In January, the Elk Grove Unified School District site had a blog entry that read, “New EGUSD eligibility and selection criteria for Gifted and Talented Education (GATE), as well as for Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses, widen the entry for students interested in challenging themselves in programs and courses that help develop the ‘habits of mind’ to support future college and career success.
“These criteria aim to equitably and collaboratively engage students and their families and encourage access to rigorous instruction with support for students’ intellectual, social and emotional needs.”
As the article makes clear, these revisions to the selection process and eligibility criteria were not necessarily made voluntarily, but rather to address “concerns that underrepresented students faced several barriers to access and to ensure that consistent practices existed among schools within the district.”
Like DJUSD, the Elk Grove district faced an investigation from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), but they chose to go the direction of strengthening the pursuit to “provide a learning community that challenges ALL students to realize their greatest potential.”
Elk Grove went further, establishing a GATE Planning Committee composed of parents, teachers, school leaders and district administrators “to review, research, and propose ways to expand GATE outreach, develop and evaluate equitable identification and selection criteria, and train staff.”
OCR, in fact, would sign off on the changes to the identification factors which “were expanded to include students who exhibit exceptional ability in creativity, leadership, visual and performing arts, academics, and cognition.”
Elk Grove made the best of a tough situation, facing potential lawsuits and an OCR investigation and so, in April 2015, they began to make changes to their GATE identification process. Those changes, according to the article, began with outreach to families.
Davis now faces an OCR investigation. Last spring, the Vanguard and others in the community were troubled when the new AIM identification process greatly reduced the percentage of African American and Hispanic participation in the AIM program.
This spring we learned that the overall size of the AIM program, with new identification protocols, would be reduced nearly in half from what it was in 2015-16. The two groups most impacted by this reduction are blacks and Latinos.
The number of black students identified under the program drops from eight in 2013, seven in 2014, and 20 in 2015 down to one in 2016 under the new protocols. The Latino numbers are almost as dramatic, falling from 31 in 2013, 20 in 2014, and six in 2015 down to four in 2016.
These two groups together represent around one-quarter of the overall student population and are on the wrong side of the pervasive achievement gap, where white students and Asian students perform substantially and consistently better on standardized tests than blacks and Latinos.
This was the concern raised this spring as we finally saw that the tests and risk factors put in place by the district last fall did not identify nearly the participation of these underserved populations as previous protocols had. More concerning at the time was the lack of responsiveness of the school board to these concerns.
With the involvement of the OCR, the district may no longer have the choice, and may have to go back to the drawing board to address these concerns. As the Elk Grove district’s response shows, there may be paths forward to produce a more diverse and equitable situation, which allow all students to realize their greatest potential.
The alternative is also possible – the board, or at least a majority on the board, may decide this is more trouble than it’s worth and attempt to end the program. With an election looming, the voters may ultimately get the final decision. Stay tuned.
—David M. Greenwald reporting