Monday Morning Thoughts: Mounting Costs of OCR Investigation, Silence by the Board


Two years ago, one of the key moments of the Nancy Peterson saga was the revelation that the district spent $22,000 investigating her complaint against volleyball coach Julie Crawford.  The amount of resources wasted on a petty dispute between the school board member and coach over volleyball was widely seen as wasteful in a school district short on funds.

The dynamics of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation are a bit different, of course, but the fact that the district has already spent $17,000 on legal fees responding to the complaint should be troubling to the community.

Here’s the problem as I see it…

Last fall, after a lot of community strife, the school board more or less agreed on a new policy involving the AIM program.  In so doing, it got rid of private testing (something most everyone agreed on).  It changed the testing and retesting protocols.  It created more risk factors.  And then it phased in the raising of the scores needed to qualify.

From the start, the Vanguard was concerned about the diversity of the program and whether raising the bar and changing the protocol would make the program less diverse.  This has been a concern from the start because, if we are going to having a program that seeks to identify those students who are “gifted,”  we need to figure out ways to identify those students from disadvantaged backgrounds who fit this category.

Instead, our worst fears were realized this spring when it became clear that the new protocol identified far fewer black and Hispanic students than the previous one did.  The program become much more heavily white, and especially Asian, than the previous one.

The problem that the school district and, in particular, the school board had was that they knew in the spring this was a problem – that the new testing protocol was only identifying one black and four Hispanic students for the program, in a district where those students represent one-quarter of the overall population – and they essentially did nothing to address it.

At the time we felt this lack of action left the district open to a potential civil rights lawsuit, and the OCR investigation may well take the decision making outside of the hands of the school board here.  Some people have wanted to put this on the complainant, but the district could have paused their process, they could have and should have reevaluated the testing matrix.

The problem the district has is that, with better research, they have realized the battery of tests they offered was doomed not to produce the type of diversity they had previously.

Back in April, Board President Madhavi Sunder offered critical statistics that suggested that the use of the Naglieri test was inappropriate.

She stated that “we (have) 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 (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence) which had a 14.6 percent success rate.  “We didn’t give the TONI to a single low income student this year.”

Under the new guidelines, for students with risk factors related to language or culture, the TONI may be administered. For students with economic risk factors, the Naglieri  may be administered.  On the other hand, the CogAT is administered for those who scored in the standard error of measure on the OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test).

But does this make sense?  In the fall of 2012, the New York City School District overhauled their gifted program, announcing that “the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, also known as the NNAT, will count for two-thirds of a student’s score.”  A year later they altered that to 50-50, NNAT and OLSAT.

The problem that NYC was trying to fix is the same problem we face – the over-representation of white and Asian students in gifted programs, with the underrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics.

Writes Slate in an article this year, “In New York City elementary schools, according to a local newspaper, G&T programs are approximately 70 percent white and Asian while the public school population is 70 percent black and Hispanic. In 2012, New York revamped the test, partially in an effort to make it more inclusive, but so far enrollment statistics have hardly budged.”

In other words, the Naglieri failed to change the demographic distribution of students identified for gifted classes in New York. So why would we expect this to be the appropriate test in Davis?

Davis actually did worse than New York, as they took a program that was fairly representative of the ethnic breakdown and made it far less so.

I am also troubled by the lack of comment by board members on this.  It is true the district itself offered comment and response to the Vanguard’s inquiry, but, at the end of the day, it was the school board that made the decision in April to proceed with current plans – despite evidence the plan was not identifying the diverse population they had hoped.

And yet, you have Board Member Susan Lovenburg, who is up for election this year, and in many ways the architect of this new program, declining comment.  Alan Fernandes did not even respond to the Vanguard’s email.  Even Madhavi Sunder, a fierce critic of the new policy, declined comment.

Here we have an election year, a new and controversial policy, a federal civil rights investigation, and no comment from any elected board member on the growing costs for this new policy.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Barack Palin

    The problem that NYC was trying to fix is the same problem we face – the over-representation of white and Asian students in gifted programs with the underrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics.

    This is not true, whites are also underrepresented in our new program that we face.

      1. hpierce

        actually, he wrote… “The program become much more heavily white, and especially Asian, than the previous one.”  You could parse that easily as saying Asian is a subset of white.

        1. Barack Palin

          That’s where I think he was going too.

          So these statements would also be true:

          The problem that NYC was trying to fix is the same problem we face – the over-representation of black and Asian students in gifted programs with the underrepresentation of whites and Hispanics.


          The problem that NYC was trying to fix is the same problem we face – the over-representation of Hispanic and Asian students in gifted programs with the underrepresentation of blacks and whites.

        2. hpierce

          BP… I strongly  disagree with (and, strongly disavow) your ill-informed ‘appraisal’/interpretation of the meaning I intended…

          I intended to factually point out what was written… and how you or others might parse it… nothing more, nothing less…

          You are inserting words into my mouth… watch it!  When provoked, I can bite… you might lose a finger or two… am tempted to ‘give you a finger’ if you need a replacement one… guess which one.

          Given the size of the classes, and my understanding of statistics, I see little REAL concern on the most recent numbers… if there was a five-year trend, would reconsider…

        3. Barack Palin

          You could parse that easily as saying Asian is a subset of white.

          Okay, so that’s how “I” parsed it.  Calm down.

          My point is if any race is grouped with the Asians they will be overrepresented because the Asian numbers in the gifted programs are so overwhelmingly high.


  2. Tia Will

    Given the silence of all board members including the strongest proponent and strongest opponent of the current program, is it possible that there is some prohibition or at least strong disincentive for them to speak out publicly while under investigation ?

    1. SODA

      Hi Tia

      That could be true but this issue should be well vetted at candidate forum at least for the two incumbents.

      And to verify this data is before enforcing the 98% score?

    2. DavisAnon

      Lovenburg has had many opportunities to address this but each time she declines to do so saying she’s given plenty of explanation before. It is time for her to be accountable for her actions. I’ve been troubled to hear that other local parents’ experience meeting with her have been similar to my own: she makes a good show of appearing to listen but then ends by essentially saying (in what certainly felt like a condescending manner to me) that she disagrees with you and she’s going to do things her way with no room for compromise or other perspectives. This has been the tenor of her years on the Board. She went along with Nancy Peterson in firing Coach Crawford, never apologized for these actions, and then printed a condescending letter in the newspaper telling the angry public to get over it and move on. Due to timing of the election cycle, Sheila Allen ended up paying the price for joining Lovenburg on that letter with the loss of her city council campaign and political future. It is time for Lovenburg to move on now.

      I do think the public is owed an explanation regarding the changes she orchestrated for the AIM program and her refusal to budge despite the poor outcome regarding minorities. She could have just gone along with Fernandes’ proposal to offer a third strand to include more minority students while continuing to look at how to improve testing in a more inclusive manner – it certainly would be more cost-effective than an OCR investigation. Lovenburg was the architect of these changes, and she was singularly unwilling to consider any changes even after the horrible demographic results of the new testing was publicly released and Sunder raised concerns about the tenuous ground these changes could put the district on in terms of minorities and low SES students.

      One caveat, however, if Lovenburg wants “face time” with the public, I really wish she wouldn’t do it during Back To School Nights (and all the more so as she is up for re-election which makes it feel as though she’s misusing her access as an incumbent as other candidates don’t have equal access). I’m all for her and the other trustees going to school events (and I think it’s really great when they go and support the students), but this is the only chance for the teachers to publicly meet with parents, set the expectations for the year, and get the year off to a strong start. Back To School time at schools is already taken up by introduction of the principal, PTA announcements, and other teaching personnel. The teachers are barely able to cover the minimum infomation needed in the short time given for this activity, especially with interruptions for principal introductions and PTA visits. It would be better if she could offer to have office hours at another time for parents to share their insights and concerns without being one more distraction on an already busy Back To School Night.

  3. quielo

    The information I have been seeking, which does not seem to be included in any of the demographic data on the website, is what is the gender breakout? Having looked at the OLSAT it seems to have a strong bias in favor of girls. I don’t know anything about the other tests.





    1. MrsW

      In the days that Deanne Quin created GATE/AIM class-lists, just like regular classrooms, there was an effort to balance boys and girls, 50:50 in the elementary classes.  In general, the elementary classes my children attended were close to 50:50.  It was probably easier to have a 50:50 distribution when Valley Oak Elementary (VOE) was still open and had two-strands, because VOE was a magnet for the whole district and not just a neighborhood or two.  VOE closed around 2008.

      Our family’s experience both in the GATE/AIM classroom and the regular classroom has been that stereotypical girl behaviors are desirable and rewarded, while stereotypical boy behavior is considered pathological and requires counseling, etc.– which my boys would say is also more girl in its approach to undesirable school behavior, rather than providing and recommending more exercise (for example).

      Of one of my son’s male cohorts, 4-5 of the boys dropped out of DHS. As we parents watched the process, a number of us felt that AIM/GATE had hurt them and not helped them. The girls ran circles around the boys. Academics were not their priority. AIM/GATE delivery was not oriented towards “under achievers” what-so-ever. They were arguably only “underachievers” because they didn’t act like girls in a classroom setting.

      1. quielo


        Thanks for the reply. Looking at the OLSAT8 it seems to prioritize verbal over math, which is a standard way to select girls over boys.

        I’ve looked at all the demographic data on the DJU website and while there is ethnicity data there is no gender data. Of course “boys” are generally despised on the DV unless they identify as “girls” in which case they are very socially acceptable.


        1. MrsW

          The thing about DJUSD’s program, is that since 2002 or 2003, qualification metrics have changed frequently, but no one systematically kept track of any outcomes or results.  Or, if they did, they were not shared or published.  Our son with so many drop-out classmates and who barely graduated from DSIS (but did graduate!) qualified for GATE by the non-verbal test, not the OLSAT. At that time, universal testing was in place and the non-verbal test was given to students who’s OLSAT score was within the standard deviation of the test and the third grade teacher recommended it.

      2. Don Shor

        Wow. I guess everyone’s experience is different. All I can say is that our experience with a boy in GATE was not even remotely like what you are describing. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you.

  4. ryankelly

    It is my understanding that we have 6 black 4th graders in the District. One was identified as gifted through the OLSAT.   The rest were retested twice using different tests. Which additional black students do you feel should have been selected and identified as gifted to meet the percentile?

    I think your article is early.  Why not wait to see the results of the investigation?


    1. David Greenwald

      There were 594 third graders last year. African Americans make up about 3 percent so there would be around 17-18 African Americans in the class. Only 1 was identified. If next year’s cut off were imposed this year no African Americans would have been identified.

      1. wdf1

        David Greenwald:  There were 594 third graders last year. African Americans make up about 3 percent so there would be around 17-18 African Americans in the class.

        The district registered with the state that there were 586 third graders last year.  Eleven 3rd grade students identified as African-American (that’s 1.9%).  Districtwide, 2.6% of the student population identified as African-American.   source

        On top of that, if score cutoffs are 96 percentile and 98 percentile,  then doesn’t that mean scoring higher than 96 percent and 98 percent of the students?

        David, as someone with research experience in statistics, please explain how your argument says that, statistically, there should definitely be more (or even *any*) African-Americans identified in AIM/GATE in this year’s 4th grade class?


  5. vanguardfan

    I am concerned that the DJUSD is once again allowing Ms. Lovenburg to expose it to expensive litigation.  
    She is reportedly attending back-to-school nights, on the superintendent’s coattails.  As a school board trustee, she is the superintendent’s boss.  As such, he is not in a position to disinvite her.  As she is also hierarchically “superior” to the principals and teachers, they are similarly placed in awkward positions when she arrives univited at their classrooms.

    The time allotted for parents and teachers to meet for back-to-school night is very precious. It is the one night a year when nearly all parents are present.  This time belongs to the parents and teachers.  It should not be used by an incumbent school board trustee to insert herself in front of groups of parents weeks before an election.  If Ms. Lovenburg is experiencing a sudden burning desire to be physically in our schools, perhaps she should arrange to visit when the kids are present and she can observe actual instruction.  What she is doing now is campaigning on school grounds, which is illegal, and exercising an abuse of power in doing so.

    Ms. Lovenburg’s poor judgment has already cost us dearly during the Nancy Peterson saga, and now with OCR.  With this latest stunt, she is exposing our district once again to expensive litigation that we can not afford.

  6. Napoleon Pig IV

    Lovenburg has many faults and lacks many attributes one would prefer to see in a school board member; however, her weaknesses and lack of strengths do not excuse her failure to take responsibility for communicating clearly and honestly to parents. She and her cronies (is crony a better word than minion?) have been opposed to the AIM program for a long time, but that isn’t the only way in which they have systematically undermined the quality of DJUSD education.

    As for the current civil rights investigation, I recall how unqualified the attorney was that Lovenburg and her cronies paraded out during the public portion of a school board meeting when that ill-conceived and unnecessary lottery was imposed on the AIM program (to the glee of People Against Good Education – (PAGE)). The attorney herself stated at the beginning of her inadequate and lame comments that she had no background in education.

    To quote Lovenburg out of context but far more appropriately than she intended her words to apply, “It’s time to move on. . .” — meaning, it’s time to put her out to pasture and elect someone who can actually do a decent job of serving on a school board.

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