By Tom Adams
What is before the board? Before the board is improving the AIM identification process. The previous system was not consistently administered, not equitable, and not always reliable in its results. A GATE program – an AIM program in this case – an AIM program is only as good as its identification process. If you have a flawed identification process, you have a flawed program.
So was there harm being done? Yes there was because in a flawed identification process you are labeling students based upon inequitable and faulty measures. We know that the TONI was misapplied to students and wasn’t the assessment that should been used. We know that there were questionable results on those. We know that private testing wasn’t consistently monitored to make sure that it was actually used fairly and evenly, even for those students who took it.
What we have before us is the opportunity for new assessments – a new way of measuring AIM Identification.
When I attended the PTA meetings at Chavez, Fairfield, Harper, Pioneer and Emerson, I’m sorry, this was not a shallow practice of me engaging in dialogue. I really take offense at that comment made. When we give up our evening, our hours to meet with people individually, when we go and talk to parents at their school sites, to say we’re doing this insincerely to me is one of the reasons why this dialogue has not been always productive by certain people.
In fact it has intentionally been poisoned by people who want to make the issue different than what it is. Because like I said before, the issue before us was the AIM identification process. When I began these conversations at Chavez, many people had questions especially about whether the AIM Identification would affect their middle school programs. I think we’ve talked a lot about that.
At Fairfield, there were concerns even about labeling the kids – AIM or not. At Harper, once I realized that most people were not paying attention to the actual proposal, but were actually listening more to letters to the editor, I focused them back on what was before them and I got them to see, really why not go ahead and improve that identification process. Why get rid of private testing and why not substitute for it, a battery of tests that would be given to students based upon their needs.
When I went to Pioneer, again I had an extensive authentic discussion. Let me say that again, I had an authentic discussion, with parents with meaning. And again, I take offense at that earlier comment. We engaged in a discussion for over 45 minutes and then out in the parking lot.
At the end of it, they all pretty much came to see that what we were trying to do here was a rational thing to fix a flawed system. And why? Because everybody understands that really labeling kids one way or the other has to be done delicately and well.
When I went to Emerson, again I had another conversation with parents about the program. But again, here, the conversation focused not so much on the need for the new battery of test. It quickly moved past that and went into the issue of differentiated instruction. I was so pleased that Stacy Desideri, the principal for Emerson was there as well as Natalie Achibruro, both of them could explain to parents why differentiation works and how it’s been in the district for years.
It’s nothing new whether it’s in an AIM program or a non-AIM program. So in this sense, no one seems to really have a question in this district about replacing the previous process with an updated one.
So let me explain to you what my outstanding issues are. One, I really do think we need an outside evaluator. It has to be part of the process. An outside evaluator will take care of a lot of questions and some of the accusations that has been made about staff not being trustful on this –so I think it’s important although I think that’s a misplaced distrust.
Two, there has to be a new parent education and student awareness about this process. The labeling process, because that’s really what it is, has to be done more delicately and we cannot have people be using this for playground discussion and it really has to be a private affair between the district and the parent and student.
My third is that too often I’ve heard tonight people talk about excellence as only to be achieved in an AIM self-contained classroom. I think there’s excellence throughout the district. I think you can get excellence in a non-AIM and an AIM program. And so to talk about excellence as only occurring in self-contained AIM, I think is mislabeling the great achievements of our teachers and its non-AIM programs.
Lastly, this issue about labeling, I was at the STEM conference with Winfred (Roberson) and Tom McHale and Alex Hess. One of the lunchtime speakers was Anessa Ramirez, as she likes to call herself, a science evangelist, what she talked about was the detriments of labeling kids in a secondary category and the effect it has on them as they tend to believe they cannot do it.
When we do this, we can’t really label the AIM students as somehow being better or that they’re going to achieve more, it’s only that they need a different instructional environment and for those students who are not labeled AIM, we should make it understand that we believe in them and that they will continue to achieve great things and to give them any other impression would be wrong.
Looking at this, coming to my conclusion then, if you look at the points of consensus this community wants to eliminate private testing. I have not heard anyone say, let’s ignore private testing. I have also heard many people explain what is before us in terms of changing the test batteries they actually say that sounds very reasonable.
What really remains in my view – the single point of contention it seems at this point is – is it 96 or 98? To me that is the question. 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?
You can argue what is going to be best, 96 or 98, I’m kind of agnostic really on this cut-score. But the reality is we’re down to one issue. If that’s the one issue that really divides us, I think we really actually have a greater consensus than we think. I just want to thank the staff again and my colleagues for all the work that they’ve done on this.