This week several people on both sides of the AIM issue suggested that we are missing the boat with the AIM discussion – the reality is that this is an elite program. It is by design, and our community needs to have a discussion as to whether or not the district should be providing for high-achieving students in this way.
One argument is that the real achievement gap in the district is actually based on parental education rather than race or ethnicity. The reasoning here, backed by solid data, is that if you have an African American or Latino student whose parent has a graduate degree that child has a much different socio-economic background than one with parents with less than a college degree.
Now to be clear, I was shown data back in 2007 and 2008 that showed that the achievement gap held even when controlling for parental education – but one cannot ignore this data.
The data I was shown was for 2015-16, which means prior to the changes in the AIM program. At that time, 94.3 percent of the students in the AIM program had parents who had a college degree or went to graduate school, with 81 percent either with a graduate school or post-graduate education. Compare that to 4.8 percent who had either no high school, high school, or some college and you see that the AIM program is drawing from well-educated parents.
Of course, it turns out that Davis has highly-educated parents to begin with. The total pool shows that 78 percent have a college degree or above (57 percent with graduate school or above) compared to 11 percent with some college and eight percent with high school or less.
In short, Davis schools are elite and the AIM population is the elite of the elite. This held even when the program was at 96 percent.
For some that might be the end of the story, but, if so, I find that end of story not very compelling. After all, we live in a district where almost all of the students will graduate and the vast majority will go to college. Do we not endeavor for our kids to go to Harvard and Stanford – or should we shun that because that would represent an elite education?
A large number of our students will go on to the University of California system, the best public higher education system, probably, in the world.
As I have pointed out a number of times, the district needs to make sure if they are going to have programs like AIM, that there is a fair way to determine who qualifies for the program – and while I agree with critics that the previous system had structural flaws, the current system is really no better and probably worse.
The superintendent in this case is correct – the current system is failing to identify gifted children who are not white or Asian. That is a huge problem with the identification system, which was compounded by choices that did not make sense.
A quick perusal of the literature on the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test showed that it had no impact on minority identification in New York – why would we expect different in Davis?
On the other hand, the HOPE Scale has had some success elsewhere – so the question should be why is it not working in Davis?
The superintendent points out: “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.”
The question is, should we throw up our hands and say we cannot do it, or do we try to figure out why the HOPE Scale is not working in Davis?
The Vanguard has long railed on the achievement gap. But from my standpoint, the fix for the achievement gap is to bring everyone up, not close it by bringing the top tier down.
The words of Tom Adams last week are important to put into context.
“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 really ought to say that a challenging curriculum is the right of all students.”
Mr. Adams raises an important point here that I think needs to be emphasized. We should not have one opportunity to get a challenging curriculum. But, to me, that means that we need to find challenging curriculum for all students, not limit it to the top students.
The discussion on AIM is, in my view, wrongheaded. The focus has been on a small program that serves a small subsection of the population.
Part of the problem has been a misperception as to the purpose of AIM. The perception, as spelled out in 2015 by a Davis Enterprise editorial, was that the program was “initially designed only for students who had significant trouble learning in a regular classroom” and later, similarly, should be “serving the core students for whom AIM was originally intended.”
Indeed, in the fall of 2015, former Superintendent Winfred Roberson acknowledged that the program that is set up does not attempt to distinguish between high achievers and gifted students. Instead, it creates a bright line for 98th percentile achievement on the OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test). Everyone who achieves at least the 98th percentile would make the program, and those who do not might have an alternative route in through some form of retesting – where again they would have to achieve at the 98th percentile.
“There is no easy way to distinguish between high achieving students and those who are intellectually gifted,” Winfred Roberson said. And thus they create a system that does not distinguish between the two.
As the Vanguard has previously reported, there is no evidence in the history of the program to back up the assertion that AIM or GATE was originally intended to serve gifted students who do not function well in the mainstream classroom, as opposed to high achievers.
Board President Barbara Archer also made an important point when she 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.”
While it is difficult to focus on the latter when there are still problems with the former, I think there is an important point here – the district should focus its attention on making sure that the AIM program meets the needs of the students in the program and, at the same time, make sure that our neighborhood or other programs are doing the same for the rest of the district.
Are we as a district going to take the position that we are not going to attempt to best serve the needs of our most advanced students? If that is our position, I want to hear it articulated now. But if that is not the case, the question should focus on how we can best serve the needs of our most advanced students as well as every student.
That should be our sole focus.
—David M. Greenwald reporting