AIM: too big or too small?

By Deborah Nichols Poulos

Objections to the Davis Joint Unified School District’s selection process for the intellectually gifted program, AIM, have caused those of us who support it to come to its defense. Reasonable debate is important to understanding issues. Unfortunately, in this instance we don’t really know the basis for these objections.

If objections are fueled by the idea that AIM diverts district resources, I remind the reader that AIM classrooms receive no more money or resources than any other classroom, and AIM teachers are not paid more for teaching AIM.

We’ve heard that there is something wrong with the qualifying tests. Yet we are not told how they produce invalid assessments. Our district uses standard, accepted and approved tests to identify potential ability. The OLSAT, TONI and private IQ tests are all accepted as valid measures of potential ability by the state and other school districts.

Davis relies on many different tests, and though none may be perfect, they provide important information throughout the educational process. Evidently, according to opponents, the AIM tests are identifying “too many” potential high-ability students. If these tests are valid, how can this be true?

The “too many” objection is ideological, a value judgment, not pedagogical. It lacks legitimacy. Without demonstrating how these tests are flawed, it appears the objections are nothing more than a desire to keep AIM-identified students out of the classes designed to best meet their needs. Bear in mind, California’s Code of Regulations Title 5:  3831 General Standards (i) requires: “All identified gifted and talented pupils shall have an opportunity to participate in the gifted and talented program.”

Even if one accepts the argument that “too many” students are identified for the AIM program, who is hurt by it? If a student whose family has chosen the AIM program finds it to be inappropriate, it would be that student’s family who would address the issue. In any case, how does this student’s absence from or return to general ed have any negative effect on students in these classrooms?

Students in general ed classrooms should have their needs met regardless of how the needs of students who choose the AIM program are met. Let’s not forget that some AIM-identified students choose to remain in general ed classrooms, and certainly the majority of Davis students are very bright whether or not they qualify for AIM.

Supporters of the AIM program have provided many reasons why these testing options are essential to identifying all potential high-ability students.  In fact, districts are required by the CCRs related to GATE to identify under-served populations.

These tests identify not just high-ability students who do well on the OLSAT, they also identify under-achieving and learning-disabled students who have high ability and high academic potential. They identify high-potential students of all races, ethnicities, language backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. Without the OLSAT universal testing, the TONI, or private options, how would the district comply with California law?

The AIM opponents suggest no fix for the problem they assert: that the tests identify “too many” students for AIM. Are they implying that the testing is rigged to identify “too many,” or to give the disadvantaged students advantages they don’t deserve? If so, what is their basis for this claim?

Perhaps the reality is that current testing methods are not identifying all the district’s potential high-ability students. Maybe the AIM program is too small. The fact that identified students were excluded from the program because of the recent lottery would support this argument. It would appear that the “lottery” is in direct violation of CCR Title 5, 3831 (i).

Though lawsuits should be considered as a last resort, it does appear the district is vulnerable if it continues to pursue its current practice.

— Deborah Nichols Poulos is a Davis resident and former elementary school teacher in GATE and non-GATE classrooms.

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