenda (which in the June 4 instance, included a staff recommendation on the AIM identification process, set to be addressed after the UCD Ed presentation of its evaluation of the AIM program).

    I am not convinced that it is very productive at present.  Do others disagree?  Are we feeling more enlightened?  The Vanguard wants to fill blog-time, but hopefully not at the expense of losing its reputation for objective journalism.  Ultimately, I hope that our paid administrative professionals use their expertise and judgment in steering and molding our programs in the best way they can for the benefit of all of our students, and I hope that our board lets them do that rather than caving into bullying and intimidation, threats and whining.  This is Davis — we can pull off bikes, farmers market, AYSO, libraries, parks, civic engagement, and so much more.  And we can move forward into a future unchained from this archaic model of serving our “gifted” students.

      1. Don Shor

        Yes, it’s a perfect example of the condescension and derision that GATE families have been experiencing for years now. If you want to understand why it is going to be very difficult to bridge the differences on this issue, this essay is a perfect example.
        At least we got this:

        (except for the few underperforming kids who really need it)

        So, davis forever, how do you wish to identify those underperforming few?

          1. Don Shor

            If you’re referring to the question about how to identify the few, I think davis forever explained it sufficiently.

  12. davis forever

    Hello ryankelly and Don Shor – in response to your question, Don Shor, I think that K-3 teachers would have a lot of insight into which kids need the self-contained program because they are seriously underperforming in the mixed-ability classroom.  The teachers spend thousands of hours with the kids — they can be a valuable resource if their opinions are respected and sought out.  Parents also can provide valuable insight, and once the “status factor” starts to wear off of the self-contained placement parents also will be able to help the district explore whether their children need to be in a self-contained classroom.

    Other resources include standardized test scores, grades, class work, and information from private testing and services.  Also, the district has nine or so school psychologists on staff who can do assessments and testing.  Other districts (see Napa ALPS program website, for example) use a portfolio approach; the NAG and CAG recommend this and Davis can utilize it as well.  The main thing is that the program needs to be prioritized as needs-based for underperformers, not the golden ticket for over-performers.  Once the community realizes that kids don’t need to leave the regular program to have a shot at the top 20%, 10%, or 5% for college applications, I predict that things will calm down considerably.

    BTW I have attended almost every GATE Advisory meeting for over five years, and I believe that my views are formed through inquiry, observation, discussion, and objective research (which is not easy to do and must be tackled on a personal level, given the climate in Davis and the advocacy pitch of “GATE experts” in the national academic & professional conversation).  My offspring have been “not in GATE” and “in GATE” in the DJUSD.  I have served on district-level committees (appointed & “just show up”), a campus climate committee and site council, and a PTA board.  I also have worked closely with, and listened to, many GATE and non-GATE teachers in the district, as well as academics from the UCD school of Ed. I also have consulted with administrators outside the district.  I have been an attorney for over 20 years and I have conducted legal research on the issue.   Have also served, and continue to serve, on several local education-related nonprofits.  So, I don’t consider my views to be based on condescension and derision but rather on a long study of the problems and challenges we are facing as a community, in addition to the opportunities that change can bring.

    1. Don Shor

      The main thing is that the program needs to be prioritized as needs-based for under performers

      I completely agree with this statement with respect to self-contained GATE.
      I was on site council, committees, had one GATE and one non-GATE, etc., as well. Your tone and some of your comments were condescending and derisive. Some of your content is just conjecture, such as

      But the only teachers who seem to want it are the teachers assigned to the elite — oops, is that a taboo word? let’s say “specially composed” — classes.

      I am unaware of any surveys of teachers’ opinions about GATE. Note also the derision.
      We’ve heard it all. It’s elite. It’s segregation. It’s all about parents’ egos. GATE is harming the school climate. GATE is increasing the achievement gap. GATE kids should mix with other kids and mentor them.

      it seems to me that the self-contained program loses all plausibility of being justified in any way — which is fine with me.

      Self-contained GATE is crucial for some kids. It was crucial for mine. It was just as important as Special Ed, which was also recommended and implemented by the counselor. I agree that teachers and counselors and parents will be important in providing feedback on students that might be appropriate for self-contained and differentiated GATE. As I’ve noted before, I expect that making GATE work better will cost more money than what the district is spending and doing now.

    2. Frankly

      The main thing is that the program needs to be prioritized as needs-based for underperformers, not the golden ticket for over-performers.

      Sounds right to me.

      Self-contained GATE is crucial for some kids. It was crucial for mine.

      Absent an alternative that works.

       

  13. iWitness

    First, to Mrs.W, way back on July 25, 11:35 am,

    Right now three administrators and a secretary are both preparing for and attending the bimonthly AIM meetings. That’s expensive.

    Please name the three administrators and secretary who were both preparing for and attending the bimonthly AIM meetings in July, the usual  term on July 25 for “Right now.”  But to make a real correction outside the space-time continuum, the meetings were not bimonthly, just monthly, in at least the last three years, and probably long before. All the same, one of the three administrators who used to attend AIM meetings monthly has been let go, and I don’t think she was the administrator you were intending to spotlight for diligence during the summer vacation, anyway.   One rarely said anything at all, just projected boredom.  The other cheerfully ran the meetings instead of the coordinator who used to be allowed to run them herself, because other administrators knew they could trust her.  Yes, I’d call that expensive and redundant, if it were necessary and if it happened, and the part-time secretary also only attended the monthly meetings monthly to take notes so that no one could intentionally falsify the proceedings.  Of course, Mrs W doesn’t claim as do others in this ongoing farce of misstatement that she’s been attending the AIM AC meetings for as far back as she can remember.   On the other hand, if Mrs W were right, when would they have time to do all the Board has directed them to do, like read, research and rewrite the successful history of self-contained classes in Davis to make it look as if it has not turned out decades of successful well-adjusted people who care about their fellow people?

    Second, thanks, Don, for carrying the flag for the self-contained gifted program in this discussion; whatever you want to call it, you have naming rights, too.  I personally believe in calling national programs by their national names, and state programs by their state names especially when the names are the same.

  14. MrsW

    Please name the three administrators and secretary…”right now”

    Good Morning iWitness–Matt Best, Clark Bryant and Deanne Quinn were the administrators.  I do not know the name of the secretary, whether she is Kathleen Luna or another person.

    I should have used the term “as the program has been recently implemented” or something like that, rather than “right now.”  I did not mean July.  In my comments, I have been trying to point out that the GATE program of the mid-2000’s is very different from the program of the current time.  I do not think that what is going on in the schools and classrooms reflect the vast majority of Ms. Quinn’s intentions or written plan.  I think Don is defending a program that doesn’t exist anymore.  I note that he is limited in both his defense and his experience to the elementary school program and that is only 3 years out of a 7 year program.

    With respect to costs–I point out the administrative costs because administration of the conflicts and schisms generated by the program is starting to cost real money.  I think that’s a reason for DJUSD to pursue reform.  It is the same reason that I “out” the cost of low achievers being sent on the 504 Plan path with all of its administrative costs, when really their low achievement isn’t a learning disability that requires teacher modifications, such as oral testing.  I hope reform includes restoring funding but, unlike current conditions, having that funding spent on things that positively effect the classroom experience.

    1. Don Shor

      I think Don is defending a program that doesn’t exist anymore.

      I am advocating for self-contained GATE, not defending a program. As it stands right now I think the status quo is better than the direction the board seems to be going. But I’ve described some alternatives.

      I note that he is limited in both his defense and his experience to the elementary school program and that is only 3 years out of a 7 year program.

      I agree. I share what I think you believe: that GATE at the junior high level is poorly supported and ineffective. Our experience after GATE in elementary school was with what they now call the “Integrated AIM” program at Emerson. Basically differentiated or multi-level instruction. It was completely unsuccessful in our case, which is why we went to DSIS at that point. That is one of the reasons I am very dubious about differentiated GATE as an alternative to self-contained GATE.

    2. iWitness

      I knew you didn’t mean July!  >: -)  I’m fed up by misstatements then reflected if not coined by members of the board as if they were fact, based usually on distaste for AIM, often intentional (some know better).  It seems petty to carp on misstatements but they infect policy.  You don’t contest my assessment of the administrators.  You were there.

      Different people have taken notes at AIM meetings.  Ms. Quinn’s presence at the advisory committee was appropriate, because she was the authority, when allowed to be.  She just lost the support she and the program had when the previous superintendent left, and the raptors started circling.  How not to see this as ideological?

      On the application for her former job, note the difference in cost to the district of dumping her.  More is offered to someone with no experience beyond  certification. AIM still won’t have a psychologist with experience if not special training in gifted education for proper identification/testing.  The referral rate by teachers of their  students to GATE/AIM is minimally helpful, but rarely if ever resulted in minority referrals in the self-contained program, the reason for universal testing.  But too many kids who are gifted are more comfortable doing less than they are capable of, i.e., underperforming in the regular classroom and just do not identify as anything more than high achievers (not the same thing) to their teachers or even parents, especially if s/he’s their first child. They  don’t need disabilities to underperform.  All too often boredom does the trick.

      If you think the board will spring for a more expensive testing instrument that will get better results, you are probably mistaken.  I don’t think 90 minutes once a month of an active administrator’s time (1 working, 1 silent, 1 silenced) unreasonably much for 20% of the student population.  The document (“agenda”) is boilerplate, reminding the adults in the room to behave, and a one-liner or two inserted into the form.  The notes are printed as typed.  Other programs have advisory committees.  If they are as over-managed as AIM has been, why don’t we hear about what they cost the district?

      Another misstatement: one single AIM course at the high school does not a program make. The claim that the high school offers AP-equals-GATE is a nod to higher, not necessarily more appropriate expectations.

      I’m not “limited” to three years of AIM as you claim Don is.  Anyway, parents learn not by years but by reflection on those years.  He, many others and I are trying to save a program that has succeeded for many from reduction to only a few who aren’t doing well in regular classrooms and “need” to be in self-contained.   We’ll  see how much it takes to rebuild AIM once all those who don’t have access to the self-contained class(es) turn into the underachieving gifted in regular classrooms, where they will not be challenged, or understood, or find peers; and they’ll turn off the lightbulbs.  Heads should roll.

  15. ryankelly

    I wonder how may gifted students fail in our accelerated, high-achieving program.  I know that there have been many references to the growing number of under-achievers in the program, but how many students are expelled, encouraged to find another program or chose to leave on their own due to the program not meeting their needs.  How many of these children end up at King or DSIS or leaving the District all together?

    What are the programs available for gifted students at the Junior High level that don’t want to be in GATE classes?  Is it an either/or decision or are their honors classes available that are in between that are available for students that are good at English, etc.  How many students leave the Junior High because little or no alternate is available?

    What is the truancy rate for the GATE program?  What is the suspension rate?  What is the expulsion rate?

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