The AIM Puzzle: The Problem of Identification

AIM
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In the last few weeks, we have been asking a series of questions attempting to better understand the complaints against the current GATE/AIM system and potential ways forward that could gain both community and board support.

Recently we had a chance to walk through some of the problems of GATE/AIM identification. Here we pull from the PowerPoint presentation by Scott Carrell and his colleagues.

There are supposed to be three ways that students qualify for AIM. First, through universal testing – “if a student scores in the 96th percentile on their total score AND on either their verbal or nonverbal score on the OLSAT.” Second, through retesting – if they are within five standard errors of the 96th percentile they automatically qualify for retesting. Third, by private testing where a student can qualify by taking a test of mental reasoning administered by a licensed psychologist.

The problem is that the district is not enforcing the rule that retesting for the TONI occur with students within five standard errors of the 96th percentile. Instead, as we see below, there are students qualifying for AIM through retesting who scored well below the 80th percentile and, as we see, that number is rapidly increasing.

OLSAT-1 OLSAT-2 OLSAT-3 OLSAT-4 OLSAT-5 OLSAT-6

This series of graphs show that, increasingly, the AIM population is creating a pool of students of mixed ability in the AIM classroom.

This takes us back to the point raised last week by Jann Murray-Garcia, who back in 2002-03 raised the alarm that “no African-American or Latino third-graders in the entire Davis school district were recommended by teachers to sit for the GATE test.” The OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test), then as now, was part of the problem. Back in 2005 it yielded few African-American or Latino students and now, as we have seen, it continues to identify heavily for whites and Asians.

As a result, the district instituted the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence) to address racial inequity and bias. And it worked. By 2005, the TONI increased the black and Latino population “dramatically,” with percentages basically matching the proportion of African-American and Latino students in the district.

But what has happened over time is fewer and fewer students were identified through OLSAT and more through TONI and private testing. So, by 2011-2013, 24 percent of identified students were identified through the OLSAT. But 27 percent were identified through private testing and a whopping 49 percent through TONI.

Tobin White noted that just 3 percent of students score at the 99th-percentile through the OLSAT, while 28 percent do so through TONI. He found that students administered the TONI were six times more likely to qualify than those taking only the OLSAT and nine times more likely to score in the 99th percentile.

Not only that but the justification for using the TONI seems questionable. As noted above, the district guidelines suggest only retesting those who are relatively close to qualifying anyway – but that clearly has not been enforced as we see with the graphics above.

Moreover, the TONI is justified based on a number of risk factors, some of which include learning disabilities or low SES (socioeconmic status) scores, but that does not appear enforced either. Three hundred thirty-one of 492 retested through TONI had no risk factors at all, calling into question how we are identifying them for re-testing.

It seems relatively easy to identify problems with the current identification system, but it seems much more difficult to fix it.

Recall that the reason that the district went to the TONI in the first place was that teachers were not recommending African-American and Latino students to GATE, and OLSAT was not identifying many for the GATE program.

If we remained with OLSAT alone – something I don’t think anyone is actually recommending – we would end up with a white-Asian AIM program, with 92 percent of the students, while only 7 percent were Latino or black.   TONI, on the other hand, is identifying 54 percent white-Asian, with 31 percent Hispanic and 8 percent black.

Clearly, the district needs to have multiple indicators, one of which needs to be a test that can assess student non-verbally in order to override potential learning disabilities and low SES limitations of language skills – the question is really, how do they do that?

Creating a fair identification system is vital for being able to continue the program. And that will undoubtedly be a huge challenge going forward.

—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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15 thoughts on “The AIM Puzzle: The Problem of Identification”

  1. Davis Progressive

    so the basic problem is the failure to properly identify students for aim.  my concern is that the solution will be a much less diverse program and i’d like to know what percentage of the students who scored less than 90 percentile were black/ latino as opposed to white/ asian.

  2. ryankelly

    With AIM now housing mixed ability students more and more each year, I can’t understand the argument that most students won’t do just as well staying in a mixed ability classroom with differentiated instruction.

  3. sos

    The graphs in your article are the crux of the issues with the GATE/AIM program. The AIM program is by it’s nature, a selective program, and any selective program is only as good as it’s selection process. The numbers make it very clear that the selection process has become increasingly corrupted to the point that the current AIM classroom is very different from the GATE classroom of 10 years ago. The future credibility of AIM depends on definitively identifying who the program is for, what is different about the program and why it is reasonable for this student to have the program, and how we will identify this student. That is exactly what the board has directed the district to do, but it’s going to require parents and the district to work together and cut through the beauracracy. We either move forward and work with the district to educate our gifted, high-achieving, average, remedial, and socially anxious/sensory sensitive students, or the district will do it without us.

    1. DavisAnon

      It seems this article does not tell the whole story. Significant portions of the identification process are left out entirely compared to the Master Plan listed on the DJUSD website.

      The Board seems to be in a rush to change the program, but based on inaccuracies in their statements in public meetings, I’m not convinced they even have an accurate understanding of what our current testing process is and who the students are in the program. The same goes for Dr. White’s analysis.

      I have heard multiple AIM teachers (including at the last Board meeting) say the Board has not spoken to them for input nor have they set foot in an AIM classroom. Why not?? That would seem an obvious place to start.

  4. VoiceOfReasonInDavis

    First, the group that takes the OLSAT is everyone, while the group that takes the TONI are people who are selected to be likely contenders for identification. Wouldn’t that explain this statement by Tobin White?

    students administered the TONI were six times more likely to qualify than those taking only the OLSAT and nine times more likely to score in the 99th percentile

    Second, the idea that the identification  is based on the view that unless someone did really well in the OLSAT, they shouldn’t have gotten in. If OLSAT were the only reliable measure, we would only use that, and no other means of identification.

    Third, there are simple fixes for any problems. For example, because we got rid of the school psychologist testing, too many kids were given the TONI.

    1. ryankelly

      First, the group that takes the OLSAT is everyone, while the group that takes the TONI are people who are selected to be likely contenders for identification. Wouldn’t that explain this statement by Tobin White?

      I believe his argument was that the TONI was used to test students that didn’t have the risk factors that the test was designed for so it resulted in a high rate of abnormally high scores.

      This poor management of the identification process has resulted in classes of students with mixed abilities and would require differentiated instruction or, as has happened, students are left behind and parents have had to find other resources for their child.  Some of these students do OK until Junior High where they flame out.  It would have been better if they were maybe left in a regular classroom with differentiated instruction in the subjects where they had intense interest and allowed to build a solid foundation for Jr High and High School years.

  5. Don Shor

    How other districts do it:

    1. San Diego (SDUSD):
    http://www.sandi.net/cms/lib/CA01001235/Centricity/Domain/18982/Frequently%20Asked%20Questions%20About%20GATE.pdf

    GATE cluster (comparable to differentiated):

    98%ile or above on the Raven Progressive Matrices.

    or

    95%ile or above on the Raven and met the criteria for one “factor”.

    Factors include:
    1. Economic – eligible for free or reduced lunch;
    2. Language – assigned CELDT overall Language Proficiency Level of Beginning, Early Intermediate or Intermediate;
    3. Disability – has an active IEP or 504 Plan.

    GATE Seminar (self-contained)

    99.9%ile or above on the Raven Progressive Matrices.

    or

    99.6 – 99.8%ile on the Raven and had one “factor” (indicated above).

    1. Don Shor

      Irvine. Here is a district that takes GATE seriously.

      IUSD currently recognizes three methods of GATE Identification.
      1. Multiple Criteria Measure
      To qualify for the GATE program a student must score within the advanced range (approximately the top 12% of his/her grade level) through IUSD’s Multiple Criteria Measure. Sources of information include academic achievement, creativity, written expression, learning characteristics, and mathematical reasoning. Each component is completed at school and will be gathered throughout the year for evaluation. Final reviews are sent mid-August.

      2. Private Assessment
      Private assessments are accepted as part of the evaluation process only for students who have recently moved to IUSD and participated in a GATE program in previous district. The IQ test must have been provided by a licensed educational psychologist and completed after the student was in 2nd grade. …
      3. OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test)

      The OLSAT (a fee-based test option) assesses student’s thinking and reasoning skills using verbal, quantitative, and non-verbal communication/symbols. In accordance with best practices for identifying gifted and advanced learners, and in continuing to provide a more holistic approach to GATE-identification, IUSD prefers to review students through a more holistic approach, rather than a one-time assessment. At this time, IUSD may continue to offer OLSAT for the 2015-16 school year for parents wishing to have their student assessed through this measurement.

      3rd Grade
      All 3rd grade students will be reviewed for GATE-identification. The GATE Department will gather information for each 3rd grade student (1st & 2nd trimester grades, Renaissance Reading results, Smarter Balanced overall scores, easyCBM math scores, and the Creativity Analysis.) Based on a review of all students, a threshold score will be defined. For students who exceed the threshold, additional information will be collected (written expression, characteristics, and learning styles) and reviewed for GATE-identification consideration. Final reviews are sent mid-August.

      4th through 6th Grade
      All 4th through 6th grade students will be reviewed for GATE-identification. The GATE Department will gather information for each 4th-6th grade student (1st & 2nd trimester grades, Renaissance Reading results, Smarter Balanced overall scores and easyCBM math scores.) Based on a review of all students, a threshold score will be defined. For students who exceed the threshold, additional information will be collected (written expression, characteristics, and learning styles) and reviewed for GATE-identification consideration. Final reviews are sent mid-August.

      FAQ’s:
      1. What percentage of students are GATE Identified?
      The approximate number of students determined to qualify for GATE is 10% of a student population. However, students are able to qualify in each grade-level from 3rd through 8th. The number of GATE-identified students in IUSD is approximately 25-30% for the total District.

      https://iusd.org/parent_resources/gate/information.html

      1. sos

        There’s no shortage of interesting ideas out there. Might be worth noting that both districts you describe use differentiation/clustering except for a very small subsection (less than 200 students/grade out of more than 30,000 students in IUSD). The self contained classroom is reserved for a very small group of students who need to learn in a very different style, not an advanced learner program.

        1. Don Shor

          In San Diego the self-contained in the two schools closest to UCSD that I’ve looked at range from 6 – 13%.

          Irvine’s APAAS (self-contained GATE) consists of classes at 6 schools with a maximum enrollment of 33 students each. There were 621 applicants last year. So that may give some indication as to how popular cluster programs at Davis might be compared to self-contained GATE.

  6. SODA

    Isnt this approach what many of the posters have been saying for the last few weeks…..why hasn’t the District given this info or at least the approach that Irvine uses? If they have, I apologize but the small number who need and would benefit from sef contained appears to be identifiable and small. It is the confusion of what the AIM program has BECOME in Davis that is the issue I think. Is that is what the majority of the Board is thinking by their votes?

    1. Don Shor

      Is that is what the majority of the Board is thinking by their votes?

      Wouldn’t it be great to know what the majority of the Board is thinking by their votes?

  7. sos

    It’s been a few months, but I think that is exactly what the board directed staff to do…return with suggestions/formats for delivering advanced learner program and under achieving gifted program. They indicated they wanted to see differention models except for students who could not learn in the regular classroom. I believe they asked the district to bring back their suggestions in September.

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