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:
- What are your concerns about the current AIM program?
- Are you concerned that the program is too large – and if so, what size would you prefer?
- Do you envision AIM as serving high achieving students, students who are clearly intelligent but underachieving, or some combination?
- Are there aspects of the current program that should be available to all students?
- 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