Sunday Commentary: Biggest Fears Realized on AIM, Just Four Latinos and One Black Identified Under New Guidelines

Madhavi Sunder expressed concerns in November about diversity in the AIM program under new guidelines
Madhavi Sunder expressed concerns in November about diversity in the AIM program under new guidelines

For those fearing that the changes to the AIM program would result in the exclusion of blacks and Latinos, those fears were resoundingly realized when the district released its agenda ahead of Thursday’s school board meeting.

The 3rd grade AIM identification for next year, implementing the elimination of private testing, the continued use of OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test) with specific risk factors and testing apparatus for re-testing alone without even implementing the most controversial part of the reform, and the increased threshold for qualification scores, shows a dramatic drop in both the number of students identified as well as the number of Latinos and blacks.

The number of Black students identified under the program drops from eight in 2013, seven in 2014, and 20 in 2015 down to one in 2016 under the new protocols. The Latino numbers are almost as dramatic, falling from 31 in 2013, 20 in 2014, and six in 2015 down to four in 2016.

Overall, the number of AIM-identified students falls from 146 in 2015 to 82 this year.


By the time the vote took place last fall, the bone of contention seemed to come down to one of the recommendations – the threshold for qualification. The board majority was pushing to increase the minimum qualification score to the 98th percentile. There was a suggestion that that be phased in. The phasing would allow the district to evaluate the numbers prior to the next year’s change.

The board pushed for a two-year phase in to move the bar from the 96th percentile for this year’s qualification to the 98th percent for next year. The nice thing about the phase-in is that it does indeed allow us to evaluate what is happening with the program. In fact, the district is able to project how many students would make it under the current 96th percentile standards and next year’s 98th percentile standards.

As we argued in November, the threshold is really a proxy for the size of the program. We argued consistently, and the Superintendent acknowledged that there was no educational consideration for why the number should be set at any level. Therefore there was no reason educationally identified to change the threshold but, as those pushing for reform argued, there was no reason to keep it either.

If those pushing for reform were trying to dramatically shrink the program – they succeeded wildly. As we note, the program this year will drop from 146 to 82 students. However, that is even before the new threshold is implemented. With the new threshold, that number would have dropped to just 46 students – including three Latinos and zero blacks.


That is even more dramatic than we projected. We believed that the increased qualification score would put the self-contained program somewhere between 63 and 73 students , rather than 46.

My biggest concern, following the November vote with the changes in the AIM program, is the extent to which a smaller program allows for equal access along racial and ethnic lines. From a statistical standpoint, a smaller program makes it more difficult to achieve the diversity that roughly reflects the demographics of the district.

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.

In November I wrote, “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.”

We now have that check-in and it looks bad from the standpoint of diversity. Will that mean the district will tweak their model or reverse course? I have my doubts.

The second question of concern will be about the size of the program overall. Parents were already concerned that the size of program was the driving force for these changes, rather than need.

A false narrative occurred, exemplified by the Davis Enterprise editorial that jumped on board with the idea that the program was “initially designed only for students who had significant trouble learning in a regular classroom.”

The history we traced showed that not to be the case. The master plans that we analyzed showed that the program was always intended for both high intellectual ability and high achievers.

Going back 20 years, there is no evidence that GATE/AIM was meant strictly for students “who had significant trouble learning in a regular classroom.” Moreover, as Superintendent Winfred Roberson acknowledged in September, “There is no easy way to distinguish between high achieving students and those who are intellectually gifted.”

And so the assessment tools that are being put into place do not attempt to differentiate.

Is there an educationally-based reason to reduce the size of the program? As we have noted, the Superintendent, in researching for his report, found “that the qualification score ranges from 90-99th percentile in GATE programs throughout California.”

He continued, “The current DJUSD qualification score for AIM-identification is the 96th percentile. Raising or lowering the qualification score will have a direct effect on the projected number of students who qualify.”

He added, “Analysis from relevant research as well as conversations with GATE teachers, principals and community input has led the administration to select a qualification score that is meant to best serve the DJUSD student population.”

The question now is whether an AIM program at 82 students and heading to 46 that has identified just five blacks and Latinos at the 96% level and just three at the 98% level is the one that is best serving the DJUSD student population.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. ryankelly

    If diversity is the driving force, then just select a few students of color and admit them.   This is what was done in the past. But why double or triple enrollment in an effort to increase latino or black enrollment, when we don’t know how many of these students would have been identified if retesting had been done correctly.

    These results demonstrate how out of control the program was allowed to go.  I’m sure our neighborhood schools will be better with this change.


    1. Tia Will

      Much energy, time and investigation has been put into determining the original intent of the program. What I believe is actually warranted is a completely fresh look at what the program is intended to achieve, what it does achieve and for what percentage of students.

      Ideally what is needed is an educational system that provides each and every student with a learning program which matches their individual learning style. The question for me is not do we defend or attack this particular program, but rather is this program the very best way to achieve this goal ? I do not pretend to know the answer. But I am not sure that our community is pursuing the right question.

    2. zaqzaq

      All this does is help close the achievement gap by dummying down the schools with the reduction in size of the AIM program..  For example fewer children will be on the advanced math track now as the school district has not figured out how to provide this to the children district wide.  Stunting the educational opportunities for the top will bring them down closer to the underachieving.

      1. hpierce

        as the school district has not figured out how to provide this to the children district wide

        That is exactly the problem… too many mediocre (at best?) teachers are being hired, and/or administration doesn’t know how to let them reach all students in a manner to challenge and support them…  and teacher assignments to AIM don’t necessarily (and often do not) reflect the relative skills of the teachers… [personal experience]

    1. Barack Palin

      Are any parents of white children up in arms about the huge drop in AIM qualified white students due to the new program?  According to the charts when the 98 percentile goes into effect not only blacks and Latinos will be underrepresented but also only 12 white students will be qualified.  So even though white students represent 60% of DJUSD they will only have about a 25% representation in AIM program.  I may be wrong but I have my doubts that the Vanguard will take up your cause.

      1. David Greenwald

        Everybody should be up in arms about the new system because it’s going to end up cutting the program by three quarters. It disadvantages not only whites but Asian students. In fact Asian students may be most disadvantaged going forward.

        1. Barack Palin

           It disadvantages not only whites but Asian students. In fact Asian students may be most disadvantaged going forward.

          Then why didn’t you state that in your article?

          1. David Greenwald

            Because I focused this piece narrowly on the two issues I expressed most concern over during the lead up to the November vote.

        2. Barack Palin

          Fair enough, but you do know that according to the numbers if just 1 black child and 6 Latinos are accepted into AIM in the 98th percentile that will be in ratio with the DJUSD racial demographics.

        3. wdf1

          BP: you do know that according to the numbers if just 1 black child and 6 Latinos are accepted into AIM in the 98th percentile that will be in ratio with the DJUSD racial demographics.

          I can’t follow your math.  Maybe you’ll have to explain it more.  There are slightly over 2% Blacks and about 20% Latinos in the DJUSD population.

        4. Barack Palin

          Easy, there are 48 total students in the 98% 2016/2017 according to the chart.

          DJUSD has 2% black students and 13% Latino students

          1/48=approx 2%…………………………..6/48=approx 13%

          1. David Greenwald

            Think about it this way. Blacks and Latinos represent nearly one-quarter of all students. So at the 82 student level, we would expect roughly 20 to be Blacks and Latinos, instead there are five. At the 46 level, roughly 10 or 11, instead there would be 3.

        5. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > Actually the latest Demographics:

          I wonder why the district didn’t just give out a few “affirmative action” spots in the program (knowing most of the affirmative kids will drop out like they do at UCD and other colleges) to avoid having people like David call them racist.

          P.S. I bet a friend $100 yesterday that there will be a black person nominated for an academy award next year (since in the world today it is just not worth the effort to deal with the increasing number of people who call you racist if you don’t have the “proper” number of people of color).

  2. Don Shor

    This is appalling at every level. The results are exactly as predicted. GATE has been eviscerated. The board has harmed students. The subject needs to be revisited, and the action needs to be rescinded.

    1. Don Shor

      What has happened to the numbers of “twice-exceptional” students — those gifted students with learning disabilities? How has the teacher training progressed to mitigate these impacts as 100+ students who would previously have been GATE-identified are now in regular classrooms? How will this much smaller number of students be distributed across the school district — will it reduce class sizes for them, allowing a higher teacher:student ratio? Is the district prepared to pay more per capita to maintain a smaller GATE program, or is that going to lead to more clamoring to eliminate the program because it “costs more?”

      Question for each school board member: is this the outcome you were seeking with respect to program size, diversity, and meeting the needs of gifted students? If so, can you explain how the 100+ students who will not be in GATE will have their educational needs met? If so, what is your rationale for this outcome?

    2. Napoleon Pig IV

      “The board has harmed students”

      I agree. That statement is direct, clear, and factual.

      Now for an opinion:  Lovenburg and her minions got exactly what they have been trying to get for quite some time. Fortunately, a new election is not far off.

  3. Tia Will


    I agree with you that this is appalling and that the results are indeed as predicted and that the subject needs to be revisited. The bigger question for me is whether or not GATE as it was structured is the best possible means to support the goal of the optimal education for every student. I would prefer a broader evaluation of our educational system rather than a focus on this particular group of students. Whether or not to rescind the action while doing this broader review could be a point of consideration, but I do not believe that simply rescinding is an adequate approach.

    1. Don Shor

      Before they do harm to the current students, they need to rescind the action (‘first, do no harm’). I would love to see a comprehensive review of gifted education, along with consideration of how to reduce the achievement gap and expand individualized opportunities to students at all levels who have special learning needs. But any review of gifted education will take quite a long time. And I’m not entirely sure this board majority is actually interested in that. But I agree that it would be beneficial. I’m just focused on the detrimental consequences of implementing their current policy.

  4. wdf1

    I find this data analysis incomplete for having a meaningful discussion.  First, a number of parents choose to opt out of having their kids take the GATE identification test.  How many opted out?  What was the demographic makeup of the opt-out group?  Did that skew the population any particular way?

    Second, in addition to identifying students by race/ethnicity, the district has identifiers for income level (free/reduced lunch), ELL status, foster child status, special ed. status, and parent education level.  I would expect some of those categories to have stronger correlations than race/ethnicity.  For instance, one can reasonably ask, did the four Latinos and one African-American come from families who were UCD staff or faculty?  If we had income level and/or family education level, we could get an idea if that was the case.

    Third, if perhaps there are stronger correlations of AIM/GATE identification to family education/income level, then what kind of corrections can be made?  Maybe this conversation could go in a different direction.  One line of thinking suggests that early enrichment (parents reading to a child at home, extra-curriculars like sports and arts, trips to museums, zoos, etc.) and test preparation in a child’s life would prepare him/her more likely to get a “passing” score on the OLSAT or other identifying tests. Is attempting that kind of correction for lower socio-economic status worth pursuing?

  5. Michael Harrington

    When my oldest son was in the DJUSD, I read about the GATE program and considered it to be basically a tool of well-organized, educated families who had the time and resources to get their kid tested and labeled … The GATE was discriminatory and a fast-track to the best colleges, funded by a rich district.

    If DJUSD wants a specialized “private school within a public school,” then say it, and fund it.  But don’t pretend it is anything but a tool for certain families.

    I would never put my youngest into GATE/AIM and “label” him better than the general school population.  We already know his capabilities!


    I’d shut down the entire discriminatory program.


        1. Napoleon Pig IV

          GATE is the acronym for the term used nationwide to describe educational programs for the gifted and talented. AIM is a new acronym adopted here in Davis because so many Davis-ites have such a strong bias against highly intelligent people and the allocation of public education resources to help unusually intelligent kids thrive in school that the more enlightened among us decided that alternate nomenclature might be helpful. Clearly not with People Against Good Education in control of a majority of the local school board.

        2. South of Davis

          Napoleon Pig IV wrote:

          > many Davis-ites have such a strong bias against highly intelligent people

          Most of the board have publicly said they want to “close the achievement gap”

          I was hoping that they would help the poor students do better, but it looks like they have taken the (easier) approach of cutting a program that helps gifted students do even better…

        3. Matt Williams

          NP IV, your answer skirts around the  reality of the two very different educational need sets . . . (A) advanced placement tracking for disciplined, mainstream learners, and (B) alternative instruction for learners who are clearly very intelligent, but disconnected from the mainstream curriculum and methods.  GATE appears to be (A) and AIM appears to be (B).  The (A) group doesn’t need alternative instruction, simply accelerated instruction.  So my question still stands, “Why are those two very different needs smushed together in a single program?”

    1. wdf1

      Miwok:  Might be nice to know what the heck GATE and AIM are in the context of Davis Schools. What you use for acronyms are not the same programs I read about. Thank you

      Davis JUSD decided to go with the phrase, “Alternative Instructional Model,” (AIM) instead of “Gifted and Talented Education.”  The issue with the inter-changing of these acronyms/phrases is that most other districts call their programs, GATE (Gifted and Talented Education), but we don’t officially use that, instead using AIM.

      1. Matt Williams

        wdf, same question to you as to Napoleon.  There appear to be two very different educational needs . . . (A) advanced placement tracking for disciplined, mainstream learners, and (B) alternative instruction for learners who are clearly very intelligent, but disconnected from the mainstream curriculum and methods.  GATE appears to be (A) and AIM appears to be (B).  The (A) group doesn’t need alternative instruction, simply accelerated instruction.  So my question still stands, “Why are those two very different needs smushed together in a single program?”

        1. wdf1

          Matt Williams: I have no position on this issue.  In fact, I ask the same question.

          My criticism is that this discussion is becoming one about race/ethnicity, rather than one that follows social characteristics which likely have stronger correlations on outcomes in Davis — lower family income, lower family education level, English language status. It happens that there are larger percentages of latino students who fall into these categories, but it isn’t necessarily because they are latino.

  6. zaqzaq


    Have they completed the retesting?  One of my neighbors indicated that they thought that the retesting was still ongoing and that those being retested were predominantly Hispanic or black.  If the retesting was done will they give us the numbers based on who became eligible after the retesting?

  7. ryankelly

    David, In total we have 13 black 3rd graders in the District.  One was identified as GATE through the OLSAT. 10 more were retested, with none of the ten qualifying.  What do you think the District should be doing differently?


    1. David Greenwald

      Assuming that the statistics your citing are correct, it is interesting that none of the 10 retested would qualify. How are the problem may be that the district is relying on the Naglieri which has been used in places such as New York, to no clear benefit to minority students.

  8. ryankelly

    Remember that the large numbers of GATE identified students in previous years was the result of private testing, where we have no data on risk factors or ethnicities, and hand selection by one staff member, where everyone she retested scored in the 99th percentile.  This year’s results, at least, gives us a truer picture of our GATE population, without manipulation by parents and staff.  I don’t see how the changes can be ethically reversed without the program becoming just a magnet program and not pretending to base it on eligibility or need.  If Davis wants to create an advance placement tracking program for elementary students, then that’s what needs to be discussed and remove GATE from the picture.

    1. DavisAnon

      Ryankelly, is there no limit to your slander? Yes, some of the “large numbers of GATE-identified students” as you put it were due to admission through private testing. This testing process was not at the whim of the AIM coordinator – these policies were put forth by DJUSD administration and approved by the Board. The AIM coordinator actually worked to tighten those procedures to eliminate potential for “test shopping”.  As far as I know, nearly all of the local private testing in the past several years was performed by a licensed educational psychologist (not an MFT) in Davis who I believe is also contracted by UCD for some similar work.

      Your allegation that the coordinator gave everyone who retested a 99 is also patently false, and the data proves it. Last year, in part to answer to your type of defamatory statement, the district administration had a different person (a licensed DJUSD school psychologist) do a significant chunk of the re-testing with a different test (Slosson rather than TONI), at a higher financial cost to the district. Guess what? The pass rate was the same as when the AIM coordinator had done the retesting.

      Your blatant disregard for the truth is obvious based on your past posts, but you continue to due damage where you can. This is about our/your community’s children, and they are the ones harmed by your animosity and determination to malign this program and an expert in gifted education who worked in a difficult political climate with the goal of keeping Davis students engaged and learning to the best of their abilities.

      1. DavisAnon

        For the record, I have no problem with modifying or eliminating private testing or changing the district’s testing algorithms, size or composition of the AIM program, but these things should be done in a thoughtful and careful manner, preferably with a pilot to look at potential positive and negative results. We should be guided by the idea of improving education for every student through prudent use of district dollars. I sincerely hope the current Board answers to the outcomes of their “plan” on Thursday. The report attached to the Board agenda lists all these statistics but seems to indicate no concern at the demographic, size, etc. effects of this change.

        1. ryankelly

          I never said that the GATE Coordinator directed who could be retested privately.  Maybe my sentence above was confusing.

          If you think previous testing was hunky-dory, please explain this year’s results.  Why are they not closely duplicated by a different group of professionals administering the testing?

  9. DavisAnon

    This is supposed to be a response to Ryankelly’s questions, but I don’t know where it will show up on the blog.

    Different tests, different testing personnel (who are likely inexperienced), different testing algorithms, rescreening conditions, etc. The district’s new AIM testing “committee” spent only two days to individually evaluate every single third-grader in the district. Is that even one minute per student? This year’s results are due to a variety of factors but the outcome should not be a surprise.

    A different battery of tests was utilized this year, tests that were not used here before because of their known downsides. Educational tests have known (and published) strengths and weaknesses. Some of the tests selected by the administration/Board to be used this year are known to have a strong bias toward selecting Caucasian/Asian populations with poor identification of at-risk groups (e.g. minorities and low SES). A few years ago, I heard the now-former AIM coordinator give a rundown of a long list of potential tests. She described some of the tests the district chose to use this year in the context of a discussion of which tests DJUSD should consider using and why/why not. The exact shortcomings she mentioned back then (which are also published in educational literature) are what we are seeing now. 

    Will you next allege that this means she somehow tainted the testing performed this year by DJUSD employees (who she may not even know as she’s now been absent from the district for almost a year)?? I would argue that this is what happens when the people making decisions do not have the expertise/experience needed. We don’t even have an AIM coordinator now. Test selection, both in the battery of options and in the individual test selected for rescreening each student, is very important. As with all tests, how they are administered can be important, especially when dealing with young kids who may not be paying attention to directions, are freaked out by the testing process. implications, personnel involved, test environment, etc. I have heard (but not confirmed) that some of the retesting this year was computer-based. This can be fraught with difficulties for younger children, especially those who are low SES or have limited computer experience, which is why I have concerns about the utility of SBAC testing via computer in these age groups. It would not surprise me at all if the identification of twice-exceptional (i.e. gifted with learning disability) and low SES pouplations is extremely low as well this year, although I haven’t seen any statistics yet. This is a complicated process, art as well as science, in order to not let those who may be at-risk slip through the cracks.

    Due to budget constraints, the DJUSD administration eliminated the GATE psychologist position several years back, which meant that the only rescreening that could be done in-district would have to be done by the AIM coordinator. This is why the TONI was being used, as she was not licensed as an educational psychologist and thus not allowed to administer other tests such as Slosson and WISC. The AIM coordinator had repeatedly requested additional testing options from DJUSD, preferably with funding for a psychologist to do testing. As I mentioned, she got funding approval for a pilot of limited psychologist testing for rescreening of students last year for the Slosson. That pilot was successful, so the Board was asked to expand the DJUSD rescreening test options, and hopefully for an educational psychologist to do more rescreening if the budget would allow. This request was made at a June 2016 Board meeting, but the Board simply rejected the proposal. Susan Lovenburg then made the (in my opinion irresponsible) motion that got us where we are today. The next Board meeting, the Board fired/didn’t renew the AIM coordinator, and all of the subsequent decisions were made by people who aren’t even certified in GATE education.  The results speak for themselves.

    1. ryankelly

      So much additional information here – that the TONI was used because the GATE Coordinator was not qualified to administer any other tests is one.  I thought it was because it was her reduced hours that prevented her to use testing that would require one on one evaluations.  I do feel that the GATE Coordinator was set up to fail, with the cuts to personnel and resources along with pressure to increase diversity, and became a convenient scapegoat.   I don’t think that your statement that all of the subsequent decisions were made by people who aren’t certified in GATE Education is quite true.  There are at least two members of the re-screening committee who are GATE teachers (I’m assuming that if they are long-term GATE teachers that they are certified).  Does one have to be certified in GATE Education to administer tests to determine GATE eligibility (are all of the psychologists that are or have been used certified in GATE education)?  Again, which method or test would be better than the options that are available?  Is it set up that GATE identification leans heavily toward identifying white and Asian students overall, so the make up of any GATE program will likely be predominantly white and Asian, unless there is intervention through teacher recommendation or mere selection of likely minority students?

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