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