School district tweaks GATE selection process, extends master plan process

By From page A1 | January 25, 2013

The Davis school district is tweaking the system by which students are selected for the GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) program.

The district will move from a rank-ordered system based on students with the highest test scores to a lottery-based system that will select enrollees from a pool of GATE-identified students.

The timeframe for review of the GATE Master Plan, which got under way last fall, also is being expanded. Work will continue through fall 2013-14 “to give staff and the school board time to review and consider other GATE models,” Superintendent Winfred Roberson wrote in a statement sent Wednesday to parents and community members.

Associate Superintendent Clark Bryant said the district is still working on details for the lottery system for GATE placement. The change is “to make sure families have a fair opportunity to participate in the program if they so choose,” he said. “We are already in the process of building the number of classes at each grade level for the coming 2013-14 school year, so we need to move relatively quickly to make sure that this (change) is part of the process.

“At this point, there are no other changes (in GATE), except for the lottery system,” Bryant added.

He plans to make a progress report on the GATE Master Plan at the Feb. 7 school board meeting, and said agendas and minutes of meetings related to the plan are posted on the district website, www.djusd.net.

“We want it to be a transparent process,” Bryant said.

The GATE program has been the subject of heated discussions at school board meetings at various intervals through the years, and it appears this once again could be the case when the school board eventually reviews the plan that is currently being developed.

An organization called Proposing Alternatives in Gate Education recently formed, and in a statement sent to The Enterprise, PAGE member Karen Hamilton said she believes the current GATE program “has many drawbacks. The program divides the community, subjects students to rigid labeling and tracking, and fails to meet the needs of ‘twice exceptional’ students who are intellectually gifted and also have special needs.”

Instead of grouping GATE students in self-contained classrooms, Hamilton said PAGE favors “encouraging teachers to provide differentiated instruction for students at all learning levels, through methods including curriculum compacting, cluster grouping, pull-out, acceleration, individual study, mentoring, enrichment, and cross-campus and early college enrollment,” which she described as “more inclusive alternatives.”

However, a group of GATE parents is circulating a petition calling on the Davis school board to maintain the existing GATE program, and the petition has quickly gathered some 160 signatures. The petition reads, in part: “We believe that there should be no significant changes to the GATE program without a demonstration that the current program is failing its students, documented in a public report, and subject to well-notified and transparent discussions of the report by the community.”

The petition also asserts that “expecting teachers to offer differential education tailored to each student’s needs will prove nearly impossible in an elementary or junior high classroom of some 35 students with an enormous range in educational attainment.”

Several California school districts have implemented some form of differentiated instruction approach for their GATE-identified students in recent years, including the Palo Alto Unified School District.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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