There are people who will undoubtedly want an even smaller AIM and there are those who will argue for a larger AIM, but on an issue as divisive as AIM has been for as long as it has been around, the proposal that the Superintendent has put forward may work for now.
There are disagreements, to be sure. There are those concerned about not having an AIM/GATE coordinator instead of a Differentiation Specialist, but there are probably ways to massage that to make it acceptable to some of the skeptics. Reinstating a GATE counselor might be another direction some would like to see things go.
But these are not the core issues. Most people saw the private testing allowance as “unfair” and, while there are legitimate concerns about students coming into the district after the testing is complete, the district should be able to account for whatever number of students that turns out to be.
The core issue is really where you set the AIM qualification score. It is an issue that troubled me greatly with the original proposal by the Superintendent. First, the Superintendent admitted that the number was arbitrary. And, while the number being set originally at the 96th percentile was just as arbitrary, it is what we have grown used to.
There is no educational justification for setting the qualification score at 96% versus 90% versus 99%. The Superintendent in September justified it based on a vague notion of discussions he had with stakeholders and the notion that this is the number that seems to fit in the district.
The biggest implication of raising the qualification score from 96 to 98 is that the size of the program will decline, perhaps dramatically. The self-contained program could shrink to somewhere between 63 and 73 students.
As Eric Hays, a parent, put it during a public comment, “Why has the district moved to raise the qualification from something that was already above the average of that scale?” He noted the lack of rationale for that change and called it deeply suspicious that one school board member said that “I support AIM, just smaller.”
For him, this was size defining the program, rather than need defining the size.
Along with size comes the question of diversity of the program. Will shrinking the program make it less diverse and more white and Asian? The district is trying to avoid that, clearly, through the formalization of risk factors and the implementation of the HOPE scale.
When the Vanguard asked Superintendent Roberson what the projected ethnic breakdown of AIM would be, he was unable to provide that answer.
Board President Alan Fernandes, perhaps looking for a middle ground, suggested to the board that they phase in the program over time to avoid the drastic changes. He noted that “there’s change that may result ultimately from our actions, but it’s not earth shattering totally 180 degrees. We’re still going to do what we do here. What we do here is really serve not only the most unique and gifted and talented and high achieving students, but we endeavor to serve everyone. That’s what really the gist of this is all about.”
However, he added that when changes happen, “sometimes they phase things in and the purpose of doing that is to collect data.”
Tom Adams would add, “What I really was concerned about with the proposal is going up to 98 – for the simple reason that as one of our commentators said, there’s this issue of equity if the previous year it was 96 and now you’re going to raise it to 98 without the hope, then I have to be concerned about that. What’s the alternative and maybe you can come back and explain to me about how some of those concerns about equity are being addressed.”
While there was some initial confusion about the time-line for the 98% phase in over three years, it appears that the students taking the test this year, 2015-16, will keep the qualification score at 96%. Those will be the students entering AIM for the following school year. Then in 2016-17, they will have to achieve 97% to qualify and finally, in 2017-18, they will need to achieve 98% to qualify.
For me this is critical, because it allows the district a chance to evaluate the current changes to the program – that means the end of private testing, the implementation of the risk factors with their associated tests, and an evaluation of the pilot program of the HOPE scale.
This will allow the district and school board to come back sometime next year and look at what the AIM program looks like before changing the qualification cut offs. It will also give the district time to further implement their district-wide differentiated instruction program.
All of this is good because the district will have some actual data to evaluate before pushing in additional changes to the program.
There is of course some downside to this approach. It is not going to resolve the issue of AIM identification and size of the program. In fact, it pushes off the potential contentious battle of narrowing the program to next year – an election year.
In November of 2016 Susan Lovenburg will be seeking potentially her third term on the school board. As one of the strongest critics of the current program, we might anticipate a fierce battle. Alan Fernandes, remember, was just elected last year, to fill the remainder of Nancy Peterson’s seat, so he could be running for his first full term after serving about two and a half years. He’s been a moderate on this issue, but once one of the four, supporting the June 4 motion.
At the same time, this proposal is probably the closest we can get to consensus at this time. It allows for the district to evaluate the series of changes it made, other than the qualification score, which should allow the district to adjust to problems on the fly.
For those fearing that this proposal will mark the end of self-contained GATE in DJUSD – the current trajectory seems to argue against that. However, the battle in the next two years will be over figuring out how large a program it should be.
—David M. Greenwald reporting