Friday, January 19, 2007

A District without Spectrum?

What would the Seattle School District look like without a Spectrum program? This is not an item being discussed by the School Board or administration, but it is something I have been spending a lot of time thinking about.

Who, if anyone, would benefit? Who, if anyone, would be harmed? Recent research suggests that getting rid of tracking can be beneficial to all students, but that the students who benefit most are those who have been identified as "low achievers." One of the reasons behind this is that in a mixed-ability classroom, the curriculum is often more interesting and engaging than what the "low achievers" are offered in tracked or segregated classes. Another is that many of the types of instructional methods used in Spectrum or other "high achieving" classrooms would benefit all students.

And separate from the achievement issue, getting rid of the Spectrum program change might also improve the social climate of Seattle schools. Read the comments by Whitter parents and teachers on the Leadership thread on this blog to see what effect having two separate instructional tracks at that elementary school has done to create antagonism and divisions in the school.

Of course, getting rid of tracking, by itself, does not necessarily lead to positive outcomes. The curricula and instructional methods need to match the class structure. Mixed-ability classes need to be taught in a way that every student is not only able to work to their highest potential, but is actually encouraged to do so. This is a difficult task, but with the right kind of training and support, many talented teachers are able to do this quite well. (Visit Pathfinder to see teachers excel at teaching mixed age, mixed level classes.)

Another key issue that would need to be explored, if Seattle decided to get rid of the Spectrum program and other ability grouping in the schools, is teachers' beliefs about intelligence, achievement, and students. Some teachers believe that higher-order critical thinking tasks are beyond the ability of some students. Other teachers believe that students without sufficient parental support or individual motivation cannot succeed at school, no matter what the instructional method. Those beliefs create huge barriers to effective teaching in a multi-level classroom.

Here's a quote from an article called "Detracking: The Social Construction of Ability, Cultural Politics, and Resistance to Reform" from the Teachers College Record in 1997. "Detracking" refers to getting rid of ability grouping.


For the most part, however, these powerful parents’ resistance to detracking is cloaked in extremely rational and self-interested language about the quality of education their children will receive in tracked versus detracked classes. Yet these arguments are made even when reform-minded educators provide evidence that the curriculum and instruction in heterogeneous classes can be such that all students are challenged.

...In fact, oftentimes we found the pedagogy in detracked classes far more creative and engaging than that in more traditional classes in which teachers basically lecture at the students and then test them on specific information.


In a district with the stated goal of closing the achievement gap, why is the idea of eliminating tracking and getting rid of the Spectrum program not even being discussed?

(Last sentence rewritten at 4:30 pm, 1/19 to replace "ability grouping" with a more accurate description of what I was trying to say. Use of the term "ability grouping" as replaced with "tracking" in several other places in this post. BB)

56 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for raising this subject. I have one child in Spectrum and one not. My childrens' school has a model where Spectrum kids are served in the classroom with everyone else in the primary grades. In the older grades Spectrum is broken out to its own classrooms. Having now had experience with both, I prefer by far the blended classes where children are not striated by "ability."

As part of its professional development vision, our school has really focused on "differentiation," which means teachers try to meet each child where that child stands academically and go forward from there. The teachers on the whole are very skilled at this. There are a lot of small break-out groups, a lot of use of parent volunteers, and lots of self-guided work. There's a focus on "just right" approaches for each child.

Last year I volunteered in a classroom with a few developing readers who struggled behind grade level. The teacher was able to bring them up to a full grade level AHEAD of their current grade by the end of the year, using the small group approach. Technically, that's a "Spectrum" expectation, yet in her classroom, it was a byproduct of individualized attention.

I dislike hearing comments that assume that "gifted" children have to be treated differently than everyone else. The number of actual Einsteins / "Indigo children" out there is very, very small. The number of parents who would like their child to be "special," and can afford the $300 to $600 private examiners charge to beat the SPS Advanced Learning appeal process, is quite large.

If I designed the system I'd do away with Spectrum and APP. I'd offer lots of professional development to support differentiation and the effective use of classroom volunteers and instructional aides. I'd throw money at reduced class size and library programs. At our school, the librarian plays a crucial role in reading groups, constantly meeting with small, focused groups and overseeing deep projects.

And last, but absolutely not least, I find it absolutely unconscionable that we rely on biased testing in order to populate our "gifted" programs. The last twenty-plus years of research indicates that the CoGAT, Wechsler, and other intelligence/achievement tests are statistically invalid. The tests produce an outcome in which African American and Hispanic children more often fail and Caucasian and Asian American children gain admittance. Why, then, do we structure educational benefits around those tests? Why can't we structure a system that considers the inherent value of top-flight education for each child? It appears Van Asselt has made strides toward this vision. It would be wonderful if this approach could spread throughout the district.

And by the way, I think the State would triple the incidence of "giftedness" by funding universal free preschool.

Anonymous said...

There is an enormous difference between ability grouping and tracking. I urge everyone to take a look at http://www.tagparents.org/reality.htm, which discusses many common myths concerning gifted education.

I'd also like to point out that schools already do rough ability groups, simply by virtue of age grouping. Age grouping is the easiest way to assemble a group of kids who are likely to have similar instructional needs. But if your child doesn't get access to appropriate-level instruction due to being too young, what can you do?

While differentiation has gotten a lot of talking up in this district, I haven't had a lot of success in getting it to work for my kids, whether for a Spectrum-level kid in a regular class, or an APP-level kid in a Spectrum class. I ran into numerous policies and procedures that seemed designed to prevent the teachers from differentiating effectively.

I did not observe that the regular-ed classes my children were in were less interesting or engaging *in themselves* at all. I saw many creative ways of teaching, and many involved, excited students who were learning a lot. However, I did not see a lot of attention paid to students who were beyond grade level standards: it was considered fine for them to just coast. That wasn't good for my kids, just as it wouldn't be good for most kids to repeat a grade.

I would be ecstatic if the general movement in Seattle's classrooms was towards effective differentiation, and it wouldn't bother me if that resulted in Spectrum classes being less crowded. But suggesting that we have to do away with Spectrum to achieve that state of affairs seems backwards to me.

Helen Schinske

Melissa Westbrook said...

So just the first 2 comments to this thread give you an idea of the range of thought.

First, it's hard to be objective. We all base many of our thoughts about education about what we would and would not want for our child.

Also, if you have never had a child with special needs (whether highly capable or special ed) it might be hard to understand the struggles (not that someone couldn't be empathetic.) And yes, there is a difference between a bright child and a profoundly gifted child. Leaving a profoundly gifted child in a regular classroom, no matter what the differentiation, is like putting a race horse in a corral with saddle horses. I don't think it is realistic to think you could ever do away with APP.

I agree with Helen; whether we have Spectrum or not, ability grouping happens all the time in classrooms.

I agree that the test is culturally biased. It is sad to me that most of the Advanced Learning budget goes to testing and training teachers. I also agree that preschool could close the achievement gap almost faster than anything else.

You can't "beat" the testing process. What a parent can do is have their child tested, not in a group as the district does, but alone. You get clearer results. Also, the last time I talked with Colleen Stump, head of Advanced Learning, parents who wanted to appeal but could not afford individual testing got that testing done either at low-cost or free.

It was stated,
"I'd offer lots of professional development to support differentiation and the effective use of classroom volunteers and instructional aides."

Well, that would be nice but is it plausible for this district? No. They didn't, until Colleen Stump came along, even have a coherent process to train teachers to work with gifted students. Is the district going to pay up to train ALL teachers in differentiated teaching (not to mention figuring out how to differentiate the curriculum)? Where would the money come for instructional aides? Some schools don't even have a PTA so where would you find enough parent volunteers?

I've seen some of what passes at some schools for differentiation for gifted/bright/whatever you want to call them students and it's just more work and busywork. I just don't have faith that it would work. I think the Van Asselt model of teaching to the top with massive backup and tutoring for students looks more promising (and I'll bet there's probably a fair amount of differentiation thrown into the mix).

Beth Bakeman said...

Mel and Helen are right, some ability grouping happens in all instruction for good reasons.

However, what I was really referring to was either something like the Spectrum program (where children are separated based on a standardized test score and then, often, offered more interesting and challenging instruction) or the tracking that happens in some high schools and middle schools where there are separate vocational/basic/advanced options for meeting a Language Arts requirement in a given year.

Anonymous wrote:

"I'd offer lots of professional development to support differentiation and the effective use of classroom volunteers and instructional aides."

and Mel wrote:

"Well, that would be nice but is it plausible for this district? No. ... Where would the money come for instructional aides? Some schools don't even have a PTA so where would you find enough parent volunteers? "

I'd argue that it is indeed plausible in this district. If there are sound educational reform ideas that could improve the quality of education for all children, we shouldn't ignore them just because the funding and logistics might be difficult.

Notice also that I didn't recommend getting rid of APP just as I didn't recommend getting rid of separate low level special education classes. When children are way outside the norm, I can see the benefit, both academically and socially, to them being in separate educational settings, at least for part of the day.

Finally, I am absolutely not recommending "dumbing down" the curriculum or letting any students flounder in a classroom unchallenged. The point of differentiated instruction is to challenge all students, pushing them to work to their highest potential. It is possible, and it should be what we are working towards.

If the style and standard of teaching in Spectrum classrooms is wonderful, why should all students benefit from it? And if, as I have heard, it sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, why protect the program on principal or out of fear about what classroom instruction would be like without Spectrum programs?

Beth Bakeman said...

And, I think the Van Asselt model of teaching to the top with tutoring and support as necessary is compatible with, not in contrast to, the idea of getting rid of tracking and eliminating Spectrum programs.

Charlie Mas said...

Beth asks who would be harmed if there were no Spectrum. She could get her answer from most Spectrum families. They can tell you a story of how their child was not supported in their academic growth in a general education classroom. Some of the stories are horrific.

The problem with tracking is not inherent in the idea of separating students by skill level, it is the poor service provided to the students in the low performing tracks and the lack of mobility between tracks. If the Spectrum type instruction were beneficial to all students, that is a reason to provide it to all students, not a reason to take it away from those that now have it. Ending Spectrum is no way guarantee an accelerated and rigorous curriculum for all students.

As for the social climate created by having two separate instructional tracks at Whittier, that is a result of the culture at Whittier. There are a lot of Spectrum schools (and other schools with multiple programs) which are not that way. In fact, Whittier might not be that way except for the misinformed people who posted to this blog.

For all of the egalitarian political talk about children of all skill levels working together", you rarely hear anyone advocate putting a third grader who is working at grade level in a first grade classroom. I think everyone would see that it would not be a net benefit for that child. So why is it supposed to be a net benefit for a first grader working at the third grade level to be in that classroom?

While reform-minded educators may show that curriculum and instruction in heterogeneous classes can be such that all students are challenged, that is not typically the case. Particularly in standards-based learning systems, such as ours, where the Standards act as a ceiling. The leaders in gifted education are unanimous in their agreement that self-contained classes are the best way to serve the bulk of gifted students.


I would also like to respond to some statements made by anonymous who posted the first reply.

I think it is important for people to distinguish between their personal experience and the typical experience.

There are some schools in Seattle which do an excellent job of meeting the academic needs of advanced learners within general education classes. They are the exception rather than the rule.

There are some teachers who are very good at differentiation and regularly practice it. They are the exception rather than the rule.

Differentiation requires a great deal of training, effort, talent, and labor. Even then it only occurs periodically, not systematically.

I must say that I really resent the suggestion that people buy test results from private testers. It presents a very poor view of the entire psychology profession. As Mel mentioned, the District will provide a private test for low-income families who want to appeal the eligibility decision. The private testing is only a factor in appeals, and only a very small percentage of students are found eligible on appeal.

I wish someone would direct me to some of this research that proves that the tests are culturally biased. All of the research I can find indicates otherwise.

In my search through the research I found this sort of thing instead:

"The results indicated that standardized tests were not biased, but teachers’ lack of information about gifted along with the parents’ lack of awareness were major factors in the giftedness identification process."

If you prefer the blended classroom, you can put your child in it. No one is compelled to participate in Spectrum. If you want the rigor in an inclusive setting you can choose to participate in an ALO. That's your choice. But Spectrum and APP have to be there for the students who will not be well served without it.

Anonymous said...

Differentiation sure sounds nice. The problem is that some of us with Spectrum/APP kids have seen so little support for their needs in general ed classes that we just don't trust the district to all of a sudden provide a whole bunch of support for differentiation. Helen's point about coasting is well-taken - it's what happened to me when I was in grade school.

Several things in Beth's reply jump out at me .

"where children are...offered more interesting and challenging instruction"

That hasn't been my observation. More challenging, certainly. And therefore more interesting to them, because it's at their level. But not more interesting in any other sense.

"If the style and standard of teaching in Spectrum classrooms is wonderful, why should all students benefit from it?"

Again, that hasn't been my observation. Certain teachers clicked with my kids, certain ones didn't. All wonderful? Not by a mile. Higher standard? Nope. The only difference is that the material was at my kids' level.

I guess what bugs me most is that I read an implicit assumption that Spectrum kids are somehow getting more than other kids. Again, not true in my experience. That's one of the most common false assumptions about the whole highly capable program, and I've seen it repeatedly in all corners of this district. I don't want my kids getting any more from the district than anyone elses. The real elite are in private schools, anyhow.

I'd love to get my kids' needs met in a differentiated classroom. But it ain't happening. So I put them in Spectrum/APP instead. It sure isn't because we enjoy sending them clear accross town. If we want to get rid of Spectrum, the burden is on SPS to first put differentiation into place, with all the $ and support it needs, and demonstrate that it's viable. THen and only then can we look at phasing out highly capable programs. But it should be a result of changes, at the end, not a cause, done at the beginning. Until then, I'm afraid I'm not buying.

Sorry about the anonymous post - I'll identify myself as anonymous2 if I post again. It's just that parents of Spectrum/APP kids have so often been unfairly labelled as elitist that I can't feel comfortable identifying myself.

anonymous2

Dorothy said...

My son's first grade in APP had 28 students (one classroom). Who were they? Many parents said they found it necessary to bus their 6 year old out of the neighborhood to a crummy building in an iffy neighborhood because the child was misbehaving in kindergarten. By the time my son was in fifth grade, there were 125 fifth graders in APP, five classrooms worth of kids. Again and again, similar stories. Parents would love to allow their kid to sleep in a bit, walk to school, make more friends in the neighborhood, get home before 4 PM, but they get desparate. Promises not met, kids getting into trouble, spending the day tutoring other kids, no academic achievement occuring. They got teased, they felt isolated, they got arrogant. (kids in APP are mostly not arrogant, they don't feel special, they feel like they are in school.)

And frankly, these are not profoundly gifted kids. They are gifted, mostly highly gifted, but that's about it. The very few profoundly gifted outliers get short shrift in APP just as much as many moderately gifted get short shrift in a classroom full of typically developing kids.

But parents in APP don't want anyone to complain, because the program, warts and all, is more cohesive than Spectrum. If Spectrum parents found that that program met their children's needs, they wouldn't resent APP so much. And if regular school met their kids needs, they wouldn't resent Spectrum so much. The resentment doesn't mean dismantle the program, it means getting more kids' needs met wherever they are.

It's all about getting your kid's needs met. It's all about kids being supported to achieve and be engaged in learning. Unfortunately too many of us have stories where that just didn't happen.

If a classroom is dull and unengaging, is it fair to say it's because the gifted kids have been removed? Does this mean kids of average or below average academic achievement are uninteresting and uninterested? I don't think so. There are teachers who can make any class engaging. But look again at the stats for where the experienced vs unexperienced teachers are located. Not that being a veteran teacher necessarily makes one outstanding, but overall they tend to be better at the classroom management skills that are needed to have an engaging classroom.

Beth says:

"This is a difficult task, but with the right kind of training and support, many talented teachers are able to do this quite well."

As you state, this is a more difficult task --- having to differentiate for kids working several years above grade level, so it ought to be easier to teach classes without this added burden, yes? So any teacher talented enough to handle mixed-ability classes with a wider range of abilities ought to be talented enough to make their current classrooms engaging and interesting, wouldn't you agree? I am glad that Pathfinder has teachers that do this. But that's not an accurate picture of the whole district. And perhaps the mixed-age aspect is meaningful with the Pathfinder model. Mixed-age and mixed-ability. That removes the specificity of the burden of accomodating kids who are ahead for their age, perhaps?

By kindergarten my son was reading chapter books at the level of Beverly Cleary. His teacher was teaching the alphabet. My son was surprised, then sad. In preschool the work had been more engaging. This teacher had assured me in the Spring she could handle all levels, the school had lots of early readers. In reality, she actively lied to parents. Such as at curriculum night when she plastered the walls with all sorts of academically engaging posters. By the time class started the next morning, they were all gone. Since she actively discouraged parents from entering the classroom (although we are legally entitled to observe) most parents never knew.

Then one day she sent home weird homework. While she had been teaching the short vowel sound of "a" and "e", this sheet required the student to know all five short vowel sounds. The parents gathering before school discussed this and were puzzled. There had been lots of upset kids. One parent wondered if it had been a mistake, she said her older son had gotten the same worksheet in March (this was October). She dated and filed all her kids' papers. Don't you love it? Wish I were that organised.

I found out why. It wasn't a mistake. The day after that homework, she took my son into the hall and said "Tell your mommy to stop begging for harder work. see, when I give the class harder work it makes them cry." She also showed him a copy of the kindergarten standards and told him that's what she was going to do, teach the alphabet and how to count to 30. Funny, she was relying on the fact that he could read the standards.

The saddest thing is that when my son told me this story, he quoted her as "Tell your mom to stop asking" yet when I asked her about it, she corrected me that she had phrased it "Tell your mommy to stop begging." And she was very pleased with herself. She thought it was very compassionate and caring that she took him into the hall for this conversation instead of having it in front of the class.

No, I take it back. That's not the saddest thing. The saddest thing is that there were other readers in the class who just had to cope. And there were some significantly behind that weren't achieving anything either. One child had been in preschool with my son and had gotten district services (due to the intervention of our wonderful preschool teacher) during that time and had come a long way but was still behind. However once in kindergarten, no services. This teacher Never refered kids for special help. Never. The morning I observed, that kid looked so lost.

Beth, when teachers like this are no longer allowed in classrooms, then we could realistically discuss meeting all kids' needs in their neighborhood schools without ability grouping.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Mas, you asked to be directed to the research regarding cultural bias and the assessments the District uses. There is a great deal of research out there in Psych journals. One example I found after a search: "Cultural variations that introduce bias into standardized testing procedures are numerous as reflected by litigation and educational research. The majority of attention seems to be focused on experiential background differences of minorities in contrast to populations from which norms have been developed (Samuda, Kong, Cummins, Lewis, & Pascual-Leone, 1989). The extent to which an individual's background differs from the norming population of a given instrument may result in educational decisions that are tenuous at best (Salvia & Ysseldyke, 1988). Additionally, testing conditions such as degree of familiarity with the examiner (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1989) and language competency in both first and second languages (Benner, 1992; Harry, 1992; Manni, Winikur, & Keller, 1984; Samuda et al., 1989) may be confounded with experiential differences. Use of a standardized instrument based on a standard or reference group with populations not included in the "norm-reference" group results in a host of problems.
Banks and Neisworth, DYNAMIC ASSESSMENT IN EARLY INTERVENTION IMPLICATIONS FOR SERVING AMERICAN INDIAN/ ALASKA NATIVE FAMILIES, Journal of American Indian Education, 1995."

The simple reality is that the proof is in the pudding. If the diagnostic instruments and methods used were not laden with bias, we would have a population of Spectrum and APP children which reflected the diversity of our Seattle Schools. Instead, we have the opposite. In fact, the Advanced Learning Office is well aware of this and will not dispute that their psychmetric batteries produce disproportionate results.

There are many better methods out there- such as the Dynamic Assessment referred to in the article quoted above. Dynamic Assessment is a whole-child approach which has been found more statistically valid, especially for underrepresented populations, that the battery of tests the District uses. Why don't we use it? Because Dynamic Assessment is intensive and requires lots more staff.

After reading these posts, it seems clear to me that not everyone has had the same experiences with Spectrum/APP. Yet it's obvious that many view it as a lifesaver. Why not open Spectrum to all students who want it, or whose teachers think they'd benefit? We'd have to hire/train add'l teachers, but sounds like this would be useful anyway. . .

By the way, regarding the comment about appeals, anecdotally I don't know of anyone who appealed who hasn't made it in to Spectrum. The District provides add'l testing for F&R lunch. Everyone else hires outside psychologists. I'd be interested to see the actual figures from the District on this number: what percentage of those appealing who procured private testing and followed the proper appeal procedures outlined on the SPS site did NOT win their appeal? My opinion is that that's a small number. I'd lay odds that most denials of eligibility arise from failing to properly complete forms or failing to provide additional evidence (such as private testing). If anyone is aware of actual factual data on this, I'd find it of interest.

I would also be interested in data to back up the contention that:

"The leaders in gifted education are unanimous in their agreement that self-contained classes are the best way to serve the bulk of gifted students."

My reading of the latest research is that psychometrics and ed psych are moving away from the concept of "giftedness" and instead toward theories of aptitude, and that many experts agree that multiple intelligences can be best served using a holistic approach- including the holistic approach of many ability levels in one class.

I'd like to see the discussion brought back not to what can we do for "gifted" children, but what can we do to enhance the learning of all the children we serve in our schools.

Thank you for this wonderful site
from
Above Average (hopefully)

Beth Bakeman said...

Great conversation. So many things to respond to but it's late Friday night and I'm tired, so I'll pick three.

1) Charlie, you said:

"If the Spectrum type instruction were beneficial to all students, that is a reason to provide it to all students, not a reason to take it away from those that now have it. Ending Spectrum is no way guarantee an accelerated and rigorous curriculum for all students."

I'm not advocating taking "Spectrum type instruction" away from anyone. If the instruction is good, keep it and let anyone who wants to send their children to Spectrum classes. In fact, if the instructional methods are good, then make the whole school a Spectrum school and let anyone who thinks their kids needs would be met by the type of instruction described by the school attend. Just don't keep limiting who can be in a Spectrum class using a test that, as you said yourself on an earlier post, at best measures only one or two types of intelligences.

2) I am not insensitive to the concerns of very bright children or the natural desire for parents to want their children to be happy and challenged in school. As some of you know, my children are attending their third school in 3 years because I found it unbearable to have children who love to learn be unhappy at school. One of my daughters cried almost every day for the first seven months of kindergarten because "School is boring...we're not learning anything...we do the same thing every day." She was already reading Magic Treehouse books at the time.

3) I don't know if eliminating or greatly modifying the Spectrum program (by opening it to anyone who wants to be part of it) would be a positive step for the school district. I believe it could be a good thing for education for all children, but there are many issues (political, funding, teacher training) that have been raised which are real and would need to be explored and wrestled with.

However, my gripe of the day is that we (as a district) are not evening discussing it. Heteregeneous classroom groupings with differentiated instruction is a strategy that has promise for decreasing the achievement gap and is gaining favor nationwide with a large body of research supporting it.

So, School Board members, Raj and Carla, what do you think about the idea? If you like the idea, what would it take to make it happen? And, if you don't like the idea, what are your concrete ideas for closing the achievement gap?

Dorothy said...

Beth, we are not discussing it because we have discussed it. It was a big big topic about five years ago with June Rimmer. And the district's plan was terrible. So there's a history of distrust with respect to dismantling Spectrum because in the not so recent past, someone in the district with an agenda tried to do just that. An agenda that was based on NCLB and the prejudices about the achievement gap, but was not pedagogically sound. So there is a wealth of bitterness and mistrust on the topic.

And I do not believe there is a cohesive national vision to do away with programs like Spectrum. There are way too many stories from across the nation about how gifted kids, or any kid working above the standards have been harmed by policies in place for NCLB.

Anonymous said...

a snippet from a recent email to the school board following up a conversation I had with several of them the other day.

Anyway my main objection to the way the gifted program is currently isolating students in the district is because many students are from backgrounds with educated parents, who have provided much academic and social support since birth.

Students with challenges, whether learning, or environmental, are at a distinct disadvantage, although they may equally be able to benefit from a focused curriculum and the experienced teachers that the spectrum and app students enjoy.

My younger daughter- although equally bright- has attended public schools since 3rd grade. She has had teachers that contrary to her sister’s experience, didn't teach math in the classroom, and years when she had substitutes more often than her assigned teacher.

While some parents are apparently able to pick and choose teachers for their kids, many parents are not listened to,( or even feel that their input is not welcome) and the teacher makes a huge difference.
....
I speak as someone outside the APP community, although I currently have a junior daughter at Garfield. Both my daughters (I also have a 24 yr old) are "gifted" and with learning disabilities.

The oldest attended a private elementary school that while it was "set up" for kids who were gifted, the small class size, the child directed experiential learning and the support for parent involvement would benefit any child and any school IMO. ( we had been told by the district, that because she was both gifted- yet learning disabled, that she wouldn't qualify for either SPED or Horizon- and while I did think that either TOPS or Summit would work for her, they had long wait lists)

She continued to attend small schools that expected a great deal from the students, but also actively involved them in their learning. I must stress that she has quite noticeable learning differences, and actually many of her classmates did as well, although the school was not stated as being for students with "needs" they do serve them very well.

She still is "talented" but also still has her learning challenges and while she recently graduated from Reed College (one of the most rigorous schools in the country), the education that she received from K onward, enabled her to do so.

Her elementary school incorporated algebra into the primary curriculum; for example, and while she was in the middle grouping for math & despite her difficulty with simple computation, she took algebra in 8th grade & precalc in high school. (and O-chem & Calculus at Reed)

When we have students who are getting good grades in their classes, but not passing the WASL and so at risk to not graduate, but we are spending lots of effort on students who have enough support and background that they are taking accelerated classes- our priorities are skewed.

We need to open up programs, so that anyone who wants to try they can.

My older daughter, who had been tested with an 160+ iq- did not qualify for the gifted program in the district, using their group administered achievement test.

However, IMO she has shown that she could benefit from an enriched curriculum.

Her sister, at Garfield, didn't have the strong background of excellent teaching that her classmates who attended Lowell & Washington did.
However, she has been taking AP and honors classes alongside them since entering Garfield as a freshman, and agrees that more students can and should take more rigorous courses.

Instead of restricting the programs to those who test into it- why don't we provide real support for students who are bored by regular classes, but don't have professional parents who pave the way for them?

My daughter has friends at Garfield who have been in APP since 1st grade and friends who were in her remedial math class- and I can tell you that the biggest difference between them, is that one group is more economically privelged( which also still linked to class and race).

There is overlap in the courses that they are taking, since Garfield offers some of the first real support that some of these kids have seen.
( she isnt the only one that has taken advantage of the opportunity to enroll in both remedial and AP classes at Garfield)

But wouldn't it be better, to have given them that support in grade school, rather than put them in the position of trying to make up what was lacking the last couple years before adulthood?

Saying that the "cohort" is most important- to me sounds elitist.

It sounds like the parents are saying their kids are more special than others, and that they need to continue to be isolated from "other kids."

My oldest attended very rigorous schools it’s true. But, the rigor originated in the teaching- and how the teacher was supported by parents & the school.

IMO, you take 30 different kids and stick them in the same environment & they would do equally well.

A timely example.
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/
localnews/2003519479_imposter11m.html
A high school dropout yet she spent two years at Harvard and Columbia.
Doesn't that illustrate that in the right environment, anyone can thrive?

To make education in the district more equitable- we need to recognize that while there are very talented students ( who also have the resources of the EEP program at the UW) but there are many more students who aren't identified as being very talented, whether because they also have learning disabilities or behavior issues, and who are even at risk for dropping out of school because of that.


We need incentives for experienced teachers to teach in schools with the most challenged students- it isn't equitable, that the students with the greatest need, are assigned teachers and schools that don't enjoy the community and parental support that students at Garfield and Eckstein do.

We need principals to make National Board certification possible and a priority for a majority of teachers.
This is the biggest difference and support I have seen in my years in the district.

We need to give more support to new principals and teachers and help those who are burnt out to leave the system, even if we have to have retirement incentives.

I understand about protecting jobs, but for a child to have one or two years with a mediocre or bad teacher, is a year that will never be gotten back, and the repercussion will last for years.




Incidentially- my older daughter was in two classrooms throughout elementary. One was a shared classroom of about 28 kids- from K-3rd grade. She spent roughly her 1st & 2nd grade years here. For the next three years, she was in a single classroom of 3rd-5th graders.
Differentiated instruction was obviously a must- as there were children who had taught themselves to read at 3, ( as my daughter did) and those who were dyslexic and had
difficulty at 8.
Children who couldn't sit still and who had to pace the room during class meeting, and kids who ran the meeting.
Kids who were as articulate as some adults, and children who had difficulty putting their thoughts into words.
These were not age related, but learning style.

Experiential instruction and differentiated curriculum worked well, even with at least a 4 year age range.
However, much is placed on the teacher, it is much more challenging to help guide various levels and learning styles rather
than teaching to the middle, as is the case in many classrooms.

There are those teachers out there, experienced teachers have sometimes developed over time their own teaching methods and materials which they use in the classroom to supplement whatever the district is using this month.

Private schools- as the one described above that my daughter attended ( as well as scions of families whose names you hear everyday), have their curriculum and teaching methods evaluated by outside organizations.
The emphasis was placed on the adults, to provide the structure for learning, the students were never tested-outside of periodic
math or spelling tests.
Yet- despite this lack of testing & despite her learning disabilities, she tested on a group administered test in 6th grade, high enough to qualify to take the SAT in 7th grade. ( but she still didn't qualify for the school district gifted program)

In retrospect, if she had not been born 10 weeks early & participated in a high risk follow up study through the university of washington ( where she was tested regularly by Dr Nancy Robinson- herself ) :)
She would have never been identified as talented and given a scholarship to allow her to attend private school.
I know that we are missing a lot of kids who have not been identified & who are losing interest in their education because the classrooms are not engaging.
Differentiated instruction, is the way to curb that.
http://www.shorelineschools.org/
instruction/staffdev/di/default.php

Beth Bakeman said...

Dorothy, thanks for some background and history on this subject. As a new education advocate in the district, there is much I don't know.

And I agree completely with your statement below:

"And I do not believe there is a cohesive national vision to do away with programs like Spectrum. There are way too many stories from across the nation about how gifted kids, or any kid working above the standards have been harmed by policies in place for NCLB."

There is not a cohesive national vision to do away with programs like Spectrum, but there is an interesting and growing body of research we should pay attention to.

And, in my opinion, the NCLS and the standards movement are responsible for much of the harm that has been done to all children, especially anyone (working below or above standards) who is a round peg that they are trying to push into a square hole.

Anonymous said...

Beth, I think you misunderstood my point. I was arguing that Spectrum and APP do NOT constitute tracking, any more than grade skipping, subject acceleration, or any other way of accommodating advanced academic needs. Grouping 5% of kids hardly puts everyone else on a remedial track -- the regular classes still have a broad range of abilities, especially given that many families with bright kids don't have them tested, or don't choose an advanced learning program for them.

I do think that occasionally the presence of the Spectrum program in a school has made people think well, that's it, we've settled what you do if kids are ahead, they either get in the program or they don't, end of story. I've butted heads with a bunch of teachers and principals because I didn't accept that placement in a specific program was enough, if kids had needs beyond that program. But that's not a reason to get rid of advanced programs, any more than the refusal of a teacher to bring a fifth-grade math textbook to a fourth-grader is a reason for abolishing fifth grade.

I'd also like to point out that the school district is full of interesting programs that you don't have to test into. There are a lot of enrichment options out there if you don't agree with the whole testing hoohah. Unfortunately, getting your child into a popular alternative school like TOPS is every bit as difficult logistically as all the dealing with the Advanced Learning office. You have to know the choices out there and make them early to beat the lines. That scenario favors confident parents with a lot of time and energy -- potentially *more* elitist in effect than the standardized testing is.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

My God, how can you even suggest doing away with a program that at least is helping a few kids who desperately need it? We should be talking about paying attention to it, expanding it, truly celebrating it. Our child has been in Spectrum for three years and has been blessed with good teachers and instruction almost by accident. We suspect our school and this program at that school are so good almost because they fly below district radar. We have those horror stories of which Charlie Mas spoke. We started in a private school where supposedly the philosophy was for all children to learn at their own pace. That was not only a cruel joke, it was populated by cruel teachers who focused more on convincing children to stop bothering them about more challenging work, and persecuted the ones who just didn't fit the mold. Then until we found out about Spectrum, we were in "regular" public school for a year of what turned out to be absolute treading water. That teacher too was so busy with a variety of other challenges in her class, from true troublemakers to kids who were new immigrants coping with ESL, that she couldn't have been bothered to pay attention to anything beyond the basics for our child. Spectrum was the first program that truly served our child. And make no mistake, our child is not there by accident; our child thinks differently, learns differently, has different interests. Yeah, maybe our child would make a regular classroom 'more interesting' by their mere presence. But that's not our child's job. Our child's job is to be appropriately taught. And Spectrum's the first place that's happened. The district spends pathetically little time and money on it, please don't even discuss such an insane idea as dismantling it. For the sake of kids like our child.

Beth Bakeman said...

Anonymous said:

"We should be talking about paying attention to it, expanding it, truly celebrating it. Our child has been in Spectrum for three years and has been blessed with good teachers and instruction "

If Spectrum = good teachers and instruction, then yes, let's celebrate and expand it to every child in the district.

If Spectrum = separating out children who score well on a standardized test of verbal and logical intelligence from the rest of the children and giving them some of the best teachers at that school, then I think we should discuss the idea further.

I agree that the "district spends pathetically little time and money on" the Spectrum program. The district should be spending more, not less, on meeting the needs of children who are currently not well served by the schools. But, the underserved or poorly served in our district are not just the children with high standardized test scores. I don't want to take anything away from children who are currently well-served by Spectrum. I want to see high quality, rigorous, differentiated instruction for all children
in the district.

By virtue of test scores, some children are able to leave classes with teachers like the ones described in comments on this post. But what about the children left behind in those classes? Why is it okay for them to stay in those classes?

I have great respect and empathy for teachers who are trying to do an incredibly difficult job in a district that doesn't support them as well as it should. But teachers who treat kids as described in some comments here either need intensive training and mentoring, or they need to stop teaching.

And what are the principals and head teachers or other leaders doing about that kind of teaching happening in our schools?

Beth Bakeman said...

Helen, you said:

"I'd also like to point out that the school district is full of interesting programs that you don't have to test into. There are a lot of enrichment options out there if you don't agree with the whole testing hoohah."

Can you tell us more? You mention TOPS, which is an alternative school and not really a program or enrichment option. Did you have other things in mind?

Melissa Westbrook said...

It seems that all of us are saying we want our child's academic needs met.

I became an activist so long ago because of Spectrum. I could not understand the program, I could not understand why having a bright child was a problem, I did not understand why my child was supposed to help "teach" other children. (Children all have gifts to give each other but I'm talking about a child being expected to tutor others.)

Spectrum and APP are open to all. Teachers and principals are supposed to inform parents of these opportunities (but past history has shown that not to be true and that is one reason minorities are underrepresented). There are many people who test their children and then decide against either program for personal reasons (it may be they like their school, their neighborhood, don't want to uproot their child). Fine. But we also have a sub-set who test their child just "to see how he/she is doing". That takes dollars out of the program because the majority of money in the program goes for testing.

As for the children "left behind" (really an unfair phrase), you will nearly always have a wide spectrum of abilities in the classroom. Why? Because (1) as I said, not every high achiever leaves for Spectrum or APP and (2)Spectrum tests up to the - what is it now 85 percentile? - and that leaves a lot of bright kids in class. And as Beth points out, a test can't identify all the bright kids so there's probably plenty in the classroom.

I dispute the idea that the best teachers are taken for the Spectrum programs. I think it is demeaning to say that to many fine regular ed teachers that parents and students are happy with.

There are ALOs at many schools. Those are advanced learning opportunities, a new category created by the district to serve students in every school. They are open and available to every student who wants a challenge, no test necessary. Not every school created them (although every school was supposed to have a plan, readily available, to explain how they serve their high achievers). But I couldn't even tell you how they work because every school creates their own.

So yes, parents do feel better about Spectrum and APP because it is a known quantity.

Lastly, I will never forget a child in my older son's 3rd grade Spectrum classrom who had just entered the program at 3rd grade. I was working with him one day and he said, "I'm so glad to be in a class where it's okay to be smart." I asked him what he meant and he said at his other school the teacher told him to quit raising his hand so much and the other kids teased him constantly about reading during lunch and recess.

Anonymous said...

"By the way, regarding the comment about appeals, anecdotally I don't know of anyone who appealed who hasn't made it in to Spectrum."

I do, or rather I know of folks who planned to appeal, tested privately, and didn't get high enough results. Most of them have gone to private school. Also, just look at the number of families with kids in different programs -- if psychologists could be bought, you wouldn't be seeing that. That family that was profiled on KCTS had two kids in APP and one in Spectrum, didn't they?

Anonymous said...

Beth, you said:

"If Spectrum = separating out children who score well on a standardized test of verbal and logical intelligence from the rest of the children and giving them some of the best teachers at that school,"

Again, the assumption that Spectrum kids are getting more. Spectrum teachers do not equal better teachers, in my experience.

What I think you're really getting at, Beth, is that many Spectrum/APP parents have serious questions about how SPS identifies highly capable kids, that the way they do it now leaves a lot to be desired. If you want to talk about improved/expanded HC identification, rethinking testing, etc, that's great - there are lots of archived discussions on other forums to start with. That's an argument in favor of making sure every kid who qualifies has access to a HC program, though - in other words, an argument about strengthening the programs, not eliminating them.

But I reject the notion that my kids are getting more or better than others simply because they're in SPectrum/APP. Maybe at other schools, but not at any of the ones we've been in. My kids' getting their needs met is not the reason that someone else's kids aren't getting their needs met. The only difference is that the material is appropriate for them.

anonymous2

Beth Bakeman said...

Mel, you said:

"I dispute the idea that the best teachers are taken for the Spectrum programs. I think it is demeaning to say that to many fine regular ed teachers that parents and students are happy with."

I didn't say that. In fact, I very carefuly said, "some of the best teachers at that school." Notice both the qualifiers "some" and "at that school."

Let me explain further. Imagine two schools, one with a Spectrum program and one without a Spectrum program. At any school, you have teachers with a range of ability.

At the school without a Spectrum program, the chance or probability of any individual student in that school getting a year with a weak teacher is probably more or less
equal. The principal would have no incentive to move the weak teacher into or out of a particular class.

At a school with a Spectrum program, that siutation changes. Your chances of having a weak teacher are much lower if you are a student in the Spectrum program than if you are a student outside of Spectrum. Does anyone really doubt that is true? Can you imagine what kind of pressure a principal at a school with a Spectrum program would get if a weak teacher was placed in a Spectrum class?

Anonymous said...

But teachers who treat kids as described in some comments here either need intensive training and mentoring, or they need to stop teaching.

Thats right they do need to get out of education
But for example-
my child had a 5th grade teacher who anounced at the beginning of the year she didn't spend much time on math- this was at the beginning of the year classroommeeting.

This teacher was also out of the classroom more than she was in it- but as she wouldn't go on leave a permanent sub could not be hired.
This was 6 years ago- this pattern has continued since then and she is still teaching.
One of the reasons why she is still teaching is because principals at the school ( plural because they have averaged only a year or two before they move on) have other things on their plate besides encouraging burnt out teachers to retire.

One principal for example, ( who had been moved between various elementaries around the district over the past few years), was also out of the building most of the time. Her secretary didn't know where she was, and there were many times when the community needed her to make a decision or take an action and she was not available.

As she was an interim principal, the community opted not to finalize her placement, which made her furious, but she was quite upfront that the principal union would find her a job.
They sure did, and now she is working at an administrative level in the district making $100K, but at least she isn't alientating another school community.

There isn't much incentive to "retrain" burnt out educators apparently.
They just get moved to another school or building where the community isn't so vbcal ( or perhaps isn't able to be as involved because of economic or social issues)

Unfortunately, students who come from challenging backgrounds need excellent teaching even more so than students whose parents are willing and able to supplement and support their kids education with whatever it takes.

I would agree that one child having an appropriate classroom environment is not the reason why another does not.

However, I hear a lot about Spectrum and APP education, but all I hear regarding education for those whose parents havent chosen to place them in a special program, is talk about how someday we will offer extra classes to help them pass the WASL.

I apologize if I have bruised anyones sensibilites who wish to believe that all school children in Seattle are getting a "good enough" education.
Maybe that is true for children whose parents are college educated, who don't have to worry about where they are going to get the money for the required AP tests, ( Free/reduced lunch qualified students get a waiver, but there is a huge gap between being able to afford $80 for a test, and qualifying for FRL)

But many parents are frustrated and hurt at spending years trying to get their kids a meaningful education in this district- and it is bad enough that the schools aren't listening, and the district doesn't return your calls, but when other parents blow off your experience...

This district doesnt have kids as a priority, it has adult jobs as a priority.

anonymous 3 said...

I am a Spectrum teacher. I started reading this thread with a strong bias towards keeping Spectrum as is but now I realize I've moved a bit on that belief.

The reason I can make my class so much more interesting is because I have to to keep them engaged. The kids I get are naturally curious. If I provide engaging studies, they do not play. They focus. That is not always true of regular kids.

I have taught regular and Spectrum. There is a difference. Not all kids are as motivated . . . Yes, I expect that I'm supposed to motivate them and I try but sometimes I do get a child - Spectrum identified - who comes into the classroom and is not typical in that area. I see the difference and that child never progresses quite the same. I think I'm successful with the child but the child still lacks a certain "desire" to learn. Not often has this happened, but it does occur.

However, I now realize that I don't have to expect every child to be a sponge to teach the same way. The fact that I work so hard to engage them will have its effect on all kids. My kids who love learning when they come to me will rise astronomically! Those who come and demonstrate less love for learning will still progress far beyond what they would otherwise in a less engaging environment.

Also, when I taught a regular classroom, I was a sought after teacher. I'm realizing it was because I enriched and pushed an awful lot. However, it happened to be during the days of levy redirect which meant that I had classrooms never exceeding 18-20 kids. I could have a lot of groups and it was reasonable to expect me to differentiate which I did before "differentiation" had a name.

But, if you have a class of twenty-eight kids and it is a primary class, good luck!

Lots of good ideas on the blog. Enjoy reading it for sure.

One more thing, however. I've been to some highly capable workshops put on by Ms. Stump. I decided after the last one, I wasn't going again. My time in the classroom is more precious than the time I spent in that workshop. IMO, her experience has been with the lowest 24% rather that the highly capable. It was a poor workshop and I know I wasn't the only teacher there who thought so. Some of us who actually work with the highly capable kids knew instantly that she hadn't spent much time with them.

anonyous 3 said...

One more thing . . . Spectrum programs have weak teachers as well as strong teachers. Because we have kids preselected to do well, it isn't as evident.

In my school, we have some excellent regular teachers and some less so.

I think anybody who says Spectrum teachers are collectively better than regular teachers is in error.

Another advantage of a Spectrum program is that you get the parents who are always much more energetic in providing enrichment by supporting programs and extras. Spectrum parents who work so hard to make their children's education better enhance the whole school and honestly make us teachers look great!

You really have to look at the whole package. Looking at parts of the program doesn't reflect an accurate picture at all.

I do have one question about Pathfinder . . . do parents love the program because it is so "different" and inclusive or do kids really excel academically as proven by District assessments?

Anonymous said...

"Heteregeneous classroom groupings with differentiated instruction is a strategy that has promise for decreasing the achievement gap and is gaining favor nationwide with a large body of research supporting it."

I've been trying to find some of this research, and so far the descriptions of school systems that have been successful with "detracking" by putting everyone on the "high track" that I've found have been talking about stuff like ... algebra in ninth grade. In other words, these are systems where you formerly had to be in a high track in order to have access to a *normal* math schedule, and no one (apparently) had access to algebra any earlier than ninth grade, either before or after detracking.

That doesn't sound as though the high track was an accelerated program at all. It sounds like old-fashioned tracking, where only certain people got access to a curriculum that was related at all to college entrance requirements.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous 3 said...

Helen, when I taught regular, I had a bilingual group that mostly listened to tapes for language experience. I had an emerging group that read with me or a parent. I had a group that could read but not fluently. I put them on tapes (Marie Carbo) - I made the tapes reading slowly with expression of good high interest trade books - when kids could read the book fluently, they would move on to another. Believe or not, the number of times they read and reread those books, their fluency in all books increased.
My top group - a group of kids on the wait list for Spectrum - had job cards with reading assignments and then activities they worked on cooperatively.

All my parents were happy. All my kids succeeded. Only twenty-two kids in that group but it was manageable.

Differentiation in math is harder. I find a lot of kids can do arithmetic (cause they've been taught or have a good memory which is what arithmetic requires) but they can't always "think" mathematically. So, even now, I don't accelerate them (this is primary) because I want them to have a firm foundation in flexible mathematical thinking with a lot of concrete experiences.

We did a lot of art and a fair amount of enrichment (study of topics) not in the District's curriculum. Of course, at that time, we didn't have the NSF science kits - which I love but take enormous time. Nor did we have a real social studies program and we still don't - not really.

I'm not sure schools can do it all in the time we have. I'm all for an extended school day.

Beth, here's another topic for you: another teacher and I want a longer school day. We wouldn't mind one more hour at all . . . and perhaps two.

I would personally love a four-day 8 hour day for kids 9 hour day for teachers. Why 9? Because we don't get breaks like everyone else. I'm on the playground before school; I've got kids at recess who are catching up; I've got parents and kids talking for twenty-thirty minutes after school. Plus all the other activities and meetings we attend throughout the year. And just plain paperwork off the clock!

So, 8:40 -5:40 for teachers, 9-5 for kids. Fridays off.

Or perhaps four full 8hour days and Friday 1/2 a day.

We both spend so much time trying to figure out how to get everything in and feel we rush our kids so much that we're both exhausted. Another hour or two of teaching time would actually slow us down a bit and teaching would be easier and kids would have more process time.

Having a four-day teaching schedule also reduces the morning and dismissal business by one day. That in itself gives us another hour of time in the week. . . teachers are doing an awful lot of what used to be the secretary's job - now that we have glorious computers!

Like anything, daycare centers and family routines would change but eventually everyone would get used to it and learn to live with it.

Anyway, other ideas? I'm for change . . .

Anonymous said...

Postscript on the teachers I mentioned in an earlier post:
The private school one is still in her job, as far as I know. The school doesn't seem to care that she has chased away customers (after we finally discovered what she was doing to our child, we compared student lists from the previous years we'd been at that school to see who else had dropped out of her class after moving to the grades she taught, and we encountered half a dozen others who had shockingly similar experiences). And as for the teacher in our one year of "regular" public school, it finally became clear with weeks to go before the end of the year just why she had seemed at the end of her rope all year ... she was retiring (but kept it a secret till almost the end).

Charlie Mas said...

I have the impression that there are two separate camps:

There are those who believe that Spectrum is mostly about White Flight or privilege and it is academically unnecessary if not destructive. These people believe that Spectrum students are getting something extra good that would benefit every student.

There are those who believe that Spectrum is academically necessary (either due to a recognized pedagogical need or due to the deficiencies of the general education classroom) and that the Spectrum students are only getting an appropriately challenging academic opportunity through the most efficient and effective means currently available.

I suspect that there are some folks who are not entirely within either of these camps, but quite close to one of them.

I wonder if anyone within either of the camps is willing to considering evidence that contradicts their position.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's what I believe:

I believe that any child who is ready and able to succeed with the more challenging Spectrum curriculum should have the opportunity. I'm all for having self-selected access to Spectrum.

Coupled with the more open access, Spectrum would have to have a robust exit process as well. Students who don't keep up should be re-assigned to general education classrooms. The rigor and acceleration of Spectrum should not be compromised by the inclusion of self-selected students. This will require a level of quality assurance and accountability which has not yet been demonstrated either in this program or elsewhere in Seattle Public Schools.

The access should be open enough to end the groundless charges of racism and elitism that dog this program. The exit process should be strong enough to address the concerns of those who fear the program's dilution.

Of course, the Spectrum classes would still be separate from the general education classes. This is not a proposal for inclusive classrooms. We already have that, and they are called ALOs.

The District would have to make a commitment to provide adequate capacity to meet the demand for Spectrum. When fully implemented, Spectrum could account for as much as 20% of the District's enrollment or more. That would be a good thing.

Schools that didn't want to create a program could choose not to, so long as adequate capacity were available in the cluster. I don't know if the currently high-achieving schools would bother to create Spectrum programs just as they have not bothered to create ALOs.

The Spectrum classes could be filled to the contract maximum with students who are all working at or beyond grade level. This would allow the District to reduce the size of general education classes to target more attention on those students who are working below grade level. In this way, the expansion of Spectrum would improve the service to the students OUTSIDE the program by facilitating targeted class size reduction and acceleration for students working below grade level.

Teachers would still have to differentiate instruction in general education classrooms, but with fewer students and - if the high performing students move to Spectrum - across a narrower band of skill levels. That would also improve the service to those students.

Such a plan could improve the District's finances in a couple of ways. First, the Spectrum classes, filled to the contract maximum, would be the cheapest classes for the District to operate. Second, the District's revenues could be significantly increased if families returned to Seattle Public Schools when they are assured that their child will be in a class of motivated and high performing students, with the synergy that creates, without so many discipline issues and without a ceiling on achievement.

Who would object to such a plan?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I can think of a few people who would object such as teachers and parents who do not believe students should ever be separated out for any reason. But I'm with Charlie, open Spectrum to anyone who wants the challenge. I don't know why this hasn't been tried given that so much of the advanced learning budget goes for testing. It would save money that could go into the classroom.

Two things about Spectrum/APP that aren't widely known. First, at most Spectrum schools (I can't speak for APP), the classes operate at full and that means 24 in the lower grades and 28-32 in the upper grades while many regular ed classrooms operate at much smaller sizes. Some people something say well, it's easier for teachers because those kids tend to be more focused and motivated. Maybe so but that doesn't mean there can't be behavior problems or learning disabilities. Thirty-two students is a lot, no matter what.

Also, the Advanced Learning program put in a rule in the last year or so that if your child is in Spectrum or APP and does not take the WASL, they will be exited from the program. Now the district claims that the WASL scores are used to make sure that students in the programs are keeping up but, of course, there are other measures. I believe it was done to keep Spectrum kids (and their high WASL scores) from opting out of the WASL (as is their legal right to do so). There is no other program in the district that I know of with this restriction.

Anonymous said...

To me, broadening Spectrum looks *more* like tracking, not less. You're heading for the point where you don't have the critical mass of kids who need anything beyond the regular curriculum, and all you have is the generic "good kid" class that's a whole lot like an old-fashioned top track. I really don't see the point, especially when Spectrum is already so ill-defined. Strengthen the regular curriculum by all means, but why do you need a label, or parental choice, to do that?

The class that needs to be broadened is the regular class, from the bottom -- that's what those detracking pundits recommend, eliminating the remedial classes first. What seemed to work, as far as I could see from the descriptions I found, was presenting kids with age-appropriate curriculum in class, coupled with heavy tutoring *outside* of class. Seems to me I've heard of more than one program like that in Seattle middle schools already.

Helen Schinske

Charlie Mas said...

I don't think we do any tracking at the low end. I'm not aware of any remedial classes, certainly not at the elementary or middle school level. There isn't any program like Spectrum or APP for students who are working significantly below grade level.

There is Special Education, but that's about disability, not low achievement.

I find it stunning that this District can say for years and years that their primary goal and priority is to close the academic aachievement gap by bringing every student up to Standards, but they do not have any process that systematically identifies students working below standards and provides them with what they need to get to Standard.

Beth Bakeman said...

In response to questions about research, I'll post a few comments with excerpts and mentions of articles.

From the "Detracking: The Social Construction of Ability, Cultural Politics, and Resistance to Reform" article I quoted in the original post:

In his paper “Myths, Countermyths, and Truths about Intelligence,” for example, Robert Sternberg (1996) presents a list of ideas about intelligence that illuminates for nonpsychologist education researchers how newer theories are quite at odds with traditional ones positing a hierarchical (if “normal”) distribution of intelligence measuredas a single dimensional entity.

Not surprisingly, the concept of genius, “superior ability,” or giftedness has also shifted considerably with these new perspectives on intelligence.
Sternberg and Davidson (1986) claim, for example, that “giftedness is something
we invent, not something we discover” (p. 4). And considerably moreattention has been focused on contrasting experts and novices, rather than geniuses and morons. This shift highlights the newer cultural emphasis on the alterability of human capacity with development and learning. If “giftedness” is socially constructed, then culture, or the highly subjective ways in which people make meaning of the world around them, must play a significant role in that construction.

Beth Bakeman said...

From Lauren B. Resnick's article, "From Aptitude to Effort" in Daedalus, Fall 1995.

"Early in this century, we built an education system around the assumption that attitude is paramount in learning and that it is largely hereditary. The system was oriented toward selection, distinguishing the naturally able from the less able and providing students with programs suitable to their talents. In other periods, most notably during the Great Society reforms, we worked on a compensatory principle, arguing that special effort, by an individual or an institution, could make up for low aptitude. The third possiblity --- that effort actually creates ability, that people can become smart by working hard at the right kinds of learning tasks --- has never been taken seriously by anyone in America or indeed in European society, although it is the guiding assumption of education institutions in societies with a Confucian tradition.

Although the compensatory assumption is more recent in American education history, many of our tools and standard practices are inherited from the earlier period in which aptitude reigned supreme. As a result, our schools largely function as if we believed that native ability is the primary determinant in learning, that the "bell curve" of intelligence is a natural phenonmenon that must be reproduced in all examples, that effort counts for little.

Consider the following examples:

1) IQ tests or their surrogates determine who will have access to the enriched programs for the "gifted and talented." This curriculum is denied to students who are judged less capable.

2) Our so-called "achievement tests" are normed to compare students with one another rather than with a standard of excellence, making it difficult to see the results of learning, and, in the process...

3) We group students, sometimes within classrooms, and provide de facto different curricula to different groups. As a result, some students never get the chance to study a high-demand, high-expectations curriculum.

4) College entrance is heavily dependent on tests that have little to do with the curriculum studied and that are designed, like IQ tests, to spread students out on a scale rather than to define what one is supposed to work at learning.

5) Remedial instruction is offered in "pullout" classes so that students who need extra instruction miss some of the regular learning opportunities.

6) We expect teachers to grade on a curve. If every student gets an A or a B, we assume that the standards are too low. We seldom consider the possibility that the students may have worked hard and succeeded in learning what was taught.

These are commonplace, everyday, taken-for-granted features of the American educational landscape. They are institutionalized expressions of a belief in the importance of aptitude."

Beth Bakeman said...

From "Crossing the Tracks: How 'Untracking' Can Save America's Schools" by Anne Wheelock, The New Press, 1992.

"Increased awareness about the harm of tracking in and of itself has not been enough to bring about change. Nor have well-publicized findings of students' academic and social needs provoked systemic reform. What schools have needed and what they have now are new ways of organizing curriculum and instruction so that all students can learn appropriate "grade-level" material in mixed-ability groups. New practices have demonstrated, for example, that:
All students can benefit from the thinking-skills and enrichment activities often offered only to students labeled "gifted and talented." High expectations for all students can be communicated through school routines and classroom techniques, resulting in increased student effort and higher achievement for all.

Cooperative learning and other innovative teaching approaches can deepen academic learning for all students while promoting self-esteem. Meaningful hands-on learning activities organized around themes can help students perfect basic skills and teach students to synthesize information from different sources, apply knowledge, and solve problems.

Schools can successfully peel off the bottom levels of a grouping hierarchy -- courses labeled "basic" or "general" -- and expose all students to grade-level textbooks, activities, and expectations while providing extra support for students who need it.

Today schools also know more about the nature of human intelligence itself. While no one would be foolish enough to claim individuals enter life with identical abilities, intelligence is not fixed forever at birth. Human beings can become intelligent and can learn intelligent behavior, and what students learn depends to a great extent not on an "I.Q. factor" but on learning environments that equip them to use their intelligence as life-long learners, citizens, parents, and workers.

Moreover, intelligence grows as students are challenged to apply learning in settings where they interact with others who have different strengths from their own. Schools and classrooms which include diverse learners and employ the instruction and curriculum that makes mixed-ability grouping work represent such settings. "

Beth Bakeman said...

From "Closing the Achievement Gap by Detracking" by Carol Corbett Burris and Kevin G. Welner in the Phi Delta Kappan, April 2005.

"Despite overwhelming research demonstrating the ineffectiveness of low-track classes and of tracking in general, schools continue the practice. Earlier studies have argued that this persistence stems from the fact that tracking is grounded in values, beliefs, and politics as much as it is in technical, structural, or organizational needs. Further, despite inconsistent research findings, many parents and educators assume that the practice benefits high achievers. This is partly because parents of high achievers fear that detracking and heterogeneous grouping will result in a "watered-down" curriculum and lowered learning standards for their children.

And so, despite the evidence that low-track classes cause harm, they continue to exist. Worse still, the negative achievement effects of such classes fall disproportionately on minority students, since, as noted above, African American and Hispanic students are overrepresented in low-track classes and underrepresented in high-track classes, even after controlling for prior measured achievement. Socioeconomic status (SES) has been found to affect track assignment as well. A highly proficient student from a low socioeconomic background has only a 50-50 chance of being placed in a high-track class."

Beth Bakeman said...

From "The Challenge of Detracking: Finding the Balance Between Excellence and Equity" by John H. Lockwood and Ella F. Cleveland, in a document on ERIC (Dept. of Education research collegion) from 1998.

"This paper discusses finding a balance for the use of tracking in school that benefits both high and low achieving students. Tracking can arguably be traced to the pervasive mythology of biological determinism and the advent of IQ testing. As time passed, schools increased the use of testing to separate students into different ability levels, but this practice has come under considerable criticism. In 1985 J. Oakes published "Keeping Track," a scathing condemnation of tracking that clarifies why tracking interferes with a quality education for all students. How to achieve excellence and equity is the dilemma for educators today. Oakes has posited that it is possible to achieve both while eliminating tracking and ability grouping. Research on the prevalence and influence of tracking has shown that students are often placed in classes by racial and ethnic subgroups. In addition, data such as that from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 has indicated that there is a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and academic track as well as between race/ethnicity and track. There are indeed strong arguments to do away with tracking altogether, but some ability grouping may be advantageous. Detracking could involve grouping students by specific learning tasks, with attention to avoiding biases and traditional stereotypes. The efforts of Massachusetts to eliminate the general track show that excellence and equity can be brought into better balance with systemic change involving many aspects of education. Other areas, including Milwaukee (Wisconsin), have used the EQUITY 2000 program to deal with mathematics and science education through counseling, community, and content support for students. Given the current state of education, eliminating the improper tracking of students is essential."

Beth Bakeman said...

And if you want further reading on this topic, see:

"Tracking" from Education Week

Does Ability Grouping Help or Hurt? A Talk with Anne Wheelock from Scholastic.com.

Ability Grouping, Tracking & Alternatives, a great list of links to other resources from Ithaca College.

Beth Bakeman said...

If the Anonymous who made the first comment is still following this thread, can you please tell us why you prefer the model "where Spectrum kids are served in the classroom with everyone else" at your school?

Beth Bakeman said...

Mel,

After reading you comment about ALO's (below), I did a little research and found out how few of the schools have them, and how vague the description of the programs are. I'd be willing to guess many parents (and some staff)at the schools with ALO's don't even know they have them.

Anyone with first-hand knowledge of an ALO at your school willing to tell us more?

"There are ALOs at many schools. Those are advanced learning opportunities, a new category created by the district to serve students in every school. They are open and available to every student who wants a challenge, no test necessary. Not every school created them (although every school was supposed to have a plan, readily available, to explain how they serve their high achievers). But I couldn't even tell you how they work because every school creates their own."

Beth Bakeman said...

This quote from one of the anonymous posters deserved further discussion:

"And make no mistake, our child is not there by accident; our child thinks differently, learns differently, has different interests. Yeah, maybe our child would make a regular classroom 'more interesting' by their mere presence. But that's not our child's job. Our child's job is to be appropriately taught."

I never said (or suggested) that having "gifted" students in a classroom makes the classroom more interesting, or (as others have said) that the "gifted" students should be in a mixed-level classroom so they cah help the other students.

I think a mixed-level classroom is more interesting because a)variety among students skills, interests, learning styles and points of views can make a class more interesting and; b) because teacher expectations for a class with "high achievers" tend to lead them to cover more interesting and rigorous material, including critical thinking and other engaging tasks.

And, secondly, while I have no doubt that your child "thinks differently, learns differently, has different interests," and deserves to be "appropriately taught," the same could be said of all students.

It is not like the students in the Spectrum program are a monolith who all think and learn in the same way and have the same interests. Neither is it true that students who in a "general education" program exhibit the same thinking and learning styles or interests.]

Consider students who are extremely "advanced" in one subject area, but don't qualify for a Spectrum program because tests need to be high in at least two areas. How are their needs met?

Consider students whose preferred learning style is in the minority among a classroom of 25 students. How are their needs met?

Consider students who are regularly made fun of by other students for their appearance or "slowness" at learning new skills. How are their needs met?

You could make a case, similar to the one made on this thread for Spectrum students, for separating each of these groups of students into separate classes to better meet their academic and social needs. But, even if that were possible, would it be desirable?

Charlie Mas said...

There is a weird cognitive dissonance that is happening here. The people who are suggesting that Spectrum is unnecessary - if not unhealthy - share research and experiences about how rich mixed skill level classes can be. Yet, at the same time, they talk about how un-inspired the general education classes typically are.

It may be true that:
"All students can benefit from the thinking-skills and enrichment activities often offered only to students labeled "gifted and talented." High expectations for all students can be communicated through school routines and classroom techniques, resulting in increased student effort and higher achievement for all."

So why aren't classes like that now? Why does anyone think that putting the Spectrum students back into these classes will suddenly change anything that the teachers are doing in these classrooms?

Perhaps the utopian ideal is possible, but it doesn't currently exist in the vast majority of Seattle public school classrooms.

Before the floating bridges were built there was a ferry across Lake Washington. The bridges are much better - no doubt about it. But let's not discontinue the ferry service until the bridges are built. Let's not ask people to drive across half-built bridges.

Believe me. My first choice woudl be to have my children's academic needs met at the neighborhood school. That's not possible. The school told me so. So my daughter is at Lowell. If the neighborhood school could serve her well, that's where she would be.

There are a number of Spectrum-eligible and APP-eligible students who are at their neighborhood schools. Historically, only 50% of qualified students used to actually enroll in the program. In the last couple years the participation rate has grown to 80%.

Improve the neighborhood school. Show people that it is ready to meet the academic needs of advanced learners, and Spectrum and APP will go away on their own.

But you can't wish them away with an unrealized ideal. And legislating them away won't work either.

Charlie Mas said...

Regarding the research quoted on the bias in standardized tests for cognitive ability...

These papers are from 1989, 1988, and 1984. The most recent is from 1992 - that was fifteen years ago. The tests have been re-written a number of times since then with specific focus on removing the cultural bias from experiential background.

In addition, the tests include a non-verbal assessment that would not have that sort of bias at all. Despite the claim to the contrary, the Advanced Learning office DOES dispute any claim of bias in their tests. They acknowledge that there is under-representation, but they don't believe that test bias is the cause.

To say that the results (under-representation of African-American and Latino students and students from low-income households) prove bias is faulty reasoning. Is bias proven in every case of disproportionate results? Is that why Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans are under-represented in the NBA? Or, closer to home, is that why boys are subject to disproportionate discipline in Seattle Public Schools?

In addition to the cognitive ability tests, students must demonstrate academic achievement to be eligible for Spectrum or APP. Even if every African-American student in Seattle Public Schools who got level 4 scores on the WASL (and not every "4" is high enough to meet the eligibility criteria) were admitted to the programs, African-Americans would STILL be under-represented.

It's not that the District isn't finding these kids - they aren't out there to be found.

The fact - and it is a fact - is that these students arrive at school less ready and that these students are not as well supported at home.

So that means that the District is going to have to work harder and focus more effort on getting these kids up to the Standards and beyond. That means that the District and the schools are going to have to facilitate support at home and/or provide a proxy for it.

It is not an excuse - it is a call to action.

However, until that work is done, let's not blame the measuring tool for the measure.

This is another one of those cognitive dissonance things: the disproportionate results prove that the assessments are biased. If the disproportionate results are a result of bias in the assessments, then there is no academic achievement gap. If there is no academic achievement gap, then we don't need to do any work to close it. We can safely conclude that all of the students in Seattle Public Schools are being adequately and appropriately served. Yet the same people who use the results as proof of bias in the assessments are the same people who claim bias in the quality of service.

It would appear that they believe that some students, despite getting significantly poorer educations are achieving on a par with other students who are getting richer educations.

Anonymous said...

http://www.msu.edu/user/robiso12/Grouping.htm

Much interesting stuff, including:

"In National Excellence: A case for developing America's talent, the U.S. Department of Education notes that "The belief espoused in school reform that children from all economic and cultural backgrounds must reach their full potential has not been extended to America's most talented students." They also argue that these problems are most pronounced with disadvantaged and minority students. While the main focus is on upgrading the curriculum across the board, they do focus on the special problems of gifted minority students. According to the Department of Education information, more than 18 percent of Black students who score over 1,400 on the SAT leave school for academic reasons. Hebert discussed the family and social situations of two gifted black males, in an attempt to find explanations and solutions (Hebert). In comparing two gifted back students, he found that two main factors impacted achievement, mainly through their influence on the "sense of self." The successful student had a strong family support system and numerous opportunities to study with other high achievers. This support system allowed him to overcome peer pressure not to study. The second student's family was less supportive of his studies (although certainly he was in a better situation than many children in low SES households). But even more important, he was trapped in a cycle of underachievement and lack of challenge. He was placed in basic level classes, surrounded by students who could not grasp the material as well as he did. Significantly, it was not an issue of being surrounded by bad academic influences. The students in the class put in far more effort than he did (405) but he still dominated the class. The lack of a challenging curriculum was destroying his motivation, while the rest of the students were struggling with the same material."

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

My son attends a Spectrum school that has seen bored unhappy kids leave to go to Lowell. I have stayed in touch with three of the boys parent who then left Lowell after a year. They said it wasn't a good fit for their child, there was no sense of community, no chance of playdates.

My child (he is black) tested into Lowell in K but when I hear about the retention rates at Lowell I am scared to make the change.
If I make the change and he is unhappy, my son looses his Spectrum spot (the waitlists are crazy).

So I hate that I can't see if it will be a good fit for him. I feel APP and the District doesn't try and help parents of gifted children with this agonizing process and hard decision to leave or stay at their neighborhood school.

What percentage of children stay in APP? What percentage of people of color stay? What percentage of boys stay? Where is this information?

Anonymous said...

Thank you poster. I would like to know more about Lowell, and wish the decision wasn't so hard. I know my son needs more of a challenge in the classroom, he also tested into Lowell and is just a magnet for learning-he is several grades ahead in reading and math and just in his ideas about the world, the universe, global warming (he is in first grade). You name it, he ponders and wants to know all about it.

He is also quite different but is accepted/included by most of the kids in his Spectrum class. But I have heard that Lowell is not a great place for taking care of the social need of kids. I have heard many of the kids have parents who make them study a ton after school instead of have fun and play.

I want him to have a challenging classroom but I want him to have friends and play dates and be accepted for who he is. If he leaves his neighborhood school I am worried the social environment will be far worse for him.

Anonymous said...

I remember the business of not being able to get back into Spectrum if Lowell didn't work out was a big issue for us. It's a totally unfair situation that the district puts us in that way.

My impression is that most kids do stay. My son is in his third year, and I can't think of any of the classmates from the last two years who have left. The school gets gradually bigger at each grade level -- I've mislaid the directory at the moment, but I think it's 1.5 first grades (there is a one/two split) up to five fifth grades. Historically the school has been boy-heavy in the younger grades and the numbers gradually equalize as time goes on.

It can be tough to arrange play dates, but with everyone in the same boat (very few are neighborhood kids), and so many new parents every year, I find the culture is very accepting of new students and parents. We've found homework load varies hugely -- I believe it's one of the things teachers are working on standardizing. My daughter, who entered in fourth grade, had a lot of trouble with truly excessive homework loads, which I now realize I should have spoken up about more; so far, my son has not.

I think it makes a huge difference socially for these kids to have other children around who have similar intense interests and really get what they're talking about. I've also found that Lowell staff are more conscientious about fostering social skills (e.g., having class discussions about issues that are bothering kids) than I've seen elsewhere, though I'm sure other schools do this kind of thing too. It's just not such a sink-or-swim atmosphere. The counselor is terrific, too.

Another social benefit, compared to the Spectrum classes in our home school, is that the kids are not in class with the same people year after year, as there is more than one class at each grade level.

I'd be happy to talk more by email or on the SpectrumAPP yahoo list. And of course, take a Lowell tour.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

I am currently at my neighborhood Spectrum school. I think the teachers are very nice and I love being part of my small local enviroment.

But my son is often bored. He is APP eligable and does not have many friends at the school and this bothers him. He is especially advanced in math and analytical thinking and also world issues, so I asked the school if there are ways that they can challenge him in those areas and they basically said no.

The Spectrum teachers say they cannot have kids at different levels within Spectrum (even if they are APP). I can see that, 28 kids is a lot!

There are also great things about the school and my son is not sure he wants to leave those things behind.

I am torn between my ideal of being part of my neighborhood school and my feeling that he needs something more--if not just peers that are more like him.

I also have these guilty feelings that I shouldn't leave--because it would mean me leaving too. I feel so connected to this school. I also head a program at the school and feel guilty for thinking of leaving--what about the kids in the program do I just leave? I am very close to some of the kids and would miss seeing them.

Does the District see this? Do they really want to force APP kids and families out of neighborhood schools? I feel like they give APP identified kids little choice.

How does this impact the neighborhood school?

Charlie Mas said...

Wow, does this post trouble me.

First of all, the teacher who doesn't think that it is necessary to differentiate in a Spectrum class is in SERIOUS need of professional development.

Second, the teacher and the principal BOTH need additional professional development if they are putting a ceiling on acceleration in the Spectrum class or in ANY class.

Your commitment to the school, this program you head, terminates at year end. You have plenty of time to tell people you're leaving and to effect a transition.

As for missing the kids and the families, will you see them again at Washington or Garfield?

Please don't feel that the neighborhood school will not function just fine without your family. There will be a transition, but they will make it.

Ideally, your neighborhood school, whether a Spectrum school or not, should be able to address your child's academic needs. The reality is that they can't. Ideally, a Spectrum program should be particularly capable of meeting your child's academic needs. They should at least try.

While neighborhood school is a fine ideal, I would not sacrifice my child on an altar to it.

Anonymous said...

Charlie wrote: "First of all, the teacher who doesn't think that it is necessary to differentiate in a Spectrum class is in SERIOUS need of professional development.

Second, the teacher and the principal BOTH need additional professional development if they are putting a ceiling on acceleration in the Spectrum class or in ANY class."

I completely agree that Spectrum should not have a ceiling. But what are our rights as Spectrum parents?

I am at Whittier in Spectrum (second grade) and many of our kids haven't even been given a math assessment yet. I have spoken with the teacher and the old Principal. Maybe I should talk with Julie, but I was told by my old principal that there is a ceiling in Spectrum. Is this true? They tell me they used to let the child go a far as they could in reading and math but they were told by the District that they want Spectrum all to stay at the same level (sounds like a ceiling to me).

My son (qualified in K for APP) doesn't want to leave yet, he is in second grade and is very involved in Chess Club, has friends, and can walk to school. Why should he have to? He is just starting feel comfortable.

I would like him to be challenged but be able to stay until he is ready emotionally for the change. Don't some gifted children also need a smaller school environment close to home in addition to a challenging education?

I feel for the other poster who is torn, my son feels torn and doesn't like changes in his routine. I don't think she is sacrificing he son but I think like me, her son would have to give up a great deal of comfort by going to Lowell (my son is gifted and also is extremely shy and slow to warm up to new situations. At Whittier he has now just started playing on the playground). We are asking why he must make such a big choice in his young life and why there isn't the option to learn without a ceiling at a neighborhood Spectrum classroom where the child is connected? This would help him be prepared for Lowell or Washington Middle School.

In many parts of the country gifted identification doesn't start till fourth grade and until then very good school districts differentiate in the class room. Why can't our Spectrum schools at least do that? Do we as Spectrum parents of APP qualified kids have some rights?

I would like to know these answers so we parents could approach our new principal.

CS
Whittier Parent

Charlie Mas said...

CS,

Run, do not walk, to Julie Breidenbach and tell her that no child should have a ceiling on their learning imposed by their school - and that there sure as hell should not be a ceiling imposed on a child in the Spectrum program. Then you tell her that the previous principal told you, in just so many words, that they impose a ceiling at Whittier and that Julie needs to go to those teachers and tell them that the ceilings are off.

Tell Julie that the previous principal told you that the message came from the "District", so Julie needs to go to those "District" people who told the teachers to impose a ceiling and tell them that the ceiling is off and that if they talk about ceilings to her staff again she will have their jobs.

You don't have any rights as a Spectrum parent, but you sure have some rights as a parent. EVERY parent has the right to an education without upper limits for their children.

Anonymous said...

When my daughter qualified for APP during her second grade year, I had some very short period to decide whether to put her in Lowell the next year, which would have meant separating her from her twin sister. I finally decided to send her the year after, for fourth grade, and let them have a year to let it sink in that there was going to be a change later. The second and third grade teachers said they would do their best to support her at APP level, but it was really up to me to provide math curriculum and what not. In the end nothing much extra happened in the classroom (um, unless you count reading under her desk, which was counterproductive) and she did distance learning math at home (her sister did, too, and never got any credit for it). This was when they were still using grade-level math textbooks for Whittier Spectrum.

I was never told that they "used to" let children go as far as they could in reading and math. I don't know when that was supposed to be happening. The one kid I heard of who did actually get sent to other grades for math (before our time)was apparently much more of a math prodigy than my daughter (who's a good math student at a couple of years above level, but not wildly advanced).

From what I've heard of districts who don't do gifted identification until later, they mostly handle it by pretending that kids all have exactly the same needs until third or fourth grade. "Sure, we'd differentiate if needed, but in primary school it isn't needed." The illogical corollary of "They'll all even out by third grade," I suppose.

By the way, the other thing I wanted to say was to involve your children in the choice, and if possible involve children who are already at the school. My daughter was fortunate enough to have a friend who'd gone to Lowell the year before who helped her transition much more easily.

I think a lot of parents used to keep their APP-qualified kids in Spectrum until middle school. I don't know how easy the transition to APP is in sixth grade; I'd prefer to do it in a less stressful year, myself, but maybe for some kids the switch just makes sense right then, when everything else is shaken up anyhow. But of course if you wait, the WASL becomes a high-stakes test.

Helen Schinske

Beth Bakeman said...

Helen,

I have twins, also, so I can imagine how hard a decision that must have been for you.

I agree completely about involving the kids in the choice. We did the same things with the decision about whether to have them in the same or separate classrooms.

I am baffled by the unwilligness/inability of the teachers you and others mentioned to do some differentiation to help meet students' needs. I know teachers are completely overwhelmed with school, district and state requirements, but meeting students' needs should be top priority and principals should support teachers to make it possible.

I am going to talk with more parents of kids at Pathfinder who qualified for Spectrum and APP but chose to stay at Pathfinder. My impression so far is that kids needs are met, no matter what the skill level. That is certainly the case for my daughters so far who have very high skills in some areas and average to below-average in others.

My guess is that canned curriculum could be a factor in making teachers/schools worry about some kids getting "too far" ahead.

Charlie Mas said...

The story I hear for refusing to accelerate when appropriate is that the teacher says "But if I teach the fourth grade curriculum to your third grader, then what will the fourth grade teacher teach?" They ask that question as if to suggest that "poaching" on another teacher's curriculum is some incredible professional discourtesy. The answer, of course, is that the fourth grade teacher can then teach the fifth and sixth grade curricula and I don't give a tinker's dam about your professional courtesy when weighed against a child's academic achievement.

Anonymous said...

The problem I encountered at Whittier with my APP child (we eventually left for Lowell after third grade) was the teacher who show me a sample of my child's math work after I had asked her to allow my daughter more challenging math work.

The problem she showed me was simple addition or subtraction, and the teacher said, "Do you see Sally can't explain why 8 minus 3 is 5. So clearly she is not ready for higher math."

(On the "How do you know" part of the problem my daughter wrote something like, "because math answers never change.")

The funny thing is on math part of the test for APP my daughter just kept going, the tester said she was surprised at how much math she could do. The result came back and math was at least 50 points more than what she needed just to get into Lowell.

But sitting in that meeting and not having the results of her APP test yet, I was made to feel that I was pushing someone to do higher math that wasn't ready.

I think most teachers just don't get giftedness, and I don't know if a new principal (even Julie) can change that. It would be grand if they did, because although my child is challenged, she does miss parts of Whittier very much. And if they would have let her keep going in math and reading we may have stayed until middle school.

Anonymous said...

My child tested into APP in 1st grade. I decided not move her, becuse of the long commute time. I wanted her to do other kinds of learning like foreign language, musical instrument, community building projects, etc. after school, more than I wanted her to get further ahead in math & reading during school hours. I was also concerned that her younger brother might not test in & grow to consider himself the 'dumb' kid.

So we stayed at the neighborhood school. A high performing school with no Spectrum or ALO. Differentiation is strongly emphasized though inconsistent. A large proportion of the children are spectrum or APP qualified. There have been times that the curriculum has not challenged my daughter. There have been times where she has worked to her limit.

(I would imagine that in Spectrum & APP classrooms there is a need for differentiation too. A Spectrum qualified child could be one year ahead in math and 3 years ahead in reading. Presumably Lowell serves children whose academic development has not always been consistently two years ahead, as well as children who are many levels ahead of that.)

Last year my daughter spent a lot of class time with a girl from China who was at least 4 years ahead in math. My daughter loved trying to keep up with her in math. She learned to write more than 100 chinese characters. This child would never have been welcome in Spectrum or APP because of her limited English.


Certainly learning is valued at our neighborhood school by students & teachers. No one has ever suggested that my daughter not work to her potential. But students also value the child who is an amazing artist,a class peacemaker, a champion chess player, a published writer, a happy spirit, a new immigrant. My daughter has learned from all these other children even if their academics are not advanced.

Now, 4 years later, I find my daughter testing higher than ever. Competing at least equally with those at Lowell when she enters math or writing competitions.

Some children leave our school every year to join the APP program. I beleive that it works well for them. I am glad that they have that option. But I am bothered by the idea that it is impossible to serve advanced children in a classroom with other children.