by Nicholas von Wettberg
Discussions over the ever-controversial AIM (Alternative Instructional Model) program occupied much of the agenda for Thursday’s Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) Board of Education meeting.
With well over a dozen public comments on the topic, some of them coming from local students enrolled in the program, the meeting ran past midnight, and included a number of Board decisions intended at narrowing the achievement gap.
One notable decision made earlier by the Board, during the closed session part of the meeting, was the naming of an interim district superintendent.
Board President Madhavi Sunder revealed the temporary hiring to the full house gathered inside the Community Chambers.
“The Board is pleased to announce that we voted unanimously to extend an offer to Mr. Kevin French, newly retired Associate Superintendent for Administrative Services from Acalanes Union High School District, to serve as interim superintendent for Davis Joint Unified, effective April 1, 2016,” Sunder said.
In an effort to make the transition process as streamlined and transparent as possible, the Board opted not only for an external, retired candidate, but also one with an extensive working knowledge of the district’s system.
“Mr. French is no stranger to Davis,” said Sunder. “He served our district from 2006-2011 in a variety of capacities including as Director of Student Support Services, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources; Associate Superintendent, and finally as Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources and Secondary Education. He remains a well-known and respected professional in our school community.”
Sunder said French would be welcomed at an upcoming Board meeting.
The Board will hold a special meeting, on March 8, to interview a number of selected search firms. They could choose a company to go with later that evening, or wait until the next regularly scheduled meeting, slated for March 17.
Once equipped with the search firm to assist them in the selection process, the Board plans on filling the permanent position by July 1.
Following the announcements, and a public comment period on non-agenda items, outgoing Superintendent Winfred Roberson, along with DJUSD Director of Curriculum Assessment and Learning Stephanie Gregson, presented the Board with a location update on the AIM program, along with an overview of its identification process.
The staff’s recommendation centered on the location of school sites that would accommodate self-contained AIM strands for fourth grade students, in the 2016-17 school year.
The three school sites, determined by the current amount of third grade AIM-qualified students, are Willett (Strand 1), Pioneer (Strand 2) and North Davis (Strand 3).
Universal and rescreening assessments of third graders were conducted for AIM identification since November, when the Board implemented new protocols for the AIM Assessment Team (AAT).
Included in the overview was a list of recent Board directives: the elimination of private testing, maintaining the use of the OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test), the piloting of the HOPE Scale in 2015-16, the approval of specific risk factors for rescreening, and retaining a qualification score of 96 percent for placement of students in 2016-17, then implementing a 98-percent score for 2017-18.
According to the timeline provided, district third graders were administered the universal screener, the OLSAT, and, in November, teachers of those students were asked to fill out a HOPE Scale assessment. The AIM Assessment team met for two days in early December, and, in January, parents of third graders were sent the results of the OLSAT, and notifications for rescreening.
In February, the district began the rescreening process with what Gregson called “appropriate assessments.”
Next week, on Tuesday, March 8, the DJUSD will offer parents of AIM-identified students a chance to learn more about the program during its Parent Information Night.
Gregson highlighted the critical role played by the six-member AAT, which is comprised of herself, an AIM elementary teacher (Steve Kelleher – Korematsu), an AIM secondary teacher (Jeff Bryant – Holmes Jr. High), a site principal (Gay Bourguignon – Patwin), a school psychologist (April Seto), and the Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services (Clark Bryant).
In order to begin the process, third graders scoring 96 percent or above on the OLSAT, were identified as AIM-qualified. Students with scores below the threshold were then vetted through the first risk factor of low Socio-Economic Status (SES), using verbal, and non-verbal test scores as a way of determining the “most appropriate re-screening assessment.”
Involved in the criteria, according to Gregson, were three tests: the Naglieri, the CogAT (Cognitive Abilities test) and the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence), which, specifically was used for English Learners (EL) with low SES.
English proficiency was examined, using the California English Language Development Test (CELT), and the TONI, while the third risk factor, involving the remaining students, was health and disability.
Those third graders with no risk factors, who scored in the standard error of measurement (between 91-95 percent), and Special Education and 504 Plan (referring to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) students, along with those accounted discrepancies, rounded out the review process for rescreening.
Gregson said the percentages of kids who fell in that range and took the CogAT were “pretty high,” and that “a majority of them were AIM-identified.”
Of the 543 OLSAT takers, in the third grade, 56 were AIM-identified, 219 were rescreened, and, after that, another 26 were AIM-identified. Of those 82 students, the ethnic makeup is predominantly Asian and white, with a marginal Hispanic/Latino representation.
Among the observations gleaned from the process is the impact of the elimination of private testing, the difficulties in predicting responses to rescreening by Asian and Hispanic/Latino students English Learners (EL), the role of Naglieri/TONI tests for SES and EL risk factors, and the impact of the HOPE Scale and qualification scores of 98 percent.
As for the recommendations of location sites, Superintendent Roberson provided some of the criteria involved in the process.
Two of the four sites (Willett & Pioneer), Roberson explained, were predominantly filled with enrollment, while the remaining two schools, North Davis and Korematsu, often have space available.
Roberson said that, in order to provide a range of access, the sites are strategically placed on opposite sides of Davis, taking into account other factors like size of space.
“With the current numbers at 82, the three strands, there wouldn’t be a need for a lottery,” Roberson said to the Board.
Board Vice President/Clerk Barbara Archer asked to clarify whether all the testing for rescreening was complete, to which Gregson responded there were still 21 students in need of make-ups for both the CogAT and Naglieri tests.
Archer also asked Gregson if she could explain the use of the HOPE Scale in the identification process.
“It was used as a data point,” Gregson said. “It was a raw-scale score broken up into academic and social, and we used it as a multiple-measure piece, so we’re looking at report cards, we’re looking at how a student was performing on the OLSAT, how a student performed on any classroom assessments. We also compared them to the HOPE Scale to determine, is there a discrepancy?”
Trustee Susan Lovenburg, who shared her disappointment in the performance of the Naglieri test, asked about the “norms” created by the AAT during its identification process.
“We get a percentile score with the OLSAT…and it’s a set score,” Gregson said. “So we look at taking the scale scores of the HOPE, and norming them to be equivalent to the percentage with OLSAT, so that they become equal assessments, on the same scale, so we can look at them similarly.”
Lovenburg asked to hear more about the possibility of offering multi-age classrooms, perhaps including fourth, fifth and sixth grades, which, she believes, would, in turn, increase enrollment enough to make the program more accessible to qualified students throughout the district.
“I think with multi-age classrooms, if there’s intention to have it be set up as a multi-age classroom, it can be incredibly successful,” said DJUSD Associate Superintendent Clark Bryant. “We have fine examples at Fairfield and Birch Lane. We also see times when grade levels are combined because they’re forced together due to enrollment, and when that happens, it often doesn’t have the same power as a multi-age classroom that has been set purposefully.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, parents, educators and students alike, all emphasized the impact of the program and addressed the topic of cutting down the program’s size.
Three seventh graders from Holmes Junior High lauded the AIM program for the challenging pace it presents, making school, according to one student, “something to look forward to.”
Another student told the Board they felt minimizing it would do more harm than good.
“Most people incorrectly think that to be in AIM, you have to be some kind of genius,” the student said. “That is not true. Being in AIM does not mean that we’re smarter than any of our peers it means that we have the ability to think in the abstract at an earlier age. Judging the success of an AIM program because of the scores of AIM students on standardized tests is like measuring how much a kid loves soccer based on how many goals they’ve scored.”
She added: “Aim offers the kids the opportunity for intellectual fulfillment, not just academic achievement. In regular classrooms, it is easy to measure the academic success of AIM students where it is much harder to measure their intellectual fulfillment. Intellectual fulfillment is when a student is fully satisfied, and is actually excited about what they’re learning.”
As for the passing of the recommended motion, the Board voted 4-1 to approve the locations of the program. Then, Madhavi Sunder submitted a motion of her own, which was received by the Board about 10:30 p.m. The motion was altered from its original five parts, and amended to three parts. The Board decided it was not ready to address the issue of the 98th percentile, nor did it approve the first and fifth items on the list of process. It did, however, strike the word “adopt,” replacing with “clarified.”
Three trustees finally approved the motion 3-2, with Tom Adams on record as opposing it and Barbara Archer abstaining.
Editor’s note, the full motion by Madhavi Sunder (2,3,4 were adopted) there were some concerns about whether (1) was properly noticed for action:
- Maintain the qualification cutoff at 96% during the 2016-17 identification year;
- Assess this year’s identification processes, including proper use of and training in the HOPE Scale; use of the Naglieri; and use of the TONI;
- Study best practices for identifying students from all our diverse populations;
- Clarify a parent appeals process that is equitable, transparent, and prioritizes the best interests of the child;
- Create an ad hoc committee of parents, teachers, administrators to brainstorm the best delivery method for meeting the needs of high achieving and intellectually gifted students in all of our elementary schools. This Board Committee would be created by April 1, 2016 by each Board member appointing 2 members, and would report back to the Board with initial recommendations for a process and shared purpose by late May, 2016.