In 2000 the Board ordered a review of Spectrum to address the same questions and problems that we have today. A committee was formed that fall and worked all through the school year. Their meetings were prickly and divisive and the committee did not reach a consensus. Their work was reported out to the Board by Dr. June Rimmer, the Chief Academic Officer at that time. Her report did not accurately reflect anyone's opinion but her own. The Board received hundreds of emails advising them that the process and product was corrupted. This was my first activism in the District - reporting the dishonesty of Dr. Rimmer's report and calling for people to email the Board. To their great credit, the Board tossed out those results and ordered the staff to do it again - and do it honestly this time. Back then it was unusual for the board to get over 300 emails on a single topic, all on the same side of the question, and all really angry. I think it happens more often now and makes less of an impact.
I was on the next Spectrum Review Committee formed in 2001. It was a strong, diverse group including student family members with children in Spectrum, in APP, and outside the programs, Spectrum, APP and general education teachers, principals at schools that had programs and principals from schools that did not, the then head of Advanced Learning, and Dr. Rimmer. Everyone, with the exception of Dr. Rimmer, worked together well, cooperatively, honestly, and respectfully. Dr. Rimmer, however, demonstrated bad faith at every opportunity and nearly de-railed the entire effort.
It was during this year that the District first recognized four schools, starting with John Hay Elementary, which had home-grown programs to systematically address the academic needs of their high performing students. Dr. Rimmer did not tell the committee anything about the District's plan to recognize these programs. We learned about it when we saw the Enrollment Guides. The committee was strong enough, however, to overcome that bad faith. It was this committee that created and codified Advanced Learning Opportunities. The product of this Committee was a presentation to the Board.
The committee's work product, which set the definitions for the programs, remains the basis of the current understanding of advanced learning.
APP is a 1-12 program for students with cognitive ability more than 1.5 standard deviations above the mean and academic achievement in the top 5% nationally for reading and math. These students are taught - generally - to Grade Level Expectations about two grade levels above their age peers when developmentally appropriate. Elementary APP was to be in a school without general education students. Middle school APP was to be co-located with a general education program in middle school. The APP students would be in self-contained science and Language Arts/Social Studies classes, but with general education students in their other classes. At the high school level there would be no classes specifically for APP students; the program would be a cohort program. The critical mass of APP students in the same high school would be create the necessary demand to support a large number and variety of advanced classes (and teachers with expertise serving gifted students), but all students in the school would be eligible for those classes and could be served by those teachers.
Spectrum is a 1-8 program for students with cognitive abilities and academic achievement in the top 10% nationally for reading and math. These students are taught - generally - to Grade Level Expectations about one grade level above their age peers when developmentally appropriate. Elementary Spectrum students would be served in self-contained classrooms in schools with general education programs. In middle school the Spectrum students would be in self-contained Language Arts/Social Studies classes, but with general education students in their other classes. In schools that did not have enough district-identified Spectrum students to fill a classroom, the school would complete the class with high performing students who, in the opinion of the teachers, were ready and able to succeed with the Spectrum curriculum.
Advanced Learning Opportunities were programs developed by the schools as a systematic effort to address the academic needs of high performing students in an inclusive classroom. ALO's were to have no eligibility criteria. Any student who chose to accept the challenge of participation in an ALO would be free to participate. These students are taught - generally - to Grade Level Expectations about one grade level above their age peers when developmentally appropriate. ALO schools could provide advanced learning services in any delivery model they had cause to believe effective except self-contained. The self-contained delivery model was the distinctive feature of Spectrum. Inclusion was the hallmark of ALOs.
To be clear: the only difference between Spectrum and an ALO is the delivery model. If the delivery model is self-contained, then it is Spectrum. Anything else - including pull-outs, challenge assignments, small groups based on skill level and more - and it is an ALO.
The Spectrum Review Committee also called for the District to peform a quality assurance role. The District was supposed to closely review schools' applications to form a program. In addition, the District was to make regular reviews of the programs to assure their quality and efficacy. Finally, Spectrum programs needed to form at least 50% of their Spectrum classes with district-identified students to maintain their Spectrum designation. This rule would have led to the de-certification of a number of Spectrum programs, most notoriously at Denny.
The Board accepted all of the committee's recommendations and included the implementation of the recommendations as their adopted priorities for the coming year. There were all kinds of commitments made to follow the recommendations from the Committee.
The District began to renege on their responsibilities almost immediately. They lowered the bar for program applications after the first year and stopped reviewing them entirely after the second year. They never made even a single review of any program for quality and efficacy. For a few years they claimed to require schools to mention their advanced learning program in their CSIP, but they never enforced the requirement. They also failed to hold the line on self-contained Spectrum.
In the fall of 2003 superintendent Manhas averted a Spectrum student boycott of the WASL by making six specific promises to the Spectrum community. He never kept any of them. He denied any responsibility to keep the promises he made. I am amazed when people praise his integrity. I challenge them to provide any example of Raj Manhas demonstrating integrity. There are none.
The Committee continued. It was re-named the Advanced Learning Steering Committee and ran for another two years (2002-2004). I served on it all that time. While the committee continued to be a respectful place for meaningful discussion of opposing views on gifted education, I must admit that the Committee was not particularly effective. District staff simply didn't provide the committee with requested information, ignored the committee's recommendations, and took action without consulting the committee. The committee bitterly complained about the district's failure to meet its commitments but the complaints fell on deaf ears. After two years Superintendent Manhas disbanded it. It was supposed to be replaced by three Parent Advisory Committees - one for APP, one for Spectrum, and one for ALOs.
I should note that Advanced Learning had a revolving door of leadership at this time. Dr. Vaughan led the department for years, but left for UW after 2000-2001 and the first (failed) Spectrum Review. There was new leadership in 2001, 2002, and 2003. Dr. Vaughan returned to the position around 2006 or 2007.
I served on the APP Parent Advisory Committee for two years. It is still going, but it is not particularly effective. The Spectrum Parent Council met sporadically for two years before melting away. The ALO Parent Advisory Committee was never formed. As with the Advanced Learning Steering Committee, the district staff takes action and makes decisions without consulting with the APP PAC and does not follow their recommendations. There are some episodes of bad faith in the history - the staff refusing to meet with the committee, involve the committee, or even inform the committee. The commitee makes an annual report, but the district ignores it.
When Dr. Goodloe-Johnson introduced her Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All" in 2008 one of the projects was a review of the advanced learning programs - just like the review of Special Education, bilingual education, and the safety net programs. The review was conducted by respected experts from the University of Virginia. They arrived on the last week of the school year to observe APP and interview stakeholders. They did not observe Spectrum or ALOs. They issued their report at the end of the summer, and the district staff was to write a response - there were formal responses to all of the other audits and reviews. A number of actions were delayed pending the APP Review project but the APP Review quietly slipped off the list of Strategic Plan projects sometime in 2009. It was never mentioned again.
The APP Review by the folks at UVA specifically called for the creation of an Advanced Learning Advisory Committee. The District staff immediately agreed that they would do this. That was three years ago, in the fall of 2008. No committee has ever been formed. A number of actions have been delayed over the past three years with the promise that the district will take action when they have the committee to review it.
The UVA experts were specifically asked about delivery models and about the possibility of splitting the program. They strongly supported the self-contained model. They also said that the district should absolutely not split the program until they had implemented a consistent curriculum for the program. In addition, they cautioned against co-housing the program in a school where the neighborhood program was markedly different from the APP students in achievement and demographics. The District then split the program and put half of it into Thurgood Marshall. They promised an aligned, written, taught and tested curriculum for APP that would be implemented concurrently with the split. No curriculum was ever written or implemented. Despite prompting, no member of the Board would ask for it. Other promises associated with the split have been broken as well.
Board policy calls for annual review of the program, but the Board has not reviewed the program for quality or efficacy in the past four years. Not once. The Board directed the superintendent to review and suggest revisions to the Highly Capable Student Program policy (D12.00), but the superintendent never did it and the Board never followed up.
The state of advanced learning is about as bad as it has ever been. Elementary APP is split into two unequal halves. One half at Thurgood Marshall doing well enough (at last report). Two-thirds of the student are displaced from their long-time home at Lowell and are now camped at Lincoln in classrooms they carved out themselves. They have no clear future. The north-end program is likely to be split again and shoved into whatever empty or half-empty buildings can hold them without regard to location, building readiness, or amenities. Think Lowell, Cedar Park, Broadview-Thomson, and John Marshall. They will complain a bit, but they will accept whatever the district decides. Elementary APP families are just so happy to have the program that they will endure almost anything to keep it. The district never had to invest any money in Lowell because the APP families wouldn't care if the classes met under trees - so long as their children got an appropriate academic opportunity.
Middle school APP is also split. They are holding their own at their traditional home, Washington, but are already blamed for overcrowding at Hamilton after just three years there. High school APP at Garfield has also been blamed - unfairly - for overcrowding at that school and were among the students moved out. The District hastily created a new program at Ingraham - and that school is now running up against capacity issues as well. APP is under pressure all over the city.
As much as APP is under pressure from the District - split, re-defined, re-located - the pressure on Spectrum is even worse. I won't catalog it all, but the program has been robbed of all definition. Families, having lost confidence in Spectrum are scrambling to move their kids into APP. Beyond that, the program still has exactly all of the same problems it had in 2000 when the Board ordered a review of the program.
- North of the Ship Canal the District has not provided enough capacity to meet the demand for the program. Eligible students are denied access.
- The public questions the legitimacy and quality of the small programs south of downtown.
- There are serious questions about which students should or should not be in the program.
- There are serious questions about the program's structure and delivery model.
- There are serious questions about the impact that the program has on capacity management.
The ALO programs may be in even worse shape. We have no way of knowing. There is no data whatsoever about ALOs - who is in them, what they offer, how well they work. We don't even know if they really exist. At a board meeting in 2009 Dr. Vaughan touted the creation of new ALOs in southeast Seattle and promised that they would not be "ALO in name only". We have no way of knowing which ALO programs exist only on paper.
I hope to serve on the new Advanced Learning Advisory Committee when it is formed - if it is formed. I not only have the institutional memory that they need, but also the experience to demand assurances. I will work for clear definitions and real efforts to assure quality. I don't know that I will push for any specific definitions - there are a lot that I can live with - but I want the definitions set and I want them kept. That would be a very big step in the right direction.