Don’t blame the Achievement Gap on AIM

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achievement-gapBy Alicia Silva

At the June 4th School Board Meeting, a group of researchers who had volunteered to analyze the district’s magnet programs gave a presentation on the AIM program. In their written report, they reported no statistically significant effect of the AIM program on STAR scores for students in the program or out of the program. In their oral presentation, however, they reported a drop in English STAR test scores of approximately 2% (“10 to 15 points” on an 600 point test) and math STAR scores of approximately 3% (“20 points”) for Hispanics who scored at the 95th percentile range on the universally administered OLSAT test.

This finding was nowhere in the written report.  When questioned at the meeting, the researchers clearly stated that the data was not in the materials presented that night.  Moreover, this verbal information was only given for this subgroup and not others.  No information was given about the test scores for AIM identified Hispanics in the AIM program.  To date the supplementary information has not been made available, despite requests. No conclusions can be drawn without this specific data.

Despite the lack of data, according to the Sacramento Bee, the Davis School Board is planning changes to the Davis AIM program in part because “the AIM program has a negative impact on Latino children and the ability of the district to close the achievement gap.”

To blame the AIM program for the achievement gap is unfounded, unfair, and deleterious. Based on this logic, one would conclude that school districts without gifted programs do not have achievement gaps.  Clearly not true.

The achievement gap is a real issue of great importance and is about every child achieving the most they can.  It is not about bringing the top down, it’s about bringing everyone up.  We would not ask one child to kneel or put weights on his/her ankles so that the other children could catch up.  We would try to find a way to help each child stand their tallest and run their fastest.

There is substantial literature that says that minority populations do particularly well in self-contained AIM type classes:

“Homogeneous ability grouping has a moderate positive impact on all high-ability youth (.13), it has a very strong positive effect on high-ability black youth (.32). This powerful effect suggests that we should oppose heterogeneity and support grouping. Also, we found a substantial effect in favor of grouping for high-ability Hispanic youth (.24).” Page, E. & Keith, T., Intellectual Talent (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996).

“Students [in self-contained GATE classes] achieved statistically significant gains … in reading comprehension, math computation, and math applications. When broken out by ethnicity, Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics had significant gains beyond those expected during a typical year.” Content-based Curriculum for Low Income and Minority Gifted Learners, Joyce VanTassel-Baska (NEAG, 2003).

Even one of the papers the UCD researchers cited said, “estimates based on test score ranks for the third group [which was grouped based on Achievement rather than on IQ] show significant gains in reading and Math, concentrated among lower-income and black and Hispanic students.” Does Gifted Education Work? For Which Students? David Card and Laura Giuliano (NBER Working Paper No. 20453, September 2014).”

This issue is one I feel very strongly about as a Latina. I feel that our school system should be about helping all children reach their potential.  I came from very humble beginnings being born in Mexico, living in migrant camps and a product of bilingual education. I was the first one in my family to go to college.  I recall a family member discouraging me from attending college because they were afraid it was too hard and I would fail.  I would not be here if it were not for those who saw my potential and believed in me, thus giving me the courage to succeed.

I see AIM as a wonderful opportunity to find and help those underrepresented and possibly underachieving but high potential children who would otherwise not be identified and supported.  This might be their only chance for themselves and their family to break out.  Such opportunities are what make me grateful to be in America and be part of our school system.  Wealthy families can turn to private school or enrichment for their children.  However, for lower income Latinos public school is their only option.  It is our obligation to find these children and help them reach their potential.  I would like to see all children, including Latinos succeed to their highest potential.

District data shows that Latino students are identified for AIM services at nearly the same rate as their representation in the school district, but that fewer Latinos than are identified actually enroll in the program as compared to other ethnic and racial groups.

This finding may be due to the option of Spanish Immersion, and I think there are additional factors. It saddened me when I heard that an AIM identified Latina child was discouraged in enrolling in AIM by her teacher.  I have heard of similar issues at other schools.

I personally know of a very humble Latino family who did not enroll their AIM identified child because of lack of understanding of the program and difficulty navigating the system.  I think these cultural and societal issues are also important to look at.

We need to provide more parental education and support with regard to the AIM program to Latino families.  The bottom line is, let’s figure out how to best educate Latino families about the AIM program and how best to support them if they chose to enroll their children in AIM, the general education program or Spanish Immersion.

The achievement gap in the Latino population is not just in Davis, it is a very complex issue that affects America.  Let’s not blame the AIM program.  Let’s bridge the achievement gap by bringing each child up to reach his or her highest potential.

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6 thoughts on “Don’t blame the Achievement Gap on AIM”

  1. sisterhood

    “…a group of researchers who had volunteered to analyze the district’s magnet programs” 

    Who are these volunteer researchers, do they live in Davis, and what are their backgrounds and qualifications?

    I still don’t understand the need for AIM or GATE. Why not just incorporate these tehniques in the regular classroom for everyone to benefit? Why single out certain children? Why not use Sylvan’s methods and also use the Kahn Institute, too? And let the students have a say re: what method works best for them.  They will tell you.

    I am not Latina but I share many of your concerns. Why do you state these concerns are a result of your ethnicity? My son struggled in the traditional Davis school system, while his sister excelled. I paid extra for tutors and Sylvan for my son. (As I’ve mentioned before, after four hours of tests, Sylvan identified my son’s needs. Davis teachers did not discover a very specific challenge that took Sylvan four hours.) Why not use their testing to help identify a child’s needs? Not one teacher correctly identified my son’s needs until I spent approximately $500 at Sylvan. Not one teacher even explained to me that I had free resources (special ed testing) available, or that my son could request different testing (oral, etc.) or that his color blindness would occasionally allow alternate test questions. Most of the time I felt like the teachers were washing their hands, blaming his low grades and homework organizational struggles on behavioral issues. A few teachers were wonderful.

    1. Davis Progressive

      the researchers were from uc davis and their research has been covered extensively here in the last month.

      the need for aim is that there are kids who do better in aim than in the mainstream classroom.  shouldn’t our education be aimed at maximizing the performance of all students?

  2. Tia Will

     Let’s not blame the AIM program.  Let’s bridge the achievement gap by bringing each child up to reach his or her highest potential”

    shouldn’t our education be aimed at maximizing the performance of all students?”

    I fully agree with both of these statements. There is another perspective from which to see the issue of bringing each child up to his or her highest potential. This is at least in part, a matter of resources, which are always limited, and where we decide to place them.

    One item that I may have missed but have not seen being covered is the relative cost of this program as compared to other programs that might provide the same benefits for the targeted population of students while not diverting these resources from other students with other sets of needs.

    So while I agree with many of Ms. Silva’s points and particularly agree that the AIM program itself should not be blamed, I think that it is very fair to look at whether it is the best use of limited human and financial resources, and whether the candidate students who are most in need of this kind of program are being correctly identified and enrolled. Just because some individual student has had a good experience in Gate/AIM after having a bad experience in the combined classroom, or vice versa, does not meet my criteria for an evidence based approach with which we should be evaluating the program overall.

     

     

    1. Don Shor

      One item that I may have missed but have not seen being covered is the relative cost of this program as compared to other programs that might provide the same benefits for the targeted population of students while not diverting these resources from other students with other sets of needs.

      As it is currently implemented, GATE should not use more resources, other than one part-time administrator (and other programs have administrators ‘assigned’ to them as well). Why? Because the classrooms are full, the teacher/student ratios are not any different than other classrooms. The teachers have some special training, but a GATE classroom isn’t materially any different than a regular classroom.
      BUT… there are any number of ways that changes to the program could increase costs. We’ve identified those before, but in particular:
      — far more teachers would need training in multi-level instruction;
      — multi-level classrooms might need extra curriculum materials (any teachers here could enlighten us on that);,
      — the remaining GATE students identified for self-contained programs would probably end up with higher teacher/student ratios.
      — overseeing this changeover is likely to require more administrative overhead, at least for a couple of years.

      Just because some individual student has had a good experience in Gate/AIM after having a bad experience in the combined classroom, or vice versa, does not meet my criteria for an evidence based approach with which we should be evaluating the program overall.

      A real concern I have is that there is probably no objective way to evaluate these programs. Test scores? Compared to what? In fact, student and parent satisfaction is likely to be the most compelling ‘evidence’ you are going to get.

  3. Napoleon Pig IV

    This is one of the best, fact-filled commentaries I’ve seen on this topic. The citation of peer-reviewed scientific research is a solid foundation made even more compelling by the personal perspectives and history.

    What a stark contrast to to the swill posted by Murray-Garcia! I suppose this article has fewer comments because it’s honest, factual, persuasive, and not simply the ringing of an old, tired bell. Oink!

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