In Their Own Words – Barbara Archer’s Remarks on AIM

Barbara Archer speaks on Thursday
Barbara Archer speaks on Thursday

By Barbara Archer

I want to clarify my point on the data point, what I was saying is of course we want to collect data over multiple years. I’m positive that it might be impossible to examine data and have a different cut off every year. Of course we need to examine multi-year data.

Also just want to reiterate that if we are to choose going with the 98 percent we needn’t worry, as someone mentioned, their 97 percentile kid won’t get re-screened, because they automatically get re-screened down to the 95th percentile.

I want to talk a little bit about the feedback I personally got at the schools I went to. It was really interesting. It was a very worthwhile thing to do. I don’t agree that it was in name only. Certainly every school is different. I felt like I very much engaged with the people with whom I talked and so I’d like to talk a little bit about that.

Davis High was my shortest meeting, 17 minutes, I had no questions after my presentation but I did have two comments. One parent wanted to make it clear that the AIM program does not give you an advantage in AP or Honors class when you get to high school.   Anybody is allowed to take an AP or honors class – she believed that that was a misconception among some parents who were just coming up in the district.

One parent said that even those on accelerated math tracks – which maybe, again maybe if you’re in the AIM program – that a lot of students don’t choose to do two years of calculus. I have heard out in the community that it’s a worry that if my student doesn’t take an accelerated math then they won’t be able to take two years of calculus in high school.

That was my Davis High meeting and that was in the context of a regular PTA meeting. I was asked to speak for 15 minutes at the beginning of their regularly scheduled PTA meeting.

At Patwin Elementary, it was a standalone meeting, not connected to their PTA meeting site council meeting, it went for one hour. Many parents and staff expressed support for the recommendations including going with a 98 percent cutoff and no phase-in. They had one current and one former school psychologist on the site and they believe that is where the good benchmark was.

One parent had a question about junior high placement if you had not done the program in elementary. I think it’s clear we have to look at policy on that as that’s a big concern of hers.

I also went to Montgomery Elementary, that was about 30 minutes in the court of a regular PTA meeting. There was parent who, she was concerned about an undue influence of a teacher recommendation.

She wanted to know if the teacher recommendation would be made known to parents and students because for her, she felt in her culture, the word of the teacher was law and so even if she wanted her student to stay in immersion at Montgomery, she felt a lot of parents would get that teacher recommendation and say, oh gee, I better do what the teacher says. That was her concern.

Some of the parents there had hoped that the AIM program of some size could be put at Montgomery in Spanish whether that be a self-contained or pull-out program because they didn’t want the students to have to leave their community.

Another parent talked about the concern for lower class sizes for differentiation purposes – I think we all want lower class sizes for sure. A teacher at Montgomery expressed support for the 98th percentile cutoff with no phase-in.

Korematsu Elementary was about 40 minutes at the beginning of their PTA meeting. Parents were concerned there about a lot of changes happening to the program in one year and they were concerned about the fairness for this current crop of third graders. One parent asked about testing if you came in later than third grade. She was concerned that her student had missed the testing so I think we need to really make sure that we really publicize options for students that come into the district after the testing has gone by.

At this particular PTA meeting, there were a lot of K-1 parents who were going to their first PTA meeting with their eyes wide open – I’m going to help at PTA, my kid is in school now. It was really neat to see. A lot of them, they had no knowledge of this program whatsoever. They didn’t know the history of the program. One parent even said do we have that our school – of course they do.

So that was really interesting to see it from a very fresh perspective of a new parent in our district. One parent asked about the specifics for school psychologists and FTE assigned to AIM testing – and that was a good question that Trustee Sunder asked and was answered.

For me, that was a very worthwhile exercise. I talked with people of differing opinions and of differing experience within the district everyone from the high school parent to the kindergarten parent and I would like to that on future issues where we need to engage the public.

I want to talk a little about process. I want to compliment the staff on the process which began in March with the initial presentation on AIM data. After we heard another presentation from UCD researchers and having talked to many community members about this issue, the board passed a motion in June that would set a course for the research done by our DJUSD staff.

Here’s where I want to really give them kudos – staff, they did not take a vacation over ten weeks of summer, they hunkered down and they went into their AIM room at the district and they worked and researched and called other school districts and dialogued and planned. They talked with principles, they talked with teachers, and the result of their work as most of you know came before the board on September 17.

I think it was key at that point that we took time to digest what their recommendation was. First of all, it was a 200 page report. I’m glad that we took this last six weeks to mull it over and to ask questions and to do further research and do further outreach in the community – I felt that was very valuable.

I want to commend Superintendent Roberson for getting into classrooms and engaging staff in discussion – I think that’s unbelievable. I don’t know that that feat could probably be duplicated by anybody. 187 classrooms –that’s really impressive. Thank you for doing that because someone else might sit back at their office and say I don’t need to get out there, but you did get out there and you talked to teachers and you were on the ground in the classrooms and you saw what was going on.

I think the office hours have been also a good move by our board –we are available to talk to anybody on any issue.

Over the course of the last eight months in addition to March 19 and June 4 where we made the motion, our board met on June 18, July 9, and September 19 where the agendas were primarily devoted to this issue. During which we heard hours of informative public comment – all told, I added it up, were 22 hours of board meetings on this topic.

There have been a number of hot-button issues over the years in our district and everyone has had a different process customized to the needs of the issue. The taskforce that met to evaluate schools and ultimately recommended to close Valley Oak had one process. The homework committee had another process as did the South Davis Committee and the Strategic Planning Process. Our later start committee also has a great process model.

This issue (AIM) also had its own unique and thorough process.

I’d like to also address the size of the program. I’ve heard concerns in the community about the size of the program. One concern that I’ve heard a lot is that we are cutting the size of the program in half – which I don’t think is accurate. The proposal keeps the current 4th through 9th grade program intact.

It is more accurate to say that the proposal may effect – because of course we haven’t done the assessment the size of one-class of the program and to be true, classes to come. But the program is only slightly smaller because the other grades remain intact. This is a gradual change over time which is what people are asking for.

Staff did do some estimates for program size for next year’s fourth graders. But truly until we go through a round of assessment, we really do not know what the size of the program will be.

I’d like to echo some comments I heard earlier tonight this program is not about size, it is about need. Our data shows us that we may not have been serving the students we thought in this program with private testing and with testing people with the TONI who may not have had risk factors. Someone remarked earlier tonight the average OLSAT score of students in AIM has been in the mid-70th percentile.

For some students this may be appropriate and they were identified correctly using another test.

Lastly I want to talk about fairness and choice. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about what’s fair for this current crop of 3rd Graders – they won’t have the same opportunity of the 3rd Graders of the past. It’s true they won’t have the same identification criteria – but they will have a more accurate criteria for assessing their need – again their need for the program.

If we are looking at the program as a needs based program, what is not fair is to put a student into the program who doesn’t need it and that is what the past motion states from June. I don’t view this as taking choice away from any student, you don’t have a choice program when 70 percent of your students can’t choose it.

AIM is not a choice program in my opinion. It is a choice you can make if your kid gets qualified but it is not a choice program like Montessori or Spanish Immersion.

I think the best we can do for our students, as Trustee Sunder said is always our goal, is have it be a needs based program.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Davis Progressive

    barbara archer says:

    I want to clarify my point on the data point, what I was saying is of course we want to collect data over multiple years. I’m positive that it might be impossible to examine data and have a different cut off every year. Of course we need to examine multi-year data.

    but in the later discussion she said even if the number of minority students dropped, she still supported the 98 percent.

    1. Anon

      The woman is clearly wedded to the 98% figure, and her entire set of remarks includes comments from parents that support her view.  This is not someone that is likely to look at any future data with a critical/objective eye.  Rather she appears to already have her mind made up.

      1. hpierce

        Excellent question… hope someone can give a rational and cogent answer.

        Oh, and “that’s the way we’ve done it for years” doesn’t pass my “sniff test”.

        1. wdf1

          If it’s all arbitrary, then pick any number you like.  The board majority liked 98.  If you want to vote them out on this issue, then you’ll have to convince voters why it should be another number. Or else abolish the test.

          1. Don Shor

            If you’re going to use OLSAT, there is evidence that it underestimates students with learning disabilities. Thus if you use a lower test score, you are more likely to identify twice-exceptional (gifted + learning disability) students than you are with just a higher threshold. If everyone is allowed the lower threshold, you can then use other assessments to identify the learning disabled gifted students who would benefit from self-contained GATE. If anything, the starting score on OLSAT should actually be lower than 96%, and the followup testing should be geared to this problem — or the assessment team should have specialized training in learning disabilities and giftedness.
            See and scroll down to Intelligence Tests. Based on that, the OLSAT score should be around 92% or so.
            96% is better than 98% for this reason.

        2. hpierce

          Well, if it’s all arbitrary, perhaps it’s capricious too.  If we eliminate testing, and other forms there are (evaluations where it could still be capricious and arbitrary), the most justifiable thing to do is eliminate the program, in toto, ASAP.  As in NOW.  This current year, mid-year… is that what you want DP, Misanthrop (when did you lose the “e” at the end of your name?  Hope it wasn’t painful) and Anon?

          If so, I could back it… except for one thing… I believe it has a justifiable purpose, but I’m tired of your “any change is evil thing”.  The inconsistency of your logic(s) convinces me that none are products of a G&T type program.  But maybe you were, and are just using that to “intimidate”.

        3. Scheney

          Don,  I thought that’s what they are doing.  What I heard described by staff during the last Board meeting was they take the OLSAT scores and retest everyone within a margin of error (excuse my terminology, if I’m not using the correct words) with or without a risk factor.  So they are retesting all students who score down to 91% on the OLSAT (for the 96% cut off) – even if they don’t appear to have a risk factor.  If the student has a risk factor and has an even lower score on the OLSAT, then they retest using a test appropriate for that risk factor.  When the cut off is raised to 98%, they will still re-test all students scoring between 93 – 97% and also students who have risk factors who score below that.   That’s what I thought was the process that was described.

        4. Scheney

          I don’t remember what Archer said.  What I remember hearing from the staff member – the woman –  that described the process said that they retested within 5 (%?) – or whatever was determined by the test manufacturers to be the margin of error – , so for 96% they would retest (without any evidence of a risk factor) automatically down to 91%.  For 98%, it would be 93%.  I’d have to re-view the video or call the District to verify this, but that was my understanding when I watched the Board meeting.

      2. Misanthrop

        As much of a defense for 96% as 98% or any other number which is why this issue will never go away until they get rid of a qualifying test score and why this board has solved nothing.

  2. Misanthrop

    But why did people go for third party testing? Because of the testing cut off. I imagine what will happen now is we will see OLSAT test prep classes at Kaplan or someplace. Also as Tom Adams pointed out we will now need third party evaluators to protect teachers and administrators from zealous parents. I can imagine the parents will start pressuring the teachers on the hope assessment and challenging the evaluations. If parents are determined they will work the system. Why not give families what they want? Give the test and then allow families to self select. Until DJUSD gets there this issue will never be put to rest.

  3. Anon

    hpierce: “Well, if it’s all arbitrary, perhaps it’s capricious too.  If we eliminate testing, and other forms there are (evaluations where it could still be capricious and arbitrary), the most justifiable thing to do is eliminate the program, in toto, ASAP.  As in NOW.  This current year, mid-year… is that what you want DP, Misanthrop (when did you lose the “e” at the end of your name?  Hope it wasn’t painful) and Anon?

    If so, I could back it… except for one thing… I believe it has a justifiable purpose, but I’m tired of your “any change is evil thing”.  The inconsistency of your logic(s) convinces me that none are products of a G&T type program.  But maybe you were, and are just using that to “intimidate”.

    The cutoff is currently 96%.  What is the educational justification of moving that number to 98%, other than to make the program smaller (less inclusive)?  Personally, I could care less about the AIM program.  If differentiation (ability grouping) were properly employed, there would be no need for AIM classes.  But frankly (no relation to the commenter Frankly), I doubt the DJUSD will carry out the necessary differentiation required, if how they have poorly handled the AIM issue is any example.

    1. Matt Williams

      Anon, I play bridge each Monday with a person who taught in GATE programs (by various names in various school districts). We talked yesterday about the current GATE controversy. One piece of information that she shared was that the characteristics of a class of “over 98%” students are very different from the characteristics of a class of student who fall between 96% and 98%. Her words were “… different like night and day.” She went on to talk about how mixing over-98% students with 96%-98% students creates an extremely challenging teaching environment because of the very different way that the vast majority of over-98% students learn.

      This person has no axe to grind in the current controversy, and has kept herself far removed from the controversy. She only shared her thoughts with me because I asked her a question about her experience with thresholds.

      I can honestly say that her answer surprised me. My expectation was that the two groups would not be very different at all.

      It was a “food for thought” discussion.

        1. Matt Williams

          She was sharing her experience from over 30 years of teaching in GATE type programs. her very first teaching assignment was in a one room schoolhouse. Can you imagine any more differentiated education experience than that?

  4. Grant Acosta

    You just stated the educational justification for moving the cutoff to 98%.  As was asserted by an AIM teacher months ago to me, the academic ability is supposedly quite widespread even within the AIM classes.  This, in theory, would make differentiation difficult in the AIM classroom.  A logical way to remedy this is to narrow the cognitive band.  Again, not saying I agree with the concept of self-contained classrooms for AIM students, but you have to agree it makes sense if your goal is to help those at the very top of the intelligence spectrum.

    1. Davis Progressive

      it seems like a lot of stock is being put in the olsat in terms of being able to measure the cognitive band.  what evidence do you have that we will see a narrowing of it?

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