What are the Concerns With the Current GATE/AIM Program?

The Board listening to public comment
The board listening to public comment

The Vanguard has had a lot discussions with people in the community about the GATE/AIM program. At this point, the sense seems to be that, while there are groups polarized within the community on the future of the program, it is not all that clear where the lines are drawn exactly.

On the one hand, while there are those in the community strongly supportive of the current program, they don’t seem unwilling to make some changes to the program. On the other hand, those who seem to want to change the program have not seemed, in our view, to articulate what they would like to see changed or why.

The goal was to stimulate conversation, understand the concerns, and hope that, during the course of extended discussion, some sort of a consensus emerged.

Five questions were submitted to each of the board members and the Superintendent that seemed critical to the issue of GATE/AIM. These questions seemed to get the heart of the matter.

  1. What are your concerns about the current AIM program?
  2. Are you concerned that the program is too large – and if so, what size would you prefer?
  3. Do you envision AIM as serving high achieving students, students who are clearly intelligent but underachieving, or some combination?
  4. Are there aspects of the current program that should be available to all students?
  5. Do you see a way forward that most parents can agree with?

As they say, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

However, while the questions were submitted on Friday with a requested deadline of Monday evening, the Vanguard received two responses, one from a board member and one from the Superintendent, neither of which answered the questions.

The board member, while thanking the Vanguard for the questions, decided to hold off commenting in order to give staff the time and space to their research. They indicated that “these and other questions are what we should be discussing in an open meeting.”

The item will be agendized for September and, therefore, concern was expressed that if “all of us are to make comments where we can all read each others’ comments is getting into Brown Act territory.”

These are reasonable concerns. The Vanguard’s hope was that, by starting the discussion early, there might be common ground that could be reached.

Superintendent Winfred Roberson told the Vanguard, “Staff anticipates bringing recommendations to the Board for consideration at the September 17 regular meeting of the Board. In the meantime, we have a team of talented and qualified staff members working with various researchers, looking carefully and deeply at AIM identification and differentiation best practices across the nation. Our findings and preliminary recommendations will be vetted with some of our DJUSD teachers and school principals prior to bringing specific recommendations back to the Board for consideration.”

He continued, “We are fortunate to have an intelligent, supportive and engaged parent community that has provided us input through hours of public comment. All are still welcome and encouraged to share their thoughts, ideas and suggestions at AIMinput@djusd.net. My staff and I personally read every email.”

We are now putting these questions out to the public in hopes that people on both sides of the issue can answer them. There have been concerns raised to me that some people fear speaking out against the current GATE/AIM program, believing that they would open themselves to personal attacks.

While that is always a possibility in any discussion where passions run high, we are hopeful of raising the level of discourse on the issue. In addition, the Vanguard brings the protection of anonymity, which can allow people to speak their mind without fear that they will be personally attacked.

We want to hear from the community on these very important questions with the hope that maybe there is more common ground than people initially believed.

—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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28 Comments

  1. Bob Poppenga

    David:

    In my mind there are two issues raised by your commentary that go beyond any single issue before the School Board (or for that matter, the City Council or other elected body).

    First, you individually asked five elected Board members and the Board appointed Superintendent relevant questions about their views on a high profile District program, but receive absolutely no answers to your questions.  The reason given by one response was if “all of us (were?) to make comments where we can all read each others comments is getting into Brown Act territory.”  I guess I’m missing something here, but if the Brown Act somehow provides cover for elected officials to avoid answering direct questions on important issues, then the Brown Act is doing more harm to the democratic process than good.  “As they say, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”  David, it was a good idea!

    Second, the Superintendent’s response was:

    “In the meantime, we have a team of talented and qualified staff members working with various researchers, looking carefully and deeply at AIM identification and differentiation best practices across the nation. Our findings and preliminary recommendations will be vetted with some of our DJUSD teachers and school principals prior to bringing specific recommendations back to the Board for consideration.”

    My question is pretty simple.  Who are the “talented and qualified staff” and “various researchers”?  Which teachers and school principals will be vetting the findings?  This goes to the heart of conducting the public’s business in an open and transparent manner and engendering trust in the process.  I fail to see why knowing who is involved or who is being consulted would interfere with a qualified and unbiased team doing their evaluations and making well thought through recommendations.

    The public is “encouraged to share their thoughts, ideas and suggestions” with the District.  Seems like a one way street to me.  Let’s just hope that any recommendations are open to sufficient public scrutiny before the September 17th meeting.

    1. Davis Progressive

      good comments bob.  i think you nailed it.  to date, i have seen no justification given for something that i can only assume will be a massive change to the program.

    2. hpierce

      “open to sufficient public scrutiny”.  Just guessing here, but am thinking the scrutiny will not be sufficient to you unless the result coincides with your view.  I do agree, though, that it should be vetted with all of the community, not just those who have ‘vested interests’.

    3. wdf1

      Poppenga:  My question is pretty simple.  Who are the “talented and qualified staff” and “various researchers”?  Which teachers and school principals will be vetting the findings?  This goes to the heart of conducting the public’s business in an open and transparent manner and engendering trust in the process.  I fail to see why knowing who is involved or who is being consulted would interfere with a qualified and unbiased team doing their evaluations and making well thought through recommendations.

      Having an AIM/GATE component served by differentiated instruction is something that has been planned and delayed for 14+ years.  In 2001 it was proposed for Pioneer Elementary, but Don Saylor seemingly convinced John Munn to  join John Poulos in voting on the school board to have self-contained GATE at Pioneer the following school year.  Prior to then, Munn seemed to indicate a certain preference for differentiated instruction.  Clark Bryant was principal at Pioneer Elementary at the time.  Bryant is now Associate Superintendent of Instruction, and has been since the late 2000’s.

      The 2008-2013 GATE master plan directed implementation of differentiated instruction, but was never fully acted upon.

      There has been known consultation with at least one other district back in 2012.

      It isn’t like this idea only showed up on a whim last June 4.

      1. Don Shor

        I wouldn’t call that a “consultation with … one other district.” It wasn’t arranged by the district, it was arranged by individuals involved in the group that opposes self-contained GATE, and it didn’t involve, as far as we can tell from the article, any full discussion with board members and the public about the pros and cons of converting to differentiated instruction and drastically shrinking the self-contained GATE.

        1. hpierce

          Don… an observation… I have said repeatedly that some kids NEED a self-contained GATE/AIM program to thrive in the lower/mid grades.  I have also said that there is a legitimate concern about those students when they go to college or have to make a living (where, in college and real life in particular, there are no ‘special programs’).  Having gone thru the equivalent of a “GATE” program, I needed it at one point (a pivotal point), but in HS, college, and career, that was not “offered”.  I succeeded in the latter 3, because of the 2 years I was in such a program.  But it could have become a “crutch”, at least for me.  I learned that I thought differently, that it was OK, and I just needed to do the best I could.  And that some would think I was ‘weird’ and that was OK, too. And some would think I was the equivalent of a “smarty-pants”, but that was OK, because I always mentored those who didn’t grasp things as quickly I did.

          You seem (here’s the observation) that you don’t want to see the program “touched”.  Beyond “drastically shrinking”.  Check your reasons (suggestion) for being what seems to be uber-sensitive about the program, as it exists today.

          I say (more than the proverbial 3 times) the program needs evaluation and reformation.  If that is not done, I believe the entire program is at risk, and I am one of the ones who do NOT want to see it eliminated.

          1. Don Shor

            You seem (here’s the observation) that you don’t want to see the program “touched”.

            That is not correct. I have noted the San Diego program as one possible model, and it involves reducing self-contained GATE. I’ve also proposed a process for introducing multi-level instruction that would probably ultimately enroll a majority of the GATE-identified students.

            At this point I do not trust the Board majority to do that effectively. When I hear the focus on the numbers (“we’re identifying too many…”) I see the wrong priorities guiding the process. At this point I see the status quo as preferable to the likely outcome of the current board direction. A lot now rides on what staff proposes in September, but I am extremely skeptical. And any improvement in AIM/GATE will cost more money than the status quo and open the whole program up to the criticism that it is using resources inequitably.

            I consider that the greatest threat to effective self-contained GATE presently comes from the social justice activists who are arguing against it on the basis of fairness, achievement gap, demographics, etc. A poor implementation of changes by the board could yield a lawsuit that brings the whole thing down. That is a real risk, IMO.

            A bad outcome would be reduced self-contained GATE with expanded multi-level instruction and inadequate resources. If they don’t add money and staff, it won’t be as good as what is in place now. So I’m only arguing for the status quo because the process so far has been screwed up and I doubt the commitment. I would like to be wrong, but a board that fires the coordinator and then instructs staff — the staff that recommended the coordinator be retained — to come back with some sort of plan does not give me confidence.

  2. Anon

    Obviously, because of the controversy surrounding the dismissal of the AIM Director, and the School Board’s decision about private testing, there is concern there will be massive change in the AIM program.  The DJUSD had indicated there will be no change for current students, but nevertheless is “looking into” the matter.  The MIXED MESSAGES coming from DJUSD and the School Board are understandably causing public angst.

    From a personal perspective, and as a former public school teacher, my preference would be to ability group the students via a team teaching approach, rather than have a separate AIM program.  It is less costly, less elitist, and more conducive to good educational outcomes.  JMO

    1. Don Shor

      my preference would be to ability group the students via a team teaching approach, rather than have a separate AIM program.

      My preference would be to pilot-test ability grouping and see how students, parents, and teachers respond, and retain self-contained GATE for those kids who clearly need it.

      It is less costly, less elitist, and more conducive to good educational outcomes.

      I’m sorry you feel that I’m elitist for having sought the best placement for my child, which was self-contained GATE. I will say that characterization is getting very tiresome. There is actually evidence that self-contained GATE is more conducive to good educational outcomes. It would be more costly to do it both ways, unfortunately, so the Board would need to have good reasons for doing it. So far they have not articulated those reasons.

      1. Frankly

        The problem here is making this distinction that there is some subset of kids that will only do well enough if they are placed in a self-contained program that is geared to their unique learning/development challenges.

        The reality is that most, if not all, kids would do better if placed in a self-contained program geared to their unique learning/development challenges.

        So we come up with GATE/AIM as just one type of self-contained program.

        What about all those other kids?

        That is my problem… kids with a certain type of learning challenge are given extra attention and help, and the rest that don’t fit that template are not.

        Sure it benefits some kids.  But it is the wrong-headed approach unless we can do the same for all kids.

        1. Don Shor

          The reality is that most, if not all, kids would do better if placed in a self-contained program geared to their unique learning/development challenges.

          I doubt that you have evidence for this assertion.

        2. hpierce

          “kids with a certain type of learning challenge are given extra attention and help, and the rest that don’t fit that template are not.”  Some kids actually don’t have learning challenges.  Middle of bell curve. But I think your point is that the district (and parents) should strive to meet the needs of ALL students, to result in best outcomes for each student.  

          If I am correct in your main point, we are in agreement.  The fact of the matter is some children need different ‘attention’/methods than others.  One size does NOT fit all.  There is a place for self-contained instruction, particularly on the outsides of the bell curve.  A child who has cognitive difficulties should (IMO) be main-streamed socially, but may need to feel success with ‘peers’ academically.  Same on the other end of the bell curve.  But, those in the middle must also be nurtured and have their social and acedemic needs met.

          I know self-contained classes work FOR THOSE WHO NEED IT.  However, the current program ‘sniffs’ like a ‘country club’ program.  Again, I say the current program needs examination, and likely reform, but not abolition.

  3. ryankelly

    How many times do people need to tell Poppenga that the current students will continue to have their self-contained classes and the changes to GATE will take place with the rising 2016 4th graders for him to accept it?

    With allegations of Brown Act violations, I’m sure that the Board is very sensitive to erring on the side of caution when it comes to dealing with communication outside of Board meetings regarding this issue.   I don’t see this as “hiding behind the Brown Act.”

    1. Don Shor

      Since Bob Poppenga did not, in his comments above, make the assertion you are ‘refuting’ and did not even address the specific changes to GATE, your comment here is pointless. Just another attack on someone who you’ve disagreed with from the start on this issue. I give you credit for consistency.

      An independent attorney needs to address this Brown Act issue. The board majority does appear to be avoiding every opportunity that they might have to express their opinions. That just makes them look worse and worse.

  4. MrsW

     
    I would ask different questions 🙂  Time limited today, so sorry if incomplete or miss-spellings, but I think its important, so here goes–this is what I would ask the Board

    1. Describe the current AIM program—as it is.  In the description,
    – Summarize implementation similarities and differences between the four different elementary sites and two different junior high sites.
    – Is the elementary program distinct from the junior high program?  Or are grades 4-10 one combined program, with specific pedagogical arcs?
    – At each site, is the AIM program operated as a school-within-a school or is it part of the greater school?  For example, if needed, who assists AIM students with playground-related interpersonal conflict resolution?
    – Students will notice they have been tracked.  What then?
    2. Describe the District’s current practices, policies and pathways for high achieving students who
    – have extroverted resilient natures
    – have introverted and/or socially sensitive natures
    3. Describe the District’s current practices, policies and pathways for students who are clearly intelligent but underachieving and who
    – have extroverted resilient natures
    – have introverted and/or socially sensitive natures
    4. In other words, how does DJUSD account for temperament, emotional and social development as influences on achievement?  Does DJUSD consider the lens through which children receive information, as well as the information itself?
    5. The AIM coordinator has no responsibility or authority at school sites, but there are parts of the GATE Master Plan that require a school-site administrator to implement them, i.e. someone with responsibility and authority must carry out the actions.  Do principals know this?  Do they carry out the actions?
    6. How closely does your description match the GATE Master Plan?
    7. Could your description also describe what’s going on in every DJUSD classroom?  If not, where are the differences?  Are there too many to list or only a few?
    8. How closely does your description of DJUSD’s AIM program match contemporary research on intelligence and achievement/under achievement?
    9. Do current practices, policies and pathways have unintended consequences that conflict with other American values, i.e. values other than individual achievement?  If so, describe those values.
    10. Considering the answers to questions above
    – Should parents expect consistency in practices, policies, and pathways between each of the four elementary sites and between the two junior high sites?
    – Should AIM program admissions consider temperament?
    – Should the GATE Master Plan be modified to better match reality, integrating District goals and objectives, so that it’s a useful tool for communicating and managing expectations from/of the program?

     

  5. ryankelly

    Don, Your right – Anon made this allegation.   I confused this with Poppenga’s concerns about this from the past.  A mild correction could have sufficed.  So my question goes to Anon.  From what I read, staff are not “looking into” changes to the existing GATE student’s program.

    Can’t we wait 6 weeks to see the staff report before demanding that members of the Board respond to specific questions on testing and design?  What if staff comes back with a plan to expand the program to include all GATE identified plus all high achievers that didn’t make the testing cut?  What if their plan is too expensive or requires hiring of additional staff and we go back to the status quo for another year?  I’m anticipating that the report will come out ahead of the meeting, so people should be able to read it and prepare their response.

    To be transparent, all Board conversations should occur during public meetings, where everyone can hear the answer and have the ability to give comments.  It would have been nice to have them respond to the Vanguard’s questions, but it is reasonable that they declined for the reasons that they state.

    1. Anon

      To ryankelly: Reading between the lines, I would say change to the AIM program is acomin’!

      “The board member, while thanking the Vanguard for the questions, decided to hold off commenting in order to give staff the time and space to [do] their research. They indicated that “these and other questions are what we should be discussing in an open meeting…

      “In the meantime, we have a team of talented and qualified staff members working with various researchers, looking carefully and deeply at AIM identification and differentiation best practices across the nation. Our findings and preliminary recommendations will be vetted with some of our DJUSD teachers and school principals prior to bringing specific recommendations back to the Board for consideration.””

  6. Anon

    Don Shor: “I’m sorry you feel that I’m elitist for having sought the best placement for my child, which was self-contained GATE. I will say that characterization is getting very tiresome. There is actually evidence that self-contained GATE is more conducive to good educational outcomes. It would be more costly to do it both ways, unfortunately, so the Board would need to have good reasons for doing it. So far they have not articulated those reasons.”

    Good grief!  I did not accuse you or any particular person of being elitist.  What I said was, “It is less costly, less elitist, and more conducive to good educational outcomes.”

    My reasoning for saying the AIM program is elitist as it existed is that parents were permitted to test and retest their child until the child achieved the appropriate score to qualify for AIM, so that wealthier families who could afford to retest their children had a distinct advantage over families who could not afford to retest.  And I can tell you from personal experience that some parents do look down their nose at children who do not get into the AIM program (in my children’s day it was called GATE).

    If children are ability grouped in a team teaching approach, then the brighter kids are grouped together.  Call that AIM-type group the “blue”group, or whatever unstigmatizing appellation you want to call it. This type of team teaching/ability grouping system has a proven track record, but I would have no objection to trying it as a “pilot project” here in Davis.

  7. Don Shor

    1. What are your concerns about the current AIM program? 2. Are you concerned that the program is too large – and if so, what size would you prefer? 3. Do you envision AIM as serving high achieving students, students who are clearly intelligent but underachieving, or some combination? 4. Are there aspects of the current program that should be available to all students? 5. Do you see a way forward that most parents can agree with?

    1. I am concerned that, due to changes in state funding practices, the AIM program will not be adequately resourced. I am concerned that the current school board majority is not committed to a successful AIM program.

    2. 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.

    Goleta: 30%

    Irvine: 25%

    Berkeley: “more than one-third of sixth graders”

    La Jolla: 51 – 54%

    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.

    3. AIM is supposed to be for intelligent underachievers who learn better with specially trained teachers and different resources. This is really the main issue a lot of people seem to have: that GATE became an advanced placement program, not a special program for kids who have difficulty in mixed-ability classrooms.

    4. I don’t think it’s necessary or appropriate to expand GATE-style teaching to all students. I do think it would be useful for teachers and counselors to have flexibility to identify students in mainstream or mixed-ability classes who they feel would benefit from moving between the programs or transferring, even if there isn’t a specific test that identifies that.

    5. The San Diego school district model has a lot to recommend it, and I happen to have had experience with it many years ago. 6 to 12% of students there are in “seminar” programs while the remaining gifted-identified are in differentiated instruction.

    Pilot programs for multi-level AIM instruction can be implemented and reviewed after a couple of years. There needs to be a significant number of GATE-identified students in each differentiated classroom, 1/4 to 1/3 of the class total. Teachers obviously need special training, and principals and counselors at those schools need to be fully committed to both differentiated and self-contained GATE.

    Self-contained GATE should continue in smaller classes with higher teacher:student ratios.

    How exactly the district will select for these separate tracks, I don’t know. Some subjectivity and counselor input would be necessary IMO. Students, parents, and teachers need to buy into these changes. They can’t be top-down.

  8. ABC

    I’m a first-time commenter and fit into the category of fearing to speak for change to the current AIM program, believing I would open my family up to personal attacks from acquaintances that passionately support AIM as it is. I will answer the questions directly, but under anonymity.

    What are your concerns about the current AIM program?
    Size, testing, and population served; I see it as a large pay-to-join honors program via a pay to-re-test process that can’t truly serve those who need it most.
        
    Are you concerned that the program is too large – and if so, what size would you prefer?
    Yes, I believe it should be right-sized for students significantly underachieving.
        
    Do you envision AIM as serving high achieving students, students who are clearly intelligent but underachieving, or some combination?
    I envision AIM as a special education program for students who are clearly intelligent but underachieving.
        
    Are there aspects of the current program that should be available to all students?
    Yes, equal resources and field trip opportunities.
        
    Do you see a way forward that most parents can agree with?
    Not at first and not with the existing set of parents. If change is allowed to occur, right-sizing the program as a special education program with honors work offered in “regular classrooms” or on a subject-by-subject basis, parents will no longer need to pursue AIM placement for their “honors” kid that doesn’t actually need special education. Then, in the future, more parents may agree that students are appropriately served across the spectrum. Plus, when the AIM program is targeted for underachievers, AIM will be improved for those that truly need it.

  9. Anon

    Don Shor: “3. AIM is supposed to be for intelligent underachievers who learn better with specially trained teachers and different resources. This is really the main issue a lot of people seem to have: that GATE became an advanced placement program, not a special program for kids who have difficulty in mixed-ability classrooms.

    Where do you get the idea AIM is only for intelligent underachievers or that it is even for intelligent underachievers?  Why do you exclude intelligent overachievers?  Secondly, intelligent underachievers supposedly are served by the Transition Academy, or at least they used to be.  Not sure what they do now, altho I am sure they still have Transition Academy.

    1. Don Shor

      Secondly, intelligent underachievers supposedly are served by the Transition Academy, or at least they used to be. Not sure what they do now, altho I am sure they still have Transition Academy.

      I have not heard of Transition Academy.

  10. Frankly

    Self-contained GATE should continue in smaller classes with higher teacher:student ratios.

    This kinda’ shoots your “GATE does not require extra resources that could otherwise be used to help all students” assertion full of holes.

    I thought the education establishment was absolute in this demand to reduce class sizes for all students because to leads to better education experiences overall?

    Give your explanation that gate is for “intelligent underachievers” that would strongly suggest that there are actually only four types of students:

    1. Intelligent underachievers.

    2. Intelligent achievers

    3. Unintelligent underachievers

    4. Unintelligent achievers

    See the problem?

    1. Don Shor

      “GATE does not require extra resources that could otherwise be used to help all students” assertion full of holes.

      In its present form it does not. If they make changes, it will. I’ve said that before.

      See the problem?

      No.

  11. MrsW

    What are your concerns about the current AIM program? 2. Are you concerned that the program is too large – and if so, what size would you prefer? 3. Do you envision AIM as serving high achieving students, students who are clearly intelligent but underachieving, or some combination? 4. Are there aspects of the current program that should be available to all students? 5. Do you see a way forward that most parents can agree with?

     1. The identification process is limited to one criteria. The  elementary program does not address the social ramifications of separating out the “smart” children from the rest of the school population. The language of “non-“. The junior high program exacerbates underachievement.  Lower administrative and counseling support for AIM students because it’s assumed they’re getting” more” from the AIM program.
     2. If other issues are addressed, the size of the program will right itself.
     3. A combination.  The only reason to socially isolate people in school is for social-developmental reasons.  Temporarily freeing some children from social anxiety and responsibility allows them to develop their skills and confidence in other areas until they are mature enough to handle the social scene.
     4.  Answering this question would need to be school-specific.  Generally speaking, differentiation is practiced well in AIM elementary classrooms, as well as the vast majority of DJUSD elementary classrooms.  A number of our AIM elementary teachers are creative people, who have great ideas on how to enrich the curriculum with no additional money.  Parental support tends to be high in AIM classrooms.
     5.  Most parents would agree that fostering a youth development culture would improve DJUSD.  In the context of youth development, rich academic opportunities (such as an honors program), as well as garden-variety life coaching, would go far to address the AIM situation.  Most parents would agree that the primary and elementary school years are the best years to meet people from different socio-economic and ethnic groups and develop an appreciation for what’s awesome in other cultures. The details on how it happens are less important than that it happens.   I suspect there would be no protest, if the AIM junior high program was eliminated, particularly if it were replaced with an honors track and low-achievers were provided with age-appropriate suggestions and pathways to become achievers.

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