Friday, April 18, 2014

Schools need to adjust AIM

Nichols Poulos is an excellent teacher. She is justly proud of her record with the Gate/AIM program. Her prejudice in favor of that program, however, is evident. She cites evidence and experience to support her program but conveniently dismisses evidence and experience that challenges it.

The program has expanded to the point where up to 30 percent of our students can qualify for a program that was initially designed for 1 or 2 percent of the overall population. This means we need to have a discussion about just what gifted means in the context of the Davis school system. The combined size of all of our special programs has grown to the point where there is very significant impact on the neighborhood schools. The district has for years pressured the affected teachers to say nothing about this. It has reached the point that it would be irresponsible for these teachers to continue in silence.

Concerned parents and teachers have repeatedly asked the district to release the demographic data on all its classrooms. After several years the district did so. The impact of all the special programs on the neighborhood schools stands out sharply. This data was presented to the board and the impact explained by parents and teachers in one of the televised board meetings this past year. Without comment the district then placed its demographic data on its website on the Sunday prior to spring vacation.

The morale of our teachers has a great deal to do with their effectiveness in the classroom. The teachers in the neighborhood schools deserve more respect and better treatment from the administration and the public than they have been receiving of late.

Dave Miller

Letters to the Editor


Discussion | 14 comments

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  • greg johnsonJune 26, 2013 - 1:26 pm

    And, your point is? Your suggestion is?

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  • TAndersonJune 27, 2013 - 10:16 am

    This letter has much wrong information. For starter, the 1-2 % gifted population is for nationwide, which we all know Davis is not nationwide average. Davis is the 2nd most educated city in the nation. Davis is not even statewide average. Mr. Miller talked about demographic, so let’s use a demographic example: based on state API data, statewide white student population is 26%, whereas in Davis district white is 60%. So if we follow Miller’s logic: there must be something wrong. So do we stop serving the rest of the 34% white population? Do we use a lottery to choose which kids get to go to school?

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  • K. BlackJune 28, 2013 - 9:06 pm

    This is not Dave Miller's first inaccurate and misleading letter regarding one of DJUSD's magnet programs. Seems like instead of finding productive ways to strengthen neighborhood programs he is set on destroying the districts choice ones.

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  • TAndersonJune 27, 2013 - 10:36 am

    AIM is one of the district’s magnet programs, like Montessori, Spanish Immersion, Dual Immersion, DaVinci, etc. Our AIM program qualification threshold is very high at 96th percentile. Looking up and down the state you will find districts with lower thresholds but still don’t have many qualifies. Most cities/districts would be so excited to have this many kids with high potentials, they also would try all they can to support kids with these many programs and choices. Bringing up our neighborhood schools! That is this community should be focusing on, not destroying our magnet programs.

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  • Barbara ArcherJune 28, 2013 - 6:43 am

    I have always heard that the DJUSD giftedness threshold is actually quite low compared to other programs and that is why the district gave serious thought to raising it to 98% just this year. Not to mention, many districts similar to ours have done away with self-contained gifted programs as an outmoded educational practice. Also, AIM/GATE is not like other magnet programs because you have to qualify to get in and the ways by which you can qualify are suspect in my opinion. Is the OLSAT a true measure of giftedness? Why are we allowing private testing? Why do students overwhelmingly test at 99% on the TONI test and gain entry? In other district "choice" programs, you have to apply, but you don't have to qualify. You don't have the option of paying for private testing to gain entry. The district doesn't "search and serve" for these other magnet programs like it does with AIM. I think Ms Poulos taught awhile ago and since then, the GATE/AIM program has grown beyond its original intentions, which as I understand them, were to serve students who could not function in a regular classroom because of extreme giftedness. Let us remember that GATE/AIM is a district special ed program not a magnet program, and it is a program that has lacked proper oversight for years, pulling in students who would do just fine in the regular track programs. A program with private testing that takes away resources that could be used for the greater good has no place in a public school district. Also, a lot of pro self contained people say that people who complain about this program have sour grapes that their kids didn't get in. But in fact, most people I know who criticize the program have AIM-identified kids and are/were part of the program.

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  • KScanJune 28, 2013 - 10:08 am

    Barbara Archer, it's hard to briefly and adequately address all of the misinformation in your letter. No, DJUSD does not have a lower threshold for identifying giftedness. Many districts have much lower thresholds. NYC’s cutoff for qualification is the 90th percentile and Los Angeles is 85th percentile. Many of the districts surrounding Davis also have lower cutoffs in the 90-96th percentile range. Universal testing was started in our district to ensure that all students had equal access to the test rather than having only students whose families who sought out and could afford testing have access. TONI testing was added as a second layer of testing to ensure that those with risk factors for poor performance on the OLSAT were appropriately tested. I don’t know where you get the idea that the program has “lacked proper oversight for years”. The longtime coordinator, Deanne Quinn, has maintained high standards despite a shrinking budget and continuously improved the program, both in terms of testing procedures for access and in what is offered in these classrooms. Under her leadership, the state gave singled our program out of the hundreds seeking reaccreditation giving it special recognition for its “exemplary” nature including the inclusion of underrepresented minorities. The private testing procedures are very stringent (see the district procedures for details) and limit a child to one private test with prior arrangement and permission and eliminates the allegation of “test shopping”. As only certain children of minority status, risk factors or teacher recommendation are eligible for rescreening by the district, one opportunity for a private test ensures that “one bad day”, as some have a voiced a concern, does not affect eligibility for the program. The proportion of students identified as intellectually gifted has been stable for many years, but as the population of Davis has grown, the absolute number has shown some increase. Under universal testing there has been an increase in the number of underrepresented minorities identified. Are you arguing that this is problematic? Yes, Ms. Poulos has retired after decades of teaching in gifted and neighborhood classroom. Does that negate her experience and valuable insight into this subject? And, yes, this program can be considered a special education program, thus make it all the more important that these students are offered an appropriate educational curriculum. The GATE/AIM program “takes away” no resources from other classrooms – it receives the same funding as any neighborhood classroom and, in fact, seems often to have a higher number of students per class than the neighborhood classroom. Finally, I obviously cannot refute your assertion that most people you know who criticize the program have AIM-identified kids who have been in the program. What I can say, however, is that the continuing parent requests for placement in the program and the extremely low number of parents pulling their student out of the program (nearly always to moving out of town) appears to contradict your assertion. Rather than “sour grapes” as you say, I would venture to say that much of the animosity about AIM is due to the promotion of rumor and misinformation by some in our town that replaces an understanding of the program, its purpose and the needs of the students it serves. Regardless, anecdotes and misinformation are no replacement for objective evidence and facts, and I would encourage you to learn more about the program and spend some time in an AIM classroom rather than to continue spreading distortions and falsehoods.

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  • Barbara ArcherJune 29, 2013 - 5:55 pm

    I have not spread distortions or falsehoods. In fact, I have studied the program quite rigorously, was a parent in the program at one point and stand by my comments. I am a former PTA president and have spent literally hundreds of hours on an elementary campus observing the dynamics of a school with a GATE track. I repeat - this program is supposed to be a special ed program. Deann's aggressive efforts to "search and serve" with no district oversight and the questionable TONI and OLSAT tests have filled the program with students who can be perfectly well served in the regular track program. Students in this program have lower class sizes (capped at 32) - that's what I'd call a resource. This program was supposed to be for students who are so profoundly gifted that they cannot function in a regular class, and it is certainly no longer that. Just because my opinion differs from yours doesn't make it a distortion.

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  • KScanJuly 02, 2013 - 3:50 pm

    You are welcome to your opinion. I would just prefer that you not use false "facts" to justify it. No, AIM/GATE classrooms are not capped at a lower number of students. In fact, they often, though not always, contain a higher number of students than the corresponding neighborhood classrooms. Ms. Quinn's "aggressive" efforts to improve identification of underprivileged students, of which you complain, resulted in the state singling our program out and giving it special commendation. If you would do some research, you would realize that the program was not designed to serve only those who couldn't function in the regular classroom. I certainly respect your right to your own opinion and the right for you to choose what educational choice is best for your child. I do not think your opinion means that you have the right impose your choice on other people's children, however. I would also ask that if you are going to represent yourself as one with much experience and knowledge of the program, to please check your facts first before misleading others in a public forum.

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  • Grant AcostaJune 28, 2013 - 1:51 pm

    When you look at the data, many students do not qualify via the OLSAT, but then are given the TONI and suddenly score in the 99th percentile. If so many students need to be retested, why don't we just give all 3rd graders the TONI test instead of the OLSAT? Seems like it would save time identifying "gifted" students across all risk factors.

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  • Evelyn FalkensteinJune 28, 2013 - 7:26 pm

    To Grant Acosta's question on using the TONI for all the testing -- it might indeed be preferable but the OLSAT is a group test that we can afford, and the TONI is given either individually or in very small groups, by our GATE/AIM coordinator, Deanne Quinn, who has years of experience with the TONI. It is given to children with risk factors that might hide their ability and restrict their identification for AIM. It can't possibly save time. It's worth the time and effort because the diversity of the AIM program is more like the diversity profile of Davis than other magnet programs. The TONI test is less dependent on verbal ability and looks at other indications of ability. Risk factors could include students who are learning English in school and speaking something else at home, students with learning difficulties, children who are economically disadvantaged. To Barbara Archer's comment on private testing as a drain on school resources: parents pay all charges for private testing. Period. Archer even says so earlier in her message. It was very easy to get this information so the real story must not have fit the narrative of "search and serve." Serving only a few gifted students who "couldn't function" in the regular classroom was NEVER the purpose of gifted education in Davis. One year the entire football team were identified as gifted, the sneaky little Blue Devils. The program's purpose was to serve any qualified students whose parents wanted a high ability option for them. It turns out that's a lot of students. When the program was one class, there were complaints it was too small and exclusive. Now the complaints are that it's too large and too inclusive. Is there such a thing as too inclusive? They all qualify, they should be served. Other districts may have done away with self-contained gifted classes by eliminating their entire GATE program, but why emulate them? They don't live here. The problem is not the fault of the self-contained class model, that's just short-sighted stupidity. Elsewhere it's the gold standard for gifted programs. it's appropriate for Davis, and it's given rapid learners a place where they too can thrive.

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  • GrantJune 29, 2013 - 8:47 am

    Isn't is true that most 3rd graders are English language learners in the non-technical sense? The directions for some of the questions can be confusing to anyone, regardless of their native language. If the goal is to assess logical reasoning skills, wouldn't it be better to minimize the skewing effect of reading comprehension by giving the TONI to everyone? Also, are the TONI questions actually read to the students by the GATE/AIM coordinator alone? If so, that would seem like a situation ripe for abuse, especially given the pressure some parents put on the district to get their kid into the program. I'm not accusing anyone, just making a point. I also don't see why the TONI couldn't be given to a whole class. You could have a teacher or language specialist administer it just as they would in a small group situation.

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  • Barbara ArcherJune 29, 2013 - 6:04 pm

    My comment was not that private testing is a drain to district resources. My comment was that private testing should not be allowed in a public school district for what is essentially a high-achieving program because it is not fair to those who cannot afford to obtain testing. The smaller class size in the program, the testing and the administrator salary are a drain to district resources. I am very familiar with the district budget and have pored over the numbers because I co-chaired the Measure C parcel tax campaign and sit on the district's parcel tax oversight committee. And to your statement that "serving only a few gifted students who "couldn't function" in the regular classroom was NEVER the purpose of gifted education in Davis" - I disagree. This is why it is categorized under special ed and why the program was so small originally.

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  • Lynne PinckneyJune 30, 2013 - 9:53 am

    The AIM/Gate program in Davis is nothing more than a way that us parents can keep our kids in a special club. The fact that parents can triple test clearly tells us that it is not a fair program. Sadly, most kids do want to be in the AIM/Gate class because they see fun field trips like overnighters on a ship, they smell popcorn, and see big comfy couches and candy. This is our public education dollars! There are some that want to avoid a rougher crowd of latchkey kids that can become concentrated subsequently in the "other" classroom. There are also those parents that really want to push their kids ahead, or not have them subject to a classroom that does not differentiate (but teaches to the lower end). However, there are many excellent teachers out there that can differentiate and use flexible groups to teach appropriately. I have seen this done superbly with the help of parent volunteers. The trouble with DJUSD is that they need to focus on supplying the best education using best practices, and stop catering to noisy parents. The trouble with Davis is that it professes to be a "cool" city, but the DJUSD system does everything possible to keep kids from their neighborhood schools. It really is absurd.

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  • KScanJuly 02, 2013 - 4:01 pm

    I, too, have strongly supported parcel tax measures. These funds support all Davis students, not just the neighborhood and not just special programs. AIM parents have also very actively campaigned for these parcel taxes in the past. While I certainly support your right to your opinion, I am concerned that making these types of comments about the AIM program is not likely to garner the support of past, current or potential AIM parents for future parcel tax campaigns.

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