In their Own Words: Tom Adams’s Remarks on AIM

Tom Adams speaking on Thursday
Tom Adams speaking on Thursday

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.

About The Author

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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17 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    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.”

    I think that this statement embodies part of the reason that there is so much contentiousness around this issue. I remember quite clearly during her campaign for the school board, Ms. Sunder made much of the fact that she had gone to all of the schools to hear parent concerns. I find this a laudable approach regardless of which board member is using it. We now have some who are calling into question the sincerity of other school board members who have used the same strategy of meeting parents at individual schools. This certainly gives the appearance that it is those who are making the accusation of a “shallow practice” who are willing to cast aspersions rather than address the actual issues.

  2. Frankly

    In fact it has intentionally been poisoned by people who want to make the issue different than what it is. 

    Seems the Davis way on many things.

    Agree 1000% with the labeling concern.

  3. Napoleon Pig IV

    “. . . when we go and talk to parents at their school sites. . .”

    Mr. Adams inadvertently got it right. He prefers to “talk to” rather than “listen to,” and most of his opinions seems to derive more from preset opinions than from objective consideration of facts and data.

    Won’t it be interesting to see if Mr. Adams ever votes in opposition to a vote by Ms. Lovenburg?

  4. Anon

    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.”

    Yes, it was the AIM identification process – the testing part that was in question, not THE SIZE OF THE PROGRAM, which is what the school board has now made the central issue.

    1. Scheney

      When 30% of the children in the Davis schools have been labeled as gifted at the 96% level, could raising the level not be considered part of refining the identification process for gifted students in our District?

      1. Anon

        Test at 96% with the new identification process in place, and see how many students there are who qualify for AIM.  You won’t know that until you actually test the students under the new process, and whether there would be an “overabundance” of gifted students.  Secondly, even if there were arguably 30% gifted (which I highly doubt under new testing procedures), if they need a different type of program, they need a different type of program. Thirdly, the DJUSD/school board made it very clear they expected to cut the AIM program in half, but gave no educational justification for doing so. None.

      2. Davis Progressive

        “When 30% of the children in the Davis schools have been labeled as gifted at the 96% level, could raising the level not be considered part of refining the identification process for gifted students in our District?”

        that’s not exactly true.  after all, part of the complaint is that the identification process is random and capricious.  so the question of how many kids would be identified through the new process is a much more open question.

      3. MrsW

        The first time I heard 30% was in 2003-4, when DJUSD first implemented universal third grade testing.  Until that time, all third graders were not tested; students were tested if a teacher or parent referred them for testing.  No one knew what to expect, but many were surprised, when 30% of the students qualified for GATE that year.

        1. Davisite

          I don’t know about historical figures, but if you look at the data for the last few years, it’s apparent that 1) about 75% of students have been qualifying through means other than the OLSAT and 2) regardless of which test is used for identification, there are many more students scoring at the 98th and 99th percentiles than the 96th and 97th (I don’t know why this would be the case, but it does seem to be true).  So basically, it seems that changing the tests used for identification will likely have a big impact on how many kids are identified, while raising the qualifying percentile will have a much more marginal one.

  5. Davis Progressive

    i have some thoughts about tom adams comments.  first, i wish the vanguard would have posted the video here because his tone of voice was atypical – it was a bit snarky, combative, and condescending.

    so here are some thoughts and responses…

    “We know that the TONI was misapplied to students and wasn’t the assessment that should been used.”

    do we know that?  that was certainly a charge and the district clarified when the toni should be used, but i have never seen an accounting that shows that the toni was misapplied.

    he then responds to some charge: “I’m sorry, this was not a shallow practice of me engaging in dialogue.”

    what was interesting to me was this comment: “I focused them back on what was before them”  later he said, “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.”

    but what it sounds like to me is that he didn’t here what he wanted to here, lectured to the parents to correct the record, and then based on what he said, they agreed with him.  that’s not dialogue, that’s lecturing.  we see this all the time – public officials often hold strong viewpoints on a public issue and then “correct” the lay public when they disagree – mistaking an objective set of facts for subjective opinions.

    he misplaces the notion that “AIM students as somehow being better” – no one is saying that.  i have not heard that at all.  what i have heard is that for some students, aim works and for some students aim is the right educational program.  the problem i have is that the district are using objective testing measures to determine which students aim is best for – with no evidence that this is the right approach.

    he says “everyone wants to eliminate private testing”  but at the last meeting several people pointed out a valid use of private testing.  so i don’t think that’s correct – they aren’t stuck on that because they see other ways around it, but he’s fundamentally wrong to make this assertion.

    finally the most amazing comment – “I’m kind of agnostic really on this cut-score.”  so he is voting for changes when he’s agnostic on the key issue?  really.

    he came across as arrogant and lecturing.

    1. Napoleon Pig IV

      DP

      Now that is a great summary of a disgusting diatribe by a public official! I would say even more about Adams’ performance, but it wouldn’t be polite. Oink!

      1. Don Shor

        I watched Tom Adams comments with interest. On his behalf, I think he was rather fatigued. I was, and I was sitting at home in a comfortable chair. I thought he gave an interesting perspective and, although I certainly disagree with his vote, I can see how he arrived at it. Of the three who have pushed this, his narrative was the clearest. I really have felt that Susan Lovenburg and Barbara Archer have been struggling to explain their positions, largely because I don’t think they have clear reasons for wanting to shrink the GATE program.

        The part that disturbs me is the dismissal, by him and others throughout this process, of the 96% vs 98% cutoff as if it is not significant, being arbitrary and somehow without any basis. I honestly don’t think staff did an adequate job of researching that issue (because they weren’t directed to and didn’t want to), nor of explaining how this change will affect gifted learners. It will have a significant impact, and that will only be mitigated — if it is — by the actions of the new committee.

        It’s not at all difficult to rationalize a lower test threshold. It is difficult to rationalize a higher one.
        If the goal was to make gifted education better in Davis, no part of this process or the outcome will do that. If the goal was simply to make the program smaller and to placate a number of parents and others who are hostile to self-contained gifted education, they’ve done that.

        1. hpierce

          I’ll disagree with you, Don, on that comment… once it was explained that the ‘normalization’ is nation-wide, have not seen ANY evidence that the change will cut the AIM-qualified in in half in DJUSD, by FACT.  Could have sorta’ bought that if it was DJUSD normalized, but, it’s not.  Facts?  The percentages are “normalized” with inner – city youth in Chicago, Baltimore, NYC, native american reservations in SD who take the test, etc.

          I support AIM/GATE, but am not a zealot.

          1. Don Shor

            I think it was the district staff’s own assessment that the change would roughly cut the numbers in half. But it will depend on how the committee functions. Which raised, for me, an important question: who makes the actual determination? A vote of the committee, or the administrative member (Clark Bryant)? Since I think it’s a 6-member committee, if they’re going to vote — who breaks the tie?

            There is no reason for the numbers in GATE to be reduced. If they are, that deserves board scrutiny.

      2. wdf1

        Having seen Adams on the board, I find the comment that he must be “Lovenburg’s minion” to be a very superficial observation.  From his questions, comments, and input, he clearly brings his professional perspective (from his day job at the California Department of Education).  He is able to justify his position as well as anyone on the board.  He is more soft-spoken and doesn’t project a big personality.

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