After lengthy discussion by the school board in the face of parent complaints on the elimination of the North Davis AIM strand, the board voted 3-2 to put 66 incoming AIM qualified fourth-graders at Willet and Pioneer next fall on a potential waitlist or with an option of increasing class size or starting multi-grade classes. President Madhavi Sunder and board member Alan Fernandes voted to oppose.
A motion put forward by President Madhavi Sunder and board member Alan Fernandes was withdrawn when Mr. Fernandes realized they did not have a third vote.
The motion put forward by Ms. Sunder and Mr. Fernandes said, “Continue a third AIM strand for the 2016-17 school year, to accommodate those students who meet the qualifications of the AIM program. The class size for AIM strands shall be comparable to the average class size for that grade level and remaining seats, if any, shall be filled as an inclusion classroom with a preference toward high ability students.”
It would also: “Direct staff to reassess students who are English learners, low income, learning disabled, or from historically disadvantaged minorities, for the purpose of ensuring the identification for these at risk student groups to ensure equal access to the AIM program in the 2016-17 school year.”
The nearly four-hour discussion featured numerous parents frustrated at the lack of communication by the school district, and at times contentious debate between board members. Ultimately, the board majority continued with the path forward that some believe will result in the ultimate end to self-contained AIM, especially once the district transitions to the 98th percentile cut off for next year’s AIM qualification cut off.
Madhavi Sunder said that “the most important thing in this district, in fact many of the people on this board ran on the issue of trust as the preeminent issue with respect to our relationship with families and parents in keeping that trust.” She said, “Process and being clear about the rules and honoring that process in a transition year when we have lost key staff and personnel and made a lot of changes, that seems to be important.”
She quoted former Superintendent Winfred Roberson, “We move at the speed of trust.”
Ms. Sunder also pointed out the number of students retested using the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test. When challenged as to whether this was on-topic, she stated, “I do not feel that our identification process is complete yet. I believe that there are students that we have not given fair opportunity to see whether or not they actually have gifted potential.”
She believes that the Naglieri, and other new tests they used, have “failed.” She said we need to make sure we are giving fair access to English-Language Learners, low income students, learning disabled students, and racial minorities “that we know are often unfairly disadvantaged on the OLSAT [Otis-Lennon School Ability Test].” She said they retested these groups “and we failed to identify almost any.”
Board Member Susan Lovenburg stated that this is off-topic for this discussion, but added, “I don’t agree that the process that the board put in place is a failure. It functioned as it was intended to and if not, we need to make changes going forward.”
Tom Adams stated, “The use of the TONI [Test of Nonverbal Intelligence] before was not appropriate – it’s a test intended for English Learners (and) we were using it as a second test for a lot of groups for whom it’s really not intended.”
Barbara Archer responded, “I would add, do you know how many African-American third-graders there are?… So if there were two and we identified one, how could you call that a failure?” She added, “I don’t think we have the number to say (it’s a failure).”
Ms. Archer would later add, “I do agree with President Sunder that we have to address this year, but I really object to calling our program a failure when you don’t know the percentages of third graders in the different minority groups.”
Madhavi Sunder said they already have some numbers and “we are three percent African American in this district and the number that is identified is zero percent.” She pointed out that there was only a three percent success rate on the Naglieri and a 32 percent success rate for the CogAT (Cognitive Abilities Test).
“That was the test (CogAT) that we gave to more advantaged students,” she argued. “What upsets me is that we gave the disadvantaged students a much harder to succeed on test.” In the past, they were given the TONI which had a 14.6 percent success rate. “We didn’t give the TONI to a single low income student this year.”
While Tom Adams and Barbara Archer argued that TONI was to be used only for English-learners, Ms. Sunder pointed out that the makers of the test disagree and believe TONI should be used more generally for disadvantaged children who often lack the language skills of their more advantaged counterparts.
Following public comment, Alan Fernandes said he “wouldn’t call it a failure,” but “I would also not say it’s a total success.” He argued the need to continually work through a problem. “I actually don’t believe you are hearing much difference from us all,” he said, arguing that everyone wants to best serve every child in the district.
He added, “As a representative of the district, I want to apologize – what I want to apologize for is just the lack of clarity. I’m not going to say misinformation and mistrust.” He argued that, at a minimum, “there was some confusion” as to what the district promised in terms of the number of AIM strands and where they would be housed.
Barbara Archer said, “I think this is a transition year… I think that obviously there were some clarity issues.” She said she wants to “honor all the placements on the wait list, however, for me, I think that equity and fiscal responsibility come to play.” She said, “I can’t conscionably run an 18 kid strand at Pioneer or a 20 kid strand Willet and then hear a story about a neighborhood student who has 32 kids in her class.”
She sees the way forward as elevating the class sizes at the two strands, and by offering a combo 4th-5th grade class as well.
Ms. Archer added that she did not think this would go to two strands, “but I didn’t have the numbers – none of us did.”
After Madhavi Sunder and Alan Fernandes introduced their motion, Barbara Archer argued, “I don’t think you need a third strand, I think you can accommodate the numbers by means I had spoken about.”
Following some discussion, Ms. Archer stated, “I can’t support (Motion Sections) 1 or 2, I’m sorry.”
Tom Adams said that the main point is not whether or not to have three strands but rather “to accommodate those students who meet the qualifications of the AIM program.” He was opposed to the part that stated, “The class size for AIM strands shall be comparable to the average class size for that grade level and remaining seats, if any, shall be filled as an inclusion classroom with a preference toward high ability students.”
To him, this created a selection issue, “I just think it’s kind of divisive.”
Susan Lovenburg said that they entered into this reform of the AIM with a 5-0 vote and she wants to maintain that. She said, “I actually don’t see how this differs from what we were doing when (we) implemented reforms.”
She said that this motion takes us back to combining the truly gifted with high achieving students and “adding some squishy assessments to make sure that the demographic matched the demographic of the district as a whole. That really seems to be what this is – that may not have been what was intended.”
Ms. Lovenburg pointed out that the researchers from UC Davis studied “this program, our students, our children, and it showed that this model did not have a positive benefit for our students and it did not have a serious negative consequence.”
Madhavi Sunder stated in response to a comment as to whether staff should be spending their time on this as opposed to working on the achievement gap, “This is the achievement gap. It so crucial to close the achievement gap when you identify low income, English language learners, students whose parents did not have a college education and they are high potential, they’re doing well in school… to give them, this kind of a class – that is what is going to benefit them.”
Barbara Archer said, “You can’t keep retesting them until you get the results that you want.”
Ms. Sunder responded, “It’s not about retesting them, we have the data available if this board directs the staff to say can you look at their grades. When we are talking about the most at-risk students in this district, that the state tells us we need to keep a sharp eye on to make sure we are meeting their needs equitably, giving them the same fair chance to access every program as possible – if we as a board care about the achievement gap, we would be directing the staff right now saying we don’t need to retest these kids, we have the data…”
On the immediate issue for the night, Barbara Archer reiterated that she is not comfortable running a low class number and pointed out that they had no idea how many will come in the next year.
Ms. Lovenburg proposed placing all the fourth grader AIM classes at Willett and Pioneer, while offering spots for all AIM students with no lottery or wait list. They would resolve the issue through increasing class size or multi-grade classes.
Ms. Sunder continued to believe that offering two strands rather than four would serve to “cut self-contained AIM down to half the size.” She pointed out that this would occur without the board voting on such as reduction and this was in advance of the raising of the threshold.
At this point, Ms. Sunder believes that we are looking at a one-strand program.
However, that is not how the board majority saw it and they approved Ms. Lovenburg’s motion 3-2, with Ms. Sunder and Mr. Fernandes dissenting.
—David M. Greenwald reporting