In February, the Vanguard reported that DJUSD School Board Member Madhavi Sunder had requested a February hearing for the AIM program, but was overruled on a 3-2 vote by her colleagues, with Bob Poppenga joining her on the short side of the vote.
During the discussion, now-Board President Barbara Archer said that the existing timeline would work, as she wanted to give staff time to bring back a full analysis.
However, Ms. Sunder objected that waiting until April precludes making changes in time to implement them for the coming year – a notion that Superintendent John Bowes agreed with.
Last year, in addition to parent concern over the overall structure and size of the program, and Vanguard concern over increased lack of ethnic and racial diversity within the program, there were also several logistical concerns. The decision to reduce the strands from three to two, and testing errors that led to the arduous retesting of 300 third grade students, were problematic.
On Monday, the Vanguard received correspondence from parents concerned about “a recent DJUSD administrations decision to scrap single grade AIM classes at Pioneer elementary school and only have 4/5 and 5/6th grade combo AIM classes at Pioneer for 2017-18 school year.”
The Willet strand is not impacted by this, only Pioneer.
The parents forwarded a letter received by all parents at Pioneer. They write, “Basically the letter does not provide any premise or explanation on why this measure has been taken by the administration. They don’t tell how they are going to decide which student will be placed in 4/5 and 5/6 combo. How they will determine this and who will determine this? Also they don’t discuss how will they set the curriculum for different grades within these combo classes.”
The parents added, “This is deja vu all over again similar to last year AIM fiasco by DJUSD administration and the board. Many Pioneer parents feel that the administration is not transparent in their decision. Why didn’t they discuss this with the Pioneer AIM students parents before sending the letter? In addition, why Pioneer not Willett? Apparently, one of the board member asked for a full discussion of this matter before making any decision by the administration. The motion was voted down by 2-3 vote.”
The March 17 letter reads:
“Each spring our staff makes decisions about enrollment, staffing, and programs for the following school year. The AIM program is carefully planned each year with consideration of requests for placement in a self-contained setting and requests for specific elementary sites. We work with integrity to honor student needs, parent requests where possible, and to understand the impact of the program decisions.
“This year we are planning on two sections of the self-contained AIM program at Pioneer. This will include one combination class of grades 4 and 5 and one combination class of grades 5 and 6. This will enable us to meet all of the requests for self-contained AIM and district enrollment and staffing ratios.
“We understand that some families may prefer their student be in a single grade classroom. If you wish your student to be placed on a waitlist for a single grade, self-contained AIM classroom you may indicate this below and return this form to the District office. You may also consider enrollment in the neighborhood program.”
The parents also indicated that they got a notice from the district office on February 9 stating, “Our records indicate you may have received two letters from the AIM office. Please disregard the form that indicates your student is not currently in an AIM self-contained class.”
The email indicated, “Your student is enrolled in an AIM Self-contained class and will remain in an AIM self-contained class for the 2017-18 school year, unless you use the AIM Program Placement Request form to indicate otherwise.” (emphasis in the original).
At the February meeting, concerns were again raised about ethnic and racial breakdowns as well as retesting measures.
Under the new guidelines, for students with risk factors related to language or culture, the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence) may be administered. For students with economic risk factors, the NNAT (Naglieri Nonverbal Abilities Test) may be administered. On the other hand, the CogAT (Cognitive Abilities Test) is administered for those who scored in the standard error of measure on the OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test).
The results from last year showed that a total of 66 Hispanics and 10 black students were rescreened. Of those, 48 of the 66 Hispanics were given the NNAT, while 9 of the 10 black students were. Zero of them were AIM identified through the NNAT. There were also 40 white students and 30 Asian students retested through the NNAT, and only 1 white student and three Asian students were identified.
Last year, Ms. Sunder pointed out that there was only a three-percent success rate on the Naglieri, and a 32-percent success rate for the CogAT.
“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.”
Lacking a third vote, discussion on this and other matters were pushed back until April, where critics fear it will probably be too late to adjust things for the coming year.
As one parent put it, “I want to add my voice to those who are frustrated with how the AIM program is being administered. The testing this fall, in addition to the debacle that occurred last spring with parents being uninformed/misinformed about the location of the various AIM strands, suggests to me that there is a systemic problem.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting