There has been a lot of confusion over the years about Spectrum - What is it, Whom does it serve, and Why do we need it.
This confusion has been entirely the District's fault. The District created Spectrum. The District defined Spectrum. The District is responsible for the placement of Spectrum programs. But the District has been completely irresponsible when it comes to monitoring the quality and efficacy of Spectrum programs and the District has been completely irresponsible when it comes to enforcing the elements of Spectrum that define it.
These failures by the District have recently come to a head at Lawton Elementary. All of this trouble - at Lawton and elsewhere - is entirely the District's fault.
First, let's be clear about what Spectrum is. Spectrum is a program designed to meet the special academic, social, and emotional needs of academically gifted students. These students are identified by the District when they demonstrate that they have quantitative and verbal cognitive abilities in the top 5% and academic achievement in the top 10% nationally for reading and math. Spectrum classes are taught to the Spectrum grade level expectations which are, generally, one year advanced beyond the regular grade level expectations when it is developmentally appropriate. In addition, Spectrum instruction is supposed to be compacted - teachers don't teach material that the students already know. Spectrum instruction is also supposed to be more rigorous than regular instruction - more ambiguous, more open-ended, and exploring concepts more deeply and applying them more broadly. While the expectation is for work one grade level ahead (generally and when developmentally appropriate), special care is taken that there is no ceiling on student exploration and that students are supported as far as they can go.
All of this - except the grade level expectations - may sound just like good teaching, and it is. Nothing more or less. It can - and should - happen in every classroom for every student. The one distinguishing characteristic of a Spectrum classroom, however, is that it is full of District-identified Spectrum-eligible students. Spectrum is a self-contained program.
At many schools, and particularly in the primary grades, there are not enough District-identified Spectrum-eligible students at a school to form a complete class. In such cases, the school is supposed to select high performing students, that the teachers believe are ready and can succeed with the Spectrum curriculum, to fill out the class.
The self-contained classroom is what defines Spectrum and makes it different from an ALO (Advanced Learning Opportunity).
Please refer to these documents on the District web site:
Advanced Learning - Increasing Understanding
Spectrum - Program Description
The self-contained classroom has been universally recognized - by a large number of experts in study after study - as the best way to serve the greatest number of gifted students. However, some people, mostly for political rather than pedagogical reasons, dislike the self-contained model. A lot of those people work for Seattle Public Schools. This is the root of a lot of the animosity towards the gifted programs in Seattle.
Now comes Lawton. Lawton is the designated Spectrum site in the McClure service area. The staff at Lawton, however, apparently doesn't want the self-contained model. The staff at Lawton are trying to dictate to the District how they will organize their Spectrum program.
Please see these two letters on the Lawton web site:
11/18/10 Letter from Principal Helm
Message from Principal Helm RE: Lawton Open Community Forum
Let's be perfectly clear: if it does not pursue the self-contained model, it is not Spectrum. They can have it, they can do it, it can be beneficial for students, they just can't call it Spectrum.
Just for laughs, I suggest you also read this page on the Lawton web site: Advanced Learning. It is rife with misinformation. It demonstrates Lawton's apathy towards the program.
Here is Lawton's CSIP. There is no mention of Spectrum anywhere in it. Nor is there any mention of advanced learners or advanced learning. If using the advanced learners in mixed skill-level classrooms is supposed to be a strategy for helping the other students you would think it would be mentioned here. It's not.
Perhaps Ms Helm should just ask the District to designate another school as the Spectrum site for the McClure Service Area and organize her advanced learning program however she would like.