Monday Morning Thoughts II: Does Anyone Really Care (About AIM)?

Adam a sixth grader at Willet
Adam, a sixth grader at Willet

When the issue of AIM came back last winter and spring, I really didn’t have a dog in the fight. I was taken aback by the process in which the changes were initially enacted, but I didn’t have a strong feeling either way on the program itself.

As I met with people last summer, there appeared to be some legitimate concerns about the identification process that the district needed to clean up. My biggest concern in the district has been the achievement gap, the gap in the scores between Asians and whites on the one hand, and blacks and Latinos on the other hand.

Whatever the structure of the AIM program, it seemed important to preserve the program’s diversity. So the first alarm bell that went off when I had a chance to look at the staff report this weekend was that the first iteration of changes resulted in just four Latinos (in a district with a population of 20 percent Latinos) and one black. And those numbers would fall to 3 and 0, respectively, when the district raised the floor to the 98th percentile.

Someone asked why I focused on these numbers first and foremost, and the answer is that these are the numbers I have been concerned about from the start.

But there is more to this than just the diversity. Back in September, after the first meeting where the board took no action, I wrote a commentary “Does District Really Need to Cut AIM Program in Half?

The title was hyperbolic, I was told at the time. The only problem is that not only does it not seem hyperbolic now, in fact, it underestimated the impact of the changes. This year the number of AIM identified students falls from 146 to 82.

As an aside, I’m a little troubled that the district in their report only provides three past years of data, because the numbers are heavily volatile, fluctuating from 155 in 2013-14 to 118 in 2014-15 to 146 in 2015-16. The ethnic breakdown jumps all over the map, as well. So it is hard to pick out the trend from just three prior data points.

What is clear is that the numbers plunge with the new program. Eighty-two this year, but had we gone immediately to the 98th percentile, we would have had just 46 AIM-identified students from this year’s third grade cohort.

From the start, back in June, in response to the motion from Board Member Susan Lovenburg, Madhavi Sunder warned that this was an effort “to dismantle self-contained GATE as we know it in the DJUSD.”

Then, Board President Alan Fernandes told his colleagues, “I don’t read this motion at all to be a dismantling of the AIM program as we know it. I do read it more in the vein of much how we handled other issues, we directed staff to report back to the board with recommendations that are subsequently approved by the board.”

People pushed back on Ms. Sunder from the public, calling the idea – that this was ending AIM as we know it – hyperbole.

I am no longer so sure that this wasn’t really about making it so that AIM would wither away. The test will come on Thursday – how will the board majority that implemented these changes react to these numbers?

Will they ask the district to look into the use of the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test as the retesting instrument, which many consider problematic for assessing ethnic minorities? In the data presented by the district, 10 African American students were retested, presumably with the Naglieri as that was the identified protocol, and none qualified upon retesting. New York, since they have implemented Naglieri, has seen no movement on the ratio of qualifying blacks and Latinos.

Will the board halt plans to implement the 98th percentile, fearing that dropping the cohort number to 46 would put the program itself at risk?

We were always troubled by the lack of educational justification for raising the qualification score from 96 to 98. The district acknowledged the lack of consensus or even justification for the change, instead insisting that the change would be based on discussions about the right level for this district.

The Superintendent also never attempted to address my question on the projected racial and ethnic breakdown of the AIM population under this proposal. Now we know the answer. The question is whether anyone will care.

The truth is that it was not clear who was hurt under the previous system, and it is not clear who benefits from the new system. Under the 98th percentile threshold, there would be 30 Asian students admitted, 12 whites, 3 Latinos, 0 blacks and one “other.”

One might be tempted to stated that this, therefore, benefits Asian students, but the reality is that, while Asians are disproportionately represented, the 2016 identification number represents a 27 percent decrease in Asian students identified from the previous year. That number becomes a 42 percent decrease in Asian students identified, at the 98th percentile. Asians aren’t benefited from the new system – fewer are getting identified and getting the benefits of the AIM program.

But the real danger for the program is reflected in the number of identified white students. In 2013-14, 71 white students were identified. It was 63 and 62, the next two years. But that number falls to 38 this year, a 46 percent decline, and 12 at the 98th percentile (83 percent decline).

It will be interesting to see what the political fallout is from these massive changes. One possibility is that there is pushback and the district will modify the identification process or pause the implementation of the 98th percentile.

Given the push from Susan Lovenburg, along with Tom Adams and Barbara Archer, to move more quickly to the 98th percentile threshold in November, it seems unlikely they will pause this process.

The other option is that these numbers become the impetus for completely dismantling the program altogether.

As I wrote yesterday, the worst fears about the changes have been realized, now the question is whether anybody even cares.

—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. SODA

    As has been mentioned numerous times in the past, what is this program trying to achieve and to what group? A decrease in identified kids doesn’t necessarily mean the new number isnt the right number if we are trying to identify those who have great potential but don’t thrive in a normal classroom. If we see the program as an early education AP education then the decrease is more worrisome.

    I am confused by the statement that the numbers in the program have varied so much over the last three years and you wanting more historical data (not a bad idea), but why have they varied so much, because the entry numbers varied so much or were identified kids dropping out after trying the program ?  Thanks for continuing to focus on this topic.

  2. Don Shor

     the question is whether anybody even cares.

    I’d guess that somewhere there’s an attorney who cares about this change in the demographics of the program.

    Board President Alan Fernandes told his colleagues, “I don’t read this motion at all to be a dismantling of the AIM program as we know it.

    I’ll be very curious, then, as to how Alan responds to this outcome.

  3. ryankelly

    David, I don’t see how you reverse these changes.  Remember, the growth of the program resulted in private testing, where we had no information on risk factors supporting retesting, and hand selection by one staff member where all students she retested scored in the 99th percentile and managed to achieved the exact diversity reflected in the overall population.  Do you really want to go back to that? Could we ethically go back to that?

    The current procedure is at least giving us a truer picture of our GATE population.  We can manipulate the eligibility process to include more students to achieve racial diversity, but that just hides the fact that we have a serious achievement gap.  But consider, could students have been misidentified due to this manipulation?  Could this have actually harmed students who would have done better in a program that used differentiated instruction?


    1. David Greenwald

      How did I reverse things? I acknowledged that there were problems in the identification process that need to be cleaned up.

      “that just hides the fact that we have a serious achievement gap.”

      We do have a serious achievement gap, but I was also under the impression (since it was stated many times) that AIM was supposed to identify gifted kids who have trouble learning in the current environment. That should not be impacted by the achievement gap.

      1. ryankelly

        Don Shor’s comment from yesterday: “The subject needs to be revisited, and the action needs to be rescinded.”

        Now that we are aware of how the identification process was manipulated, I don’t see going back to that.

      2. ryankelly

        David, the results are what they are.  You can blame the test used to retest, but these students were not identified through the OLSAT either.  What test do you think should be used?  There is the teacher recommendation method, but there have been problems with that method.  Maybe we should look at better ways to help students achieve than trying to track them into a high-achievement program where maybe it is not a good fit.

        I would hazard a guess that most of the students identified as gifted, even under the current system, are not having trouble learning in their current 3rd grade environment.  There are likely some students that are so clearly advanced that a different educational environment would be better for them.   If you want diversity, look for it in the non-GATE program.


    2. South of Davis

      Ryan wrote:

      > “that just hides the fact that we have a serious achievement gap.”

      There are some great teachers out there that work hard to help kids (of all races) who come from homes where education is not a priority learn and “CLOSE the achievement gap”, but for the most part the people running the schools want to “HIDE the achievement gap”.

      It is easier for people to just “COMPLAIN” about the lace of diversity in gifted student programs (or at the Academy Awards) than to go out and “TEACH” a diverse group of kids that have less opportunities so they become better students (or film editors).

      1. wdf1

        South of Davis: There are some great teachers out there that work hard to help kids (of all races) who come from homes where education is not a priority learn

        or homes where parents don’t have the resources (including knowledge) to help or support their kids.


    3. zaqzaq

      Ryankelly states,

      “We can manipulate the eligibility process to include more students to achieve racial diversity”.

      This statement is offensive on both ethical and legal grounds.  I thought the board was trying to eliminate the alleged manipulation of the eligibility process by doing away with private testing.   You are advocating finding five to six Hispanic children and throwing them into a classroom they may not be prepared to perform in.  I question your ethics on this issue.  You are inviting a lawsuit if you give a race based preference to one group and that is the last thing our school district needs.

      1. ryankelly

        If the argument is that the tests used are geared toward white and Asian students, then it seems to be the only way to increase enrollment of black and Hispanic students is by teacher recommendation or some other non-test means.  I stated that I feel that this may harm students:

        Maybe we should look at better ways to help students achieve than trying to track them into a high-achievement program where maybe it is not a good fit.

        You seem to agree, so why get all puffy?

  4. Alan Miller

    I’m sure that kid went up to the podium on his own and wrote out his own 3 minute — I’m sorry 2 minute — speech — just like the Soda Gang at City Hall.

  5. hpierce

    My thought is, and remains, AIM is neither a reward, nor an honor… it is a tool best used, in my opinion, for high potential students who might otherwise not succeed in a regular classroom due to being “wired” to learn in ways different from most, and/or needing a different environment where their less developed social skills can be nurtured, instead of being an impediment.  The latter is where the ‘self-containment’ aspect an be important or some.

    Many gifted students do fantastically fine in regular classrooms, as long as they have well trained teachers and supportive teachers and parents who challenge them to do the best they can.

    All children should be challenged to do their best, and not satisfied to be ‘taught to the test’.

  6. Frankly

    There needs to be a more clear diagnosis of the learning disability that justifies the practice of carving out students for special instruction.  It is still my believe that adequate differentiation is better for most, if not all, students.  I see the push for more grouping and segregation (AIM, “safe spaces”) of students as a clear indication of the failure of the education system to adequately differentiate.

    I am disgusted with much of the groupism and divisiveness in this country mostly caused by a voting demographic that also tends to defend the education status quo.

    What is diversity if not the individual personality differences of each and every individual?

    The education system as currently designed sucks at diversity.

    1. DavisAnon

      Thus far our district’s mandate to implement differentiation appears to be lip-service. Administration has repeatedly said they have no way to force teachers to do it in the classroom, so how is it going to happen? Offering some lectures on differentiation doesn’t mean teachers will show up, and for those who do, that it will be implemented at all. There has to be some buy-in, action, evaluation, and observed benefits in every class in every school for parents to believe in this.

    1. Grant Acosta

      I guess no one wants to address my question…  If more students are to be identified by the HOPE process, then perhaps David’s and others’ concerns are premature?


  7. Napoleon Pig IV

    Clearly the AIM (GATE) program in Davis is being dismantled via a clever mechanism whereby the architects of its demise (Lovenburg and her minions Archer and Adams – previously assisted by the former Ms. Volleyball and the ever loyal soon-to-be-former Superintendent) can brag about their plausible deniability in the great tradition of past sleazeball politicians like Tricky Dicky and Slick Willy.

    Unfortunately, killing this program is going to do a lot of long-term damage to Davis in many ways, and the negative effects are likely to ripple for decades through steadily declining support for public schools (charter schools, anyone? or- how about that parcel tax?) and the selection of other communities that place higher value on childhood education by tech and biotech companies seeking to expand.

    Oh well. It was a nice fantasy while it lasted. . .

  8. David Greenwald

    I am told:  The Hope Scale has already been used. All of the identification for the year has been finished. The Hope Scale FAILED to identify diverse students.  Remember this was the reason that they went away from teacher evaluations in the first place – teachers weren’t identifying students of color.

    1. wdf1

      D. Greenwald:  The Hope Scale FAILED to identify diverse students. 

      Diversity in what sense?  Diversity of race/ethnicity?  Income/education levels?  ELL status?  Special ed. status?  All of it?  Because so far the context of your other comments suggests that we’re only talking about diversity of race/ethnicity.

      1. South of Davis

        wdf1 wrote:

        > Diversity in what sense?

        I’m surprised that wdf1 is asking this question since anyone reading this blog would know that when David and other progressives talk about “diversity” they mean “blacks and latinos”.  A program could have kids born in 20 different countries including India, China, Pakistan and Russia, but unless the program had at least 20% blacks and latinos we would get complaints from David and other progressives that the program was not “diverse” enough.

        1. Frankly

          You got that right.   David and many other progressives consistently demonstrate such a narrow definition of diversity that it really cannot be called diversity…  it is black and Latino bias and favoritism.

          The problem I have is that they continue to try and hide behind the label of diversity… and this causes them to lose credibility in their arguments.    It would be so much more refreshing to just have them come out and admit it.

        2. The Pugilist

          Hold on.  Arguing that Latinos and Blacks are underrepresented in a given program is not “favoritism” towards Blacks and Hispanics by any definition of the word.

        3. South of Davis

          The Pugilist wrote:

          > Arguing that Latinos and Blacks are underrepresented

          > in a given program is not “favoritism” towards Blacks

          > and Hispanics by any definition of the word.

          True, but the “affirmative action” programs that get lesser qualified blacks and hispanics (most who drop out) in to UC schools and get government contracts for lesser qualified contractors (most who just take money as a front for or JV with white firms) is…

        4. The Pugilist

          We’re not talking about college admissions, we are determining who is “gifted” and the problem is that standardized tests scores may not accurately reflect giftedness.

  9. Dave Hart

    The bottom line for parents is that their own child get the very best educational experience available.  That is what everyone cares about.  Most of us assume it is not possible to provide an individualized course of study that is optimal for each student, so we end up with “programs” aimed (sorry for the pun) at identifying groups of students that tend toward this or that criteria for special attention.  So, it becomes a political problem:  If I can’t get an individualized optimal educational experience for my child, why should I care about funding it for someone else’s child?

    The good news is that in a town like Davis, most of us do care and are willing to fund special educational experience for kids that we understand have an objective disability and little or no resources to address it.

    There is no sympathy for a program that seeks to address the problems of kids who are particularly gifted in academic areas, particularly when we hear that these kids’ parents can pay extra to maneuver their kids into a program.  I don’t know how we can reform the hundred-year-old industrial “batch processing” model for K-12 education where we move ’em through 30 at a time with a uniform end-product with a quality guarantee as measured by a high test score.   Carve-out programs work politically on the low end (disability, disadvantage) but not so well on the high end (except for sports where the sky is the limit).   What we really need and want is a carve-out for our own child.  We want the benefits of Home-schooling in a public setting.  If each of us were getting that, we wouldn’t care about what the program is called or the name of the test as long as our child’s individual needs were being met.

    I wonder if our district would have been better off without GATE or AIM from the get go and moved toward individualized study starting around grade five or six through high school for all students.

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