In the aftermath of the implementation of AIM reforms enacted in November, with a recent update showing a loss of diversity in the program as well as concerns about the ongoing achievement gap and efforts to deal with it through LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) and Common Core, the Vanguard has reached out to school board members Alan Fernandes and Barbara Archer to get their thoughts on these key issues.
What are your thoughts on the progress of the AIM reform? Do you have concerns about the underrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics among those currently identified? Do you have concerns about identifying only 46 students this year at the hypothetical 98th percentile?
Alan Fernandes responded, “I am generally pleased with the AIM reforms relating to the elimination of private testing, transparency of the identification process, and the expanded use of multiple testing measures. These reforms are improvements from our previous identification process and consistent with best practices according to the National Association of Gifted Children.
“I continue to be concerned about underrepresentation of the Black and Latino population, however, I am no less concerned about the impact of the identification process and the program on this population of students than I was even before our School Board unanimously passed these reforms.
“I do, however, believe that it is too early to make final conclusions of the policy as it has not been fully implemented, but certainly if adjusting the cut off disproportionately and negatively impacts any student population I would consider changing the test cutoff to ensure a better outcome for all of our students.”
Barbara Archer responded, “as I said at our meeting, I am pleased the district created a replicable and thorough identification system. The board has not received final numbers yet with regard to student population in this program.
“The motion that passed 4-1 in June clearly set a new direction for the program – this program is for the student working at least two grade levels or more above their current grade level (as indicated by testing and teacher feedback) and who may need a self-contained classroom environment. I believe our new system is identifying those students as best as it can, and I see the move to 98% as appropriate given this new direction.”
What do you see as the key to alleviating the achievement gap?
Alan Fernandes responded, “There are many tools that a school district can use to close the achievement gap, however, I believe that improving our cultural understanding and acceptance within and throughout our schools is key among them.”
Barbara Archer more generally noted, “With regard to the achievement gap questions, we as a board need to study this and discuss it at our meetings. The other night was our very first presentation on this topic even though we identified it as a top priority this year in addition to passage of the parcel tax.”
“I think your questions are very good, but we have not yet looked into this at this level of detail, and my sincere hope is that we concentrate on this issue in the next year,” she continued. “At our meeting the other night, I heard that there was an achievement gap task force 10 years ago. I’d like to be briefed on their conclusions and re-form the task force for study purposed and action recommendations.”
She added, “In studying the achievement gap in Davis in depth, I hope we identify the keys to mitigating the gap and that will include looking at heavy concentrations of low-income students and what resources they need.”
The district has an increasing Title One population – and is increasingly diverse – what kinds of resources can the district bring to help those students who might otherwise be left behind?
Alan Fernandes responded, “After decades of an outdated funding formula for public education, the State of California has recently reformed the method of allocating funding for public education with an emphasis toward targeted student populations. We are about to discuss and decide what parcel tax we bring to the voters, and I would like a robust discussion of how we might modify the allocations of those resources to include supplemental funding for low income, English learner, and other disadvantaged students.”
Are you concerned with the heavy concentration of low income and Title One students at Montgomery? How can the district better represent their needs? Should the district look into changes?
Alan Fernandes responded, “Yes. The heavy concentration of low income and Title One students at Montgomery and other elementary schools in our district is of great concern. I believe we have done many things over the years at these schools, including most recently, the increase of reading specialists, school nurses and school counselors, but I do think we should continue to look at additional measures we could be taking to better represent these schools.”