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Just Us in Davis: Clarifying GATE; youths resist hate

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From page A10 | February 24, 2013 |

By Jann L. Murray-García

Two separate issues claim this column.

First, I was present at the Feb. 7 school board meeting when the lottery system was explained and adopted as legally necessary to avoid the judgment that our current GATE placement practices unfairly impact protected groups. The lottery system would randomly select children whom the district had already deemed as GATE-identified for placement in self-contained GATE classrooms across the district.

There was vigorous, but not universal, community objection to the random selection from the entire pool of GATE-eligible students. The lottery will determine who will get their first choice of self-contained GATE placement, down to which students would not receive a seat in any self-contained classroom, but be placed on a district waiting list.

A question was frequently asked: Why should my child who scored in the 99th percentile be placed on a waiting list behind a child “with risk factors” who placed at the 94th percentile? The answer: They earned it. Now, the reward is randomly assigned.

I waited all night to hear board members and the educational professionals in the room inform and re-educate their public. The reason there is a process of retesting poor kids of any race/ethnicity, black and Latino kids, English language learners, and students with disabilities is not because the kids have risk factors. This is not some kind of flawed affirmative action program. Rather, the instruments we use to measure the nebulous and almost sacred concept of giftedness are woefully imperfect. The TONI-3 is a better measure of academic potential for these (“protected”) groups of children.

Please know the very specific and affirmed observation of the tort claim (not a lawsuit) was this: According to the submitting lawyer’s words and The Enterprise report on Aug. 9, 2012, students who were GATE-identified by the TONI-3 with a given percentile ranking were placed behind students who qualified by the OLSAT with the same percentile ranking. Students whose OLSAT scores ranked at the 98th percentile were placed ahead of students whose TONI-3 scores ranked at the 98th percentile. That is where the discriminatory practice comes in.

Nothing is wrong or “less than” about the students who qualified with the TONI-3. It is the tests that are not equivalent. And the notion that we can so finely determine relative deservedness to have the choice of class placement or not goes against the fact that these tests’ have margins of statistical error that prevent us from saying a 97th percentile is more deserving or meritorious than a 95th percentile.

And thank you to board member Gina Daleiden, who finally admitted that the measurements are imperfect. Not just the TONI-3, but the OLSAT as well. That is why the board adopted the use of the TONI-3. It is demonstrated to be a better, less biased test of giftedness in certain kids. The board’s “hands are tied” not because of the tort claim, but because all along students with same percentile scores were being ranked differently, with the OLSAT arbitrarily decided by district officials to be the ranking of higher value. In this sense, students were not ranked by percentile scores, but by the test they took.

We are pretending we can rank kids with the precision of a weight scale, or the agreed-upon definition of hyperglycemia (fasting glucose >120 mg/dL on a calibrated instrument), when we can’t. We do not rank kids lower whose parents paid to have their kids privately tested. That is why the board did what it must: Institute a lottery so that all students deemed GATE-eligible receive the same chance of being placed in their neighborhood, self-contained program, or even receiving one of these coveted seats at all. I was disappointed in my elected officials and education professionals for not taking that time to clearly and specifically educate the public.

With so many families vying for the award of those self-contained seats and that coveted label, we should exit the madness. Davis GATE resources and expertise should be focused for the twice-exceptional child, the child who is highly intelligent and tragically flunking out of both our self-contained GATE and traditional classrooms.

Just the ticket

What: DHS drama department production of “The Breedless Kitsch,” a play about hate crimes and racism in Davis, written by Ben Moroski, a DHS and UC Davis graduate

When: 7 p.m. March 8-9 and 14-16 and 2 p.m. March 10

Where: Brunelle Performance Hall at DHS, 315 W. 14th St.

“The Breedless Kitsch”: There’s so little space left over to tell you about the amazing leadership our Davis High School students are again displaying in preventing hate crimes committed by Davis youths. More than five years ago, hundreds of Davis High students staged a walkout, rally and march to protest a series of hate crimes committed by their peers.

Last summer, a well-constructed, functional noose was hung from the goal post of our prized football field. Racist graffiti was found on a running path. Shortly following that, a swastika was burned into a table at Holmes Junior High.

An autumn soccer game against Jesuit was marred by former students dressing up as a hot dog, and with friends calling Jesuit players wieners. (“They do that every year. They’re just fooling around.” I wonder how funny it was to the gay student contemplating suicide in our current national epidemic, or to the silenced fan whose relative didn’t survive adolescence with peer insensitivity like this.)

Davis High school drama teacher Gwyn Bruch and dozens of students are working tirelessly to stage “The Breedless Kitsch,” an original play written by Davis High and UC Davis graduate Ben Moroski. Ben has already won awards for his one-man show, “The Vicious Minute,” about adolescent cutting (www.koltruncreations.com), which can be seen at Sacramento’s Ooley Theater beginning Wednesday and continuing through March 9.

In “The Breedless Kitsch,” he deftly captured the poignant web of varied youth and adult perspectives regarding this ongoing phenomenon of youth-committed hate crimes and incidents we face in our liberal, progressive community. Please mark your calendars for the weekends of March 8 and 15. Bring your tween or teen! Our youths are leading us once again.

 Jann Murray-García, M.D., M.P.H., is a Davis parent and pediatrician. She shares this monthly column with Jonathan London. Reach her at jmurgar@comcast.net

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