Thursday, September 19, 2013

What is the deal with Spectrum?

Thirteen years ago, when I first became an activist in Seattle Public Schools, there were problems with Spectrum. There were three problems:

  1. Qualified students could not gain access to the program because the classes were full.
  2. There was lively discussion about the student identification process including issues of under-representation of minority students and students from low-income homes.
  3. There were significant inconsistencies within the program from school to school and no clear definition of the program.
Here we are, thirteen years later, and all of the problems are still the same. There has been only minimal progress made on any of these issues.

There are waitlists for Spectrum at Wedgwood and View Ridge while the folks at Wedgwood claim that they had to dissolve their Spectrum classes because they couldn't get enough students for them. I have a hard time reconciling these statements.

There are waitlists for Spectrum at many middle schools as well. On the good side, the District says that any Spectrum-eligible student is assured of a Spectrum seat at their attendance area school, so I can only conclude that all of the students on middle school Spectrum waitlists are out-of-area students. The District needs to provide some transparency around their Spectrum enrollment and assignment practice. Right now there is none. No seats are set-aside for Spectrum-eligible students in the designated Spectrum sites.

Under-representation continues to plague the program. While the District has invited the families of high performing students to nominate their children for the testing, the proportions haven't improved as much as we would like. There is good reason to believe that talented students are more evenly distributed across ethnicities and income levels than our Spectrum enrollment would suggest. The District needs to do a better job of finding and developing that talent.

The inconsistencies from school to school have actually worsened and when asked to define Spectrum, the Executive Director of Curriculum and Instructional Support, Shauna Heath, replied "One year ahead". This is, far and away, the most anemic description of a program that I have ever heard. Spectrum needs a defined curriculum. Moreover, that curriculum needs to extend beyond the standard curriculum in multiple dimensions. It needs to go deeper so the students have a more profound understanding of the underlying concepts. It needs to go broader so the students can see and apply the concepts in a wider range of contexts. It needs to go faster through less repetition and a compacted curriculum. And, yes, it needs to go further, with a FLOOR of one grade level advanced (as developmentally appropriate) and without a ceiling. If the program is nothing more than acceleration then it's no different from grade skipping. Some schools have strong Spectrum programs where students are challenged to perform at very high levels. Some schools have Spectrum programs in name only.

When confronted with these problems the District officials respond with delaying tactics. They claim that they are going to form two Task Forces to address the questions of Student Identification and Service Delivery Model. In April they told us that these Task Forces were their "next steps". Then they told us that they would form these Task Forces in August. I don't know why they felt it was necessary to wait four months before taking the next steps, but that's what they said. August, of course, has come and gone without any Task Forces. Now they say that they are waiting to appoint the new manager of Advanced Learning before convening the Task Forces. I don't know why the interim manager cannot do it.

Of course none of the current delaying tactics explain the thirteen years of delay that have proceeded them.

Let's be perfectly clear: All of these issues are entirely within the District's control. The District decides and completely controls the assignment practices. The District decides and completely controls the student identification practice. The District decides and controls the definition of Spectrum. The District can't point fingers at anyone else.

So what's the deal with Spectrum? Do I have this wrong?

136 comments:

NW parent said...

The line that Spectrum is broken or fractured seems to be very common, but I see no evidence of it at our school, Whittier.

My child has had great teachers, going both deep and wide in curriculum, requiring lots of presentations and being thoughtful and rigorous. I think the biggest dissatisfaction for people at our school with Spectrum is that if you don't get a space initially it's hard to get in, and that the kids don't get to mix enough with their grade level pals. That is imminently fixable through PE/music/art rotations, lunch, recess, etc.

I'm sure others' experiences are different, but we've been happy. And, a lot of Spectrum families choose to keep the kids at their neighborhood school rather than sending to APP even though they have APP-numbers on cognitive and MAP tests.

Anonymous said...

I have a K student enrolled at a neighborhood school with no advanced learning programs. Because of early reading ability and other indications I would like to have my child tested for advanced learning.
In the Advanced Learning Information Packet for Fall/Winter Testing Session 2013-2014 it says:
“How long will my child retain eligibility? One school year. If newly eligible students do not enroll in an Advanced Learning program (APP, Spectrum or an ALO school) for the 2013-2014 school year, the eligibility will expire.”

If I turn in the forms this fall and the testing shows qualification, this seems to say my child would have to change schools this school year or lose eligibility! I thought you couldn’t apply to change schools after September, and there are no APP or Spectrum kindergarten programs.
Is this a failure to update the forms to say 2014-15? This makes no sense to me. I guess I'll be spending my morning on hold trying to get a clarification.

-Any Idea?

Anonymous said...

You can't look at Spectrum without looking at the farce that is ALO. Charlie, what do you think about the question of how ALO schools should deal with the labels of AL kids (in your Advanced Learning info thread)?

--TC

Anonymous said...

Yes - that is a failure to update the forms. You test now and then enroll for next fall. Check the waitlist status of the Spectrum school in your neighborhood now and you'll get an idea of whether you're likely to get a seat at that school.

Lynn

Anonymous said...

If Spectrum really is just one year advanced in reading and math, why do we need it? That is close enough to the grade-level standards that it can easily be met in the general ed classroom - particularly if you have a walk-to-math program.

Do other districts have equivalent programs? I think we need self-selected honors classes in middle school and required differentiation in the elementary schools.

My sister teaches 3rd grade on the eastside and she is required to include four levels of differentiation in all of her lesson plans. The classroom sets of reading books were removed from their classrooms because "There will never be a time it's appropriate for your entire class to be reading the same book."

Lynn

Libby said...

Our daughter tested this past summer (new to Seattle School District + coming from a private elementary school) and received high scores on the CogAT and reading achievement test, but her math achievement score was just shy of the 87th percentile. The kicker is, the Spectrum program at Madison MS has nothing to do with math - it's a Humanities Program! So she was disqualified from a Spectrum program that has absolutely nothing to do with math skills based solely on test scores evaluating math skills. Hmmm.
After contacting the Advanced Learning folks about this, we received the following reply: "SPS is in the process of reviewing eligibility policies. I am confident that the middle school eligibility requirements will be changing. However, both mathematics and reading thresholds are currently required for eligibility. Advanced Learning Programs is advocating for change around the specific policy that you are questioning."
If this dysfunction has been going on for 13 years, I have no hope that change will come while our daughter is in the system.

NW parent said...

Hi Lynn,

I don't agree that the one-year ahead standard of Spectrum should be met in a gen ed class or that it would necessarily be easy to do so.

Even in a school that's fairly homogenous socioeconomically like ours, there's still quite a range with young kids. I saw that at the end of kindergarten, there were kids who could write multi-paragraph stories, while there were some who still couldn't form their letters. Having that wide a spread seems challenging for everyone -- both the struggling learners, the fast-paced ones, and the kids in the middle, who sometimes don't get the attention they need.

I personally am skeptical of the District's ability to successfully provide that range of differentiation in the classroom, and also don't think it's necessarily a fair expectation of teachers. However, that's very interesting about your sister being expected to provide 4 distinct levels of differentiation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the confirmation Lynn! I agree that ideally 1 grade ahead could be served in general ed classrooms with differentiation and walk to math,etc. There is certainly more than a 1-year range in their ages as my barely-5 child said the first week of school that some of the kids in the class are 6.

In my elementary school (years ago in another state) the upper grades (maybe 2nd to 5th) had a one day a week pull-out where AL students were bused to a middle school for a centralized "gifted" program. That left the general ed classrooms with a reduced teacher/student ratio one day a week which benefited those students. Meanwhile AL students got one day a week with a teacher specially trained in AL and access to things like computer programming that the elementary schools didn't teach. Could something like that be a win-win solution for elementary AL here? Students aren't isolated from their peers all year, but have some extra learning opportunities that the general ed classrooms can't provide. It could also be a way to use some of our too-small-for-a-full-school campuses with different grades or schools having AL students bused there a different day of the week. Families who refuse to have kids bused long distances 5 days a week might go for 1 day a week on a bus ride with a AL cohort from multiple neighborhood schools going to a regional AL center. I know the logistics could be a nightmare, but we need to think outside the box since we now have all-or-nothing choices that aren't working for many families.

-Any Idea?

Anonymous said...

Some students really need a self-contained program like APP, of course. I'm thinking about ALO and Spectrum level students who have to depend on what their schools and teachers choose to provide with little guarantee or consistency.

-Any Idea?

Anonymous said...

Any Idea,

I think there would be more value in requiring teachers to have a plan for differentiation and requiring principals to verify that the differentiation occurs. This would provide appropriate instruction to all children every day that would avoid the cost associated with bussing to another school one day a week.

The key to success? My sister has about 20 children in her class this year. She is also team-teaching with the teacher in the classroom next to hers. One teaches reading and social studies, the other teaches math and science. That makes the work load manageable.

Lynn

Anonymous said...

Lynn,

Yes, busing and extra AL teachers cost $, but so does professional development and support for differentiation (training and more classroom materials). I too think lowering student/ teacher ratios is key in elementary, and it's very expensive. The team teaching approach you mention could be cost neutral. Some SPS elementary schools do that already. Do we have any data on whether that is providing better differentiation and better results?

I don't know if something like I experienced (see previous post) would work here because it was a much smaller district and different era. However, one thing that system did was to provide more support to the gen ed teachers for differentiation, rather than just asking for more from them. I remember having a notebook of things from the AL class I could work on when I finished the regular classroom assignments. The general ed teacher didn't have to provide these or evaluate them because the AL teacher took care of that. The AL teachers were specialists and the district could invest in more AL professional development for them than they could provide for or require of other teacher. Yes, it would be ideal is every teacher was expert in differentiation, but they aren't and providing AL specialists with direct contact with the kids (not teacher coaches) might be a faster step than trying to improve every teacher. Plus some teachers have a gift for connecting with and inspiring advanced learners just like some teachers are great with struggling students and have a passion for that work. We provide specialists to support kids who are behind or have other challenges without isolating them from gen ed. whenever possible. Could we do that for AL too, without just asking the classroom teacher to do more and more? The funding is the big issue as always.

-Any Idea?

Anonymous said...

NW parent,

Kids don't coming in neat packages, where they are exactly & only 1 grade level ahead in only math & reading, or exactly 2 grade levels ahead in a certain subjects but not 3 grade levels or not in other subjects.

My APP high schooler still can't form letters and is 4 grade levels ahead in math. The idea that differentiation doesn't have to happen because we have self-contained advanced learning programs just ignores the needs of kids.


-2e parent

NW parent said...

2e parent,

Never said or implied that kids don't need differentiation. Of course they do. Stated that I have my doubts about the District's ability to effectively deliver it and the thought that it may be unfair for teachers to be expected to provide it. And the prevailing thinking is that it is easier to teach to narrower ranges or clusters rather than a super wide spectrum.

Anonymous said...

Our school (Whittier) has a strong Spectrum program, but as mentioned on this thread, there are typically wait-lists at every grade level. My kid has been on the wait-list twice, and we've given up trying. So basically if you don't get your child in for First Grade, they won't ever get in. I would much rather see differentiated learning groups or ALO at our school(that's how it worked when I was a kid).
North End Parent.

Anonymous said...

What is left behind when you seperate out all those capable of working 1 year ahead. My kid could easily work 2 years ahead in Language Arts. Not in Math. Lots of kids can probably work 2 years ahead in Math but not in Language Arts. So do you think the kids left in the Gen Ed class are a narrow range? Factor in that some of these kids are Spectrum qualified but can't get in, and some might be extremely bright but don't test well. On the other hand some may actually struggle or be behind. And what are we expecting of their teachers? If you have no confidence in teachers to do differentiated learning, then when you fight for self containmened Spectrum I guess you only care that the Spectrum kids get a good education? Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

I think it is absolutely ridiculous how on the one hand with the proposed growth boundaries plan, the District is saying they need to add Spectrum to various schools and on the other hand, the District is doing nothing while principals are allowed to dismantle it.

At the middle school level though, I wonder if it would make sense to replace Spectrum with honors math and honors Language Arts/Social Studies - so kids who are strong in one field can take the advanced class - but they don't have to be super strong in both just to get into Spectrum. I would also a clearly defined curriculum and standards (yes, I know I'm dreaming) - but then let anyone who wants to opt in, take the course. If they can't keep up with the work, move them back to gen ed. I've never understood why the District has been so miserly in its approach to Spectrum. And in middle school when kids are taking different classes with different teachers, why not have the goal be to have lots of kids taking the most challenging courses possible rather than rationing them out? Of course this gets back to having a clearly defined curriculum and standards - but is it really too much to hope for?

Jane

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the typos Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Exactly! The goal should be every kid doing the most challenging work they can! I did not see that in a Gen Ed classroom in a self contained Spectrum school for my kid. Gen Ed Mom

NW parent said...

Gen ed mom,

Not "fighting" for self contained classes, as you put it, but pointing out that they seem to be working well at one school, with the exception of the difficulty serving enough numbers.

And, once again, pointing out that clustering kids of similar ability typically lends itself to easier teaching. I have nothing against gen ed and have another child in such a class. Also, not sure why it's so, but have heard very mixed things about ALO, often in the context that it's barely functioning, entirely disorganized or not delivering what's intended.I'd certainly be curious about thoughts/experiences on that.

Anonymous said...

My child was in a disorganized barely functioning gen Ed classroom in a school where everyone thinks self contained spectrum works well. It really worked against her. I have nothing against Spectrum but her class was not a viable cohort. A teacher would have needed superpower level differentiation to teach them all at their levels. If our experience had been different I would not feel this way. Gen Ed Mom

ben said...

@Gen Ed Mom - The question is whether you just had one bad teacher or whether it was a systemic problem in your school because isolated spectrum classes were on-site there.

Unfortunately, weaker teachers exist everywhere whether the school has spectrum or not.

Ben

Lisa said...

Libby, advocate for your child with the school registrar. Gather as much evidence as you can to support her need to be in a Spectrum classroom, including teacher recommendations, previous standardized scores, etc. I had the exact same experience and managed to have my child assigned to Spectrum in middle school "on a space-available basis." What happened was that they assigned Spectrum kids to classes and then found they had almost an entire class more of qualified kids. They filled in the spots with kids like mine who were on the cusp and/or whose parents were squeaky wheels. With a little luck on your side this could work for you and is worth a shot -- maybe for next year if movement is no longer possible this year.

Ironically, even though math was what kept my daughter from qualifying for Spectrum in the first place she was assigned to "spectrum-level" math according to the math placement test administered by the middle school.

Anonymous said...

Ben, no doubt the teacher was horrible. But the class make up made no sense. Why this group of kids, why a split? What was the benefit to them? Anyone who could teach that group would need to be an excellent teacher! Not just good, very experienced and very excellent.

Libby said...

Thanks, Lisa. We'll keep at it and maybe she'll be eligible for Spectrum in 7th grade. Madison has said that 6th grade Spectrum is full, so unlikely that we'll get anywhere this year.
I agree with Gen Ed Mom and Jane. This all-or-nothing approach does a big disservice to kids who have strengths in one area but not necessarily another. Or, as you say, kids that may not test well.
Funny enough, we've been told that the topics covered in 6th grade math will be a 70% review for our daughter, so she's likely to be moved into 7th grade math!

Anonymous said...

Grouping of some sort is essential. Self-contained is not fair though as pointed out by the gened mom. The top third are skimmed off and the remainder will have kids who may be as gifted as the best of the self-contained group in a single subject all the way to the lowest testing kids. Huge difference in range for the teachers.
Walk-tos or daily full class switching, as they do at Lincoln.
If a second grader is in a 4th grade reading class, so be it. Core classes have to be coordinated, but it is doable and fair.
Coach

Anonymous said...

The logistical challenges of teaching a split class when there is testing all the time are just crazy. The amount of wasted time even after the "good" teacher came back because of the two grade levels in the classroom was insane. In order to keep the class learning and engaged the teacher either has to be committed to do lesson plans that continue through the other grade's testing or the class just sits around and wastes time. In my daughter's class it was the latter. And the teacher acted as though I was crazy to expect otherwise. The downside to a self contained spectrum school is that there are age and gender inbalances in gen Ed. leading to some gen ed kiids getting assigned to classrooms for reasons other than their educational needs. No one seems to take this concern seriously, but I would say it is at least as serious as a kid who is one grade level ahead not being optimally challenged. Gen Ed Mom

TechyMom said...

I still think we should look at grade-skipping for single-year acceleration. Combined with in-class differentiation for depth and breadth, I think this could meet a lot of needs in a local school without the logistical problems posed by self-contained classes.

I don't think skipping more than one year is usually a good idea for social reasons, so would keep APP for those who need more.

Anonymous said...

From everything I've read thus far on this thread, it seems rather clear that SPS's failure to implement and deliver meaningful ALO's at every school is the biggest cause of kids being short-changed. Even more than self-containment, bad teachers, or overcrowding.

ALO's were supposed to bridge the gap between the self-contained programs and Gen Ed classrooms where kids strong in one or two areas could be appropriately challenged with as much AL as they could handle in whatever subjects, without having to jump into Spectrum or APP.

So, where are the promised ALO's for the kids who want some AL, but not as much as Spectrum or APP deliver?

WSDWG

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain to me why we need both Spectrum and APP? I understand that those kids who are very academically advanced (2 or more years ahead) need academic challenges in an age appropriate social group. But the designation "one year ahead" is just not that meaningful. Especially in this age of Kindergarten red shirting. If its that you don't think a teacher can differentiate for the top 30 percent of the students, well then why do schools with Spectrum typically have gen ed kids in split grade multi age classrooms? Aren't you then expecting the teachers to do for the 70 percent what they arguably can't do for the 30 percent? A good school that challenges all kids should be able to challenge the top 30 percent in a regular classroom. Anyone want to take a stab at explaining this to me? Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Gen Ed Mom,

I'll take a stab. I don't think we need another self-contained program. I think in elementary school we need smaller classes and better curriculum (math!) and principals who expect teachers to teach all of their students. In middle school - self-selected honors classes.

I know that Spectrum works well for some families, but I think the damage we do by putting a ceiling on every other student's learning just isn't worth it. Spectrum-qualified students aren't so far outside of the norm in Seattle that they need self-contained classes.

Lynn

Charlie Mas said...

Lynn, we shouldn't be putting a ceiling on any student's learning regardless of the class or program.

In a Standards-based system, the Standards are intended, in theory, to act as a floor, but they function, in reality, as a ceiling.

The one biggest change we need to make is to remove the ceilings for all students.

When we do that, you will see that nearly all students are capable of working beyond the Standards in some discipline, that Spectrum-eligible students are capable of working much more than one year beyond the Standards in math and language arts, and that APP-eligible students are capable of even more.

If Spectrum- or APP-eligible students don't appear all that remarkable, that is likely because their academic growth has been suppressed by Standards, by curricular alignment, by horizontal and vertical articulation, and by individual teachers who didn't know their potential - you know, just like every other kid in Seattle Public Schools.

Anonymous said...

So how is containing the top 30 percent on one classroom raising the standards for all the students in the school? That was not our experience. Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

I'm frustrated here. Really frustrated. How does the self contained Spectrum program "remove all ceilings for all students"? I happen to think my General Education kid is remarkable and that her academic growth was suppressed last year by her classroom setting in a multi grade multi age classroom with too many varied levels of ability across the board in every subject. It was compounded by a bad teacher and a label that was put on her the very first day "not high achieving". Nothing was expected of her. This is in a school where people seem to think the self contained spectrum classes work. It's great to say you want to remove all ceilings for all students but HOW does the self contained Spectrum model encourage that? Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Gen Ed Mom,

I don't think getting rid of Spectrum would ensure your child would have gotten what she needed. I assume you realize that if there was no Spectrum at Whittier, more half of the girls in the current 5th grade wouldn't be at the school, as they don't live in the Whittier attendance area. Therefore, without a Spectrum class, there would still be very few girls and probably be split classes due to low enrollment, so your experience very well may not have been any different.

Maybe you can blame the city water department as there must have been something in the water that year that reduced the number of children born in the Whittier reference area in 2002-03 and skewed them towards males. This would be just as valid as blaming Spectrum for your daughters bad year.

- so over it

Anonymous said...

Girls in the Spectrum attendance area must be going to other schools. Mine are. Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

And so over it, why do you assume without Spectrum Whittier would have low attendance? What data do you have to back that up? Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Gen Ed Mom,

The current 5th grade class (which is the grade that affected your daughter) is the only grade I was referring to. The enrollment, in this grade only, is, and has been, lower than the enrollment of the other grades. It has been this way since this cohort started in Kindergarten. Most of the other grades at Whittier have around 75-85 total students, I believe, but the current 5th grade has had around 60, of course varying from year to year. Because of this, it had been challenging for the administration to utilize teachers effectively with lower numbers in one grade.

so over it

Anonymous said...

I am not aware of 5th grade in any other school in the area being short of kids or short of girls. In fact, I know girls that would be in that class at Whittier but aren't because they chose to go to other schools or chose to leave. Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Problems with both spectrum and APP are different, but share similarities. For students exceptionally strong in one area and not strong enough in another, they may never make the cut off for either type of AL? That in itself is not the end of the world if students have teachers (for ES setting) who can see pass the designation and have the time and flexibility to provide AL materials appropriate to the students' needs. In the real world of large class size, limited seating for walk to math or reading, poor differentiation, teacher's strength, you get what you get which may or may not be good. There's too much whimsy there to be called good C&I and alignment.

It may get better in secondary grades depending on schools, the principal and teachers, if access to higher level instruction is available. Sometimes students do get shut out if there aren't enough seats in algebra, biology, or other prerequisite classes without the AL designation. Summer school and more advanced classes open to capable students regardless of designation would be far more appropriate. Math is a good example where taking 6th grade algebra should be ability dependent, not based on AL status. Already seeing this in some MS, not just Hamilton and Washington. The same should apply for science and LAs.

D.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ditto to all that Charlie said - it's all true.

Again, the district has no real commitment to either the AL program or - sorry - its students. I wish it were otherwise but the facts don't back up any real and sincere commitment. Frankly, I think the district might be embarrassed at how dysfunctional and difficult to understand the program is but, as we all know, the district just doesn't have a lot of worry over this kind of public face.

Reading the comments, I see some of the same thoughts about Spectrum. Why have it? Doesn't it just skim off the top-performers in a classroom? Couldn't you just do pull-outs?

We have been over this - again and again - but sure, why not one more time?

Spectrum, I believe, was created as something of a necessary evil for the district. I'm fairly sure that APP existed before Spectrum but I suspect Spectrum came on-line for two reasons. One, many people did not want to leave a neighborhood school for APP. In order to keep those families, the district created Spectrum so that they could provide more rigor to those students who probably did/would have qualified for APP so that they would stay put. (And consider that back then, the district was losing students and needed everything they could get to keep students.)

Two, I think some parents didn't want what APP might have been considered - a hothouse of extra-bright kids.

As we see, there are many opinions - both from educators and parents - about what is the "right" fit for students. Is it with peers who can challenge and keep up a faster pace? Is it with a mix of kids in the general ed class (but with differentiation)? Is it mostly tested kids but also some that teachers believe can do the work and should be pushed forward? I have found the research to be mixed.

I like self-contained Spectrum when we were at Whittier. (And GenEd mom, I have read your thoughts so you don't need to reprise them here.) But I'm not sure it's the same thing as it was because, as we have seen, Spectrum is evolving - helter-skelter - at every Spectrum school. I'll bet the Directors could tell you who does what and I'd bet neither can Michael Tolley.

BUT I have said that if I believed that if the district made and SHOWED a commitment to professional development for ALL teachers in differentiation, I'd be okay with Spectrum going away. But I have never seen that commitment.

If the district showed a real commitment to ALOS - in every single school - I'd be fine with getting rid of Spectrum. Hasn't happened.

One thing to understand - and I haven't seen the latest numbers but it's been generally true - there are a LOT of kids who qualify for APP who go Spectrum. Schools would be unhappy if they lost all those students.

Additionally, there tend to be a fair number of APP or Spectrum-qualified students who, for whatever reason, stay at their neighborhood schools. Again, those schools would be sad to leave those schools.

Lastly, keep in mind that every student who qualifies for APP or Spectrum, even if they have Spectrum in their school, don't go into the Spectrum classroom. So this idea that "all" the bright kids leave the Gen Ed classrooms is NOT true. And, some bright kids never get tested so you really have no idea what the mix is in the Gen Ed classroom (at least not as a parent).

Also, kids who are near the top (like the top 10%) tend to rise into those positions in the absence of those who do leave.

In a nutshell
- the district has no real stated commitment to advanced learners
- APP and Spectrum have no different curriculum, nor do most of the AL teachers have any special training provided by the district
- not every APP or Spectrum qualified student accesses those programs
- not every student who might be eligible even tests for those programs.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Note to self; don't write when jet lagged.

That should read "most directors DON't know what type of Spectrum is at each site."

Also, I failed to address pull-outs.

Look, I'm old so I've seen this issue before. You know what teachers and parents said back in the day? They didn't like pull-outs because it stopped the everyday action of the classroom and made the kids who stayed behind wonder why THEY didn't get to leave. It was a very clear - "where are they going and why can't I go?" situation. I heard many, many parent and teacher complains about it.

And guess what? It mostly went away (at least for AL).

Now, I have heard about something Bellevue used to do that someone referenced here about taking the AL students away for one afternoon a week. Might be workable if the Gen Ed students found they got extra help and attention. But logistically, I don't see it.

I don't have a problem with one type of class for a pull-out (like math) whether anyone tests into anything or not. It seems like the teacher could make the call on who should go or not. I don't necessarily equate Walk to Math with AL so for me that kind of pull-out is different.

Anonymous said...

My child is in Spectrum at Whittier and I am wondering why people think it is a strong program? How can you evaluate whether or not it's a strong program when there is no known criteria for evaluation, aside from math being one grade ahead? Basically, it comes down to individual teachers as to whether or not students are appropriately challenged and their learning needs are met.

There's no definition of what Spectrum is aside from math being one grade ahead, and, therefore, no criteria with which to evaluate how the program is doing, no leader of the program at the school (or otherwise?), no required training for teaching gifted students, no cohesive Spectrum "team" across Spectrum classes. There really isn't a program. There are Spectrum classes, but not a cohesive, thoughtfully planned program.

-Bueller

Anonymous said...

Actually, I do know that not all the bright kids leave the Gen Ed classroom, because it was pointed out to me time and time again which kids in my daughter's class were Spectrum qualified. Look, I have no patience for someone who complains their child had her feelings hurt because other kids left the classroom and "why can't I go too.". That's not even close to what I am complaining about here. My child didnt have her feelings hurt. She simpIy learned nothing in a class that was ignored when it was put together and at every point along the line thereafter until it was much too late to do anything about the situation. I gave the set up she was in a fair chance. it looked odd, but I went in with an open mind. Everyone can continue to disregard our experience, say it didn't happen, say it has to do with birth patterns in Whittier Heights, because no girls exist in this part of Seattle or what have you. So Spectrum was created so that neighborhood schools wouldn't lose bright kids because enrollment was down. That is a problem from 13 years ago that no longer exists. It's nice to go to your neighborhood school. I'd love it if my kids could do that. But if your child is so bright that he or she can't have educational needs met in a school full to bursting with very bright kids, I guess you have a hard choice to make. No one addressed any of my questions. If my daughter had been in a normal set up with peers all doing more or less the same level of work perhaps leaders would have emerged in that classroom instead of the "every man for himself" anarchy that prevailed partly because that class never gelled and never seemed so much as a class as it did a collection of kids who for whatever reason didn't make if into Spectrum. North end schools have no enrollment problem. Maybe Spectrum had outlived its purpose in this part of town? Gen Ed Mom

Charlie Mas said...

Bueller raises an important point.

Never - not ever - in the entire history of all of the advanced learning programs has the District made any kind of assessment of the quality or efficacy of the programs.

Weird, huh?

It's especially weird after you read Policy 2090 that requires:

"The Board requires efficiency and effectiveness in all facets of its operations. In
order to achieve this goal, the Board shall provide:
A. A clear statement of expectations for the district's instructional programs,
B. Staff, resources and support to achieve the stated expectations; and
C. A plan for evaluating instructional programs and services to determine how
well expectations are being met.
"

Not until this year, during the first ever Board Management Oversight Work Session for Teaching and Learning, was it made clear, publicly, that the District has never made any kind of assessment of the quality or efficacy of any of the academic programs. At that time the Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Support promised the Board that she would assess the effectiveness of our Advanced Learning programs. She has not done so.

There is no one who can say that the advanced learning programs are good, or bad, are working well or are working poorly. The only data we have are the results from the state proficiency tests.

Charlie Mas said...

If there are children, such as Gen Ed Mom's child - and mine - who have spent entire years without learning anything new, the fault for that does not lie with the self-contained structure of Spectrum.

The fault for this lies with a teacher who is failing to differentiate and management - at the school- and district-level - that fails to adequately support differentiation.

That inadequate support for differentiation is often expressed as an inappropriate emphasis on curricular alignment, Standards, horizontal and vertical articulation, and closing the achievement gap.

I'm not saying those things aren't good, but they can be damaging if they aren't thoughtfully implemented.

It is this very weakness that causes members of the advanced learning community to support the self-contained model. In the self-contained model the cohort - independent of any instruction - can provide instructional benefit as the students learn from each other.

All of the other delivery models rely on differentiated instruction, and that simply isn't reliable.

Anonymous said...

There's a statement on the SEA website about Advanced Learners and differentiation in the classroom. It's from 2002 - so attitudes may have changed - but is still posted so maybe not.

SEAAdvancedLearners

Lynn

Anonymous said...

It is this very weakness that causes members of the advanced learning community to support the self-contained model. In the self-contained model the cohort - independent of any instruction - can provide instructional benefit as the students learn from each other.

Ahhh. So, the smart kids are the teachers. So, why can't the dumb kids also be included in that? Wouldn't they too benefit a being around a few smart people? The smart kids provide better instruction (or conversation, according to Charlie)- but the dumb kids shouldn't have access to it? That's always been the problem. Why should the dummies have to all stay together? If you take that argument to it's end, as the district has, you'll find the ultra-self-contained special ed classes, where kids with few skills are all clumped together (I guess somebody thought it was a great "cohort", or that they didn't deserve to see "smart kids", or "medium kids", except when visited out of pity.) You can go look at these, and know exactly why this model fails.

Dumb Parent

Anonymous said...

If differentiated instruction isn't reliable can I demand my kid be in a class with all kids who are ahead in reading and need extra help in Math? Can I get kids from outside my neighborhood to come to my neighborhood school so she can be surrounded by kids who are both her age and learn like she does? Can I set up a classroom that meets her educational needs but thinks differentiated instruction will work for the rest of the kids in the other classes? Charlie IF differentiated instruction is not reliable for Spectrum kids, how was it meant to work for the 3/4 split that was left behind when the Spectrum cohort was removed from the class assignment pool? Can you and Melissa please address this point? Gen Ed Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

Bueller, absolutely correct. Of course Spectrum isn't a program and is ENTIRELY teacher/principal dependent. That's why it's a mess.

"Why should the dummies have to all stay together?"

One of the more unpleasant statements in this thread and I will point out only the author uses the word dumb. I didn't see (or recall) a single other person using it to describe children in a Gen Ed class. They are not dumb. Again, no name-calling especially about students.

GenEd, you missed the point. ALL students in ALL classes need differentiation. I'm not sure that most Spectrum teachers differentiate and my supposition is that most teachers are not trained well how to do it. They surely understand it and probably could think of ways but getting it right -serving the needs of all types of children within a classroom - means training.

That professional development in differentiation would serve ALL students seems to be a point the district misses.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for directly addessing me Melissa. Unfortunately, I did have the teacher in my child's Gen Ed class use several euphemisms the very first month of school which indicated she had already labeled her dumb. I am sure that isn't the point of self contained Spectrum, but in this case walking into a school with so many labels in place resulted in my daughter being put in a box before anyone got to know her. I think you missed my point. My question is why self contained spectrum. If the answer is differntiation does not work, don't you see that you have only solved that problem for YOUR kid and in fact you may have left a big mess for the rest of the kids who now might be in a split class? So I go back to the question I asked before. How does a self contained spectrum model raise the educational ceiling for ALL kids in the school? Anyone? Gen Ed Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

GenEd Mom, differentiation DOES work. It work quite well BUT the teachers need to be trained. I'm not sure how many times I can say that but that's the point.

If your child's teacher is using language that makes you uncomfortable, go to the principal. The only way it can get corrected is if he/she hears about it.

Spectrum isn't supposed to raise the educational ceiling for all kids. Neither is APP or Special Ed or ELL. It's supposed to serve a specific need for students who are in the program.

Anonymous said...

@ Gen Ed Mom:

I am truly sorry that your daughter had such a bad year.

The teacher that labelled your daughter was a sub who is no longer at the building.

The principal was new last year and the split-class structure was set up by the previous principal.

Both the staff and the principal decided that the split -class structure did not work last year & all classes are grade level classes this year.

The 5th grade class is VERY small ... started in K with 56 students and I think it has 53 students this year.

The other grades are between 75 - 100 students and those students are being served in grade level classes.

The situation last year as been rectified.

N by NW

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

I really appreciate Gen Ed Mom's willingness to keep coming back here and make her point in such a calm but insistent way. Her child's experience may have been somewhat extreme, but versions of this happen throughout the city and are exacerbated by the inconsistent way kids needs are met (or not) by the District.

Melissa, You say (in part): ...the district created Spectrum so that they could provide more rigor to those students who probably did/would have qualified for APP so that they would stay put. ....Two, I think some parents didn't want what APP might have been considered - a hothouse of extra-bright kids.

The implication here is that Spectrum kids are pretty much interchangeable with APP qualified kids, and that is just not true. Spectrum goes way down into 15-20 percentile. APP is supposed to pull out the upper thin tail of achievers. Pulling APP qualified kids out of neighborhood schools has a much smaller impact on gen ed classrooms than pulling Spectrum qualified kids out of gen ed classrooms (especially since only the ones who score well in both reading and math qualify.)

Alternatively, you think they created Spectrum just as a buffer to protect the APP qualified kids who wanted to stay out of APP.

Anonymous said...

"I'd love it if my kids could do that. But if your child is so bright that he or she can't have educational needs met in a school full to bursting with very bright kids, I guess you have a hard choice to make. No one addressed any of my questions. . . . Maybe Spectrum had outlived its purpose in this part of town? Gen Ed Mom"

I am extremely sympathetic to this argument. The key is whether Spectrum is being used to pull of a subset of kids whose needs aren't adequately met in the gen ed classroom, or whether it's being used to push out a subset of kids whose needs can't be met in a classroom "stuffed with bright and capable kids" (with kids caught in the middle -- because of testing, waiting lists, . . . -- being pushed out along with the kids who aren't functioning as well at school).

I vividly remember the View Ridge principal stating that 50% of her students were either IEP or spectrum eligible. So, then, Spectrum becomes a means to avoid the disruptive kids, rather than being with a peer cohort. With that distribution it's easy to imagine the scenario Gen Ed Mom describes, where a school-capable girl who doesn't meet the rigid Spectrum criteria (or misses the waiting list)gets shunted to a class full of disruptive children.

That's why we keep going over this over and over again. If anyone wants my support for Spectrum, they have to convince me that it's not just a means of skimming off the non-disruptive, higher SES, more compliant kids with higher levels of parental support from everyone.

And, I think that in a city like Seattle, 5% cutoffs, basically amount to that, a test for preparation and support and compliance rather than significant educational needs. I would be listening if Spectrum was some form of elective program with criteria for remaining in the class (rather than for entering the class). I suspect, as well, that the criteria for APP should be more selective (again, to pick the kids who really need higher level/faster speed, rather than ones who just have the right resources).

zb

Anonymous said...

Spectrum goes way down into 15-20 percentile."

Wow, even more of an issue than the 5% I envisioned. An important fact about testing (really, read the info on the CogAT) is that the percentiles only allow you to differentiate among the "cognitive abilities" of a similarly prepared population. In Seattle, if we use the test to select the "cognitively most able" of the children of PhDs from the U with children of Somalian immigrants, we're selecting based on preparation.

And, mind you, if one personally, has a spectrum eligible kid, one has to make the choice that's good for their child. But, I'd need a lot more evidence that this choice functions as running towards something rather than running away from something.

zb

ben said...

Thinking a little more broadly:
Split classes happen across the district in schools with and without Spectrum. Everyone knows they are more difficult to teach since they increase the range of skills and curriculum. At the end of the day, we don't necessarily need to accept the situation. With more budgeting additional teachers could be brought in to handle the uneven cohorts.

Ben




Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this issue at other schools. Where I have seen splits before, there has been an educational reason for the split and care put into the class selection. I have seen splits work when they were designed to work. I am asking perfectly reasonable questions based on real life experience and I am being personally attacked. If there is a good reason schools need self contained Spectrum just explain it to me, I am glad that the current principal at Whittier put some thought into serving all the kids this year. I hope I helped to make that happen, even though we left the school. Gen Ed Mom

NW parent said...

I take great issue with calling Spectrum "a necessary evil." That seems entirely out of bounds and hyperbolic. It may be many things, but evil is not among them. You can argue the merits of vigorous ALO and dislike self-contained, but the over the top hyperbole is too much.

Additionally, the folks who are minimizing the impact to children of what it feels like to not get to walk here or there with different groups in the classroom perhaps don't remember what it feels like to be a child. But, they do notice and some of them feel that very deeply.

Anonymous said...

Everyone here has minimized my daughter's experience with "I'm sorry she had a bad year." It was not a bad year. It was daily tears, bribing her to go to school, hearing her say "I'm dumb" "I hate school" on a regular basis. Hives. This is a adaptable self assured kid who is in the third school in 3 years and doing pretty well so far. I'd much rather have had left behind while some kids walked to advanced whatever than where she was last year. Gen Ed Mom

NW mom said...

My kid (currently a Junior in HS) went to Whittier from 1st through 5th grade. Her first grade teacher suggested she get tested for AL. She qualified for Spectrum and I was thrilled. However she was put on the waitlist and remained on a waitlist for the next four years, from 2nd - 5th grades. Which was totally annoying for many reasons but the one that really frustrated me was the sibling preference for Spectrum that was in effect then - if you had a sibling in the school you were moved up on the Spectrum waitlist in front of the kids who did not, regardless of whether or not the sibling was also in Spectrum, just if they existed. It was asinine and I'm so glad they got rid of it. The sibling tiebreaker also applied to full day kindergarten (Whittier used to have 1/2 day and full day) - it was ridiculous. If you were an only child - no full day K and no Spectrum for you. I later found out about 5 or 6 kids who were on the Spectrum waitlist the entire time they were there as well. Meanwhile people moving into the district were placed in Spectrum because they also had a sibling in the school.

There were also split gen ed classes then - there was a 1/2 split and a 4/5 split.

However, in spite of all that - my kid got a great education at Whittier and I have nothing but praise for the teachers there at the time. Her first grade class only had 17 kids in it. Her third grade class was the same. It was just a couple years before the population exploded. I volunteered every other week in her classroom for 5 years and corrected kids' work and with rare exceptions they were all doing well. It was impressive. Her 5th grade teacher was not thrilled with Discovery math and had me xerox old school worksheets from falling apart workbooks that she carefully hoarded to supplement the lessons.

There was some principal churn (actually how I found this blog - googling the principal who was having shall we say personal issues) but the teachers were awesome. I'm sorry that some people are having bad experiences there.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"The implication here is that Spectrum kids are pretty much interchangeable with APP qualified kids, and that is just not true. "

If you took it that way, that's not what I meant. I meant that there are many reasons why kids who qualify for APP and/or Spectrum don't access those programs. No, they are not interchangeable.


NW mom said...

Sorry - my long winded comment should've just said I thought Spectrum worked well when we were at Whittier because of the numbers. It was mostly ok that my kid was on the waitlist because the gen ed classes had less than 20 kids and the Spectrum classes had 32. Clearly things are different now and the perhaps the program should be revisited.

Anonymous said...

" It was mostly ok that my kid was on the waitlist because the gen ed classes had less than 20 kids and the Spectrum classes had 32. "

Interesting observation -- one thing I've noted is that the selection process (and, I'll be open that my premise is that the selection is largely for compliance and preparation, of both children and parents) makes it easier to teach a large class. Differentiation, grade splits, individual attention can all be used by a good teacher to make things work, but even if they have skills, they can't do it with too many kids.

zb

Anonymous said...

@ Gen Ed Mom:

I wasn't trying to discount your daughter's experience, I was trying to let you know that the situation you described had been addressed.

The splits were poorly done last year BUT all kids are in grade level classes this year.

Just a quick FYI for anyone interested ... under the old assignment plan, Whittier usually had full Spectrum classes and much smaller gen-ed classes. Under NSAP, the district drew the boundaries larger and did NOT figure the Spectrum program into the numbers. So, not only does the school enroll all students in the larger assignment area, it also enrolls students from other Whitman area elementary schools for Spectrum ... this results in some really uneven class sizes, not perfectly packed groups of 25. The school is packed out @ 475 this year.

In the draft of new NSAP boundaries, the district is contracting Whittier's boundaries back to pre-NSAP lines. Hopefully this gives the school some wiggle room when making decisions about class configurations in the future.

N by NW

Anonymous said...

Spectrum isn't supposed to raise the educational ceiling for all kids. Neither is APP or Special Ed or ELL. It's supposed to serve a specific need for students who are in the program.

Who is talking about "raising the ceiling"? If the point is to just be with other smart kids, as Charlie posits, then why can't other kids be with "smart" kids too? Sprectrum isn't about instruction, it's just about kid-exposure. Other kids don't "deserve" to have exposure to "smart kids" since it is the only way to get extra education? Why do you have to be smart to sit next to smart? Evidently you think they don't deserve it. Evidently you also think smart kids have nothing to learn from others. Diversity? Not so interesting, unless it is superficial. Why shouldn't other kids also get the benefits of the smart cohort, since the cohort is the only benefit according to Charlie? Charlie is saying that there actually is a benefit to a cohort of smart kids. If so, it shouldn't be reserved for kids who somehow deserve a better education. Why can't the dummies be allowed to benefit? Ooops. I mean "why can't the non-smart kids benefit", especially since the cohort is the only benefit? This thinking is the pitfall of the Spectrum argument. And it is the reason Spectrum has no district backing, only status-quo parents wish to keep it. This is why "separate but equal" has always been a false promise. Melissa's stance is that they simply don't deserve it, so they shouldn't get it. Earn your way to advancement. Why not just go back to complete segregation by law, if we allow that? Segregation did, in fact, benefit some people. Evidently you think that's good enough. And, that's exactly the point. (I see you deleted the implications for special education. Guess it's unpopular to point out the obvious.) In the case of special education, the district has classes that are so low functioning, that nobody speaks. Would you also say, "we shouldn't allow those non-verbal kids to hear any language because we don't need to "raise the ceiling" for them"? Evidently, that's your line of reasoning. If you really believe that kids deserve a good class because they're "really smart", and others don't, then you support a system which has huge problems for lots of people, even if it retains some benefit for others.

The fact is, "differentiation" has always been part of teacher education. All these cries about it requiring all sorts of special training is a ridiculous ploy to get something special for a few kids, at the expense of the many.


-Spectrum for ALL

Anonymous said...

I have kids who tested into APP. They have spent the majority of their school years in gen ed, some in spectrum & a little in APP. Their academic needs were best met in gen ed classrooms with differentiation & flexibility. It seemed to me that the existence of advanced learning programs were often used as an excuse not to meet varied academic needs.

My kids each have different gifts & challenges that are as diverse within in one child as a whole classroom of gen ed kids. I am talking years difference in ability in subject areas or skills. So '1 grade level ahead', or '2 grade levels ahead', does no better for us that 'at grade level'.

Of course they have had classes where they learned no academics at all. Not to say that they learned nothing. However, what Gen ed mom describes is damaging beyond not learning. We dealt with a teacher once who used humiliation as a classroom management tool. I let it go too long. Do everything you can to protect your child in that situation. Sit in the class, talk to the principal, record every incident, or finally pull your child out of the school. I am so sorry that your daughter dealt with that.

-almost done

Melissa Westbrook said...

Spectrum for All, you made several statements that just aren't true but frankly, I don't have the time or interest to refute.

I will one, though,
"If so, it shouldn't be reserved for kids who somehow deserve a better education."

I find it interesting that people believe that APP or Spectrum kids are getting a "better" education than other students. Why? I don't know. But they have the same teachers as other students in the school and the only difference is the cohort (and their only similarity is testing into the program).

Clearly, this issue still stings.

Also, don't ever say that I said kids don't deserve a good education unless they test into it. Nonsense and I never said or meant that.

Anonymous said...

What APP and Spectrum kids are getting is some of the benefits of grade-skipping without the usual drawbacks. They avoid the concerns about the social effects of being in classes with much older peers - and they get their thirteen years of free public education.
The downside is the district's refusal to give them a stable location (APP) or a guaranteed seat (Spectrum.) Oh - and the negative attitudes of some parents of children in general education programs.
If some of the children in your neighborhood are ready to skip a grade, and yours is not, that doesn't mean your child is dumb.

Lynn

Anonymous said...

I would like to let you all in on a deep, dark secret at Whittier Elementary School. It is a unicycle school. This means that many of the children who attend Whittier ride the unicycle and some of them are quite proficient at it. Now, anyone can attempt to ride the unicycle at Whittier, but you must pass a TEST to do all sorts of fun things like ride in parades. Those who excel, can unicycle during lunch recess while all the other kids do more pedestrian things like tag or tetherball. The gym is warm and cozy where as those other kids are outside where it is cold and might rain. It just isn't right. Some parents are unicycle parents, which doesn't mean they ride the unicycle themselves or run on one cylinder (although that may be the case). It means their children are talented unicyclists and they must run along side frequently spraying water on them during parades and carting unicycles back and forth from home to school in their energy efficient cars. It is a lot of work being a unicycle parent but, oh, so rewarding. I've heard rumors of parents working with their child out of school hours to help them pass the unicycling test. How over the top is that? One girl actually cried because she could not get the hang of the one wheel and felt clumsy and worthless. Hopefully she has been whisked away to a non-unicycling school so this will not affect her adversely for years to come. Some unicyclists become giraffes (gosh, I hope that is not name calling) which means they can ride unicycles really far off the ground - I would guess only about the top two percent achieve this. You can always tell a giraffe because they are extremely tall and maybe it is just me, but they always appear a tad bit smugger than everyone else. Of course giraffe parents must work the hardest of all because we all know their children are bound for the best circus in town.

At Whit's End

Charlie Mas said...

Stop equating smarter with better. It isn't. It's just different.

If you're thinking that your intellectually typical second grader would do better in the second grade Spectrum class, then why wouldn't you also think the child would do equally as well in the third grade class? The schoolwork is the same and the children are not all that different developmentally. Why aren't you campaigning just as hard for grade-skipping?

But if you had a child who was capable of doing third grade work, why would you want that child in the second grade class?

Anonymous said...

I just want to say that I sincerely appreciate everyone who "listened" to what my daughter experienced last year, accepted it as our experience, whether or not it matched up with your own experience of that particular school or another school with a Spectrum program, and sympathized with us. Thanks! I also want to say that before this year I thought I knew what a "bad year" was. I had a few myself. I learned in 6th grade that the teacher can be the bully. I spent two years in a high school where girls were supposed to be dumb cheerleaders, and although I couldn't be a cheerleader, I could certainly be dumb with the best of them! Fate intervened and we moved and I discovered a whole new world at a school where learning was encouraged. My older child dealt with some issues that, finally, could not be resolved without a school move for her (and yet I can recommend that school for its academics to other people, and I have). She also had a third grade teacher (at a good school) who was nice and kind but totally checked out because of personal issues and didn't do much teaching. So, yeah, we have seen some tough things but we learned from all of them. This past year was on a different level. I never imagined things could go so wrong in so many ways, never in my wildest dreams. It took us a while to figure it out, because at first we thought it was just adjustment issues that would resolve themselves. So, being new to the Seattle Public School system, I guess I would ask, is this experience just a one time extremely bad experience or is this what a "bad year" here means? If either one of my kids had another year like that, I would pack it up and call it a day for SPS! (On the bright side it was balanced out with a very good year for my older one so we are still here). And, "Almost Done" we did end up doing some homeschooling. I was absolutely shocked when the SCHOOL suggested this as the solution to our problem. But since then, I have heard a few times of people who have done the same thing at the school's suggestion. I don't think public schools should be in the position of promoting home schooling. They should be able to take and educate all comers, and I sent them a wonderful kid. Why do I keep coming back to this board? Why don't I just "get over it" and go away? Because I think our experience raises some questions and I am interested in exploring them and seeing what other have to say. One of those questions is "Why Self Contained Spectrum?" Whether or not you think our experience at Whittier had anything to do with the Self Contained Spectrum program, if you are a fan of the program could you tell me why you think our school system needs this program? Another question that comes up for me is the question of "How Could this Happen?" Being new to the public school system, I did not just easily accept "well the teacher is bad, the year is shot". I honestly expected more. So, one thing I learned is that it should be MUCH easier to fire a really bad teacher. to be cont . . . Gen Ed Mom

Charlie Mas said...

I'll just say this again since it didn't seem to stick last time.

Whatever horrible experience your child had in their general education classroom is the result of the teacher in that classroom, the students in that classroom, and the administrator of that school. It is not the result of a group of students who are not in that classroom. To try to lay the blame outside the classroom is madness.

Anonymous said...

continuing . . .

This teacher was a sub, so it was easier than it otherwise would have been. I wish the school district would pick this fight with the union. When a teacher is really bad, when the parents and principal agree, it should be relatively easy to fire the teacher. You don't need a lot of testing and evaluation to know that there are some teachers that no one wants. Another thing, it comes up often that there is no curriculum and no standards for Advanced Learning programs in the SPS. How different is that really from the General Education program in SPS? When I went to the principal to say that the teacher had NOTHING to show me in terms on in class work my daughter had done when I was finally able to pin her down for a meeting in December, I was told that there was no set time or no set number or minutes that she was supposed to be teaching any one subject. She was on her own to decide how she wanted to spend her day and she had a lot of things (second step, writers in the school, ) that were NOT teaching "literacy". How can that be? I don't understand it. But I have a feeling when you say that Advanced Learning is very undefined you might be talking about the entire SPS curriculum. I took it for granted that all certified teachers would know what needed to be taught in which grade level and would cover the material as necessary, but this teacher told me there were no Washington State Standards for Grammar, so she didn't know (spoiler, there are!) and she was just winging it, I guess. Finally, I have a feeling that this board is heavily populated by those who have a special interest in Advanced Learning. Great. I have a special interest in General Education. I think some of you need to hear my voice. I have a feeling there may be others that had experiences (I hope not as bad as ours) that caused them to just quietly walk away from their neighborhood school without a word as to why. Maybe you might consider this, even if your school is working for your kid, shouldn't it be working for all kids? Gen Ed Mom (and I am pleased that the principal at Whittier made some changes this year).

Anonymous said...

Charlie, a factor in the experience was the makeup of the class, which was kids that had nothing in common (not age, not ability, nothing)who were left over when the Spectrum kids were pulled out. And there are some missing girls. There is a Gen Ed class that is all boys, because the girls continued to leave the school (as we did).
Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Oops, Sorry Melissa, I am not calling cheerleaders names. Please don't remove my comment. What I meant was that I have personal experience attending a school where low expectations were the norm and extracurricular activities, especially those centering on sports, were more important than academics. I was not dumb and neither were the cheerleaders. It was just cool not to be seen as too smart. Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Gen Ed Mom's class was a very boy heavy class. I have a child in that grade (but not that class) and have known most of those boys since kindergarten. I could tell you something unique or special about 90 percent of them. Could Gen Ed Mom do the same? Did she or her child get to know any of them? Or their families? Gen Ed Mom seems to think her child would have done better in the girl-heavy spectrum class. Why do I get the feeling that if she had been in that class this thread would be about mean girls and cliques and how spectrum is to blame?? And since all we are using is anecdotal evidence, my child attended preschool in a class with only 2 girls and 15 boys. Those girls became best friends and had the time of their lives. Whatever you think about spectrum, you have to admit that group dynamics are funny things. At Whit's End

Anonymous said...

I think most of the people on here who post about advanced learning have experience and a special interest in gen Ed. I know I do. But so far no one is calling for the dismantling of my children's wonderful general education classrooms, and no one is saying whatever bad experience they have is a result of the appropriateness of a gen Ed class for my gen Ed qualified kids. So I don't feel like I need to defend anything for them yet. I will if that happens, though, just like I do for my app kid now. Our gen Ed classes have mostly been taught by great teachers, with bright kids whom the curriculum serves pretty well, except math, which is a blight all the way around. I really, really do not get the gen Ed hate, like it's some kind of consolation prize. It is the thing that gets the most thought;, is what the trachers are all trained to do, everything about the curriculum and system is meant to serve my gen Ed students, and it shows. The materials and curriculum are appropriate and at an appropriate pace for them. They are not challenged every single second, but they are a lot, and get some great learning and make progress every single year. Not so for my app kid- it is pretty good, but not nearly as on point as the gen Ed system. Which makes sense, because it's not the focus, does not serve anywhere near the number of kids. I am glad there is something for this child, who needs it, don't get me wrong, but gen Ed is great.

I think grade skips are a pretty shoddy solution. There are cerainly some mature kids who are a little but not toofar ahead that's a good idea for (and they do do them in SPS, and sometimes it works out), but they are rare. That's sending 16 year olds off to college, putting 9 year olds in with middle schoolers, a whole host of way worse problems than identification problems we have now. My child is not in the least bit socially mature, just academically ahead. And a skip would only solve the problem for one year. Then they are bored again, but now socially isolated, too.

-sleeper

Anonymous said...

Whit's end you are making a lot of assumptions about me and my child. You are plain wrong. My child has no problems with cliques or mean girls, she never has. She picks good friends and avoids drama. She did not hate the boys in the class. Most 4th grade boys are not going to make friends with a third grade girl. Funny thing about group dynamics is that they change right around 3rd grade. My older daughter's best friends were ALL boys until 3rd grade when the boys and girls stopped playing with each other. My child had nothing bad to say about any of the kids in the class. Neither did I. What I did say is those kids had nothing in common. And some girls are more "girly" and yes, my younger daughter is one of those girls. That does not make her unusual in the slightest. Why don't you stick to facts and leave the personal insults and assumptions out of it.

Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

I am not calling for anything. I simply asked a question. And no one wants to answer it. Gen Ed Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

Gen Ed Mom, you have made your point. Repeatedly.

Anonymous said...

Well, so then the sub who taught the class my daughter should have been trained to do so and knew the Gen Ed Curriculum, Sleeper? This is a real question. Because so far I have had experience with two Gen Ed Classrooms and one teacher seemed rather clueless about the curriculum and how to teach it. Is that an anomaly?

Gen Ed

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, am I not welcome here Melissa? I am not sure what you mean by that unless you are asking me to leave? Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Gen Ed Mom, We have had several rough years - a teacher that probably should have retired years prior, as well as a "split" class that was nothing more than some younger kids thrown into an upper level class simply to even out numbers (and avoid hiring additional staff) with no plan for differentiation. There was little learning and we still harbor some resentment from those years. We can't get that time back. This had nothing to do with Spectrum, but had a lot to do with administrators that for whatever reason seemed incapable of doing what was best for kids. Unfortunately, this is just the reality in SPS. There will be bad years mixed with the good and the mediocre.

You are also right that the curriculum is not well defined and standards are routinely ignored. When you express concerns to the principal, they have their hands tied because the curriculum is so loosely defined (grammar is part of the Common Core standards, by the way).

-debbie downer

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I think this whole thing supports the suggestion that co-housing of Spectrum and APP programs with general education may be more deleterious than beneficial. When things are not necessarily well managed, and population surges happen, and some teachers provide a disappointing experience, and resources are way too thin - all the case in SPS - it is too easy to devolve into blaming these programs for causing all the trouble. And then the people who have kids in the programs become defensive, and teachers become defensive, and it creates strife and that sense that some are MISSING something and that others feel that they have to CLING to what little the District has created. It's bad for the whole school and everybody in it.

Going in Circles

Anonymous said...

I lay the blame for this at the District's feet. If they would provide adequate Advanced Learning programming - if Whittier were not the only Spectrum set-aside in all of Ballard -- or if there was even an ALO in effect at Whittier -- or if the resources were plentiful, we wouldn't not all be reduced to fighting over crumbs in the gutter.

And Gen Ed, I'm sorry, but the reason there is a Spectrum class is because some kids are bored in the General Ed setting and that makes them annoying, or squirrelly, or depressed, or kills their interest in school, and none of that is good for the classroom or for the kids.

Your question should not be "why do we need Spectrum" but "why don't we have more and what else do we need?"

Going in Circles.

Maureen said...

(I was going to go back and re-read all of GenEd Mom's posts to make sure I got the details right, but I don't feel like doing that (did I mention I'm cranky today?) So feel free to correct me if I got some parts of this wrong.)

Are you guys even listening to what GenEd Mom is saying? Her kid was put into a (3-4?) split where she was not only one of the only girls, but also one of the few younger kids. This happened as a direct consequence of the fact that the Spectrum qualified and enrolled girls at that grade level had to be in their own self contained classroom(s?) (with a smaller number of Spectrum qualified boys.) To add insult to injury, this oddly composed split class was handed over to a sub for half the year. It was the principal's adherence to the rule that Whittier Spectrum must be self contained that created this issue, not only for that one child but for all of those special boys that Whits End is so attached to.

Self contained Spectrum was workable under the old SAP, but the NSAP creates all sorts of weird imbalances in enrollment. Adding self contained Spectrum (with waitlists allowed) to this mix means that all of the bad implications of the NSAP fall only on the Gen Ed / Sped and unenrolled Spectrum kids.

I have thought about this issue for a LONG time. My kids were at a K-8 Alt school that happened to enroll a lot of high achieving (and also low achieving) kids. When my oldest was in 4th grade I went to the BLT and lobbied to create a fast track in math so the high achievers could move faster. It was (relatively gently) pointed out to me that with only two classes per grade level, choosing exactly which 30 kids to move ahead and which 30 to leave behind would be problematic. What if your high achiever was less high achieving than 30 other kids? What if your low achiever was more high achieving than the lower 30 kids? When kids operate on a continuum and also develop at different rates how can you even consider dividing two classes worth of kids up that way (and that doesn't even address the issue that dividing the kids based on their math ability will extend that division in their LA, science and SS classes unless you can hire a bunch of specialists and create small groups (ha.) Needless to say, I slunk home and reconsidered my position (and then really got behind supporting Math Olympiad and after school algebra and geometry).

I will repeat: Adding self contained Spectrum (with waitlists allowed) to this mix means that all of the bad implications of the NSAP fall only on the Gen Ed / Sped and unenrolled Spectrum kids.

Anonymous said...

You are right Maureen. Except, it was more than half the year. It was 7 months. I also want to point out that testing for Spectrum in Kindergarten and then not being able to get in if you test later creates inequity. Lots of kids probably qualify in Kindergarten who wouldn't qualify later. Conversely, many kids who can't sit still to test in K (not an issue for my kid but possibly for some of the boys in her class) might actually be able to test in later, but by then they can't get in. I understand this is how the DISTRICT chooses to administer the program and no else is to blame for this, but still, it's not fair, right? Gen Ed Mom

n said...

I couldn't read all the comments but still I want to interject a teacher's view of ALO. If it is doing poorly all over the distrct - and this blog certainly implies that it is - then perhaps it isn't a workable teaching method. Or is the District chock full of bad teachers?

If it is working on the eastside and one teacher must have four levels of lesson plans every night, it raises questions: how much time is that teacher putting in? Does the District or school offer professional development that literally helps to design lesson plans and make them available or is the teacher "creating" her own? How many students are impacted and does that school try to create homogeneous classes in order to alleviate the burden on most teachers. Is curricula as wide and diverse as Seattle's? What's their math curriculum? Some of these questions may be less relevant, but I'd like to know more about that school.

Sometimes the proof is in the pudding. So many commenters seem to rally behind the ALO idea even though most admit they don't work. Don't you think you might want to know more before deciding?

Personally, I like walk to math and reading. The downside for doing that is that you have to match schedules pretty tightly. That can play havoc with any kind of enrichment opportunities.

I don't believe most parents realize the scheduling problems schools are facing esp. with the advent of so much curricula in elementary.

Anonymous said...

If the kids in the spectrum classes had been doing work a year ahead for years, though, I don't think it would be fair to them to make them repeat a grade. Even more unfair than having one gender unbalanced class. My kids have been in classes arranged entirely around separating difficult kids or the desires of one other teacher in a grade or allergies. They have been "leftovers," and sometimes that is great, and sometimes it sucks. I actually do think gen Ed's situation could have been good, with a good teacher with a plan.

I'm not going to share our particular bad experience, but yes, it was bad. With no spectrum at the school. And I know of another spectrum class with problems like hers. Bad teachers are problems. It is hard to identify and deal with them, though, because objective measures end uncapturing good teachers we want to support and protect who have a diificult class, or outrageous parents. So it is a long and difficult prospect to fix.

I don't actually see, from your example, why the school couldn't have walk to math, why does that need to extend to reading? Why not have walk to reading, or cross class reading groups? Why not reasses every year? Or twice a year? Some kids might be slightly off, a little slower or quicker than their class if they are separated for math, so nobody gets to have math at the right level? Sounds like the tail wagging the dog, letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, or at least the better.

-sleeper

Anonymous said...

Sleeper, I am open to that theory. Perhaps if we'd had a good teacher with a plan it just would have been a strange or different or "not the best" year. And that would have been good enough. Pity the school couldn't get one for us, we will never know now. Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Mom of a 4th Grader --

Here is why we need Spectrum. I am learning the hard way. Last year my daughter was at a very good neighborhood school. She has tested into Spectrum for the past several years but I didn't feel the need to drive a distance to the Spectrum school in our cluster because the teachers in her very good neighborhood school do a fabulous job differentiating, including all the 3rd grades teaming up and creating ability groups for math. My daughter did 4th grade math all last year.

Then, we moved. We are now assigned to a new neighborhood school. It has a good reputation and good scores so I figured great, this will be like last year. Well thus far there is ZERO differentiation in her classroom. SHE IS DOING THE EXACT SAME MATHBOOK SHE DID LAST YEAR. She comes home every day and tells me that she remembers doing these assignments a year ago. The class is do addition and subtraction, whereas she did multiplication and division all last year.

Today they had a timed quiz. The teacher allowed them 10 minutes. My daughter finished in 3.55. She says most of the class was still working at 10 minutes.

I have told the teacher and she tells me to wait and give her more time and she will at some point start differentiating. She says it's hard when there are "many" (27) kids in the class. So we are waiting. We cannot switch her to the Spectrum school in our cluster now because it has a wait list.

I am not sharing all this to complaint or bemoan my daughter's fate. I will address my daughter's situation as appropriate with the teacher and if necessary the principal.

But, my point is this: some Gen Ed teachers seem not able or interested in differentiating to reach the top 30%. It seems no one tells them they have to, so it is just up to each teacher. If we don't have Gen Ed teachers differentiating to reach the top 30%, then we have to have Spectrum. My daughter, like every student, deserves to be challenged and stretched each day in math, rather than bored out of her mind and doodling and coming home crying because she's afraid she's going to forget all the multiplication and division she learned last year.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that means you need Spectrum. I think your neighborhood school needs to do a better job, like your last school did. My kids have repeated material moving schools and they both work at grade level in Gen Ed. It happens even more with splits in the mix. My daughter is right now repeating the exact same science unit she did at the start of last year (and since that's pretty much all the science I think they did, I'm OK with the review. Maybe they will make it through the book this year or at least half way). The thing is, if teachers can't differentiate for the top 30% they can't differentiate for a split either or for the disparate learning levels (Spectrum waiting list, ahead in some but not all classes, etc) kids that are left behind in Gen Ed. Your old school sounds great, and why wouldn't that be the model rather than self contained Spectrum? Because it's not "guaranteed" or "uniform" or "equal across the district"? Neither is Gen Ed as far as I can tell. Gen Ed Mom
Gen Ed Mom

Maureen said...

sleeper, I think you were addressing me? You said: I don't actually see, from your example, why the school couldn't have walk to math, why does that need to extend to reading? Why not have walk to reading, or cross class reading groups? Why not reasses every year? Or twice a year? Some kids might be slightly off, a little slower or quicker than their class if they are separated for math, so nobody gets to have math at the right level? Sounds like the tail wagging the dog, letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, or at least the better.

Who would walk where? (Unless they hired several specialists, which were not in the budget) What if 45 3rd graders were capable of doing 4th grade math, and only 5 2nd graders could do 3rd grade math? How do you divide up 50-60 kids at every grade level when only 2 teachers are available for any given grade? What if 6-8 grade is on a block schedule and K-5 is not? I've actually tried to work through this sort of schedule (have you?). As n says: I don't believe most parents realize the scheduling problems schools are facing esp. with the advent of so much curricula in elementary.

Some subgrouping and sending kids across the hall and extra homework and reassessing is certainly possible (and was done), but that is not the same thing as having self contained classes all working at a grade ahead (or behind) as some parents want).

Anonymous said...

Switch classes. Top 30 kids at math, Then, next 30 kids. The teachers always teach to the middle, but now the middle will be closer to each kid in the class. if the lower class is more disruptive, make that class size smaller, upper bigger, have a parent volunteer or 20 minutes of specialist time (not the same as hiring several).

Or, better, with one math specialist(which the school has, not saying several) top 20, next 20, last 20. In the lower grades this will really be top 20, next 15, last 15, or thereabouts. It only requires across grade syncing of math schedules, and 40 minutes of math specialist time before she moves on to help other grades. Not all grades get/require dividing into thirds, but halves in better than nothing. That would get pretty close, and would be better than requiring all children to adhere to the same curriculum and pacing just because there is no perfect system. Several of schools have this (and not coincidentally, lots of spectrum/app kids choose to stay at those schools instead of moving, and now leave schools in droves that used to have it but no longer do).

No, it is not like Spectrum, but it is another thing the district and individual schools could and should be doing to serve more kids. I think there are lots of ways the district *could* serve spectrum level kids, but right now the only way they consistently *do* is self contained. I think they need to either drastically increase other advanced learning measures, like walk to math, or provide more spectrum spots and watch differentiation in gen Ed classrooms, but they need to do one of those things. I would prefer more measures like these, but I am not especially trusting of the district to do it. I worry it would be more like n says- an unfunded mandate- just "teachers do more work," instead of support and guidelines and measurable goals. Spectrum is low cost to the district - no support, no class size reduction, just enrollment- so they do it instead. But it is politically unpopular, so now they don't even do much of it anymore.

-sleeper

Anonymous said...

I will repeat: Adding self contained Spectrum (with waitlists allowed) to this mix means that all of the bad implications of the NSAP fall only on the Gen Ed / Sped and unenrolled Spectrum kids.

Amen Maureen! You are the only regular APP-type poster around that understands this issue, and the implications. Those of us who deal with it, get it.

And Charlie's whole canard, "The poor third grade math ablest, sitting in second grade! Ohhhh the injustice." That describes probably half the class, or at least a third. Teachers are adept a dealing It is simply an entitlement to nothing at all. with this even if people disagree. No they don't need more training. That is a waste of resources. If they didn't learn differentiation to the "spectrum" level in school, then they shouldn't be hired.

-Reader

Anonymous said...

Wow, I just tried to read through all these comments. I am truly sorry for the experience of Gen Ed Mom's child last year. But I think the Whittier Spectrum program (or Spectrum general) is being unduly blamed. The program at Whittier is not just a program for Whittier families and is not just a way to divvy up individual grade bands at Whittier.

The program draws from several schools in Ballard. It has a fairly well established reputation, and some families make the (often difficult) choice to move their students in hopes it that will better motivate their child and keep them engaged in school.

Is it perfect for everyone? No class, school, or program is. But it serves a real purpose in this district and should be shored up, rather than eliminated. Stronger, reliable Spectrum programs are also more likely to keep APP-eligible kids closer to home.

Yes, differentiation and strong teaching in all schools can do this do, and some APP-eligible kids and many Spectrum-eligible kids are able to stay motivated in their neighborhood school. But kids vary, and not every school or program is a good fit for every kid. Again, Spectrum serves a real purpose in this district and is currently an important pathway to meeting the needs of some kids relatively close to home.

-Been there

Melissa Westbrook said...

"No they don't need more training. That is a waste of resources. If they didn't learn differentiation to the "spectrum" level in school, then they shouldn't be hired."

Reader, you always seem to be unhappy on these issues. I can only say that teachers will tell you that they need more training and, when you look at the CBA and district spending, you always see....professional development. I'm going with the experts on this one.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing unusual, different or challenging about my child. She IS the kid that ANY school be able to teach. She is like MOST kids in that she is very good in some things and not as good at others. She is BETTER in a classroom setting than many kids of varying abilities (whether more advanced or less academically) because she is very well behaved and very motivated to learn and to work hard. She does not take up a lot of resources with any special requirements. Put her in classroom and teach her. That's all. Am I wrong to be PROFOUNDLY dissapointied that our neighborhood school with the great reputation made her hate school? (I have high hopes she's bouncing back after just 3 weeks in an appropriate setting with a teacher who cares by the way). And I get brushed off with "every school is not a fit for every kid, blah blah, my kid couldn't be in the class she wanted because of allergies" etc. I have a kid any school schools be able to teach easily. You all seem to be missing that point. And it's POSSIBLE that other families have had this kind of issue at this same school because there are some kids that seem to be missing from the normal demographics. Gen Ed Mom

Maureen said...

Reader, I doubt any of the regular "APP-type" posters here would include me in their number!

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

Honestly, I don't think it matters that much where she is this year. And I don't think it's anything special. She's an adaptable kid. I think it is just being in a somewhat normal (by no means perfect or perfectly suited to any quirky need she has) educational setting with age appropriate peers and a big enough group of girls to find common interests with a few. Gen Ed Mom

Charlie Mas said...

This claim: "I will repeat: Adding self contained Spectrum (with waitlists allowed) to this mix means that all of the bad implications of the NSAP fall only on the Gen Ed / Sped and unenrolled Spectrum kids." is false. Simply false.

Consider this - what if some school other than Whittier were the Spectrum school? Then the kids in the Spectrum classes would not be there. The school population would be the general education population at the school.

I have no doubt that Gen Ed Mom's daughter had a horrible school year that never should have happened to anyone, but the responsibility for that experience rests ENTIRELY with the teacher and the principal in the school. Perhaps a bit with the Executive Director of Schools in that region, but not at all - not by any stretch - due to self-contained Spectrum a Whittier.

If that were the case, then every student in the entire Whitman service area would have suffered the same effect. In truth, not even students in other classes at Whittier suffered the same.

It was bad. No question. But Spectrum wasn't the cause of the trouble.

Anonymous said...

I didn't say "such a positive effect" I said "high hopes she's bouncing back". My expectations aren't terrifically high and I think we'll need to supplement for both our kids in the Gen Ed program. Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Charlie, I believe in the self contained COHORT model of General Education. In this model General Education kids will receive their education in a full time classroom setting with a COHORT of their PEERS. All of the kids will be at roughly the same educational level (give or take a grade level on one side or the other on any given subject) and will work progressively from year to year through the same material together. Also, and this is important, they will be the same age. THE COHORT is the key to the delivery of this model. Because it is not fair to expect kids to be in a class with those who are a full year or two older than them, kids learn best and friendships form when with those who are of the same maturity level. This model also does not rely on differentiation, because we all know teachers don't always rise to the challenge. In addition, in years when there is a weak teacher, as we all know can happen, the COHORT will provide at least a normal social experience for the children in the class and a community can form where some learning may happen anyway. Most school districts that work embrace this model. Because my neighborhood school is unable to reliably deliver this model of General Education, I had to move my General Education student to a different school. Other families have done the same. I do wish she could stay in the neighborhood, but we will do what we have to to pursue the model that has been proven to work for our child! Gen Ed Mom

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

GenEd Mom,

You just described self-contained Spectrum.

There are only four basic ways to arrange students. All have pros and cons, all have supporters and detractors, some require more money than others to be effective.

1. Mix kids at multiple levels within each classroom and teach two or more lessons (differentiation, clustered, some pullouts fall in this category).

2. Mix kids at multiple levels within each classroom and teach them all the same lesson (heterogeneous, ignores the range of learning).

3. Divide kids into different classrooms based on learning ranges (self-contained, tracking, all-school walk-tos fall in this category).

4. Send kids at different levels to different school buildings (APP, old-style SPED, etc).

Pick your poison.

SeenItAll

Anonymous said...

Seen it All, really?! Well if it's good enough for the Spectrum kids, it's good enough for the Gen Ed kids, eh?
;). Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

I said nothing about it being "good enough". I abhor that phrase and its implications.

I merely stated that there are a limited number of ways to approach teaching children who are the same age yet at different skill levels.

This particular wheel gets reinvented every few years. And there is a lot of adult emotion surrounding it.

SeenItAll

Anonymous said...

I said nothing about it being "good enough". I abhor that phrase and its implications.

I merely stated that there are a limited number of ways to approach teaching children who are the same age yet at different skill levels.

This particular wheel gets reinvented every few years. And there is a lot of adult emotion surrounding it.

SeenItAll

Anonymous said...

Seen It All, relax. I'm joking (I thought the wink would clue you in). My point is I am not asking for anything extra or special for my kid, just a normal educational experience. I'm actually not looking to reinvent the wheel; what's worked before will probably be good enough, and I don't expect perfect. Gen Ed Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Because it is not fair to expect kids to be in a class with those who are a full year or two older than them, kids learn best and friendships form when with those who are of the same maturity level."

It's fine to have this opinion but the evidence is not firm on this at all.

I know that split classes are popular in many districts (including this one). There is little evidence that kids in any one grade level are on the same maturity level. Montessori is quite popular and usually operates with split levels.

At the end of all this, we simply have no way of knowing what will happen. Charlie started this by pointing out how lax the district has been on this subject so really, it doesn't matter what you think about the current system. It probably won't exist the way it does now within a year or two.

Anonymous said...

Well that's been the rational for why Spectrum kids can't skip grades, has it not? But my kid can't be in a split with no rationale behind it except to balance uneven numbers and that's OK for her? Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

And if she doesn't connect or make a lot of friends in her class, well that's her fault and our family's fault because we didn't go out of our way to get to know all the families of the 4th grade boys and learn unique and wonderful things about each of them ? Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

That has never been the rationale for Spectrum at all, GenEdMom.

Your one year at Whittier was terrible and very unfortunate. From all accounts, your concerns were also noticed by decision makers at the school, and have been corrected this year. The problems you saw last year no longer exist.

Based on this year's changes, no one at Whittier thinks last year was OK, either. I am unclear as to how you expect a blog to help you any further, especially since you made the understandable decision to move your child.

SeenItAll

Anonymous said...

Typo should say my kid can be in a split GEM

Anonymous said...

So, what is the rationale for self contained Spectrum then? I have asked this question before and was told to go away. If there is a good reason for it, just explain it to me. GEM

Anonymous said...

#3 on the list above, GenEdMom.


SeenItAll

Anonymous said...

Didn't answer my question. GEM

Melissa Westbrook said...

No Gen Ed mom, there is no link between Spectrum and grade skipping that I know of. The district tends to discourage it but I don't think it's been outlawed.

Again, I will gently point out that you are making this personal to your situation and frankly, this is a broader discussion. Your child had a bad experience (and if you think this will be the only time, good luck, because into every child's life, there will be more than one mediocre to poor teacher). This does not mean split classes are bad nor Spectrum.

No one has told you to go away. But you continue to push the same points over and over and I'm unsure why that is.

The rationale has been explained. That you don't like it is fine but please don't continue on about it.

I don't know if you noticed but you have dominated this thread but not exactly expanded the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Spectrum parents on this thread don't want to face the fact that my daughter's experience was directly related to the way Spectrum affected the numbers at Whittier. I ask the questions and instead of answers people insult me and get angry. No, in fact, no one on this thread has answered the question "Why do we need self contained spectrum in addition to APP?" If you have a good, strong reason that program is necessary I'd like to hear it. That would be a much stronger argument for your case then people insulting me or making wild guesses about my daughter and our family. I have a feeling you won't answer because anything you say about what will happen to advanced learning kids who are not in a self contained setting is EXACTLY what happened to my daughter last year. And you can say it's an isolated incident, but the fact is girls leave the Gen Ed program at Whittier. The fact of the matter seems to be NO PROGRAM in the SPS is stable or consistent, including Gen Ed as evidenced by our experience at Whittier. We have all dealt with hardships in our lives, I have seen mediocre and poor teachers before. It happens. Kids getting shuffled around from year to year in weird splits should not happen (and it did happen before we got there because I have talked to other people who left and people who stuck it out). I would just like it to be acknowledged that it HAS caused some issues at Whittier. If they are working on fixing those issues, that's good. On the other hand, according to you folks, there WERE no issues to fix. Gen Ed Mom

SpectrumIsAPP said...

Trying to get back to the broader topic, we really seem to have a problem where Spectrum is now gone and APP is being changed into Spectrum.

It's never going to happen, but, if we wanted a real Spectrum program, what might be ideal is if APP and Spectrum were co-housed at all locations, so children could potentially move up or down between APP and Spectrum, with Spectrum serving 0-2 years ahead and a smaller APP group serving 2+ years ahead.

What is probably going to happen instead is that Spectrum and ALO will continue to mean nothing at most locations, anyone wanting anything like Spectrum will try to get into APP, and APP will grow well beyond its original intention of being a small special education-like program dealing with children who are bizarre outliers and have unusual needs.

So, I think your answer, Charlie, to what the District plans to do with Spectrum is that they don't really know yet, but, on the path they are on, they eventually will combine Spectrum and APP into something new (possibly called just Advanced Learning) that is more like 1+ years ahead and split across many more schools around the district.

While it might look like what is going away is Spectrum, what is actually going to be going away is APP.

Anonymous said...

bizarre outliers?!

Lynn

Anonymous said...

Sleeper,

Does your school get a math specialist? How did you manage that? My children's elementaries lost the (1/2) specialist more than two years ago. And both schools have 500+ kids.

Poor teachers, expected to deal with 30+ kids in each class, and DIFFERENTIATE for EVERY single one so NO ONE gets BORED! I wonder if these teachers can also leap tall buildings in a single bound. And there I was, in high school, thinking most math more boring than drying paint, I guess eventhough my math teachers managed to teach me well enough to win the National Math Contest 3 times, they were BAD teachers, since they did not manage to make it not boring every minute of every day! Really, if they were ANY GOOD, I would have lived and breathed MATH, instead of wasting time obsessing over all those boyfriends. Who knew! Major Fail, I say.

I take y'all LOVED math in school, correct? Since it's such a fun and endlessly exciting subject and all. You're working with fractals now, yes?

CCA

Anonymous said...

Okay, I've had some sleep so less grumpy. I shall try to make my points with less snark.

There is NO school or teachers in the world that can make learning not boring SOMETIMES in SOME subject for SOME students. I went to some of the best schools by reputation in the world; was taught by and worked with several NOBEL laureates, and there is no such thing as being absorbed and "stretched" in and by the wonders of learning in EVERY subject, every field, 24/7. You can shop around, and pay, and go through superhuman maneuverings to get your kids into the "best" schools; and make your children take math in the summers instead of digging to China at the beach; this fact will not change. It's as fundamental a truth as we humans can get to. People come in all varieties, we like different things. And even prodigies and geniuses; (yes, I've known several well and not just talking out of my a** here), do NOT like everything, and are not good at everything. Those who excel at a certain subject, let's say math, do not always find all of it interesting. Sometimes school (and life) is boring, there is no escaping that. The trick is to be able to persevere and achieve competence and excellence even in things that bore you.

Those of you here who teach your children that when they are bored in math or physics or chemistry or LA or whatever class, it is because their teachers are incompetent; how are your children to cope with how dull their jobs can be once they have fulfilled YOUR dreams and gone to work at Microsoft or Amazon, or at whichever company(ies) you consider to be the apex of success? Shall they be able to deal, or quit, because they're NOT CHALLENGED and thus the companies must be doing it wrong?

You all love your children, it is obvious. That's why you hover, and give them the BEST in everything, and try to protect then from every bump on the road. But how will they cope with the world when you are not there, or not able to get bad teachers and pricipals (bosses) fired, or switch schools (companies) for them?

And Gen Ed MOM, you are articulate and amazingly brave to be facing the gauntlet of the AL people to make your case here. You are a Klingon warrior! Your children are lucky. Don't worry about last year, I have a best friend who went through some very bad experiences in elementary school. She is absolutely the most wonderful, amazing person now, with a great group of very close, loyal & loving friends & very successful in her career. Your daughter will do well too, last year's experience will be of use to her. All learning is great, even if sometimes painful.

CCA




Anonymous said...

CCA,

Wow. It sounds like you a wonderful education - and you are very proud of it. Also, you know lots of people who are much smarter than the children of anyone commenting here. Super for you!
I don't have time to read all of the comments again. Were there so many criticizing teachers? I think people who enroll their children in advanced learning programs do so because the pace of learning in the general education classroom was too slow - not to avoid "bad" teachers. There's a difference between being bored because you're just not interested in a subject, and being bored because you need to hear something once or twice to learn it, and the average child needs to hear it eight times. That's a lot of wasted time. Paying attention all day in that classroom is too much to ask of an eight year old.
I wouldn't pull a child out of a school because they were bored in math if they were actively learning in their other classes. I would (and have) pulled them out because they were not engaged in any class. Too many years like that and you lose the opportunity to get them excited about school and learning again.
Can I ask if your child(ten) are in general education classrooms?

Lynn

Anonymous said...

Sigh, I am not PROUD of my education, I am extremely GRATEFUL for the opportunities and choices that I was given. Opportunies that were NOT due to possession of any super-special innate abilities, but mostly because of family history. I have always realized how unjust this was, because unlike Mr Romney, Ryan, et al., I know that hard work most often does not get you far, unless you have connections that open doors for you. The world is not merit based. Weathy people would like to think it is, so they can justify their treatment of poor people; does not make it so.

You misunderstood my posts. I said the expectation that if only the TEACHER knew how to DIFFERENTIATE, kids would never be bored in school. I brought up my experience to say that even with the best schools and teachers, a child still would not be interested in everything. I referenced math, as that is the subject many posters here bring up to show why their children need APP, Spectrum, different teachers, different principals, different schools: i.e., their MATHY (by the way, what does this mean exactly? good at math? genius at math? likes to study math? are shaped like math?) CHILDREN are BORED in math class(es), so it must be the teacher(s)'s fault. As to no one attacking teachers, SERIOUSLY? I know you read the APP blog, they even name the "bad" teachers there. MANY times!

I need to stay out of these AL posts, always the same things, almost no one listens, most just talk AT other people. There is no communication. It's pointless. Being right trumps compassion and understanding.

And yes, we kept our APP qualified children in gen ed. We had them tested because they need to go to Ingraham one day for the IB diploma, and we are in the wrong neighborhood. They are doing very well, thanks for asking, lovely test scores. Must not be bored and irreversibly damaged being trapped with the nongifted hoi polloi, who needs to have every simple concept explained ad infinitum. But perhaps the nongifted is fun to be with, and are kind and loyal and loving friends. Who knows.

CCA

Anonymous said...

Sigh, came back to state clearly, before a bunch of APP parents start yelling at me; I am not saying that it is not possible that their children cannot thrive anywhere but APP. Yes, kids can be mean to those they perceive as different, and yes, probably certain kids never found others who really "gets them" until they entered APP, so the parents are not wrong in moving heaven and earth with endless enrichment and private testings to get in. My children are perhaps odd ducks. But if so, they are not the only ones. One of them scored 264 end of 4th gr in math, but there were kids in the same school who scored higher. More than a few of them were never tested for APP, parents weren't interested in moving out of gen ed. And one of them was doing calculus. He never seemed bored, or lonely. He could be lonely, but isn't some loneliness part and parcel of the human condition? Look at Stephen Fry, universally loved and admired, more fame than most of us will ever achieve. Friends in every corner of the globe. Yet he posted recently that he has never not been lonely. How many people really GETS you? If you can claim even one you are fortunate. Marlon Brando kept his best friend's ashes and talked to it everyday, for decades, until his own death. The man is a LEGEND! When he died, people all over the world cried, actors, artists, Black Panthers, 7 foot tall Native American activists, "ordinary" people who found friends in the characters he created. Still lonely!

CCA

Anonymous said...

@GenEdMom: I would just like it to be acknowledged that it HAS caused some issues at Whittier.

Acknowledged.

But yours is a capacity management issue, Gen Ed Mom, not a program delivery model issue.

And this is why APP parents campaigned against placing APP in assigned neighborhood schools to begin with. The district tries to sell APP folk and Spectrum folk that the changes in locations will be "better" for those programs, i.e., an upgrade, if you will, as they will grow in number, become stronger, etc. And when we say, "But we're fine where we are, and if we grow bigger at, say, Thurgood Marshall, won't we then be cramping the space and opportunities for the Gen Ed and Special Ed/Autism cohorts there(?)," to which we receive the response, "Oh, so you don't want to co-house with THOSE kids, do you?" It's a no-win situation.

I sympathize, Gen Ed Mom. But know that as much as we try and try, nobody at SPS will listen to presumptively selfish APP or Spectrum families who already "have it all" and are so selfish to be requesting their own building, or not to be co-housed in an assigned, neighborhood school. How dare we?

All that should've happened at your school was for the district to open another Spectrum program at a different school in your cluster to offer to wait-listed Spectrum kids and reduce over-capacity problems once situations like yours were foreseeable. But, we should both know that being so rational and logical is asking far too much, and the reasons you were given for your daughter's improper placement sound like classic excuses from incompetent administrators and staff. Blame something they can't, or won't, do anything about. "My hands are tied." Problem solved for them; You lose.

As for self-contained Spectrum, the answer is, because it works better than anything else has in the past for the kids it serves. That's it in a nutshell. And it draws families who would otherwise go to private schools. And as for it's negative effects on other populations, we do our best to foresee and anticipate those situations, while offering solutions, because the last thing any AL parents want is to inconvenience or harm neighborhood kids in their own school, and then be trashed for being unfair, privileged, exclusive, insular, uncaring, selfish, etc., etc., which is a constant chorus from their critics.

Situations like yours are entirely foreseeable in this NSAP environment, more than ever before, and why parents of AL, Alts, option and special needs programs throughout the district seek to avoid them.

I've had a mostly good experience with my kids in SPS, and all I want is for you to have the same. I don't think ripping apart models that work for other families and kids is the answer to fixing what's wrong with mine, however, and given the history of this district, we should all know better than to be tearing down things that work, instead of replicating the experiences from them for as many kids, at as many levels as possible.

Anonymous said...

WSDWG, above.

Anonymous said...

CCA,

Why the assumption of private testing and endless enrichments to get into APP?

As a word of caution, I don't think the testing your kids did will allow them to go to Ingraham one day. They'll have to test again in the 8th grade for that. If its really important to you, I'd consider moving them to APP now. You're taking a big risk to assume they won't have a bad day when you test them in the eighth grade. You could always do private testing if that happens. (Though it doesn't sound like you approve of that.)

Your contributions to the discussion might be valuable if you sounded less judgmental.

Lynn

Anonymous said...

"But yours is a capacity management issue, Gen Ed Mom, not a program delivery model issue."

Ah, isn't this the crux of the matter? Aren't just about all the issues that are being hotly debated and complained about on this blog capacity management problems? From program placement to option school headaches to not enough Spanish classes at Garfield, THE issue is the resources the district has and who has access to them. And who doesn't. I am new to public education and to this blog, I know that many of you have been working to improve the public education in the city for many many years. I guess I just feel a little sad that many of you focus on improving things for "your" kids (and by that I mean kids like yours too) and seem pretty darn callous when it comes to what other kids might experience. For instance, in one discussion there was a back and forth about how an exceptionally bright but not Spectrum qualified student might feel if she was used to "round out" a Spectrum class in a school without a full qualified class and then booted back to Gen Ed if more qualified kids came to the school. "Oh that won't happen" was the chorus. And then one person said "Look, unless you know of such a person/situation personally, we don't need to discuss this possible situation". But then when someone (like me) does use an actual situation where an actual child was harmed by being in a neighborhood school with a self contained Spectrum program that is dismissed as "anecdotal," on same level as one of "your kids" not getting the class assignment he wanted because of allergies (allergies, really? were you in a school where 30 percent of the kids had allergies to your kid or something they might have on their person at all times?), and all kinds of wild accusations are made about the family and child (we must hate boys, the child must have a difficult time with "group dynamics," if we were in a class with girls, we'd be complaining about cliques and mean girls). Someone on another thread even announced that they know who I am and that they never saw me at a PTA meeting (by the way, I was at one and my husband was at two). I am not ripping apart any program. I just asked "Why do we need this program?" And just asking the question makes all of you furious. I am not threatening to take anything away from anyone, because I have no power to take anything away from anyone. I think 30% Spectrum is just too many kids for a school that is trying to house the neighborhood kids too. And I don't think it's fair for kids in the 70% to get the shaft. That's all. And it's my neighborhood school. Just like you want Spectrum so you can stay at your school, I want good, stable, reliable, year to year guaranteed Gen Ed at my neighborhood school. My child deserves access to a stable program every bit as much as yours and so do ALL the other kids in the city. I don't want to have to freak out that my bright but not Spectrum qualified kids aren't going to be able to take college prep classes in High School because they are not currently on the right elementary school pathway, but that seems to be A LOT of the type of discussion on this board (how to get in to those rare spots where kids can succeed). to be cont. Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Why not more emphasis on bringing up the standards for all the kids and making more opportunities for everyone? My kid certainly did not get a fair shot at an education last year. Maybe if more people focused on improving the whole school and not just their particular program things might be better? I don't know. But I do know that we need some parents who care to stay in Gen Ed and fight to raise the standards there rather than just trying to figure out how to get our kids out of it. And I sense a certain smugness that your kids "could leave" and the public school system doesn't want that! My kids could leave too. We had them in private school before and we could put them in private school again if we really had to. But we made a deliberate decision to put them in public school not just because the school system is lucky to have them and our family (despite what was implied on another thread I am not a slacker who puts no effort into volunteering or working for my community and the person who said that does not know me, but I did not feel Whittier needed or wanted me last year, things seemed pretty sewn up there. And the more I hear from people there the more I feel that impression was spot on. The other school, on the other hand, did need me) but also because my kids are lucky to live in Seattle and we want to expose them to a wider world than they experienced in a private school setting. We want them to meet all different kinds of people and learn that friends come in all shapes and sizes and from all kind of families and have all kind of abilities. That's a plus for us. And I hope it's a plus for your kids too. I really do hope when you think about how incredibly lucky the school system in this city is to have your kids, you at least feel that your kids are a little bit lucky to know the other kids around them that aren't in their program. Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Yes, one of my kids has been in a grade with two classes, and 7 kids who must all be together because of severe allegies, so the rest of the classes are formed around that clump. And then there are some special Ed kids who have placement needs, so after the allegies and IEPs, then the school can consider academics for the other kids. The classes are about half filled before my kid got considered. That's the way it goes. They do often end up a little skewed in one way or another. It always worked out fine.

As I have said, most of us with children in advanced learning have children in gen Ed, and so do fight about those programs when need be. I think what you are missing, though, is that by and large it's better in gen Ed than the advanced learning program my kid is in. Things are not just ok- they are good. Stable, appropriate, engaging, with more experienced teachers and principals. Occasionally reasonable class sizes, support from the district, not liable to be used as pawns in a larger political gain for someone else's gain. Good. There are problems, but except for math, which is finally changing, they are not systemic and threatening the way the problems advanced learning has are. I don't believe the problem you had was systemic, but an aberration. I am sure you will find that to be true at your new school.

I have absolutely no idea who you are talking about who mentioned private school, and so far you are the only furious person, well, and CCA, who I believe agrees with you. Lots of people answered the question about Spectrum's necessity. Perhaps you are projecting,

-sleeper

Anonymous said...

WSDGW above said one of the reasons for Spectrum is that it " draws families that would otherwise go to private schools" That's a direct quote. I am not at all questioning APP. I asked why do we need a self contained Spectim for kids who are one year ahead? 7 kids had severe allergies? I have never been in group where kids with severe allergies have to be self contained (and my niece has life threatening allergies to 3 things but is in a regular classroom with no restrictions), but ok. That's still less than 10 % of the kids in a class with 75. We were dealing with 30%. Yes I know all about kids not being put first, with my daughter's easygoing personality she could fit in any slot. We never got the best teacher even in
private school because there were always kids with issues that needed a certain kind of nurturing or to be separated from eachother or what have you. That's normal. Last year was not normal and I'm tired of people comparing it to normal experiences everybody has on a regular basis. The gen Ed program for many kids at Whittier has not been stable for many kids for many years (in some grades that may not be the case). And people here have attacked me personally going so far as to say "I know who you are and you never volunteer". If that's not fury, not sure what is. Gen Ed Mom

Stephanie said...
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