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