Friday, August 30, 2013

Advanced Learning - Why Bother?

I mean, seriously, why does this district bother? 

To explain, it was noted by several readers that the testing schedule for Advanced Learning programs is NOT in the school calendar.  And, by law, they have to supply public notice (at least for APP). 

You'd think the calendar, going to every single family in the district, would be the ideal place. 

You'd think the first-day packets, going to every single family in the district, would be the ideal place.

You'd apparently be wrong.

So I wrote to the Board and the Superintendent:

Special Service Program
Highly Capable Students
WAC 392-170-042
Annual notification.

Annual public notification of parents and students shall be made before any major identification activity. The notice shall be published or announced in multiple ways in appropriate languages to each community in school and district publications or other media, with circulation adequate to notify parents and students throughout the district.

This is a legal obligation (at least for APP). 

I respectfully ask that you send home a sheet with the first-day packets with dates and information about this program (unless the district is planning to not have it or test for it this year).

Here's the reply I received from Stephen Martin, Interim Director for AL/Highly Capable:

Your message was forwarded to me for response. You are quite right. This important notification avenue was overlooked in the flux surrounding Dr. Vaughan’s retirement last spring. I have already alerted the Public Affairs Office, and we will make sure that Advanced Learning dates are included in future.
Fortunately, there are multiple other means of notifying families. Our website information is frequently updated, and principals will include AL information in their school newsletters and websites. Additionally, we are sending notices to newspapers serving the various communities in the city, and to over fifty private and independent schools.

Perhaps you, too, would be willing to spread the good word! 

You can see that Mr. Martin doesn't mention the first-day packets.  

Here's my reply:

I appreciate the input and naturally, I'll be happy to send out the info.  

I will note, however, that principals have frequently NOT included information on AL programs (for various reasons).  How will the district monitor to make sure the information is given out at all schools?  As well, it is wrong to believe that all parents have or use a computer.  I know this from being a PTA co-president and struggling to make sure ALL families receive notification.

Director Martin-Morris has frequently been unhappy with the distribution of AL students in the district and it points to areas where parents may not have access to websites.  I would also note that it far more important to make sure every single SPS school knows than any of the private or independent schools.  

Again, I stand by belief that this should be a stand-alone sheet in the first-day packets which I know could be done because I've been in charge of first-day packets at a couple of schools.  
I doubt if I will receive any reply.

Here's the link to the Advanced Learning page:

Information and forms regarding eligibility testing for the 2014-15 school year are now available. Click on Application Forms in the menu at right. Applications are due by Thursday October 3, 2013.

Why the Application Forms wording is not a live link and you have to go to yet another page to get to them is a mystery.  
We continue on this path of pretending we have Advanced Learning but it is really mostly lip service.

Sign me,
Disgusted (but not surprised)


Kate Martin said...

I would give Stephen Martin the benefit of the doubt. In discussions with him, I have found him very knowledgeable and personable. I know he's student centered. I expect we're going to see good things from him.

Jet City mom said...

"Again, I stand by belief that this should be a stand-alone sheet in the first-day packets which I know could be done because I've been in charge of first-day packets at a couple of schools. "

I agree. Why is this very rational request ignored?

Jet City mom said...

The comment that parents can get info on websites & the assumption that all schools in the district are equally successful at notifying parents of district timelines & resources, is an indication that the speaker is coming from a place of privilege and is not aware of disproportionality in the district.

Anonymous said...

To Jet City Mom - My children went to an elementary in the NE, with a significant middle class population, and the school did not actively promote the AL testing. They might have posted a sign in the office. It was past the deadline before I even knew what AL was all about (we were new to the district). I did not consider it a situation of disproportionality - several teachers and parents were outspoken against AL. It's not always about race/income.


Po3 said...

"This important notification avenue was overlooked in the flux surrounding Dr. Vaughan’s retirement last spring. "


"they inherited a lot of stuff and they weren't responsible for it,"

They always blame the churn.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Kate, I've met and spoken with Mr. Martin. He is knowledgable on gifted education issues.

That doesn't negate this big flub, no one correcting it, believing the website is the be all and end all to communications with parents and, like Po3 says, blame someone else.

Chris S. said...

Hey, at least he admitted to a missed opportunity. That's different, isn't it?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Melissa Westbrook said...

President Smith-Blum sent a message saying that she is "hopeful after state test scores and/or MAP Fall scores are vetted the usual direct letters to parents of students who appear qualified will go out as well. I believe last October that was about 3500 letters to potential candidates."

And that's great. But if those letters are near the deadline, it leaves families scrambling to understand what they are being told about their child and their options and less time to get the application in.

Sorry to sound so disappointed but I am.

Anonymous said...

I know this is upsetting, and I hope the district will end up distributing this information, but I have to say that the headline of this article worries me. The district is ambivalent enough about advanced learning that it feels dangerous to even give them this slight hook. There are a lot of reasons to bother with advanced learning, and while I can understand the frustration over this issue, we can't let the district think there's any wavering of support in the advanced learning community for these programs.

-an SPS parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

SPS Parent, if you think that anything you or I say about Advanced Learning is going to change anything, you'd be wrong. No one there listens to parents. That said, of course, they know parents care and the benefits of having a program, however pathetic and ill-run.

Anonymous said...

I thought they also notified parents of students whose spring MAP scores qualified them for AL testing. Are they not doing that anymore? I can't find anything about it on the district website.

-- D's mom

Meg said...

The district, as an entity, has long sought to hold down advanced learning testing. In 10 minutes of talking with APP parents, you will find stories of schools that said nothing about advanced learning testing dates, materials kept behind front desks, principals who actively counseled against APP, and so on and so on.

Until district administration feels that a basic education means that every kid learns at school - at every level - these kinds of shenanigans will continue. While district administration continues to regard advanced learning programs as "elitist," for kids who "will do fine" even if those programs cost exactly the same as general education, then advanced learners will continue to be denied the chance to learn at school.

Anonymous said...

This hasn't been the case in my experience. Letters about advanced learning programs were included in the last two years of first-day packets for every child at South Shore (including permission slips to take the test should you qualify). Plus every child who scored above the threshold on the Spring MAP got the letter mailed to their home by the district to invite them to test. That hasn't changed, as of last year anyway...


Charlie Mas said...

I don't get the sense that anyone in the District leadership believes in the need for advanced learning.

I don't think any of the Board think we need it, I don't think Mr. Banda thinks we need it, and I don't think that Mr. Tolley or Ms Heath think we need it.

I see them all in the "those kids will do just fine; they aren't the ones we should be worried about" category.

I think they are marginally grateful for the way that APP pulls hundreds of kids out of the overcrowded elementary schools in the northeast and allows the District to stuff them into an otherwise unusable building. Other than that, they find it all a great bother that messes things up for them and does nothing they find beneficial.

Bear in mind that we can never really know the mind of another - we often don't know our own minds - but I don't see any sign of interest in advanced learning among any of them. Certainly no sign of support for it. I often detect tiny indicators of distaste for the "elitism" APP and Spectrum (not ALOs).

Think about it. What have they ever done FOR these programs? Nothing. What have they done TO these programs? Split them, dissolved them, restricted access to them, moved them, created (or allowed) massive teacher turnover, toyed with them, shoved them into discarded spaces, and they have never kept a single promise ever made to any advanced learning community.

Then they have the gall to tell people that they support Advanced Learning. HA! Next time one of them says that, ask them for three examples of how they have supported advanced learning.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, much of what Charlie suggests seems to be true. The apparent lack of urgency in finding a permanent replacement for Dr. Vaughan is concerning. Boundary redraws and program placements (, delivery of "services") could be decided upon with little input from AL. The fate and direction of AL will be in the hands of those that seem to have little interest in AL.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Let's not forget Director Martin-Morris who is, shocked, I tell you, shocked, at the low enrollment in AL in the southern regions of the district.

Has he ever done anything about it? No.

Ditto for Director Patu.

There is nothing stopping any Board member from setting up an informational session for AL for their region.

But they don't.

Charlie Mas said...

Director Martin-Morris had seen all kinds of data about the disproportionate representation in APP for years. Years. It is disingenuous for him to suddenly pretend to be surprised by that data. It is cynical for him to take no action in response.

Director Martin-Morris was taking a shot at advanced learning programs, implying that they are classist and racist. He wasn't doing anything positive for anyone.

Charlie Mas said...

At first we're told that the Advanced Learning Task Force will consider and make recommendations on a long list of old, outstanding issues.

Then the committee is dismissed - for no apparent reason. Everyone pointed to someone else for dismissing the committee.

Then we are told that the committee will be re-formed, but it hasn't been.

Then we are told that new advisory committees will be formed, only they haven't been.

So we see exactly what we have seen for the past ten years: a series of new, fresh reasons for why the District can't even begin the discussion of advanced learning, the discussion that the District has said that they want to have for the past ten years. I guess they can always invent some rationale for why they can't have this discussion right now, but they will promise to have it soon.

They act as if no one has noticed that they have maintained this failure for a decade.

Anonymous said...

What Meg said.


Anonymous said...

The program is so awful, yet it grows boundlessly. Miracles never cease! That job description is so incredible - they must have applicants tearing down the doors. Right! What Meg said! Advanced learning is basic.

AL Everywhere

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