To me the biggest problem that Tobin White identified and that the current AIM proposal fixes is the problem of AIM identification. Or at least it begins to repair that process.
Tobin White found that, under the previous system, 27 percent of students were identified through private testing, 49 percent through the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence), and 24 percent through the OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test).
Whether fair or not, the perception of the private testing is that wealthy parents could purchase their child’s admission into the GATE/AIM program. Moreover, Professor White demonstrated that nearly twice as many people got in through the TONI testing – a test that on the surface seems far less rigorous than the OLSAT.
Therefore, at its most basic level, the district’s new proposal makes the process by which students get identified for GATE much more objective and streamlined.
The district creates a two-stage process. It writes, “In the first stage of identification, the administration strives to build a system that equalizes the weight of multiple tools to minimize over identification and under identification. All 3rd graders would take the OLSAT and students scoring 98th percentile or above will qualify for AIM.”
At the second stage, an AIM Assessment Team will review the “risk factors and determine what test would be appropriate for students who did not qualify on the OLSAT. Students without risk factors, but who scored in the standard error of measure on the OLSAT will be rescreened using either the C0gAT [Cognitive Abilities Test] or the Slosson [Slosson Oral Reading Test]. For students with risk factors related to language or culture, the TONI may be administered. For students with economic risk factors, the Naglieri [Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test] may be administered. The AIM Assessment Team may choose to administer the WISC [Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children] in special circumstances.”
If the district stopped with simply these changes, we might not be having this discussion about passing the proposal tonight. It would probably be a 5-0 vote and the district could then assess how well these changes work.
A decade ago, there were problems with teacher-based assessments that led to a move away from them, but we are only talking about using the HOPE (Having Opportunities Promotes Excellence) scale as a pilot and watching how it works along with the rest of the assessment.
The problem that I have is we go further than just streamlining the process for identification – we make what could be and probably are massive changes to the program.
Part of the problem here might simply be that the district administration and staff did not have enough time to do this report. They were basically given three months to do this. Now, they will get feedback from the board and the public tonight, and some of that feedback will give them time to go back and tighten up some of their proposals.
Here are my concerns – my hope is that these concerns can be addressed, things can be refined and, maybe at the October meeting, they can get the kind of consensus we need to move the process forward in a way that most people in the community can support.
First, the biggest change in the program appears to be in the size. The current program has been between about 100 and 130 students, but this would be 63 to 73, according to the staff report. Part of that projection is based on the elimination of private testing and part of that is based on raising the OLSAT requirement from the 96th percentile to the 98th percentile.
To me this is arbitrary, and most people seem to acknowledge it is arbitrary. The district notes that, elsewhere, the range of scores is 90th to 99th. And it seems that size is driving the model.
They say: “The current DJUSD qualification score for AIM-identification is the 96 percentile. Raising or lowering the qualification score will have a direct effect on the projected number of students who qualify.” This at least implies that the district is focused more on a bottom-line number than an educationally-based rationale.
They then add, “Analysis from relevant research as well as conversations with GATE teachers, principals and community input has led the administration to select a qualification score that is meant to best serve the DJUSD student population.” But they never explain what exactly that means. Are they simply trying to end up with a certain number or is there some non-arbitrary rationale for the decision on the cut score?
The question I still have is what is achieved by shrinking the size of the program? The district never explains their rationale. We simply get this vague comment about conversations with stakeholders and that this “qualification score… is meant to best serve the DJUSD student population.” But I have no idea what that means.
I will mention again that one direction people seemed to want to go in was to create a smaller AIM program that serviced students who were underachieving in the mainstream classroom. The way this is set up, however, seems largely set on a mix of high achiever and potentially some underachieving students who fall into the four risk factors.
Along similar lines I have raised previously, the ethnic breakdown matters. The OLSAT generates a disproportionately white and Asian mix. The other tests are meant to look at underserved populations, but the district apparently cannot say what the answer is.
The Superintendent finally responded to our questions, with a non-response: “I’m writing to acknowledge receipt of you[r] questions. My office has received several other inquiries pertaining to details in the September 17 AIM Report. Public inquiries give us a heads up of things that may be helpful to emphasize in our verbal presentation. I expect that your questions as well as others that my office has received will be addressed during Thursday night’s discussion with the BoE.”
I am not an expert on the structure of the program, but right now there is no AIM Coordinator. The district is planning to hire a differentiation specialist at the same .4 FTE as the previous AIM Coordinator position. That has brought about many questions about whether such a person would have sufficient expertise on GATE education.
This is something that does not seem insurmountable, but it is certainly an area that needs more scrutiny.
Then a big question is what differentiated instruction would look like. The district states, “DJUSD intends to implement a targeted strategy to ensure that all students receive differentiated instruction. This shall be achieved through a two-step process of formulating a professional growth plan and implementing particular strategies for advanced learners.”
They add, “Differentiation for the advanced learner incorporates information regarding differentiated classroom practices, but may have more emphasis on providing differentiated instructional methods that integrate a democratic learning environment with substantive information across the curriculum in advanced content, process and product. Typically, advanced learners demonstrate interest-based intrinsic motivation with a capacity for understanding abstract concepts and the ability to transfer knowledge from one learning situation to another.”
To me, at least, it is not at all clear what the district is proposing. I am hoping we get more information tonight and can better evaluate the proposals.
In terms of the AIM program, I think we need a better understanding of why the AIM program has to shrink, what the benefit is to the students, and what the racial breakdown will look like – as well as how the AIM program is better served by a more general differentiation specialist, rather than a specific AIM Coordinator.
—David M. Greenwald reporting