We are about ten minutes away from the start of the school board meeting with a discussion on the district’s AIM program. The meeting was underway more or less on time.
Henry, a fourth grader, and Adam, a sixth grader at Willet, brought the house down asking the school board to keep AIM program. One of them said, before GATE, “I was bored.”
Winfred Roberson is presenting the presentation – he thanked his administrative team and expressed pride in the product they created. He believes this reconciles over-identification in the program and puts the program in line with current research. The focus of the program is on differentiation in all our classrooms.
Key findings: wide interpretations of giftedness. “There is no right way,” he said. Each state and school district has its own different definition of what giftedness is. Research does support the use of multiple measures for identifying students. “There is no easy way to distinguish between high achieving students and those who are intellectually gifted,” he said. He added, “Can’t compare students.”
He discussed various considerations, including impact of elimination of private testing. Risk factors. Review intellectual abilities tests. Inclusion of teacher rating scale. Over-reliance on one assessment. Qualification scores for identification. Differentiation for all students. Meeting needs of low achieving and gifted.
Roberson: “Our teachers do differentiate.”
Recommendations “are only about identification.” Continue the use of the OLSAT. Pilot HOPE Scale as a step toward multiple measures. Four risk factors cue additional assessment: economic; health and disability; language and culture; and discrepant indicators.
They are designing this to address bias with another test rather than a lower cutoff score. They are raising qualification score to 98 percent. Where did that number come from? He says, feedback received over time as a way “to narrow the cognitive band for differentiation in the classroom.”
Those who score 98th percentile – will be AIM identified. Those who do not achieve that level will go to AIM Assessment Team. Those with no risk factors but score within the standard error, they will be provided with a CogAT or Slosson. For those with language issues – they will be given the TONI. For those with a risk factor for culture – they will be given the Naglieri. The students must achieve a 98th percentile on those secondary tests to qualify.
Differentiation is a strategy rather than a single program. They want to create a safe and professional environment.
Final portion of the recommendation is to create an AIM leadership structure and elements including the director of curriculum, AIM Differentiation Specialist and a three-quarters time AIM secretary.
Now Board Questions.
Tom Adams: “I really admire the work you have done in getting this report done.”
“Can we get an outsider to look at our practices every three years?” Mr. Adams asked. Clark Bryant responded yes.
Susan Lovenburg reiterates that no decision will be made tonight and she supports it. She says, you referenced the lottery, and whether they foresee the need to eliminate the lottery.
Winfred Roberson responds, we hope we will not need it, but they are not going to eliminate it.
Susan Lovenburg asks for important indicators of change – she supports a survey, look at the achievement of students, reduced incidents of bullying, etc.
She then asks whether this will improve the educational experience of the students in Davis. Winfred Roberson responds, in our professional training, our thinking at this time, this is the best solution we have. “What we present to the board, we do stand behind,” he said. He pointed out there is no consensus, so this is a local decision.
Madhavi Sunder calls this something that was really amazing considering the short period of time. She has both praise as well as serious questions.
She said, “It looks as though this proposal seriously limits access to the self-contained program.” What is the educational or other rationale for raising the cutoff score to 98.
Winfred Roberson said didn’t know rationale for the 96 score either. It ranges from 90 to 99 across communities. He reiterates that this was based on a number of conversations. “We are not married to that number,” he said and reiterated there is no agreement across districts.
Alan Fernandes asks if they considered phasing in this change?
Mr. Roberson said – no, we didn’t really look at that.
Madhavi Sunder – one of the goals was to increase transparency, and it’s not, and confidence has been lost in this process. “I’m concerned about that,” she said.
“Our AIM program is among the most diverse of the” district’s programs, she said. She is concerned about the HOPE Scale. A decade ago, Jann Murray Garcia warned that with teacher identification, we weren’t identifying enough minority students. How can HOPE scale get around problems of explicit bias?
Mr. Roberson said we are looking to apply the appropriate test for students.
Madhavi Sunder – are we going to give additional training on implicit bias?
Mr. Roberson, the reason we selected the HOPE scale is it begins to mitigate for the biases.
Clark Bryant noted that the research is clear that getting the teacher input is vital in the process and the structure hopes to mitigate bias. He also mentioned it was a short assessment and getting teachers to do a longer one appears problematic.
Madhavi Sunder then asked about the move away from the TONI and toward the Naglieri.
Response: we are using the Naglieri because it is said to offset the bias of the OLSAT.
She lauds the AIM Assessment team approach but wants someone with experience in GATE/AIM. She also agreed with the end of private testing.
How does differentiation work, she then asked. Is this a different program?
The administrator responds, differentiation is not a program, it’s a way as to how they approach instruction for all of their students.
Barbara Archer asks how many students are in self-contained AIM.
Matt Best projects the number at 850 out of 8600 students.
Barbara Archer suggests they are going to spent 13 hours and asks that they spent just as much time closing the achievement gap as they are on 800 or 900 students. She then asked why they want to stick with the OLSAT.
Clark Bryant responds – time factor and continuity.
Winfred Roberson – the HOPE is a movement toward a multiple measure, something that we’ve never had. He added again that we need to involve our teachers. “This offers an opportunity for both,” he said.
Barbara Archer asks how they handle people moving to the district since there is no more private testing. Clark Bryant responded that they will offer exams for transfer students.
She noted that 27 to 31 percent of the students opt out. Clark Bryant confirmed that figure.
Alan Fernandes said there is a lot here that he is supportive of – but he does have some questions.
He asked about the lottery – the existence of a lottery suggests that there are some people whose needs are not being met.
Winfred Roberson – “we don’t have enough seats…”
Fernandes – “for people who otherwise would benefit from the program.” He said, “Isn’t it a laudable goal to no longer have a lottery.”
“Of course it is,” Winfred Roberson said.
Alan Fernandes said that we went in a direction on staffing, he asked the wisdom of making the decision to hire staff before deciding what changes to make. He noted that on October 1 they approve the AIM leadership structure and then come back two weeks later.
Winfred Roberson said that the staff will focus on support for differentiation in the classroom. He said, he is certain that differentiation in DJUSD classrooms is a goal regardless.
Now at 9:30 they are beginning public comment.
Ingrid Salim – supports this proposal and applauds the leadership team here. She notes there is a gap about what we mean by gifted in DJUSD, moving beyond that to look at what actually constitutes giftedness. She asks who is this student who can’t thrive in the mainstream classroom and how do we identify them. She disagrees with the notion that gifted education is acceleration.
Chuck Rairdan – his greatest concern has to do with the 98th percentile – in effect what you’re creating is a gap in the available instructional services. The teachers will have to teach to a much broader band or range of student learning styles. He argues this can’t be done successfully at this time. He questions the rush to push this through without reduced class sizes and other things in place.
Cindy – the vision of differentiation is incredible and we do need to move in that direction. She calls this a rushed decision on AIM. She said her daughter had ADHD, she did the WISC, and now that she is in GATE, she’s doing fantastic. BTW, her daughter scored a 97 and therefore would not be in AIM under the current proposal.
Alan Hirsch – said he favors a smaller program. He said that differentiation in the mainstream program has not gotten enough attention. Whatever size the AIM program is, we need to address this part. How big the AIM program is important but less important than the rest.
Alicia Sullivan – Accuses three board member of slashing and burning a successful program for no clear purpose. She argued that several board members lied to the public about their attentions, undermining the trust. She also threatened recall and forming a charter school.
Eric Hayes – He questions why one test was chosen over another. He noted that there was little explanation for that. He asked why raise the assessment score to 98 from 96. “Why has the district moved to raise the qualification from something that was already above the average of that scale.” He calls it deeply suspicious that one school board member said “I support AIM, just smaller.” Size defining the program rather than need defining the size.
John Thompson – he spoke in favor of the AIM program as it exists. He noted that every student has different learning modes, they have different needs. He noted that there is no differentiation of math at Chavez. His son is now thriving in AIM, he was struggling in the mainstream classroom. If differentiation is the new mantra, why narrow the band for AIM.
Katherine Unger – She said this documents of over 200 pages raises more questions than it answers. Each one owes it to clearly articulate the board’s rationale this night. She wants to understand what justifies this changes – and she wants to know why it needs to be cut in half. She criticized the decision to get rid of Deanne Quinn. Differentiation is not the same as gifted education.
Leslie Whiteford – sixth grade teacher – we’ve been talking for a long time about how to best serve kids in the district. She’s gratified that we are re-looking at things – that is not a threatening thing. She doesn’t believe it’s fair to imply that only GATE people know how to differentiate. It’s not the program that creates the teacher, it’s the teacher that creates the program.
Joyce Steinberg – look at the Montessori program at Birch Lane for a differentiation program. She said that we do not have the resources which requires an AIM program. She’s not an AIM parent, but she’s in favor of fairness. She breaks down the AIM cost of $88 per students. Current budget is $77,000 for AIM program. She wants to see the district have transparency for its numbers.
Robert Rosen – Concerned about the changes. He disagrees with the change to the 98th percentile cutoff. He asked for the basis for this cutoff.
Debbie Nichols Poulos – (read by another person) the conversation on GATE has focused too much on achievement. Gifted students learn more rapidly, which is why they languish in a regular classroom. Gifted students must sit and wait. It is not right for gifted students to wait for other students to learn.
Steve Kelleher – AIM teacher, noted the process issue that differed greatly from the strategic plan which was collaborative. At no point did the district utilize the professional staff they have at home. “This is not the same as being at the table,” he said of the meetings after the fact. Deanne Quinn, he acknowledged is not easy to work with, but her knowledge is unparalleled and they didn’t consult her.
Mona Siegel – She wanted to address the concerns about differentiation which will serve more students than we do now. She is concerned about class size, research suggests it doesn’t work well with classes over 20 and her daughter’s class has 30. There is nothing in the report about changes in professional practices. Finally, she noted that there has been no discussion about the impact on the social development of students and that it’s not easy to be the only one raising their hand in class.
Kathy Sax – She applauds the district for looking forward to a new direction and the end of the private testing – which gave advantage to those with resources. Believes focusing on differentiation is the right thing to do and the courageous thing to do. Continue on this road you’re on and do the right thing.
Tom Sallee – retired math professor, he spent the last 33 years working with teachers. Has concerns about differentiation. He loves it and has seen it work – it really requires small classes or incredibly energetic teachers. If you’re willing to reduce class sizes to 15 or 20, differentiation would be great. Given the reality that you can’t, it won’t create the hours in the day to make it possible. First, he said they need to decouple the notion that there is an AIM program and differentiation is valuable. Second, if you stick with differentiation, make sure you can make it work.
Joan Sallee – Former School Board member said these were the main topics of the last nine and years. She said they need to accommodate the university with the private testing elimination. This report was done over a three month summer period without faculty and parent input. This discussion brings transparency but you have to make up for those three months of non-transparency.
Marla Cook – teacher who has taught GATE for 26 years. Sometimes there are kids that she can’t figure out. She could talk to GATE coordinator who could help her out – who will I call to do that job. Many kids in the GATE community have disabilities. She is concerned about kids with 504’s being re-screened. She concluded, slow down the process and do it correctly.
Kathy Bryant – She’s a teacher, she had questions about how to get qualified. She’s also concerned about the differentiation strategies. She said, Deanne Quinn is fabulous, she is the one who put the training together.
Alicia Silva – Wonders if the opposition is philosophical. She cites the difficulty in separating high achieving from gifted. She supports differentiation but not as a replacement for AIM. Hire a differentiation specialist but not at the expense of an AIM coordinator. Likes an AIM assessment team but wants the AIM coordinator on that team.
Karen Hamilton – Wants change, has a student in the AIM program. About the process, she mentioned in 2002, that only the students in the program should be considered by the district. Most of the children are excluded from the benefits of this wonderful offering. There was no committee set up to discuss this back then.
A number of people have spoken, but I was in need of a break.
This photo was taken at 11:15 illustrating the decreasing crowd from the beginning of the night at 7 pm:
Greg Brucker – said he believes everyone has their heart in the right place and doesn’t want to see anyone disparaged. He is not going to take a position on AIM. Believes differentiation is good for every single program – not taking a stand on the mechanics. Differentiation is determining and learning the kids and finding out where they are and moving forward. He said, everything that we do in this community is a model for our kids. He expressed astonishment and appalling how people have conducted themselves. He was very animated for a good minute and had to calm himself a bit.
That does it for public comment.
The board now will make comments.
Susan Lovenburg: Values transparency and public input. Acknowledges the tight timeline. Makes a proposal that whether or not they hold to the October 15 schedule, to allow staff to do outreach to each of the school sites to get an opportunity to get more information to bring back to the process.
Madhavi Sunder: I feel like we’re searching from something that we’re not getting otherwise.
Susan Lovenburg: Thank you for acknowledging our level of outreach. She thinks there are teachers that don’t understand our proposal.
Alan Fernandes: Sure. I don’t see how it harms the process.
Susan Lovenburg: She wants the students to be safe and fully engaged in their education. She cites the mission of the DJUSD. She said we have shared aspirations for our children, but we’re not their yet. We have a long way to go and she argued our peer districts have done better. She cited the persistent achievement gap which they have worked on for eight years and haven’t made as much progress as she would have liked. Differentiated instruction is just a form of education-speak. She defines it as meeting everyone where they are and supporting them with the best possible educational program. She said there is no reason in the world to limit education to the size of a classroom. I believe it is time to stand and face this challenge, in Davis we have the resources we need and the students who are ready to learn. This is a moment of opportunity that won’t come again. I will never fault a parent for asking for the best for their child, I only ask as a community we ask for the best for every child.
Barbara Archer: She cited a variety of different opinions on the proposal. Some think this doesn’t go far enough. She said they passed a motion in June that the focus of the assessment will be to focus on those kids whose needs cannot be met in classrooms of differentiated instruction. We need a needs-based program that focuses on those who can’t get the instruction they need in the mainstream classroom. She commented on the tenor of the discussion, that is concerning to her. She cited people who complained about the neighborhood program whose kids weren’t in the neighborhood program. She said that they don’t know about the neighborhood program. She said this is a semantics game where the AIM and neighborhood programs have similar populations. She is willing to continue the discussion and that said, we’re on a timeline.
Madhavi Sunder: What is the educational goal of this program? I feel that we’re only beginning to hear now what your educational goals are now. She doesn’t hear educational concerns, instead she hears political concerns are driving this process. She said this proposal goes beyond identification – half the children in this program would have to leave the program. I’m hearing trustees saying they don’t know what the educational goals of this change. We’re a diverse community and people have very different choices for the educational choices of their children. Is this a new day in the DJUSD where we say parents you need to go back to the neighborhood program because we know what’s best for your child. She called for evidence-based decisions rather than faith-based decisions. She cited the magnitude of the 50% cut. She called for a slower approach. The faster we move, we’re missing huge issues. This proposal doesn’t touch the junior high issue. She cited places on where they agree – we agree on private testing, but we need to implement that change with common sense. She argued that private testing elimination may not reduce the number of students in the program. She said, we all agree that we want the best testing options for this program. We are committed to get that array of tests right. We all agree with the need to meet every kid where they are – all agree on the need for differentiated instruction. However, it costs a lot of money to reduce the number of kids by one student. I don’t know that we’ll have the resources to do things like that. She addressed tenor – keep people first, and assume the best intent of all involved.
Tom Adams: Commended staff on a high quality report. Universal design for learning is the philosophy for education, serve all kids for all ways. It’s key that we have to have in mind a diverse classroom and a teaching strategy for all kids. Differentiation is a good strategy – it’s not the only one. It’s one of those tools we are going to need. It’s not limited to one program – it’s needed in all of them. Likes leadership team, leaving testing to one person is a mistake. Creating controls, checks and balances so it’s not down to one person. Expressed concern about going up to 98 and is concerned about equity.
Student rep Eli Inkelas of Da Vinci, offered PBL – Project based learning. It allows the students to learn at their own pace.
Alan Fernandes: We live in sometimes a divisive world, this issue starts from where we’re different. He said his thinking on this is evolving based on community and other feedback. He said, there is change that may result from our actions. We’re still going to do what we do there. He said change will not be earth-shattering. We endeavor to serve everyone. He suggested the need to phase things in, in order to get data. He added, we’re trying to create mechanisms to determine whether a student should participate in a given program. He said there is no analogous test for this program – we are trying to come up with multiple measures. He said he’s encouraged by the proposal, wants more time than the October 15, thinks there is more outreach that needs to be done with teachers. Concerned about the impact of third graders now. Make changes but do so in a thoughtful and deliberative way.
Susan is open to a phased-in proposal and asks for staff to come back with one on October 15 and they can make the determination at that time. Wants more outreach. Barbara Archer is really not in favor of throwing this out and waiting another year. Not in favor of current testing structure approach. Madhavi argued make your decisions now, but leave the process in place until next year.