Superintendent Recommends Ending AIM Program

John Bowes

On Thursday night, several board members told the Vanguard that they were caught off guard by a lengthy presentation by new Superintendent John Bowes that recommended ending the AIM program.

“When I came to Davis, you asked me to take a look with a new set of eyes, with a systematic approach that would be right for this time in this community,” he told the board.

He noted that he met with 100 people when he first came to Davis to gather “data about our schools through interaction, participation, conversation, observation and by looking at qualitative and quantitative data.”

Based on these conversations, “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.”

Second he said, “When I ask people to describe our AIM instructional program, they assume this refers only to self-contained classrooms.”

He said, “While our current AIM program serves some of our students well, it does not identify or support all students well.  Recent years have shown us that the AIM program, in its current manifestation, has not contributed to this ideal of inclusion to the extent that it can.”

The Superintendent noted, “Third, looking at ethnic diversity—I can report on the following results with regard to students scoring at the 98th percentile for AIM-identification:  White and Asian students are well and almost exclusively represented while African American, Hispanic, Native American and Pacific Islander students are not.  Even if we review the data at the 96th percentile, we would see a similar divide reflected.”

He also noted that, while the HOPE Scale attempts to locate gifted students from underrepresented populations, “[i]n Davis, however, the HOPE Scale pilot assessment did not, in either the first or second year it has been piloted, do any better than standardized tests in identifying giftedness in underserved populations.”

John Bowes noted that data from two years using nationally normed testing “do very well at identifying white and Asian students.  They are not identifying African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and Native American students in sufficient numbers through either our universal testing or re-testing assessments.”

He believes, based on Proposition 209 passed in 1996, “the District cannot use affirmative action or quotas based on these categories as part of our efforts to work towards improving AIM identification rates for these students.”

The superintendent was critical of time spent on this issue.  He said, “When I first arrived in the District Office in July 2016, I was eager to meet staff and dive into the important work of focusing on the 2016-17 school year—however, throughout my first month, staff time was dominated by the effort needed to respond to an inquiry from the Office for Civil Rights about our AIM program.  Once our response was submitted, it was almost immediately dismissed.  For me, this was welcome news, but senior staff had lost the month.”

He continued, “From what I understand, this was the second summer AIM was a central issue for the district office.  In the summer of 2015, cabinet staff spent that whole summer engaged in the research and preparation of a report on the AIM program.

“What does this tell me?” he asked.  “Over recent years, an issue that is not a central feature of a Board Goal, a Strategic Goal or a Local Control Accountability Plan goal has encumbered an inordinate amount of time and resources at the expense of our stated objectives – most importantly our work on the Achievement Gap.  We have a number of other programs in the District, but no others garner the intense focus and attention of so many Board members, staff and parents.”

He said, “I want to be clear that I am not discounting the importance of providing strong differentiation programs for all students from the struggling to the highest achieving, including those who are AIM-identified, whether in a self-contained or a general education classroom.  What I am saying is that we need to direct, focus and properly allocate our individual and collective resources, time and efforts to our stated mission goals and objectives moving ahead.”

Later he would state, “I believe our AIM program is mis-focused. We spend all our time talking about AIM identification and not about the AIM instructional program. It is the lack of a focus on the AIM instructional program which has stymied us from developing an assessment protocol to help discover and celebrate the talents that lay within each child.

“Moving forward, I believe it is important that we design a program that provides equal access for any child, regardless of the social, educational, or economic capital they might enjoy.  This requires us to have a program that fits the child, rather than the child fitting the program,” he said.  “And, if we talk about AIM Identification, it is clear from two years of data that our current identification process does not identify the diverse gifts of many exceptional students.  These students represent the diversity and wide variety of talents in our District.”

He later added, “It is absolutely true—our AIM-identification is not identifying a diverse population of students for our AIM program. It is limiting ourselves and our students.”

Here is the evidence he said:

  • Two years of data have shown us that the current identification program is a hometown example of what the research shows—standardized tests favor students who come from privilege- both in terms of English language fluency, and socio-economic status. In Davis, we are also seeing this play out most clearly through parent education level.
  • In fact, a look at current 4th graders scaled scores from CAASP on ELA and Math confirms the same results that our AIM testing regimen provides.
  • As I mentioned before, the HOPE scale has not identified a higher rate of underserved students than standardized tests.

“Our current system really provides a fixed point in a student’s intellectual, social, and developmental journey when a one-time assessment on a given day, in third grade, determines whether they qualify for our gifted program for the next five years,” John Bowes stated, “These blanket indicators do not tell us about a student’s strengths nor what gifts and talents a child has.  We will never test our way into diversity and equity using our current assessment protocol.”

(Please note: In order to make a full and accurate presentation of the Superintendents ideas, I requested and received his PowerPoint presentation along with a full written transcript of his remarks.  These are attached below.  In separate articles, I will catalog community and board remarks.)

—David M. Greenwald reporting


Superintendent’s Presentation

Than you President Archer and Trustees.  Davis schools are renowned, in part, because of the diversity of wonderful programs that benefit students.

I am very proud to lead this district and I am thankful for the tremendous engagement we have from parents on important issues.

I want to begin tonight with the same information I shared at our special session last month, focused on the Achievement Gap—to underscore for our school community why I entered public education.

27 years ago, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer working with farmers and entrepreneurs in Guatemala — a country with only the most minimal public education system.  There I witnessed each day the pernicious effects illiteracy had on the hard-working people of Cantel, Quetzaltenango, Sanarate, and El Progreso.  Working against these great odds overseas strengthened my resolve to be a public educator for students here stateside.

After my service working in the highlands and deserts of Guatemala, the classrooms of California, despite decades of underfunding, were a pleasant relief.  I taught Kinder, First and Second grades in the Los Angeles Unified School District with class sizes of 33 students at a year-round school in an impoverished Echo Park area, where all of my students were English Learners, on free and reduced lunch, had high levels of mobility; and where few, if any, students had adequate or any preschool or kindergarten.   During these years, I faced the achievement gap each moment of each day.

From there, I moved to a principalship, and led the turnaround of Lanai Road Elementary where 2/3rds of the school population was bussed in from the same downtown area in Echo Park.  In this school, the focus on the use of formative assessment, quantitative and qualitative data, and the power of a teachers harnessing their collective knowledge, wisdom and practice to hone their craft were the keys to our success.  These were the same lessons that also served me well in the 20 schools I supervised in the San Fernando Valley, spread across a spectrum of neighborhoods both rich and poor, high and low achieving, as part of a mini-district of LAUSD comprised of over 100 schools and 100,000 students.

While part of my career has been focused on underserved, struggling students, I have also led programs and schools with a Gifted and Talented –or GATE– focus.

As an Assistant Principal, I was in charge of the GATE program at a large, year-round elementary school with many students caught in the achievement gap.  As a Principal, I led efforts to improve the identification rates for underserved populations and launched innovative programs in pursuit of that purpose.  As a Director, I pressed for these programs at all schools and also supervised Balboa Highly Gifted Magnet.  At the same time, my own children were participating in the GATE program in their school.  Most recently, I came to Davis from the high-performing Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, our equal in academic performance and a district that provides GATE services in the neighborhood classroom.  While these professional and personal experiences have helped shape my views about GATE programs, they are meant to inform rather than to propose replicas of models from other districts – In Davis, it is clear that we must continue to shape our own program, for our own needs.

This brings us to our discussion tonight.

First, I want to again commend the Board for your foresight and boldness in not just focusing on student achievement, but for prioritizing their social and emotional well-being—I fully agree that it is only when we look at our work through both these lenses that we can know how we are succeeding in preparing our youth for the future.

Therefore, all of our programs and services, whether delivered through general education, choice, special education, gifted education, interventions, or other means need to be looked at in the context of how they are promoting academic growth and impacting social-emotional well-being. And, not just for some students, but for all students.

You have set those priorities through our three Board Goals this summer, and more recently our focus on providing resources and preparing our students for the 21st century.  It is my job to make sure that our system, our staff and our classrooms are moving us ahead in that direction.

Helping us move in that direction are dedicated DJUSD staff and I would like to thank especially Troy Allen, Director of Curriculum and our Differentiation Specialist, Nikki Reina-Guerra.  In addition to having been a school site principal at Da Vinci High School, Troy has been a teacher in gifted classrooms in another district and brings that important outside perspective to our work.  Nikki has five years of experience as AIM self-contained classroom teacher here in Davis at Willett and brings that important first-hand knowledge and training to our work.  I also want to thank Dr. Clark Bryant and the rest of our Small Cabinet for their time and effort around our AIM program.

When I came to Davis, you asked me to take a look with a new set of eyes, with a systematic approach that would be right for this time in this community.

As you know, I have spent my first nine months in Davis getting to know as many people as possible.  I have been gathering data about our schools through interaction, participation, conversation, observation and by looking at qualitative and quantitative data.  I will be presenting the results of my meetings with 100 people at our first meeting in May based on four questions I asked of community leaders, local officials, teachers, parents and many others in our school community:

  • What is something great going on in our District?
  • What is something that could stand a second look?
  • What is something new you would like to see us try?
  • And imagine what your dream headline about the District would be five years from now?

I have also asked many of them and others, including parents, community members, teachers and administrators, about their views concerning our current AIM gifted program model–whereby some students are placed in self-contained classrooms made up of only AIM students and other AIM-identified students choose to remain in neighborhood classrooms or other choice programs across the district.  This is what I have heard:

ONE:  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.

TWO: When I ask people to describe our AIM instructional program, they assume this refers only to self-contained classrooms.

THREE:  When I ask people to describe differentiation in our District, there is little agreement about whether that means acceleration, depth, complexity, novelty, product, process or content, added work or other approaches.

FOUR: People want to know how can we best support all our teachers with differentiated instruction for all students, whether they teach AIM-identified students or not, or teach in a self-contained classroom or not.  I certainly have more to learn and will continue to learn about each of our classrooms and schools, but I can see that there is a clear direction that we need to take to meet the needs of all students– from our struggling students to our highest achievers. Tonight we will discuss this issue.

In addition to what I have heard in my conversations and interviews, I have made my own evaluations and observations, about our current AIM program. Perhaps most notably, I am witnessing the countless hours of public meetings, Board and staff time devoted to AIM in DJUSD – and almost all of this time, is focused on the relatively small number of students in the self-contained program.

So, starting tonight, my first goal is to expand this conversation to make clear that when we are talking about AIM students, we also care about AIM-identified students in the neighborhood program — not just those in self-contained classes.

From my understanding, this is the first time in over 10 years that we are doing this and guiding me in this focus is our District’s Mission Statement.

Our Mission reflects our values and beliefs and drives our practice.  The last statement in the Mission specifically calls on us to embrace a diverse and inclusive culture.

This inclusive nature is best exemplified by the adoption and recent rollout of our We All Belong Resolution, and the fundamental belief that everyone has something to learn from someone else.

While our current AIM program serves some of our students well, it does not identify or support all students well.  Recent years have shown us that the AIM program, in its current manifestation, has not contributed to this ideal of inclusion to the extent that it can. I ask Trustees to consider the following questions:

  1. Can you keep our Mission in mind as we develop consensus and make decisions this evening about the AIM program for the benefit of all students?
  1. Ask yourselves, has the AIM program contributed to the ideal of inclusion?
  1. Can you think of how we can provide AIM services in an innovative and creative way?

Last year, the Board charged us with these directives—(refer to slide)

Through this presentation we will report our updates and also, I will take this opportunity to address some pertinent questions:

  1. Where does the AIM program support the goals of our Strategic Plan?
  1. What is the AIM Program?
  1. Who is it serving?
  1. How can we identify students for AIM-services after third grade, beyond one year and one assessment?
  1. What are we doing in all classrooms with AIM students to make sure robust differentiation is happening?
  1. How are AIM-identified students supported with rigorous and appropriate services in both self-contained and neighborhood classrooms?

As we begin our review tonight, I want to remind us all to assess our program through the priority lenses we have agreed upon through the Goals set by the Board of Education: 1) how students are achieving and growing academically in our work to close the achievement gap, 2) the social and emotional well-being of students and 3) providing excellent programs for all students and 4) providing resources and services for our students for the 21st century.

  • It is noteworthy that this is first year that every family who requested a self-contained class was placed in one. In other words, there is no wait-list.  Forty-three requests for placement were returned for self-contained classes at Willett or Pioneer.  Of those who have been placed in self-contained, the majority are already attending at those sites.  Of the students who opted out of AIM self-contained placement, they generally wanted to remain at their current location.  Let’s not ignore the needs of these 15 students – we must ensure the differentiation is underway for all.
  • With regard to differentiation, we are pleased to offer opportunities for GATE certification through the California Association for Gifted, the district and university options.   We encourage DJUSD teachers to participate and nine staff have recently completed such certification this year.

In our classrooms, an outstanding example of differentiation occurring every day is at North Davis Elementary, where Principal Sarah Roseen and Niki Reina-Guerra have worked closely with teachers to develop systems of best differentiation practices in their classrooms. Niki has observed lessons and students at various sites and has presented at site staff meetings. She has joined the 4th grade math rotation at North Davis where coaches and teachers have been working to support students.

  • Looking at ethnic diversity–I can report on the following results with regard to students scoring at the 98th percentile for AIM-identification: White and Asian students are well and almost exclusively represented while African American, Hispanic, Native American and Pacific Islander students are not.  Even if we review the data at the 96th percentile, we would see a similar divide reflected.
  • The District has a long-standing commitment to its AIM program for gifted students. The District is also dedicated to regularly reviewing its identification procedures to improve the identification rates for underserved gifted students.

I will provide comments on the AIM Identification Process in more detail later, but the short report is that we now have two years of trend data that show the testing menu is very good at identifying some groups of students while not identifying others.

  • The HOPE Scale is designed to measure two very broad categories: Social and Academic components of giftedness and talent. When combined with other measures of aptitude and achievement, the HOPE Scale has been shown to help locate gifted and talented students from traditionally underrepresented populations.

In Davis, however, the HOPE Scale pilot assessment did not, in either the first or second year it has been piloted, do any better than standardized tests in identifying giftedness in underserved populations.  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.  What we did find is that using the HOPE Scale results did not close the gap between the numbers of Asian and White students in the program and the numbers of our historically underserved populations.

Data from two years of results now shows that our menu of nationally norm-referenced, publisher-created, tests do very well at identifying white and Asian students.  They are not identifying African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and Native American students in sufficient numbers thorugh either our universal testing or re-testing assessments.

Please remember, Proposition 209, passed in 1996, amended the California Constitution to prohibit public schools from giving preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.  Practically speaking, this means the District cannot use affirmative action or quotas based on these categories as part of our efforts to work towards improving AIM identification rates for these students.

This table shows that students from other underserved populations are not identified for giftedness using our current identification protocol.

In reviewing the District’s results from previous years, I was struck by how we have and have not looked deeply at other types of results.  From this table, you can see that the data is clear that our current battery of tests is not identifying our traditionally underserved populations, and instead is identifying students that come from families with greater levels of parent education.  These results are consistent for years past.

 

The next section of this presentation is a review of the AIM program, from my perspective.

This Board, since 2014, put one consistent goal at the forefront of our work – that goal is to close the Achievement Gap.  This year, the Board declared a year of action around this work. Let’s recall what we were working on in 2015 and 2016 and then ask ourselves if the Achievement Gap is our priority; do we need to focus our efforts squarely on that important objective?

I want to share a story.  When I first arrived in the District Office in July 2016, I was eager to meet staff and dive into the important work of focusing on the 2016-17 school year—however, throughout my first month, staff time was dominated by the effort needed to respond to an inquiry from the Office for Civil Rights about our AIM program.  Once our response was submitted, it was almost immediately dismissed.  For me, this was welcome news, but senior staff had lost the month.  From what I understand, this was the second summer AIM was a central issue for the district office.  In the summer of 2015, cabinet staff spent that whole summer engaged in the research and preparation of a report on the AIM program.

What does this tell me?  Over recent years, an issue that is not a central feature of a Board Goal, a Strategic Goal or a Local Control Accountability Plan goal has encumbered an inordinate amount of time and resources at the expense of our stated objectives – most importantly our work on the Achievement Gap.  We have a number of other programs in the District, but no others garner the intense focus and attention of so many Board members, staff and parents.  The Birch Lane Montessori program, the Chávez immersion program, the Fairfield cooperative education program, the Montgomery Two-Way Bilingual Immersion program, Davis School for Independent Studies, and the Da Vinci Project Based Learning program collectively do not garner this amount of attention or time.

I want to be clear that I am not discounting the importance of providing strong differentiation programs for all students from the struggling to the highest achieving, including those who are AIM-identified, whether in a self-contained or a general education classroom.  What I am saying is that we need to direct, focus and properly allocate our individual and collective resources, time and efforts to our stated mission goals and objectives moving ahead.

 

As described over the course of the year, and reinforced tonight from the sobering budget presentation we heard, this is a time to create efficiencies and develop economies of scale where we are able.  This means making sure we are allocating staff in an efficient manner, including the use of split grade classrooms.

We currently have 14 combination classes at our elementary schools this year, and this is not the only year we have had them, whether AIM or non-AIM classrooms.

Our combination classrooms in the current year exist as part of a purposeful model in ten classrooms in the Birch Lane Montessori program and in two classrooms at Fairfield elementary.  Combination classes also exist in one classroom each in the Montgomery two-way bilingual program and in the Montgomery neighborhood program.

We have announced a “combo” classroom at Pioneer for 2017-18 based on the number of students wishing to be in the Self-Contained AIM program at Pioneer if we continue with our current staffing model.  Principal Duffy and his teachers have expressed their confidence in challenging and caretaking students next year.

It is important to explain that adding a straight fourth grade classroom for Pioneer is not an option as that would be subsidizing the program with an extra teaching position at a cost of approximately $80,000.  As we clearly heard earlier this evening, we are in a time of constrained budgets.

My job is to be sure we are living within our means, and actively taking steps to close our structural deficit of over $1 million dollars.

 

I believe our AIM program is mis-focused. We spend all our time talking about AIM identification and not about the AIM instructional program. It is the lack of a focus on the AIM instructional program which has stymied us from developing an assessment protocol to help discover and celebrate the talents that lay within each child.

There are other challenges as well:

I do commend the Board for ending private testing –that was an important step in ensuring that students with greater financial means were not given an advantage over others.

We also do ourselves a true disservice if we believe that self-contained programs are somehow serving the needs of all our AIM-identified students better than our neighborhood classroom programs.

Moving forward, I believe it is important that we design a program that provides equal access for any child, regardless of the social, educational, or economic capital they might enjoy.  This requires us to have a program that fits the child, rather than the child fitting the program.

And, if we talk about AIM Identification, it is clear from two years of data that our current identification process does not identify the diverse gifts of many exceptional students.  These students represent the diversity and wide variety of talents in our District.  We need to discover the talents in each child and this can occur beyond the third grade as seen in students across the District.

Attending any of the many musical programs, from Madrigals to Jazz Choir to Mariachi Puente will show you the wide range and diverse nature of these outstanding programs.

If you have never seen our Citrus Circuits Robotics program or our Da Vinci students in action during some of their Capstone projects, you are missing out on exceptional students demonstrating in real-time the highest levels of learning.

Moving forward, we should look to ways to focus on students’ exceptional talents, for we see exceptional displays of performance on a daily basis throughout our many classrooms and other programs.  Students from backgrounds different than the AIM-student profile have tremendous gifts of language, culture, and differing experiences along with academic and creative gifts we must explore and name.  We know many teachers do this in their individual classrooms and our district practice should reflect this as well.

Certainly, there are AIM- identified students who are represented as thriving in Madrigals or other exceptional music programs, they are in our higher math, robotics, Spanish immersion, Montessori, Two-way bilingual, and across our district and throughout our great programs . . . what we know is, in Davis, an AIM self-contained classroom is not the only pathway to this excellence and joy.

 

It is absolutely true – our AIM-identification is not identifying a diverse population of students for our AIM program. It is limiting ourselves and our students.

Here is the evidence:

  • Two years of data have shown us that the current identification program is a hometown example of what the research shows—standardized tests favor students who come from privilege- both in terms of English language fluency, and socio-economic status. In Davis, we are also seeing this play out most clearly through parent education level.
  • In fact, a look at current 4th graders scaled scores from CAASP on ELA and Math confirms the same results that our AIM testing regimen provides.
  • As I mentioned before, the HOPE scale has not identified a higher rate of underserved students than standardized tests.

Our current system really provides a fixed point in a student’s intellectual, social, and developmental journey when a one-time assessment on a given day, in third grade, determines whether they qualify for our gifted program for the next five years.

These blanket indicators do not tell us about a student’s strengths nor what gifts and talents a child has.  We will never test our way into diversity and equity using our current assessment protocol.

We know achieving students come from a wide variety of classrooms – some of whom have received AIM services and many who have not.

As we pursue goals regarding equity and excellence, we must recognize that we will never get to excellence for all students without taking steps to promote equity.  Realizing equity is far more than simply counting the number of students from different sub-groups that are part of our AIM program.

Instead of asking how many more of a certain group of students do we have this year than last, we should be asking, “What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority in the AIM program?”

The Board and District took some positive steps to realign our identification protocols. What we know is that you don’t have to be in an AIM self-contained classroom, or be AIM-identified at all, to “achieve”.

Instead of asking, “Who is in the program?” we should be asking, “How can program serve the talents and gifts of every child?”

We must enhance our current identification protocols and AIM instructional program to better assess for and provide a strong and rigorous instructional differentiation program for students. We also need to understand what effects a self-contained model for gifted identification has on school climate.

Looking at this data and what I have shared previously leads me to the following assumptions:

  • Parents should feel confident that their child can be successful in any District classroom.
  • We must find ways to identify students for AIM services based on a variety of factors—

knowing that an intelligence test given at a fixed point in time is not ideal; knowing that the tests are not responsive to underserved populations; and knowing that we need to explore ways to identify strengths in students throughout their career.

  • We should periodically evaluate whether students receiving AIM services are still being best-served by those services. We should also engage regularly in reviewing programs and services through a process of continuous improvement.

To reach those objectives:  We must first clearly define our AIM instructional program, determine how we will identify students for the program and then provide powerful teaching for all students via differentiated instruction responsive to student learning need.

Therefore, OUR GOAL must be Differentiation in ALL CLASSROOMS

Differentiation is about acceleration, depth, complexity, novelty, process, product and content – and delivering that in a way that is appropriate to the student.

In our Achievement Gap study session a few weeks ago, I described the notion of instructional coherence.  Instructional coherence means we have a shared depth of understanding about the purpose and nature of the work in our minds and actions individually, and especially collectively.   Instructional coherence is part of a continuous improvement process and ties directly to how we will use three approaches, or Pillars, to achieve that.  The same principles apply to providing differentiation for students in our AIM program, for students caught in the achievement gap, and honestly, if we are doing it correctly, for all students.

The first pillar is marked by a focus on the people and the development of professional learning communities – this means teachers learning together in grade level and department teams.  We know more collectively than we do individually, and teams of teachers working together around teaching, learning, and differentiation is a key to success.

A second pillar is the principle of holding high expectations for all students and that students hold high expectations for themselves.  Strategic Goal 4 which describes how students are to set individual academic, personal and social goals is critical to this objective.

Our third pillar is about the pedagogy, and making sure that principals and teachers are empowered to seek feedback from students to inform instruction responsive to student learning need.  Strategic Goal 3, which describes the use of formative assessments, supports this concept.

Let’s return to the questions I asked earlier this evening:

  • Can you keep our Mission in mind as we develop consensus and make decisions this evening about the AIM program for the benefit of all students?

As a District, we cannot move forward on the Achievement Gap without modifications to all programs, including the AIM program.

  • Ask yourself, has the AIM program contributed to the ideal of inclusion?

The data shows inclusion has only occurred in a limited way.  We have a program that is very good at identifying students who come from homes that have provided strong academic and educational preparation.

  • Can you think of how we can provide AIM services in an innovative and creative way?

Our new state accountability system focuses on academic proficiency and academic growth for all students.  The State Goal is to move all students to green.  I do not see that as a satisfactory goal for Davis.  Davis is a town of blue – you see it in our District logo, in our Davis Blue Devils, in our Blue and White foundation – in Davis we are going to move all students to Blue.

We have not shirked from challenges in the past.  If we want to maintain the status quo, we can keep doing what we have been doing and will see little change in the Achievement Gap.  Do we wish to be known as a District that only serves students in our AIM program well from families with advanced degrees, or do we wish to be known as a district of inclusiveness and recognize the talents and gifts of all students, regardless of background. Will Davis live up to its reputation of excellence and equity?

 

As I said last month our Strategic Plan Goal Four around students setting individualize personal, academic and social goals is the most under-realized components of our Strategic Plan.

Consistent with our focus on Growth Mindset, our Board Goal and Strategic Plan, Student Goal Setting is a key component to providing a sound differentiation program for all students focused around individual goals and strengths for each child.

Carol Dweck’s research and others has shown that while most students aim to succeed on academic tests, there is increasing evidence that the likelihood of their success is influenced not only by actual ability, but also by the beliefs and goals that they bring to the achievement situation.

How do we help create a Growth mindset?  We do this with teacher, parent, and student setting goals together–this sends a very powerful message about how we ensure high expectations for each student and that they can have high expectations for themselves.

I have heard multiple stories reported to me by parents, past and present, that the day the AIM scores come out is the worst day on campus.  Students are crying and cherished childhood friendships are fractured.

Parents are invested deeply in the outcome and school climate suffers.

When Staff are embroiled in this divisive context, it makes it difficult to engage as collaborative partners focused on student learning.

This plus the endless cycle of politically controversial AIM program updates, has taken a toll on students, on parents, on teachers, on principals, schools, and the governance teams.

Labeling and tracking of students at elementary does not serve our students well in the aggregate and the individual consequences of that on the social and emotional health of students are evident.

When we consider a growth mindset, labeling one student “Gifted” impacts the mindset of those not identified as gifted.  With our current program model of focusing only on self-contained students, we are indirectly telling students (in the neighborhood classrooms) they cannot achieve to the highest extent.

Our current AIM self-contained model does not meet our goals of Social and Emotional health for students nor those goals included in our Strategic Plan around school climate.  Moving ahead, we need to find ways to meet the needs of our students with more fluidity, meaning that we should not be labeling or relying on tracking students in separate classes.  We need to focus on social and emotional health, excellence and equity.

Moreover, we need to look at learning on a continuum and not just a static place in time.  These are real challenges that begin with labeling in elementary and persist through the system– I would invite Trustees to engage in a conversation this evening about the need to address them in order to reconcile this with our Mission to be a District of Inclusion.

  1. As we name and identify the gifts and talents of a more diverse AIM-identified population, we will also look to enhancing differentiation as part of our AIM instructional program in every elementary classroom.
  1. As I stated earlier this evening, The District has a long-standing commitment to its AIM program for gifted students. The District is also dedicated to regularly reviewing its identification procedures to improve the identification rates for underserved gifted students.

Our identification process must be revamped so that we do a better job at identifying the talents that lay within our diverse student population rather than solely benefit White and Asian students and those students with parents with college and graduate degrees.  We must also regularly review whether a student is still being best served by AIM services as they progress from grade level to grade level.

  1. The District will move to implement our Strategic Goals 3 and 4 – student goal setting in full, and utilize our staff, high expectations and Formative Assessment to ensure differentiated instruction is happening at all levels. Strategic Goals 3 and 4 will be supported by our staff’s high expectations and use of formative assessments. This will in turn improve our School Climate and impact student social-emotional health.

I am asking Trustees to discuss for action the following staff recommendations:

  1. Explore alternatives for identifying talents and gifts from a wider range of domains beyond language arts and mathematics.
  1. 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.
  1. Reaffirm, through this agenda item, our commitment to formative assessments and student goal-setting.

Every student has strengths and every child has room to grow.  I see AIM services as part of a solution to close the Achievement Gap by providing in-roads to serve the needs of all students through a focus on the program in our general education neighborhood classrooms.

It is up to us as a District to identify those gifts and engender a curiosity and love for learning that helps students capitalize on their assets to help strengthen their areas for growth.

We must abandon deficit model thinking – A Growth Mindset is as asset– children from varied socio-economic backgrounds, home languages and educational experiences all have valuable and important contributions to provide all classrooms.

If the question is about diversity and we want the most diverse gifted program, the way to do that is by providing AIM-identified students with quality programs in general education neighborhood classrooms.

Even now, the diversity issue is compounded as AIM-identified underserved students choose neighborhood programs over self-contained classrooms at a higher rate than their White and Asian/ peers or than their peers with high levels of parent education. If we believe that We All Belong, let us not fear diverse, inclusive and heterogeneous classrooms for as many students as possible.

More opportunities for a robust differentiation program for a diverse AIM-population will not happen with the current identification and self-contained model we have been employing.  Our current model is hampering the delivery of a quality program to as many students as possible.

As Trustees address this matter tonight, I would urge them to consider the classroom as a garden, not where we are raising a crop, but rather we are nurturing 8500 different varieties of flowers, that each require a different amount of water, varying degrees of shade, soil compositions and intensity of sun.  It is up to us to provide them the conditions they need to best grow.  Each flower contributes to the overall beauty of the garden in its own way.  It is important we all view ourselves as gardeners and caretakers, and not despair about flowers unfamiliar or unknown to us, but to rejoice in the variated nature of our work as we help each flower sink their roots deep.  A school community only becomes healthier when all students are nurtured, and can go deep and sink their roots into their learning.



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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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34 Comments

    1. Mark West

      “he should resign.”

      Why, because he accurately assessed the data and came to a rational conclusion, rather than alter the results to better fit the political whims of the community? Seems to me that he did his job, and if the Board majority forces him to resign, they should all do so as well.

      1. Don Shor

        I’ll go ahead and repost what I said, with emphasis:

        If in fact the Superintendent did this in public without prior warning to the board members, he should resign.

        The district, I recall someone saying, moves at the speed of trust. If I were a trustee and had been blindsided by this, I would no longer trust him. Please note the word ‘if’ that I’ve now used twice.

        1. Howard P

          Don… there is a fine line between a superintendent giving the Board a hint of “up-coming attractions” in a public forum, and “informing” all (or even a majority) of the Board, before a public meeting, what his staff report and recommendations will be…the latter would be a pretty clear violation of the spirit of the Brown Act… which DEFINITELY would be grounds for dismissal…

        2. Steve Westhoff

          Howard P, couldn’t the Superintendent brief all board members individually or in pairs ahead of a public meeting?  The violation would only occur if a quorum of the board communicated directly or indirectly outside of the public meeting, correct?

          I’m not weighing in on whether he ought to have, just clarifying Brown Act.  I thought posting staff recommendations and briefing members in less than a quorum was common and allowed.

        3. Howard P

          That’s why I used the word “spirit”…   borders on a ‘serial meeting’… yeah, should have not used the “definitely”, in caps… the Brown Act is complex in interpretation…

          And you are correct, the posting is fine, as long as it is also available to the public… that means the staff report, with recommendations, was available to Board members and the public, at least 72 hours prior “prime time”…

        4. Jim Frame

          there is a fine line between a superintendent giving the Board a hint of “up-coming attractions” in a public forum, and “informing” all (or even a majority) of the Board, before a public meeting, what his staff report and recommendations will be…the latter would be a pretty clear violation of the spirit of the Brown Act… which DEFINITELY would be grounds for dismissal…

           

          Aren’t staff reports and recommendations typically available as part of the agenda package prior to meetings?  Isn’t that the way it works at the city?

          1. Don Shor

            Here’s the agenda: http://davis.agendaonline.net/public/Meeting.aspx?AgencyID=131&MeetingID=42579&AgencyTypeID=1&IsArchived=False
            Scroll down to V.d. AIM Presentation. You can click on the attachment and it will open the powerpoint in pdf form. The last page is “Recommendations and Discussion” with a picture of tulips in a spring landscape.
            There was no indication in the agenda that the superintendent was going to recommend complete abolition of self-contained GATE.

        5. Howard P

          Our posts, crossed… see mine of  12:29…

          The staff report and recommendations should have been avail. to Board, and public, not less than 72 hours before it went “prime time”… have no knowledge, nor opinion, as to whether that occurred… there would be no problem releasing it to Board AND PUBLIC far in advance of that… even a month in advance would be “kosher”.

          The potential problem is releasing it (full report and recommendations) to Board Members prior to making it available to the public… there are “50 shades of gray” here… the chair should have been advised as to “gist”, in my opinion… perhaps the Vice Chair… beyond that, it becomes a slippery slope… probably happens more than we’d want to know…

        6. Howard P

          Jim… the Brown Act is for ALL public entities… your 12:46 post implies the City has something to do with DJUSD… for most important things, it does not… particularly not about conformance to the Brown Act… clarification, not criticism…

          In some places in the US, cities run the school district… Davis is not one of them… DJUSD boundaries are even larger than our ‘corporate limits’… they are as independent of the City as UCD…

      2. John D

        Perhaps its as simple as the superintendent reflecting the predominant views of his leadership team……and, wanting to put down a marker for the Board to consider whether they truly have the appetite and assets to endure a protracted litigation if the policy fails to pass muster in the eyes of the ACLU or some other aggrieved party.

      1. Craig Lundgren

        Thank you for posting the presentation in its entirety.  Honestly, I don’t see anything substantively wrong with it.  It looks like a smart guy with a good background doing his job, which is to be a superintendent of a district.  I guess we all would like to be superintendent, but there is only one and he’s hired to use his education and background to figure out what is best for the entire district and to lead.  I think his comments show that he is doing that.  If the board want’s to fire him, or tell him that despite his findings, they want him to do something different, that’s certainly their prerogative.  I think it would be foolish in the extreme, but if they think he’s not being a good superintendent with this recommendation, or if they want him to do something different this week, they can certainly find another superintendent would do that for them.

        The whole preoccupation with procedure seems like sour grapes.  People who don’t like his conclusions, seem focused on who he said it to in advance.  I think any one of these trustees could have asked him what he thought before the meeting.  I don’t think that’s a Brown Act violation.  They certainly would have had no right to tell him what to say.  No trustee on her own has the right to do that.

        I gather from your comments that either you disagree with the substance of what he said or there is one or more trustee that disagrees.  I guess we can’t avoid disagreement.  But I think your publishing the complete transcript was a very fine thing to do.

        1. David Greenwald

          From the standpoint of his presentation – there is nothing inherently wrong with what he said. People will either agree or disagree with the conclusions.

  1. PhilColeman

    Less than complete information. Layers of conjecture on what may have happened, or not. Board members going off the reservation, secretly and cowardly complaining to a blog about being surprised, followed by immediate publication to the masses. From that, an sudden call that “he should resign.”

    If that is how this new school administrator is be expected to be judged, probably he should resign. And go somewhere (anywhere) else where a measured deliberative judgment of a school administrator is made on demonstrated performance dimensions over a period of time exceeding the first few months. And where board members keep their yaps shut and handle ego abuse withing the system instead of anonymously publishing it through a middle man.

    The guy leaves, then the school district can become leaderless again, spend tens of thousands of dollars again, in trying to find a qualified replacement, and discovering that suitable candidates taking a pass on the prospect of serving this Davis school board–with this peculiar way of interacting with their administrator.

    For any school administrator that does come here, you do so at your immediate peril. Don’t move your family. Rent an apartment, or maybe stay at a motel.

     

  2. David Greenwald

    Comment by Lois Wolk on Facebook: “There is so much to be said about what occurred at the board meeting.  I watched the meeting and couldn’t believe the way it was run, the discussion, the result and his odd presentation that no parent saw coming.   If this is to be his style of resolving problems, supported by a board majority, then hold on to your hat,  we’re in for yet another school board drama.”

    1. Ingrid Salim

      Dr. Bowes did was he asked to do: provide a report on the issue of AIM in DJUSD, based on HIS research, knowledge, experience and expertise. He did do that. He did it articulately and well, and his report included data and research that not everyone wants to hear.  I can understand that some would be disheartened that his thinking diverged from the vocal group who advocate for a self-contained model, but to express outrage, label it ‘odd’ or call for a resignation suggests to me that we have a longer-standing problem of expecting district leadership to follow that vocal group.

      The meeting followed normal protocol: report with recommendations, public comment, Board questions and comments, motions and approvals.

      As we have an elected Board, they can choose to follow the recommendations or not, and if truly the majority of Davis voters believe the self-contained model best serves the community, they can make sure to elect future board members who will make that happen. In the meantime, it is important to note that Dr. Bowes has been speaking with many community members since he arrived last June, including teachers, other district staff, and parents and is convinced that the consensus, reflected also in research, supports the claim that our identification process selects those with privilege and advantage, and that the BEST model for inclusion and diversity for ALL students is a neighborhood school option with rich learning options and opportunities for all students.

       

       

       

  3. JosephBiello

    As we have known for some time now, every decision, every vague resolution, every “miscommunication” with the AIM parents was intended to eventually destroy the program.  They never wanted to “right size” the program.  They never wanted to “find the correct assessment for students.”  They wanted to break it so badly as to make it irreparable.

    Bowes never consulted the AIM 3rd grade parents, nor did he consult us 4th grade parents – so his “data” is chosen to simply confirm his bias.

    Barbara Archer completely shut down one of the student representatives to the Board when he was asking a question about the AIM process.

    The other student representative completely discredited Bowes’ ridiculous claim that “children were crying at school” when AIM placements came out.

    But what’s the point of any discussion here – the board majority along with Bowes showed that they are not interested in any data which will run contrary to their goal of killing AIM.   Their solutions (clustering) have worse problems than a self contained program.

    But not one soul on the “death to AIM” side is listening to any rational argument.

    1. Grant Acosta

      Respectively, your appeal to rationality is not backed up with your comments.

      The argument that one student’s testimony of not observing kids crying equates to a “fact” there must not have been any emotional impact for 3rd graders not getting into the program is irrational.  Are you saying that Bowes is lying that he heard the contrary from multiple people?

      I also noticed you conveniently left out the comment by one of the student representatives describing his relatives’ experience in Foster City, where kids seem to thrive just fine without a self-contained GATE program.  So it would seem that your data is also chosen to confirm your bias.

  4. Tia Will

    I have read, but not seen the entirety of the presentation. I have no horse in this race being essentially neutral on the issue of separation of Gate identified from other students. However, I cannot help but wonder if there would have been such an outcry, including calls for resignation, had the recommendations been in favor of this highly controversial program. For example, would anyone have been shocked or in favor of resignation had the recommendation have been in favor of dramatically expanding the program ?

    I believe that we are a community that does very well in promoting and rewarding the children of privilege, and perhaps is not so beneficial to those who are not so blessed. I will have more to say on this subject, so please give this “cricket” a little patience.

  5. Sharla C.

    It is my understanding from reading the article in the Davis Enterprise that the Board has voted to maintain 2 full AIM classes by filling spots with non-GATE identified students.  So there appears to be no change in the size or ethnic make up of the AIM program for 2017-2018.  What I do think will change is more of a focus on serving gifted or students who excel in a particular skill or subject in neighborhood programs.  This may be a real benefit for students who don’t fit into the competitive, accelerated curriculum of the self-contained AIM program.

  6. H Jackson

    I saw just about the whole agenda item, and I don’t see where the title of the article accurately describes the presentation, the discussion, or conclusions of the discussion.  Bowes was specifically critical of the lack of representative diversity in the program and the amount of staff time encumbered with this program relative to what he deemed to be more pressing issues (district/strategic goals).

    His recommendations were to expand criteria for identifying giftedness and to focus on ways to serve AIM identified students who don’t go into the self-contained program (including differentiated instruction).  He expressed that there are limitations on serving giftedness based on a battery of standardized tests given in the latter part of 3rd grade.

    The school board trustees unanimously approved equivalent motions that seemed to support his recommendations.

    The school board passed direction on to staff a solution to avoid a combo classes, such as proposed at Pioneer.

    I can’t read where he recommended ending the AIM program, or even specifically, the self-contained AIM program.  It seems that the author (David Greenwald) and some commenters are reading into something that isn’t explicitly stated.  What am I missing?

  7. Sharla C.

    Research, discussion and recommendations are not allowed, it seems. They want their segregated program for children from educated families and I’d say that they should be allowed to have it.  I was accused of being a “Trump supporter” when I tried to defend a letter writer in the Enterprise after being accused of being a liar for her concern that the District may be pressured to return to private testing.  I support maintaining the two tracks and the District using its staff hours and attention on continuing to improve differentiated instruction and enhancement of opportunities in neighborhood programs.

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