Every week until the election, we will have a question for the DJUSD School Board Candidates. We have a word limit of roughly 350.
Please also see the Vanguard Candidate’s forum from Sunday, September 18.
Question 4: For the most part the classroom of today could be plopped into a classroom of 100 years ago. How can we build the classroom of tomorrow – discuss how to incorporate technology and innovative learning like STEM in your answer?
Question 6: What do you view as the purpose of the AIM program – who should be in it and what size should it be?
As a trustee of the Davis School Board, I have expressed my interest in better focusing the AIM self-contained program on meeting the needs of truly gifted students, at the same time we are leading a movement to better differentiate instruction for all students. It is my deeply held belief that we will only close the achievement/opportunity gap when we hold high expectations for every child in the Davis Joint Unified School District, and challenge each to be the very best they can be.
As we continue the AIM self-contained program, assessment protocols must be fair and transparent, and all students who qualify should be offered placement in the program. Beyond that, I have no “right” size in mind, though I believe it is important to balance all district programs – Montessori, Da Vinci, Spanish Immersion, Dual Immersion, Neighborhood and AIM – so that each one remains a strong, viable learning option for students.
I welcome the Office of Civil Rights finding that the district’s current AIM assessment protocol does not discriminate against any group of students, at the same time I am not satisfied we have made all the progress that we can. As we look to continually improve programs and practices, I depend upon the recommendation of professional educators to inform my decisions. I am open to what works best to meet the community and board goals of closing the achievement/opportunity gap and providing outstanding programs for all students.
My view can be summarized in opportunity and fairness to the students. AIM is there to provide opportunities to develop young minds and help students to achieve their full potential. There is no question a program like AIM is necessary to provide opportunities to talented students. Due to my work with NASA, I have had the opportunity to talk to several astronauts. These are people who from an early age showed special abilities and skills. Every single one of them told me their motivation started around the age of 10. If that is the case we are thinking correctly to have a program like AIM. I would suggest that instead of testing there will be a period let say six months to an academic year sort of like a Pre-AIM program in order to discover whether a child feels comfortable and can perform at an advanced level. This way every student can have an opportunity to try it and if they perform well go on. This method also will serve as the measure of interest and demand which ultimately determines the size of the program.
I am in agreement with my colleague Bob Poppenga in promoting the AIM program. If elected I will support it and expand it as much as possible. Each child deserves the opportunity to try it. My colleagues Susan Lovenburg and Alan Fernades will have a hard time justifying what they did with the AIM program. There is now a complaint before the Office of Civil rights about the admission to the AIM program. This needs to be resolved rather quickly.
I believe in equality and opportunity for everyone. A test which requires a 98% percentile is unfair to underrepresented and disabled students and has no place in the policy of a School Board We need to provide the opportunity to every child whose parents as decision makers in consultation with their teachers decide to avail themselves of an opportunity such as AIM.
I believe in an effective and fair AIM program. Such programs are important for a subset of children in order to meet their unique learning needs, just like other programs are important to meet the unique needs of other groups of children. Frankly, I have been dismayed at the misinformation about our AIM program that has been used to justify dramatic changes to the program over the last several years. The lack of transparency in and communication about the processes followed in making the changes should alarm any parent, irrespective of personal views about the program.
In my view, it is the children for whom AIM programs were originally designed who have been largely ignored. I believe that one has to start with the intellectual and emotional characteristics of these children. The California Association of the Gifted (CAG) has an evidence-based position paper describing these characteristics (http://www.cagifted.org/?PostionPapers). Examples include high levels of abstract thought, early development of idealism and a sense of justice, and high energy, alertness, and eagerness that might be misdiagnosed as a hyperactivity disorder. If there is no agreement on which children can benefit from AIM programs, then it is impossible to move forward. CAG goes on to state that “achievement tends to be higher and self-efficacy and self-esteem more healthy when parents and educators understand these characteristics and provide appropriate environments” for learning.
Next, appropriate tools need to be used to identify eligible children. There is no single test available that can do this and particular care must be taken to use assessment tools that identify students with certain risk factors (e.g., English language learners or low socioeconomic status). The District obviously failed in this regard since the number of Latino and African American students identified through last year’s testing plummeted. The elimination (or strict control) of private testing is justified as long as there is solid evidence that the District can do the job. Unfortunately, after the recent testing errors, such evidence is sorely lacking. All identified children and their families wishing to participate in the AIM program should be placed. A lottery to pick children for a limited number of slots ignores their unique learning needs. Of course, if parents wish to opt out they have the right to do so.
I believe that the District moved too fast and changed too many variables to be able to understand the impacts that the changes will have over time. Changes should have been more incremental (i.e., limit the use of private testing or pilot effectiveness of alternative identification tools first) to make sure that the program was being improved and not harmed. As a corollary to the AIM debate, we need to make sure that we have appropriate educational options for all students, including high achieving students. Too many children in our District don’t feel adequately challenged. I believe that we should investigate the feasibility of an academically rigorous option, such as an International Baccalaureate (IB) program, that would be open to any student wishing to participate. Many districts in the region already have IB programs.
An AIM program is one tool in the toolbox to help meet the diverse learning needs of our children. Our District has a ways to go to ensure that an effective, fair, and student-focused program is in place.
The purpose of the AIM Program has its origins in state law as a program for students that scored in the 98th percentile or above on standardized intellectual ability tests. Since being established in the 1960s, districts have been given flexibility to customize a program that best suits the needs of the community. (Source: CDE website)
Here in Davis, the AIM program’s purpose is contained in the master plan which provides that the purpose of the program is to provide a quality educational program for students with a specific learning style in order to develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities. According to the current plan, the district’s AIM program is essentially intended to serve two categories of students: (1) students with high potential in the areas of abstract thinking and reasoning ability as applied to school learning situations; and (2) students with the ability and desire for acceleration of certain course material. (Source: DJUSD Master Plan)
The size of the program should be equal to the number of students who match the learning styles referenced above. I support the changes our Board made to the AIM program regarding the size of the program. However, we must monitor these changes and be open to modifying the implementation to serve the best interests of all students. The Board made a unanimous decision to change the assessment threshold of AIM-identified students, based on input from professors from the UCD School of Education, and other experts.
I had a different approach to the initial implementation of the new assessment requirements that would have allowed for three AIM classrooms, one class which would have been a blended class of AIM and non-AIM students, and would have focused on ensuring the students served more closely matched the diversity of our district. Ultimately, the decision was made to reduce the class offerings to two. Fortunately, all AIM-identified students were offered placement in the program and thus, the decision of the Board was appropriate for the first year of implementation.