Late on Friday, the DJUSD Superintendent released the new staff report on the proposed AIM program. As the report notes, “The recommendations presented remain consistent with those brought before the Board for discussion on September 17, 2015,” with one major change – the AIM qualification score changes would be phased in over three years.
Back on June 4, the school board, by a 4-1 vote, passed a motion directing the Superintendent to bring back an AIM identification process and a districtwide differentiation plan. On September 17, the Superintendent brought AIM identification recommendations to the board for discussion and future consideration.
The lengthy meeting drew parents and community members from both sides of the issue, who expressed both praise and concern for the proposed changes. At that time, the board did not take action (which was by design) and instead provided the Superintendent with “additional insight as he continued to refine the recommendations.”
The staff report notes, “Since September 17, the Superintendent and staff have conducted additional outreach, meeting with standing advisories as well as conducting school site visits to engage elementary teachers and para-professionals around the September 17 recommendations. These outreach efforts together with the Board discussion on September 17, helped staff to refine procedural steps within the recommendations that will ensure smooth implementation.”
The recommendation is as follows:
- Approve the continued use of OLSAT for universal testing
- Approve the 4 recommended risk factors and associated tests as presented
- Approve the use of the HOPE scale pilot as presented
- Approve final AIM qualification score of 98% phased in over three years as presented:
- 2015/2016 – 96%
- 2016/2017 – 97%
- 2017/2018 – 98%
(Second Update: Superintendent Roberson clarified that the 2015/2016 start time was not a typo but reflected the testing year rather than the implementation year. In other words, students taking tests this year, will be assessed at the 96% threshold and will be placed in the program for 2016/17 if they achieve the 96th percentile).
In addition, there will be a presentation that will “provide concrete examples of what differentiation looks like in classrooms and at school sites. This presentation will deliver an educational overview of differentiation in DJUSD classrooms from professionals that are progressing in their differentiation practices, and discuss our professional development plan that focuses on offering all students access to appropriate levels of learning.”
Along those lines is a fifth recommendation the staff report says “is necessary for supporting differentiation in classrooms and meeting customer service expectations.”
- Approve the modified leadership and support structure as presented:
- 1.0 FTE Differentiation Specialist (to provide differentiation coaching to all classrooms, to participate on the AIM assessment team and to provide AIM program support)
- Increased secretarial time (to support summer gaps)
The phase-in approach seems to seek to alleviate concerns expressed by both Board President Alan Fernandes and Board Member Tom Adams.
Alan Fernandes, at the September 17 meeting, noted that “there’s change that may result ultimately from our actions, but it’s not earth shattering totally 180 degrees. We’re still going to do what we do here. What we do here is really serve not only the most unique and gifted and talented and high achieving students, but we endeavor to serve everyone. That’s what really the gist of this is all about.”
However, he added that when changes happen, “sometimes they phase things in and the purpose of doing that is to collect data.”
Tom Adams would add, “What I really was concerned about with the proposal is going up to 98 – for the simple reason that as one of our commentators said, there’s this issue of equity if the previous year it was 96 and now you’re going to raise it to 98 without the hope, then I have to be concerned about that. What’s the alternative and maybe you can come back and explain to me about how some of those concerns about equity are being addressed.”
Critics like Board Member Madhavi Sunder questioned the rationale for the changes that many project would reduce the size of the program in half, saying, “Fifty percent is a huge cut – imagine slashing our budget 50 percent. This is not something that the community is not going to feel strongly. So we need to take this much more slowly. We need to have evidence underlying why we’re making these recommendations. Why 98, why not 96? Why no longer give parents that choice that we have given them for years and years? And that the boards of the past have supported.”
The original staff report noted, that the district’s survey of other districts found that a qualification score ranges from 90-99 percentile in GATE programs throughout California. Administrative staff believes that raising or lowering the qualification score will have a direct effect on the projected number of students who qualify. Right now the qualification for AIM-identification is the 96th percentile.
In September staff wrote, “The administration considered the effect that a higher qualification score will have on the AIM program size.”
Already they have looked at the impact of the elimination of private testing where “the administration projects that the approximate size of the AIM program would fall between 77 and 100 students with the elimination of private testing if the number of students tested remains constant.”
These projections are based on the elimination of private testing alone and do not account for changes in qualification scores.
Adding in the qualification score being raised to the 98th percentile, administrative staff believes “the range of self-contained requests will be between 63 and 73 students. These numbers suggest that the district would offer between two and three sections of self-contained classrooms.”
The first three recommendations seem less controversial. There are still some questions about the exact formulation of the assessment tests and how the HOPE Scale, a 13-item teacher-rating instrument, will eventually work.
The administration sees a two-stage process. During the first stage of the process, “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.”
During the second stage of the process, “the AIM Assessment Team will review 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 or the Slosson. For students with risk factors related to language or culture, the TONI may be administered. For students with economic risk factors, the Naglieri may be administered. The AIM Assessment Team may choose to administer the WISC in special circumstances.”
Staff writes, “If the HOPE pilot is successful, it will be used with the alternative assessments listed above to determine AIM-identification.”
More controversial at the September meeting was how the district would implement differentiated instruction. We will explore their refined plan in the coming days.
—David M. Greenwald reporting