One of the reasons the Vanguard spent three articles in an attempt to unpack the AIM meeting is because, if you simply look at the end results – the motions that were passed and the votes – you essentially will have missed what happened at the meeting.
As one of our readers put it, reading the Enterprise coverage – “was this the same meeting? The article seems to be a different take.”
As I have put it, there is a wide distance between what was said at the meeting by Superintendent Bowes and four of the school board members, and what was actually voted on.
In fact, when I read the three recommendations from the superintendent that were passed by a 4-1 vote with Madhavi Sunder dissenting, I have no idea what any of them mean in terms of policy. First you have, “Explore alternatives for identifying talents and gifts from a wider range of domains beyond language arts and mathematics.”
Second, you have, “Work to ensure that current staff includes a GATE certified teacher at each elementary school and will try to augment that number in each successive school year.”
Third, “Reaffirm, through this agenda item, our commitment to formative assessments and student goal-setting.”
Not one of these really addresses the issues that the superintendent raised. Perhaps the clearest statement was, “The clear, consensus opinion is that our current model separating some AIM-identified students in self-contained classrooms does not best serve the students of this District.”
I have no idea who the superintendent talked to during his 100-persons discussion – I will say I was apparently one of the 100 persons, and I know I didn’t convey anything close to that as one of my concerns as a parent and observer – but I can say this about every public meeting I have seen, there is no clear consensus about that. That is the most divisive point in this community on this issue.
Dr. Bowes added, “The current testing doesn’t yield a diverse demographic for the program, and they don’t know why (‘It is unknown whether these results were caused through a flawed assessment instrument, misperception about the purpose of the exam, implicit bias or other factors.’).”
This is a crucial point that I will unpack more in discussion in a future column. Here I will make two points – the district shifted to use the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test as the re-testing measure for at risk kids, despite the fact that there is really no evidence that it would work. New York, for example, as captured in a New York Times article (Madhavi Sunder tried to raise this point and Barbara Archer shot her down, saying we’re not talking about the New York Times here), tried to use the Naglieri but found quickly it didn’t identify more children of color for their gifted program.
In short, as we pointed out at the time of implementation, the Naglieri was the wrong measure and therefore we should not be surprised it has failed here.
On the other hand, the HOPE Scale has been shown to work and the fact that it hasn’t yet is probably due to lack of patience and poor administration.
Strikingly, however, the superintendent’s recommendations really do not go to any of these concerns.
Moreover, the board actions on this, as they have in the past, look a lot more consensus driven than reflecting the actual rhetoric coming from the board members. Put simply, the distance between the comments of board members is far broader than the 5-0 and two 4-1 votes reflect.
Bob Poppenga: “While I respect others’ opinions to the contrary, I don’t believe that we, as a governance team or District, have done a good job of communicating about, managing, or implementing the AIM program over the last several years.
“For many Davis parents, this has led to a level of concern, frustration, and mistrust that could perhaps have been avoided or mitigated. It is important to try to address their concerns,” he said.
Tom Adams noted that there are a number of special programs, but this program is different.
He said: “But what to me is interesting about those programs is you don’t need a test to get in. And you don’t need an identification and a specific label to access them.
“We should not really say to students the only real opportunity to get a challenging curriculum is how well you perform on a certain battery of tests at a certain grade level in your academic career,” he said.
“We have to make sure that whatever educational plan we have, actually advances the social and emotional needs of our students,” he said. “Here we have to be careful about labels. Labeling, about the continuous use of them. We know those are not healthy… especially at third grade. Maybe later in life you can shrug them off.”
He added, “The reality is that once you start separating students that way, you’re not creating a healthy environment.”
Barbara Archer said, “The reason we are so stuck on this issue is that we have focused so much on identification and not enough on delivery of the program.”
Why are we focusing so much on this program? Barbara Archer pointed out this is our eighth meeting in three years on AIM. She said, “I am concerned about the resources – it takes up a lot of staff time.”
Madhavi Sunder expressed concern that some of these proposed changes represented a move away from the self-contained AIM model. “This is the very first time John, that I’m seeing these recommendations from you and we had hours and hours of one-on-one meetings about AIM before this,” she said. “I cannot make a decision to change a program that we’ve had for decades. We’ve already cut that program down to one-half the size in a year and a half.”
She said, “To go to a quarter of the size without … The parents here I think have been incredibly reasonable… But trust is the most important thing at stake here tonight. It’s the most important thing that has been at stake throughout these conversations. We move at the speed of trust. Rushing into something that’s not based on study or research, that’s based on just take my word, we have lost that trust. Nobody will take our word at this point.”
It appears that Tom Adams wants to end this program, based on his comments, and it seems that Barbara Archer wants to do the same.
What has changed is that Tom Adams and Barbara Archer no longer have a third vote (previously Susan Lovenburg) and, instead, the swing voter is Alan Fernandes, who stated that “this about how do we deliver the best possible education for all of our children – AIM children and non-AIM children.”
The question going forward is where is the middle ground and how do we make this thing workable?
The rhetoric on Thursday perhaps shows that, really, the center does not hold on this issue, which is understandable.
The one motion that was passed that might help to change this is the motion by Alan Fernandes and Madhavi Sunder, where they direct staff “to use appropriate assessments for students who are English learners, low income, learning disabled, or from historically disadvantaged minorities and other underrepresented groups, for the purpose of ensuring the identification for these at risk student groups to ensure equal access to the AIM program each school year.”
This at least gets to the core of the broader programmatic problem. The question now is whether the superintendent is vested enough in this program to find a solution and, given his presentation, reasonable people can have their doubts.
—David M. Greenwald reporting