From the start, most of the changes to the AIM program which focus on tweaks to the assessment criteria, most people can live with. The key question is that of the size of the program and the admitted lack of educational or research-based justification for raising the qualification criteria from the 96th percentile to the 98th percentile.
Many believe that the change is based less on the needs of either AIM-qualified students or those who are not AIM-qualified and more on the desire to reduce the size of the program.
The Davis Enterprise has come out today with an editorial backing the plan. They write, “We support a plan for all students.”
The Enterprise provocatively writes, “But wait. Aren’t all Davis students gifted and talented? Yes, indeed they are. And therein lies the rub of a program that has rubbed many the wrong way for decades.”
Leaving aside the fundamental disconnect between the notion that “all Davis students (are) gifted and talented” from the question of how best to educate all students, we have a more fundamental problem with the column and its lack of grounding in some sort of methodological basis.
The Enterprise writes, “CHANGES IN THE WAY students are qualified for self-contained AIM classes — initially designed only for students who had significant trouble learning in a regular classroom — have caused AIM’s enrollment to mushroom.”
They add, “An estimated 30 percent of Davis students qualify for AIM enrollment, many of whom are tested and re-tested privately so they’ll make the cut.
“Not all of those who qualify actually enroll, of course; there are as many reasons why as there are families involved. But school district administrators and trustees are trying to get their arms around this program and pull it back to a manageable size, serving the core students for whom AIM was originally intended.”
What I find interesting is the lack of evidentiary support for these very bold assertions. If the justification for reducing the size of the AIM program by raising the cut off from the 96th percentile to the 98th percentile was that the program has grown to an unmanageable size, I have not heard that come directly from Winfred Roberson – who neither wrote that in his report nor in his presentation, even as he was repeatedly asked for the justification for the size and qualification change.
However, we focus more closely on two statements by the Enterprise that they make without any evidentiary support. They write that the program was “initially designed only for students who had significant trouble learning in a regular classroom” and later, similarly, should be “serving the core students for whom AIM was originally intended.”
But where is the support for this notion? During his presentation to the board in September, Superintendent Roberson acknowledged that the program that is set up does not attempt to distinguish between high achievers and gifted students. Instead, it creates a bright line for 98th percentile achievement on the OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test). Everyone who achieves at least the 98th percentile would make the program, and those who do not might have an alternative route in through some form of retesting – where again they would have to achieve at the 98th percentile.
“There is no easy way to distinguish between high achieving students and those who are intellectually gifted,” Winfred Roberson said. And thus they create a system that does not distinguish between the two.
That statement therefore contradicts and undermines the Enterprise contention that these changes will “pull it back to a manageable size, serving the core students for whom AIM was originally intended.”
But it is actually worse than that. I see no evidence in the history of the program to back up the assertion that AIM or GATE was originally intended to serve gifted students who do not function well in the mainstream classroom as opposed to high achievers. (And, if anything, setting the line at the 98th percentile is more likely going to produce a class of high achievers than one of intellectually gifted but struggling students).
The Vanguard, in reviewing the GATE master plans dating back to 1996-97, finds no evidence to support this contention. In fact, on the contrary, this review shows that the program was designed to identify those who were academically accelerated and performing at the top of the class, as well as others who were not performing at that level.
The 1996-97 master plan shows categories of giftedness. Intellectual ability: “students who demonstrate exception (sic) intellectual development.” Specific Academic Ability: “Students who function at highly advanced levels in particular academic areas.” And High Achievement: “Students who consistency produce advanced ideas and products and/ or score exceptionally high on achievement tests.”
The 1999 master plan discusses the use of the OLSAT as the assessment for intellectual ability with the score criteria of 95 percent total or composite score or a 97 percentile verbal or nonverbal score on a test of mental reasoning.
However, the district used a separate assessment for high achievement and specific academic ability. Here they write that for “high achievement – primary consideration is given to performance evidence of high achievement in two or more subject areas.” They write, “Achievement test data from nationally normed tests (STAR, CTBS, etc) indicating scores at the 95% on two or more total scores: total reading, total language, total math, total battery.”
In fact, they even factored in GPA at that time: “Where grades are available a 3.6 GPA for the previous two years may be used to place a student. The qualification remains so long as the GPA is maintained.”
In 2002, the qualifying scores for “intellectual ability” were 95% on verbal or 95% nonverbal with a composite score of at least 92%. For those with risk factors, those numbers fell to 92% on either a verbal or nonverbal with at least a 90% total score.
It wasn’t until 2005 that the minimum score was raised to 96% except for students with two or more risk factors, where it was reduced to the 93rd percentile.
The current AIM Masterplan keeps those three criteria: “1) intellectually gifted – students with high potential in the areas of abstract thinking and reasoning ability as applied to school learning situations; 2) high achieving -the student who scores two or more levels above grade level in two or more academic areas and/or maintains a 3.6 grade point average in college preparatory academic classes for a period of two consecutive years; 3) high achieving inn specific academic area – the student who scores two or more levels above grade level or who maintains a 3.6 grade point average in a single academic area for a period of two or more years.”
The bottom line is, going back 20 years, there is no evidence that GATE/AIM was meant strictly for students “who had significant trouble learning in a regular classroom.” The measures we have available are not able to discern between high achievers and intellectually gifted. And if anything, we have gotten more stringent in our identification criteria over the years – not less stringent.
Is there an educationally based reason to reduce the size of the program? As we have noted, the Superintendent in researching his report found “that the qualification score ranges from 90-99 percentile in GATE programs throughout California.”
He continued, “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.”
He added, “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.”
That is the extent of the public rationale provided. There is no showing that the program has grown to unmanageable size. In fact, the data from Scott Carrell and his colleagues shows that the size of the program has remained fairly constant going back at least a decade.
To stress this point – there has been no stated educational reason to reduce the size of the program. However, the Enterprise concludes its editorial: “We’re already helping each child excel. And now, with these recommended changes that will begin the downsizing of the AIM self-contained classes, and with the teacher support offered through the envisioned professional development, we’ll be able to take even bigger strides forward.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting