DJUSD Board to Have Brief Update on AIM

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The DJUSD School board will have a meeting on Thursday with a brief update on the AIM process in advance of what is expected to be a major policy meeting on September 17.

A letter dated July 30, 2015, from Superintendent Winfred Roberson to AIM teachers indicates, “I’ve received several emails from AIM teachers indicating your willingness to serve on an AIM committee. I want to thank all of you who have volunteered your professional services to help advance the AIM conversation in DJUSD.”

He continues, “Your expertise and input on the AIM program is welcome and very important. It is a priority of mine that I hear from AIM professionals. While there is no formal committee, teachers have already met with me to share ideas and suggestions.”

The Superintendent then outlines their process. They have assigned four administrators to the Board of Education’s motion from June 4: Stephanie Gregson, Director of Curriculum, Assessment and Learning, Dr. Clark Bryant, Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services, Matt Best, Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services, and the Superintendent himself.

Step two will be to “Contact and dialogue with university researchers specializing in the Gifted and Talented Education field.” Third, they will review the GATE programs throughout California.

On August 14, they will have a principal panel to vet preliminary recommendations, which suggests that this process is, in fact, well underway.

The Superintendent indicates that secondary AIM teachers will meet on August 18 and they want the opportunity to share the same preliminary recommendations with those teachers at that time. Elementary AIM teachers are not formally scheduled to meet as a group until September 30, so the Superintendent wants to meet with elementary AIM teachers on August 19 at 2:00 PM.

The Superintendent reports, “Our work to date has been centered on peer reviewed academic research related to gifted and talented identification and classroom/school wide differentiation. Our charge is to ensure that the student-centered recommendations for AIM identification will be made based on solid research, the evaluation of DJUSD student needs and lessons learned from other school districts’ models and experiences.”

State of the Discussion

The Vanguard has spent much of the last month attempting to better understand the concerns about the current program and ascertain what some solutions might be.

As such, the Vanguard reached out to the board and superintendent with some questions meant to stimulate conversation, understand the concerns, and hope that, during the course of extended discussion, some sort of a consensus would emerge.

However, the Superintendent and the Board were understandably reluctant to take public stands on these issues prior to the September 17 meeting.

The five questions we asked were:

  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?

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.”

The key questions that have emerged are who should AIM serve, how many students should it serve, and how should they be identified.

While the current GATE/AIM program and, in fact, many across the state seek to serve two populations that are somewhat distinct – children who are classic high achievers and those who are underachievers. Critics of the program believe that AIM should only serve the latter group – those underachievers whose needs are not met in the regular classroom.

As we noted in a previous article, an op-ed recently by Louise Angermann opined, “I am writing in support of recent decisions made by the Davis school board to eliminate private testing to gain entry to the AIM program, and to limit the students entering the program to those who cannot be served in a traditional classroom utilizing differentiated instruction.”

She continued, “Contrary to what the critics of these decisions claim, these changes are not equivalent to dismantling the AIM program. Rather, they are implementing the program as it originally was intended and always should have been: to serve those identified children who could not be served in a traditional classroom. This should be a very small number since, like other special-needs children, the aim (pun intended) for gifted children should be to mainstream them whenever possible.”

Similarly, David Miller wrote, “I have heard no one advocate against true GATE programs. These are designed to take the 1 or 2 percent of very bright students who, for various reasons, cannot function in a regular classroom.”

He added, “When a program is identifying 30 percent of district students as needing GATE, it is logical to believe that it might have a serious case of ‘mission creep’ that has led it far beyond its intended scope.”

Since these publications, I have heard from a number of people privately that this is the direction they would like to see AIM go – smaller and serving the needs of kids that are not well-served in the current classroom.

The suggestion has been to identify those who are at the top of the intelligence scale and then match that to behavior and grades, in order to find out who needs the self-contained program and who is doing fine in the mainstream classrooms.

There is an argument that, by integrating all of these other high achieving and hard-working students into regular classes, it can only help benefit the rest of the school by putting many teachers back into teaching “regular” classrooms. The school would then have to make sure that the top students would receive the appropriate teaching in the same classroom.

However, as we continue this conversation, I think I want to hear more about the case for high achieving students in self-contained or otherwise accelerated classes. That seems to be the point of disagreement and, as of now, I have not heard enough along these lines.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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3 thoughts on “DJUSD Board to Have Brief Update on AIM”

  1. zaqzaq

    David,

    Follow the math track for the high achievers.  Does the school district create a program that allows all high achievers to complete the same math track as the AIM classes where they complete 7th grade math by the end of 6th grade.  Right now they can test into the advanced math class in 7th grade but are not prepared for it like the AIM students.  The advanced math allows them to take Calculus in high school.  Those not in the advanced class in 7th grade will not be able to take Calculus.

    1. MrsW

      [Taking Algebra in 7th grade]… allows them to take Calculus in high school.

      Math pathways are shown on page 6 of the DHS catalog. Here is a link:  http://dhs-djusd-ca.schoolloop.com/file/1368364917939/1365835310218/8162696983607143303.pdf

      The adoption of common core makes this harder to show.  Taking Algebra in 7th grade (Common Core 2/3) sets a student up to take Calculus AB in 11th grade, not 12th grade.  Taking Algebra in 8th grade, sets a student up to take Calculus in 12th grade.

      Now what no one tells you.  1) fewer 7th graders take Algebra than you think; 2) a number of students who take Algebra as 7th graders re-take it as 8th graders because they need a higher grade for college. A Holmes teacher told me about 50% of 7th graders received D’s and F’s in the year before my kid and that’s common; 3) a number of students stop taking math all together after they complete their high school graduation requirement (2 years) or UC requirement (3 years); and 4) in a post from earlier this week, “Who should AIM serve”, wdf provided a link to a site that showed only 300 students were enrolled in Calculus at DHS–that would be a combination of 11th and 12 graders. http://ocrdata.ed.gov/Page?t=d&eid=26701&syk=6&pid=736.  Since there are about 550 students in each grade, that’s 300/1100.

      That means 70% of students are NOT taking Calculus before they graduate–a number of whom were in the AIM program. Further, if they were accelerated, I suspect they aren’t taking math their senior year, and quite possible their junior year, at all.  An interruption in math is a good predictor that a student won’t pursue a STEM major or field.

    2. ryankelly

      Calculus is a college-level course and not necessarily a goal for K-12 education.  In my experience, many students who take AP Calculus in High School end up having to repeat it when they get to college.  I do think most students can progress through Math at a faster clip.  I spent a year abroad and when I returned, I found that I was a year ahead of my peers.  I think that the kids just moved along faster and accomplished more throughout the year, because I wasn’t that far behind at the start of the year.  It was also interesting that the school I went to had no homework – zero – with all practice in class.  The teacher used games and contests to practice and test our knowledge.  There was a lot of flexibility.  When the teacher discovered that one student was weak on multiplication – everyone had to memorize the times tables up to 12 the following week and demonstrate their knowledge by standing in front of the class while problems were called out by their fellow students.  Terrifying, but confidence building when you survived it.   I remember it being a lot of fun as opposed to the drudgery of the Math instruction and the homework of endless practice problems of American schools.

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