Sunday Commentary: AIM Proposal Will Fall Short of Consensus

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Early this week the word started to emerge that the superintendent had put together an AIM proposal capable of garnering a 5-0 vote. It has been my hope for some time that a 5-0 would be able to put this issue to rest.

The fact is that, while supporters of the current AIM program can point to positives including the effectiveness of the program for students who had been struggling with the mainstream classroom, critics were right to point to problems with identification, including an overall fairness in the identification process.

A good proposal had the potential to fix the identification process while alleviating the most glaring concerns. Achieving a 5-0 vote would have embodied the threading of that needle and enabled the district to move forward to what most people would consider more pressing concerns, while alleviating the anxiety and fears of parents whose kids are succeeding in the current program.

Unfortunately, the promise from earlier this week that a deal might be struck agreeable to all sides quickly vanished upon reading the crux of the proposal.

People in the program have directed me to a number of technical concerns about the structure of the program, such as the replacement of the AIM coordinator, among other things. They argue that there are many “small” changes throughout the proposal that they believe will undermine the quality of the program. I am going to focus here on some core concerns.

The superintendent made the decision to raise the qualification score cutoff to the 98th percentile. What is interesting is that they made that decision despite the acknowledgment that “[t]here is no consensus in the research or among experts about the qualification score.” Their survey indications are that qualification scores range from the 90th percentile at the low end to the 99th percentile at the high end in GATE programs throughout California.

I have been told that the AIM advisory committee itself has talked about raising the cutoff to 98 – so that by itself is not the problem.

What is the problem? Without research or consensus to guide the district, they acknowledge that the impact of raising or lowering the score simply will “have a direct effect on the projected number of students who qualify.” And in this case, they are using the selection criteria to reduce the AIM identified students down to two classrooms with a total of 63 to 73 students, which represents a drastic decline from the current number of AIM students which has ranged from 102 to 131 over the last decade.

That would seem to be problematic from a number of different perspectives. One of the discussions we have had over the last few months is that AIM really targets two populations – those who are intelligent and high achievers, and those who are intelligent and low achievers.

My discussion with some of the critics of the program suggests that they would favor a smaller AIM that is comprised of students who are intelligent but struggle in the mainstream classroom. However, this proposal does not create that kind of AIM program.

Here, “All 3rd graders would take the OLSAT and students scoring 98th percentile or above will qualify for AIM.”

The problem with using the OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test) is that “the test has been shown to reflect a higher level of success for white and Asian students.” Therefore, “it is essential for the district to include safeguards that identify underrepresented groups of students including English Learners, low income, Hispanic, and African American.”

The district acknowledges this, but then again, they also acknowledge that we have an achievement gap – even as little has been done to effectively close that gap.

The district seeks to increase the participation of minorities in multiple ways. First, they are implementing a pilot project using the HOPE (Having Opportunities Promotes Excellence) Scale. The district notes, “The HOPE Scale assessment was designed to identify and serve high-potential students from low-income families. Classroom teachers complete the HOPE scale for each of their students by answering eleven questions using a six point frequency response scale. The future use of the HOPE in DJUSD may mitigate for the inherent biases associated with other assessments.”

Right now the district is going to use it as a pilot rather than a qualification factor, to “track how it aligns with our process.”

Skeptics point to the fact that, ten years ago, teacher evaluations were a big part of the GATE identification process and were discontinued when it was showed by Jann Murray-Garcia that teachers rarely selected minority children to be part of the GATE program. So that leads us to wonder why the district expects that to change now.

The other piece of this puzzle is risk factors. The district writes, “Research confirms that it is important to identify risk factors in the AIM Identification process to mitigate for inherent biases identified in the assessments of intellectual abilities. Steps must be taken to ensure the identification process also serves underrepresented populations. After a review of the AIM Master Plan and relevant research, the administration believes that risk factors may impact a student’s potential or performance on tests of school ability and/or achievement.”

The district explicitly identifies four categories of risk factors: economic, health, language/culture, and discrepant indicators (or a wide range of scores on indicators of school success).

That sets up a two-stage process. The first stage is to take the OLSAT and the second stage is to 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 CogAT (Cognitive Abilities Test) or the Slosson Intelligence Test. For those with risk factors related to language or culture, the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence) may be administered. For those with economic risk factors, the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test may be administered.

What is less clear is the use of the word “may” and under what condition someone would be retested. Back in 2005, the district set the goal to retest students with risk factors as well as those who had scored within the standard error of measurement – plus or minus 5 percent. Back then it was set that the qualification score for AIM was 96th percentile or 95th percentile with one risk factor, or 94th percentile with two or more risks.

With the new process, it is less clear what would trigger the re-test. What is clear is that, instead of establishing a hardline of 98 percent plus retesting for those with risk factors, the district sees a program that is set at 63 to 73 students.

What is interesting is that, while the district will project the total number of students with this process, we do not see the projected ethnic/racial breakdown of those students. The constrained number leads us to believe that we will not see the level of minority participation we currently do.

We know currently, from Tobin White’s research, that under the OLSAT at the 96th percentile level, 44 percent of identified students are Asian with another 48 percent white – meaning that only 8 percent of those identified under OLSAT are Black, Hispanic, or other ethnic minorities. We expect that number to shrink further under the 98th percentile standard. The use of the TONI remedies that by increasing the percentage of Hispanics to 31 percent and Blacks to 8 percent.

The question now is, with a 63 to 73 student program, what percentage of that is expected to be selected by OLSAT alone? Currently, OLSAT accounts for one-quarter of all identifications, private testing another quarter and the rest through the TONI. Obviously, that will change drastically now.

A key question is what percentage of current minority students in AIM would qualify under the proposed changes.

Overall, I think we have to ask this question, as Don Shor did last night, how is this proposal better for the students than the status quo? That is really the bottom line.

As stated at the outset, it is not that we believe that there are not problems, especially with the current identification of AIM students. Clearly there are, and they can be remedied. But for the last two months we were led to believe that this was not going to represent a massive upheaval – and cutting the program in half appears to be exactly that.

If we are going to do that we should have a very clear academically-based rationale for doing so. Instead, as noted earlier, the changes seem to be aimed at coming up with a number, rather than the number resulting from some academically-based rationale.

Hopefully, the board members can take this report and forge a way to achieve the type of lasting consensus we need in the community on this issue. As it stands now, that is not going to happen and, while the board majority has the votes today to impose this proposal, we will have a secondary fight during next year’s election.

—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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49 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: AIM Proposal Will Fall Short of Consensus”

  1. SODA

    My question for the Superintendent is what is the data that would show those kids with >98% scores are kids that need self contained AIM to thrive?
    These posts over the weeks have made the valid point that self contained is especially designed for the smaller subset and that the Davis AIM has morphed into a more generic program with larger numbers and with lower scores.
    Do we know the primary author of the report?

  2. Anon

    Clearly there are, and they can be remedied. But for the last two months we were led to believe that this was not going to represent a massive upheaval – and cutting the program in half appears to be exactly that.”

    Sounds more like an effort to get students to conform to DJUSD needs than what it should be – DJUSD conforming to the needs of the students.

  3. wdf1

    This article and the companion article today by Ms. Sullivan are forgetting that this is still a slow motion conversation and a proposal.  Nothing will be voted upon this Thursday, and the administration is only suggesting a timeline of action.  The board can over-ride that timeline at any point, including extending it if desired.

    If this proposal doesn’t produce a 5-0 vote, then I would be interested to hear from dissenting trustees what changes to the proposal would bring them closer to a consensus (maybe compromise) agreement.

    Vanguard:  Skeptics point to the fact that, ten years ago, teacher evaluations were a big part of the GATE identification process and were discontinued when it was showed by Jann Murray-Garcia that teachers rarely selected minority children to be part of the GATE program. So that leads us to wonder why the district expects that to change now.

    In the past I think you (Mr. Greenwald) have commented on the benefit of training in unconscious bias.  Would you think that teachers would benefit in having such training to see if that made a difference?  I have heard advocates of such training swear by it.

    Vanguard:  The district explicitly identifies four categories of risk factors: economic, health, language/culture, and discrepant indicators (or a wide range of scores on indicators of school success).

    The Common Core standardized test scores introduced parent education level as a potential risk factor to follow.  Why not add that to the risk factors?  Parents with lower levels of education are likelier less able to help their child in their home environment.

    1. hpierce

      I’m good with a “compromise”, if student outcomes are not compromised.

      It seems like there are many who think a “compromise” is an expansion of the current program.

      At the end of the day, whether a student is in DJUSD AIM or not, whether they get into the “best” colleges or not, it is the individual who will determine their success, however you want to define that.

      Have a child, not GATE identified, who got into CalPoly when their GPA, SAT, etc. scores were lower than most of her GATE peers [the peers were ‘declined’].  She is the first on both sides of the family to have a Masters, in a health field.  She has a good income, owns a house, loves her job.

      This is a tempest in a teapot. If, you actually care about children instead of bragging rights.

       

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      At our last HRC meeting, one of our goals is to have ongoing training for unconcious bias. Last year I was told that they had had the training more than five years ago. So that remains a concern.

      I agree with you on the parental level of education risk factor – surprised that they didn’t include as it was the highest correlant on the achievement gap.

  4. Napoleon Pig IV

    If the matter weren’t so serious, I’d call the “proposal” laughable (somewhat like that so-called “research” from the supposed “professors” from UC Davis). But, I suppose there is a place in the world for gallows humor.

    The board majority and senior DJUSD administration don’t seem to mind the swirling motion in the toilet bowl. Could that be because if you flush often enough, you can pretend you don’t see the blood in the stool? Oink!

  5. Robin W.

    Where is the proposal for teacher training to enable them to effectively differentiate instruction in the regular classrooms?  Wasn’t that a large part of the School Board’s  direction to the administration — to get real differentiated instruction going on in the regular classrooms to ensure appropriate education for the intellectually gifted kids who now won’t be in self-contained GATE classes?  Funny how we don’t see anything about the component that was the Board’s rationalization for why it was ok to cut the number of kids in self-contained classes way down.  This whole endeavor is nothing more than a bald-faced refusal to provide any semblance of an appropriate education for intellectually gifted kids (in contrast DJUSD’s provision of a stellar athletics program for athletic kids and stellar music, drama and dance programs for kids whose potential lies in those areas).  The blatant hostility by these adults towards intellectually gifted children is shocking.

    1. MrsW

      Agree about regular classroom differentiation.  Why not influence family decision making first, before reducing the size of the program?  Take concrete steps to reclaim the regular classroom as the first choice for families?

      That said, don’t agree about what’s shocking or hostility.  What I personally find shocking is that anyone who cares about children defends the program as it is.  Based on information shared on this blog–  In 2015, we currently have a program where 80% of the teachers are not GATE certified (20 of 25!); 80% of the students identified for inclusion are identified based on gaming the capricious qualifying criteria and/or at the whim of the coordinator; 100% of the students included based on a risk factor are not tracked to determine if they actually stay in the program, let alone thrive in it, or even graduate from high school; and 100% of the program’s performance, good and bad, is anecdotal.  IMO, the only direction for this program is up.

       

       

       

       

       

       

  6. ryankelly

    Intellectually gifted students will still be placed in the self-contained GATE class.  Intellectually gifted being defined as ” students with high potential in the areas of abstract thinking and reasoning ability as applied to school learning situations.”   You might be thinking of high-achievers – students who are able to maintain a 3.6 or above GPA, excel in one or two subject areas, but may or may not also be intellectually gifted.

    Since this report focuses on the identification process, it may not answer your questions about differentiated instruction for high-achievers.  The information on Differentiation within neighborhood classrooms starts on page 13 of the report, plus notes on a “thorough discussion about this topic is available in Appendix M that supports the administrations recommendation on differentiation.”

    Obviously, there is more to do here.  If this proposal is approved by the Board, then the District needs to shift its focus onto the neighborhood program, though I don’t believe that things are in as bad shape as people imply.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “Intellectually gifted students will still be placed in the self-contained GATE class.”

      some will.  those scoring above 98 percentile.  but what about those scoring 97 – are they not gifted?  or are they only gifted if they have risk factors?  why the need to cut the program in half?  no one explains that in the report.

    2. Don Shor

      Appendix M is a joke. It reads like a cut-and-paste from an education textbook. It has nothing specific about gifted education. They have not yet defined the process or practices of implementing differentiation. Or, if they think they have done so, then the proposal is even worse than it seems.
      Given the compressed time frame that staff had to produce this report, I’d say they simply get an incomplete as to how differentiation will be implemented. As it stands now, about half of previously-identified students will simply be put into neighborhood schools with teachers who may or may not have received adequate training, supported by a part-time staff specialist, with no apparent increase in funding.

      I don’t believe that things are in as bad shape as people imply.

      No. They’re much worse. Unless, of course, your goal is reducing self-contained GATE, and nothing else.

      1. ryankelly

        This report is focused on GATE identification.  Obviously there is more to do – a separate report, maybe.  I am confident that the teachers themselves are discussing this and working out how to accommodate the shift in their classroom.   Remember that current AIM teachers will return to neighborhood programs with the change, so there will be teachers that have taught high-achieving students (though we are finding out that few are certified in GATE).

        Don, I don’t understand your anger on this.  Your son attended when GATE was much smaller – 4 strands – and it seemed to be successful then.  You don’t even have a child in DJUSD schools right now.  I can empathize more with families who will be directly impacted by these changes and their concerns about educational opportunities for their children. However, the people whose children are 4th grade and above seem to be responsible for the loudest protests.

        1. Don Shor

          Don, I don’t understand your anger on this.

          You don’t need to ascribe emotions to me, ryan, but if you must then perhaps disgust would be more appropriate than anger.

          You don’t even have a child in DJUSD schools right now.

          Do you?
          By the way, I’ve been told by several people that I am doing an excellent job of speaking on their behalf, and they are afraid to speak up because of the anti-GATE sentiment in town.
          Dozens of students would, IMO, be harmed by this change if implemented as described in the report. The board has a long way to go on this. A simple change would be to delay implementation of the 98% threshold until they have reviewed the pilot approach of new testing, implemented the administrative changes, and certified the teachers. Cluster-grouping the students who would have been GATE-identified (96 – 97% test on OLSAT) would be a significant improvement. Then parents could have some assurance that the clustered gifted students were actually assigned to teachers who have been trained in gifted differentiation. Even better, establish pilot programs of clustered gifted students at some neighborhood schools and make it an option for parents whose kids test in the current range — before implementing the 98% cutoff.

          I am confident that the teachers themselves are discussing this and working out how to accommodate the shift in their classroom.

          Are you? What gives you that confidence? Are there formal meetings set up, mentors identified? Is the AIM differentiation coordinator leading discussions and training sessions? Are they being given in-service time to work on this? Do they have a written certification plan in place? Has the district described the process by which teachers will be oriented and trained for their newly-differentiated classes?

          1. Don Shor

            It is very important that gifted kids be with their peers, whether in self-contained or differentiated classrooms. That is the basis of cluster grouping. Simply scattering them back to neighborhood schools will be harmful to those who don’t make the 98% cutoff. That is a significant failing of this staff proposal.

        2. ryankelly

          Without private testing, we’d have to see how many students score in the 96-97% on the OLSAT alone.  It was private testing and the sole use of TONI that pushed the number of students up.  I can see that parents with students who just barely not achieve a score of 98% will have some concerns, but perhaps the retesting will solve that.   I think parents with non-GATE identified, high achieving students are the ones that are more concerned  – the ones that do not score high on the OLSAT, but are nevertheless high achieving. (Remember, the average OLSAT score has been in the 80th percentiles.)  I do think that it would be a good policy for it to be a District policy to try to group these students together and not shotgun them across classrooms, but these class assignments are made at the site level by Principals with teacher input.  I think that this would be an easy policy to put in place.  It would be easier for teachers to offer differentiated instruction if they had more than one or two students needing an accelerated curriculum in some subjects.

          As for teacher qualification to offer differentiated instruction – wouldn’t this be a requirement for a teacher certified to teach elementary education?  Could teachers get more education and help in improving in this area?  I think yes.

           

        3. Davis Progressive

          ryan – this is an honest question.  why 98?  why not 97 or 96?  the district offers no educational rationale for the boundary.  they suggest only the need for a certain number of students.  why the need to cut the size in half.  i get the concerns about the private testing and the questions about the validity of the toni, i don’t get the need to reduce the size, the need to raise the olsat number to 98 and the need to cut the program in half.

        4. ryankelly

          There will always be eligibility “creep” when it comes to a cut off point.  There will always be students just under the cut off, regardless of where that cut off is, that want an explanation why they are not eligible, since they are sooooo close.  The qualification score has been as low as 94%.  It has been suggested that this is way too low and has resulted in too large of a population and resulted in having to hold a lottery for a seat in the program.

          The report says the following:  “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.”

          My interpretation of this is that in looking at the trend of testing results, if they raise the qualification score to 98% on the OLSAT, they will reduce the number of  qualifying students, and still have room for students who qualify through retesting, and have 2-3 self-contained GATE classes in each grade.  The bulk of the students who have been qualifying for GATE classes in the past under past practices would now end up staying in their neighborhood schools, providing a critical mass of high-achieving students in neighborhood school that would enable these students to have similar ability peers in their classrooms.

          But I’m just thinking here.  This would be a good question to ask the Superintendent to get his explanation.

        5. ryankelly

          Don,  Section III – starting on page 18 – of the report addresses differentiated instruction and a professional growth plan for all teachers, but specifically starting with 4th grade teachers.

           

          1. Don Shor

            Yes, that was the part with this spectacular paragraph:

            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.

            Here’s the whole thing. http://davismerchants.org/vanguard/differentiation.pdf
            You find that satisfactory?

          2. Don Shor

            Honestly, they just need to explain this more, and more clearly. To their defense, they were really under the gun to get this report out in a short time period. So: more questions staff needs to answer at the board meeting.

        6. Davis Progressive

          ryan, they all but acknowledge it’s arbitrary: “research for this report suggests that the qualification score ranges from 90-99 percentile in GATE programs throughout California. 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.”

          then they add the section you quoted, “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.”

          as i see it, there is no stated educationally based rationale for the cutoff line.  they simply chose the 98 because it produced the number of students they wanted.

        7. ryankelly

          Davis Progressive – For differentiation to really work, there has to be enough students who would receive accelerated instruction in one or more subjects who can be clustered together in the class or offered advanced instruction combined with students from all classes in the grade.  It won’t work if there are one or two high-achieving students in a classroom, which is the point that Don makes.  I imagine the District found the qualifying score that would best serve the students in the District.

          1. Don Shor

            If that’s what they meant to do, they really should say so. There is no evidence yet that they intend to implement cluster grouping. That would really be a key question to ask, as it would go a long way to making this whole thing work.

        8. wdf1

          DP:  they all but acknowledge it’s arbitrary: “research for this report suggests that the qualification score ranges from 90-99 percentile in GATE programs throughout California.

          and

          ryankelly:  I think parents with non-GATE identified, high achieving students are the ones that are more concerned  – the ones that do not score high on the OLSAT, but are nevertheless high achieving. (Remember, the average OLSAT score has been in the 80th percentiles.)

          This may only help a little, but they really need to have qualitative assessment by educators.  Relying on OLSAT scores so heavily, and on other standardized tests is a problem.  What those scores mean is much less objective than it appears.

          For instance, as DP suggests about the arbitrary nature of setting the cut score, if we can go with 98th percentile, why not 97th?  or 90th?  if 90th, then why not go with 80th, which ryankelly says is close to the average.   If there is an even distribution, then you’d have about half the DJUSD kids qualifying for GATE.  What’s wrong with that?

          Why not make GATE the default instruction for the district, and then give parents the option to opt out for “regular instruction”?

  7. Davis Progressive

    mrs w – I think it’s very reasonable to clean up the identification process. my bigger concerns are the extent to which we are shrinking the size of the program without any justification presented to us and what that will do to the ethnic breakdown of the program.

      1. Davis Progressive

        and you believe a program that is 95% white and asian, whose chief qualifying exam, the olsat is acknowleged by the district as disavantaging minorities, is serving  the needs of the children regardless of their race?

        1. Davis Progressive

          where did i say it should be based on race?  i’ll ask my question again since you dodged it – how is that you believe that a program that is 95% white and asian, whose chief qualifying exam the district admits is biased against blacks and hispanic, is serving the needs of the children regardless of their race?

        2. hpierce

          OK DP, do you believe that ANY criteria is valid unless it ensures that ‘minorities’ (racial, socio-economic, whatever) are equally [or more highly] represented?

        3. Davis Progressive

          i know you didn’t intend it that way, but it’s a trick question.  on the one hand, in a literal sense, you would expect a fair process to align within a margin of error around the percentage of racial / ethnic groups in the district.  on the other hand, it doesn’t have to in order to be fair.  however, we know there are problems with the olsat and fairness, so is a problem.

        4. Davis Progressive

          so you can’t explain why you believe a program that is 95% white and asian, whose chief qualifying exam, the olsat is acknowleged by the district as disavantaging minorities, is serving  the needs of the children regardless of their race?

    1. ryankelly

      Davis Progressive – Hopefully the retesting process will identify underrepresented minority students who are at a disadvantage with the use of the OLSAT.  I think it is a valid concern.

       

    2. MrsW

      Are you also asking, why the OLSAT wasn’t thrown out in the class selection process?  I think that’s a valid question. I suspect that the Administration thought it would be too radical to eliminate the test entirely.

      1. MrsW

        …but it would be a good idea.  I’d like to see the program use a referral process that is rooted in an understanding of human development and human character.  In fact, I wonder why they didn’t suggest a re-instituting the referral process, along with increased and improved outreach?

        1. MrsW

          I do not know the Common Core curriculum, but before Common Core, the AIM curriculum was a highly verbal curriculum.  The OLSAT would predict success with a verbal curriculum.  If a non-verbal test was predominantly used to select students, then a highly verbal curriculum would likely be a miss-match. A quick way to turn intelligent students into people who hate school, I think.

        2. Napoleon Pig IV

          Perhaps, or perhaps not, it’s unintentional, but I think “turn intelligent students into people who hate school” is exactly where the District is headed with this slow, steady dismantling of the AIM program.

          Unbelievable in a town like Davis, but the real question emerging, of vital importance now, is, “Charter school, anyone?”

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