Commentary: What Will New AIM Identification Process Mean For Diversity?

Jann Murray-Garcia who in 2002-03 sounded the alarm on GATE, presses for the revised model
Jann Murray-Garcia, who in 2002-03 sounded the alarm on GATE, presses for the revised model

Last Thursday, Tom Adams made the observation that the “single point of contention it seems at this point is – is it 96 or 98? To me that is the question.” To that point he added, “Keep in mind, this district has not a consistent cut score. As the report lays out in 1995, the cut score was 97. Why is it 96 now? Is there a scientific reason for that or is it based upon program?”

While Tom Adams makes a solid point here, both in terms of the community consensus as well as the changing cut off scores over time, I think we need to step back here for a moment and consider a few things.

The reason the community was largely willing to accept the elimination of private scores, as well as tweaks to the identification process, is that everyone could sort of see there were problems – either real or perceived – that had the ability to undermine the program. No one really knows what changing the criteria of the AIM identification – in terms of scores, in terms of standardizing the process for retesting – will do, but everyone can kind of see that having an objective standard will lead to legitimacy in the program.

The district seems to have a way around the one legitimate concern about eliminating private testing – what to do with those students who enter the district after the district has done its third grade testing.

No, the big issue is identification score and not necessarily because anyone really is opposed to raising the cutoff from 96 to 98, but rather because this move has the potential for shrinking the size of the program without any real strong educational justification for it.

Tom Adams seems to ignore in his comments a good chunk of the history of the AIM program. In 2002-03, it was Jann Murray-Garcia, who was there supporting this change on Thursday, who raised the alarm that “no African-American or Latino third-graders in the entire Davis school district were recommended by teachers to sit for the GATE test.”

As Dr. Murray-Garcia noted in an August column this year, “Funny things happened over the next several years.” She cited the fact that the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence) increased the black and Latino population “dramatically,” but she saw it as a red flag that it had achieved racial parity by 2005, “matching the proportion of African-American and Latino in the Davis schools to the tenth of a decimal point!”

She concluded from that: “To me, that means when the GATE coordinator found enough students, she stopped looking. When she needed more, she kept looking. Not justice, but political appeasement, maybe?”

My biggest concern at this point, with the changes in the AIM program, is the extent to which a smaller program allows for equal access along racial and ethnic lines. Again, focus on the word: access.

If a smaller AIM program means less diversity, then I think we are moving in the wrong direction. And the fundamental rub is, as Superintendent Roberson told the Vanguard, we don’t have an answer as to what the ethnic and racial breakdown of the new AIM program will be.

It is important to note that what I am not calling for is quotas where the breakdown of the AIM program has to mirror that of the district. If the district really believes the program should reflect high ability students, we should expect a fairly even distribution across race and ethnicity. It might be stochastic, fluctuating year to year, but over time we should expect to see a rough representation of the diversity of the program.

In voting to pass the motion to move the qualification score from the 96th percentile this year to the 98th percentile next year, Madhavi Sunday said, “I am prepared to support the Superintendent’s recommendation because we can monitor it as it goes forward. This was the best deal I could get.”

“I’m going to support it, but I’m going to be watching it closely and checking on the implementation, and if it doesn’t work, I’m going to make that case,” she added. Her biggest concern was making sure that the program remained diverse.

For me, it is important that the district has check-ins to monitor what the program looks like. I remain concerned that shrinking the size of AIM will be accompanied by making it a more white-Asian program and less black-Hispanic.

The district is hoping to avoid this problem through their risk assessment process that will allow for re-testing for students with risk factors, along with the HOPE (Having Opportunities Promotes Excellence) scale, a teacher-based identification instrument.

Will that be enough? One of the reasons we went away from teacher assessments in the first place was based on the research of Jann Murray-Garcia that showed that teachers were not selecting children of color for the GATE program.

Does the HOPE scale avoid that problem? One way that would make me feel easier about using the HOPE scale would be for the teachers to have yearly unconscious bias training. The teachers had one year where they underwent that – but it was a one-time deal and there has been a lot of turnover since then.

We also need to stop with the rhetoric that the AIM program is now about the kid who needs to be outside of the mainstream classroom environment in order to be educated. The AIM program, as we pointed out last week, was never strictly about that and Superintendent Roberson acknowledged that their assessment will not discern between the high-achieving kids and those with high ability. If anything, the 98th percentile cutoff is likely to produce a program geared more to the former group than the latter group.

The bottom line is that I have no problem with most of the changes that the district has made so far, so long as there is a real commitment to re-examine things if this becomes a program that is primarily white and Asian with shrinking numbers of blacks and Hispanics in it.

—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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13 Comments

  1. Davis Progressive

    i would be really interested in understanding why jann murray-garcia is supporting changes t othe aim program that makes it more likely that blacks and hispanics in the program decline?  is it to kill it later or does she have another purpose?

    1. MrsW

      Speaking for myself, I am concerned about miss-placement of individual children.  For an individual child’s psyche and development, I would be concerned that s/he believe s/he was properly placed and s/he belonged in that specific classroom.  That’s why the rules need to be consistently applied–the child needs to believe s/he was admitted to the program for the same reasons as everyone else. It’s also one reason why monitoring is so important. DJUSD is telling families their children will thrive in these classrooms. It needs to be true.

    2. davismom

      My guess is that Murray-Garcia is not a fan of the segregated AIM classrooms. You achieve true diversity in a classroom when children of all types are part of the classroom, not when you have the highest-tested segregated from the rest. Just my two cents.

  2. MrsW

    The AIM identification process is the first step of a multi-step process that affects AIM classroom diversity. Step 2 is actual enrollment after identification. Step 3 is retention after enrollment. DJUSD’s classroom and playground culture directly affect the later two steps under all identification scenarios.

  3. Anon

    In voting to pass the motion to move the qualification score from the 96th percentile this year to the 98th percentile next year, Madhavi Sunday said, “I am prepared to support the Superintendent’s recommendation because we can monitor it as it goes forward. This was the best deal I could get.

    Let’s face it, Sunder is out on her own on this one.  My suspicion is the data collected will hardly be objective (it very well may be made to conveniently support the DJUSD’s view on shrinking AIM – you don’t think the DJUSD is going to concede it was wrong about shrinking AIM, do you?), and Sunder will never be able to “knowingly” weigh in on the TRUE results of the change to AIM.

    My view is the AIM program is being shrunk arbitrarily, without any educational justification.  I do think gifted kids can be grouped together and challenged appropriately without AIM, but there has to be the will to do it properly.  The way the DJUSD handled the AIM issue gives me little hope in this regard.

    But from a gut level, I think this entire process for shrinking AIM was badly done, and unnecessarily so.  The simple solution was to correct the qualification process, which was the problem, and keep the 96% cutoff as is.  My guess is the AIM program would have shrunk on its own without any help from the school board, with the fairer testing process, and without all the angst about the cutoff percentage.

    By causing such a rift over process, where it seemed pretty clear the DJUSD had already made up its mind what it was going to do, now AIM has become the lightening rod issue upon which school board elections will revolve around, and could very well jeopardize the next school parcel tax.  Very foolish move on the DJUSD/school board’s part.

  4. ryankelly

    Are you looking at percentages of students in the program that are black or Hispanic or just the actual numbers of students identified?  The OLSAT and private testing identified mainly white and Asian students.  It was the District retesting process that identified most minority students and the District’s plans include continuing to retest students using the same test, and other tests where more appropriate.  Students retested using the TONI typically scored high – 98-99%, so wouldn’t that continue and these students will continue to qualify – even with the raising of the eligibility score to 98%?   This concern, before the results of this year’s retesting is available, seems like political expediency.  What if the numbers of identified minorities drastically fall – or what if the numbers are much greater than before – what would that tell us about the previous identification process?   We’ll just have to wait and see.

  5. Grant Acosta

    Food for thought – there is concern that future AIM cohorts may not closely reflect the full demographic spectrum. I had this initial reaction:  does anyone know or even care about the demographic breakdown of the AP Calculus BC classes at DHS?  I suspect not, and I suspect the reason is that it is an advanced mathematics course, and the primary concern is if a student is adequately prepared for the rigor of the course.  Now take it back to Honors Pre-calc.  Does anyone monitor or care what the racial makeup of the class is?  What about Honors Alg II?  You see where I am going with this, don’t you?  The AIM program is, by AIM proponents own words, meant for students who are ready for academic rigor.  So why is it that racial demographics would have anything to do with that?  I suspect the answer is that most of us agree 4th grade is too early to “label” kids as gifted, or by default, not-gifted.  And if we are going to label kids, we darn well better be inclusive!

    Also, from 4th grade AIM to AP Calc, where is the point when it is okay to put kids in honors courses without regard to demographics?  Just thinking out loud…

    1. Davis Progressive

      “does anyone know or even care about the demographic breakdown of the AP Calculus BC classes at DHS? ”

      but isn’t that just embedded within the overall concern about the achievement gap?  there is certainly a lot of concern about the lack of female students excelling in math and science.  we may not have the exact stats, but it seems if you are using this to avoid the achievement gap problems, you are making an argument that doesn’t really hold up.

  6. wdf1

    Grant Acosta:  Food for thought – there is concern that future AIM cohorts may not closely reflect the full demographic spectrum. I had this initial reaction:  does anyone know or even care about the demographic breakdown of the AP Calculus BC classes at DHS?

    You picked at a scab.

    The U.S. office of Civil Rights actually does keep track of that information.  It’s here, right next demographics of enrollment in physics, chemistry.

    So why is it that racial demographics would have anything to do with that? 

    Ultimately it would probably be better to note demographics of students based on ELL status, income level (district uses participation in free/reduced lunch as a proxy for that), and education level of the parents.  Some of the characteristics often line up with certain race/ethnicities, but there are short comings to using race/ethnicity in Davis.  It happens that a lot of overlap occurs with lower income Mexican/Central-American immigrants, most of whom do agricultural or blue color type labor.

    The reason that these numbers are worth considering is that it helps to address the question, how much social mobility exists in this country, or in this community.  If extremely few kids of first generation Mexican immigrants are showing up in Calculus or AIM/GATE, then it is worth asking why?  Is it because district staff are somehow assuming that those kids probably aren’t “smart enough”?  Are they getting the same opportunities for academic advancement as your hypothetical kids?  If not, why not?  and can it be remedied?

  7. Grant Acosta

    wdf – Don’t misinterpret my questions as my ideology.  If it was, I probably wouldn’t do what I do for a living…

    Thanks for the website.  I get all that you are saying and agree with you.  What I’m wrestling with is based on an argument I heard many times from AIM supporters:  what’s wrong with having an exclusive classroom for the gifted?  After all, not every student can be on the high school orchestra or soccer team.  These are programs where competency must be demonstrated (regardless of demographics).  You wouldn’t put a kid in orchestra who wasn’t ready.  Well, if, as the Vanguard revealed, the GATE/AIM is and always has been an accelerated program for fast learners (and not for students who would not succeed in the regular classroom as was popular opinion), then by that standard the only requirement for selection to the AIM program should be cognitive ability.  Period.  Again, I don’t agree with this, but when you take the AIM logic to its natural conclusion, this is where you end up in my opinion.

    1. Don Shor

      Well, if, as the Vanguard revealed, the GATE/AIM is and always has been an accelerated program for fast learners (and not for students who would not succeed in the regular classroom as was popular opinion),

      It is both. It has always been both. GATE is for high-achieving gifted-identified students, and lower-achieving gifted-identified students. GATE is for students who have been identified as being gifted.

      1. Grant Acosta

        Doesn’t “lower achieving gifted-identified students” equate to gifted students who are not achieving in the regular classroom?  If so, David’s analysis last week suggested those students are not the target population of the AIM program.  I’m not saying I agree with that.  In fact, I have spoken with teachers in the district who believed the original target population of the self-contained AIM cohort were students who were gifted but under-achieving in the regular classroom.  David can go back and look at mission statements over the years that claim otherwise, but if the perception of the majority (even teachers) viewed the program’s original justification in terms of helping low performing, high achieving kids, then that’s what really matters.

         

        1. Don Shor

          I believe you are misreading David’s analysis. GATE is for gifted-identified students. I’m not sure why you’re belaboring the issue, or what point you’re actually trying to make.

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