Superintendent Recommends Same AIM Proposal with Phased-in Qualification Scores

Alan Fernandes with Susan Lovenburg looking during the September AIM Discussion
Alan Fernandes with Susan Lovenburg looking on during the September AIM Discussion

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:

  1. Approve the continued use of OLSAT for universal testing
  2. Approve the 4 recommended risk factors and associated tests as presented
  3. Approve the use of the HOPE scale pilot as presented
  4. 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.”

  1. 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

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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  1. ryankelly

    We should expect complaints every year that the higher score requirement is unfair to that year’s third graders.  What about the recommendation that GATE be moved to one site?

      1. SODA

        I agree with Allan Carlsen recommendations. Our youngest was in a specific Gate class and school both in So CA and Valley soak and in fact Allan was her 5th grade teacher years ago.
        Did I read that the proposal will decrease the number of classes to 2?
        what is the action plan/timeline for differentiation?

      2. wdf1

        Don Shor:  …the suggestion of locating it at Montgomery is intriguing.

        All four strands at Montgomery??  What happens to the non-GATE population at that school?

        1. Don Shor

          Doesn’t sound like there’ll be four strands left when they get done with the current proposals. And if I recall, Montgomery was losing population and had poor test score averages. Move GATE there, both problems solved?

        2. hpierce

          Thinking more, Don, you’re scaring me (but it’s Halloween, so I guess that’s OK…).

          Moving GATE/AIM to a school to bring up its average/median scores is corrupt and wrong.  Hope you’re just playing a prank.  All boats should float.

          1. Matt Williams

            pierce, if GATE/AIM is little more than an Advanced Placement program then your point makes immense sense. If however GATE/AIM is a program that tries to help students who are gifted and talented, but disconnected/alienated/underperforming in the main stream DJUSD classrooms, won’t they actually bring down the average/median scores because of their underperformance in the classroom?

        3. wdf1

          Don: Well, it isn’t clear to me where things will go with standardized testing accountability, but under NCLB rules, putting a GATE program there doesn’t exactly change the situation.  NCLB requires that all demographic subgroups show defined adequate annual progress or the school goes into program improvement and potentially is deemed a “failing school.”  You can’t use a high performing subset of students to dilute average against an under performing subset (in this case, ELL, lower income, and Latino) of students under NCLB.

          One unethical (in my opinion) strategy that is used is to change a potentially “failing school” into one that is perceived as successful is to change the school to either a magnet or charter school (which gets to manipulate the population of students attending) in order to attract an outside population which eventually pushes out the local “higher needs” population to other regular schools and shifts the burden elsewhere to raise the standardized test scores by a defined amount.

          At MME they’re also developing a Dual Immersion program, a variant on Spanish Immersion, that’s supposed to serve both native Spanish and native English speakers.  Each year they add a new class/grade to the program.  That by itself will increase enrollment some, probably to above 500 when fully developed to 6th grade.  Add two strands of 4-6 GATE/AIM (6 x ~30), and then you have close to 680 students, and then MME becomes the most populous elementary site and bigger than some JH campuses.  I see that as potentially creating another set of problems with a crowded school.

          1. Don Shor

            Don’t worry, guys, I was joking about the test scores. The way to improve the test scores at MME is to provide all the special ed, counseling, language assistance, and differentiated instruction needed for those kids who aren’t doing well.

            The idea of adding a magnet program at MME to stabilize enrollment was floated a couple of years ago.

            Allen Carlson makes some good arguments for putting GATE at one campus. But it almost certainly won’t happen.

          2. Matt Williams

            Why do you say it almost certainly won’t happen? If they did that then the neighborhood schools could return to being truly “neighborhood schools” and the neighborhood children would develop stronger friendships and bonds with their neighbors.

  2. hpierce

    (Update: Superintendent Roberson has confirmed that the 2015/2016 start time was a typo and should have been 2016/2017).

    Does that mean each of the “phases” shift one year? It would appear so.

    1. David Greenwald

      Sorry for the confusion, I put in a second update. Basically, the students tested during the 2015-16 school year, will have a 96% threshold and those who meet that threshold get place in AIM for the 2016-17 school year.

      1. Matt Williams

        David, your post prompts an number of questions for me …

        1) Isn’t that simply an Advanced Placement program?

        2) How does that kind of threshold selection methodology … and the AP program it creates address the children who are gifted and talented, but disconnected/alienated/underperforming in the main stream DJUSD classrooms?

        3) It is easy to understand how the materials/content of AP classes is different from mainstream classes, but are the teaching methods different?

        4) Are we trying to achieve differentiated education within specific individual classrooms, or are we trying to achieve differentiation between different individual classrooms?

      1. Don Shor

        Sounds like our kids may have been together in Allen’s class. I’d nominate him for AIM Differentiation Coordinator.

        Here is probably the key document as to current differentiation practices implemented in response to the district’s policy directive about math classes from 3 – 4 years ago:
        Scroll way down and click on this (pdf):
        6 DJUSD Elementary Schools Intermediate Math Differentiation Update

  3. DavisAnon

    If the district wants a differentiation specialist, then have one, but that is no replacement for a GATE certified AIM Cordinator as we had before the Board got rid of the one we had. It is inexcusable and unacceptable to remove the AIM Cordinator with decades of experience and expertise and replace them with someone with no training or experience whatsoever in gifted education.

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