Thursday, July 30, 2015

Gifted Ed - What Next?

As we all know, trying to understand how gifted education in SPS is presented is a losing proposition.  The District has this three-tier system that, on paper, looks somewhat orderly.  But, brush off the cobwebs on this old plan, and you find that:

- Gifted ed is not available at all schools as it should be.  Every school that is not Spectrum or HC is supposed to be able to tell parents how they can meet the needs of gifted students or students who are bright and want to go faster/deeper.  I think many parents feel this frustration that their principals are not following-thru on ALOs and the District doesn't seem to care one way or the other.

- Except for HC (APP), Spectrum and ALOs are pretty much what the principal at each school say they are.  Again, no continuity and so how the district truly know what is working?  This is especially true for Spectrum.  I think this death by a thousand paper cuts to Spectrum is particular distasteful.  If the District wants to change it, why not just change it districtwide?  At least parents would understand what they are getting.

- Following up on those two issues above, I've heard that (1) some teachers don't like Spectrum and yet (2) don't really want to have to differentiate for bright students.  So you don't want Spectrum at your school for inclusion reasons but you also don't want to do the thing to support those students academic needs.  It's a puzzler.

Every year I cross my fingers that the District will see fit to have a more coherent plan that reaches more students.  Still hasn't happened.  Again, I think because Advanced Learning is very low on District priorities and that it has no champion in senior leadership.

Here are a couple of recent articles about gifted education.

One is from the more conservative ed blog, Education Next, about Common Core and gifted education.
Previous research by Fordham and others has made clear that the pre-Common Core era has not done well by high achievers in the United States. Almost all the policy attention has been on low achievers, and, in fact, they’ve made faster gains on measures such as NAEP than have their high-achieving classmates. Gifted children, in our view, have generally been short-changed in recent years by American public education, even as the country has awakened to their potential contributions to our economic competitiveness and technological edge. It would therefore be a terrible mistake for the new Common Core standards, praiseworthy as we believe they are, to become a justification for even greater neglect.
There are four key points (as presented by Jonathan Plucker of the U. of Connecticut):
  1. Common Core is no excuse to ditch gifted services
  2. State and local officials should get rid of policies that hurt gifted students and strengthen practices that help them.
  3. Schools must work harder to make differentiation “real.” 
  4. Schools should make use of existing high-quality materials that help teachers adapt the Common Core for gifted students.
Another article that caught my eye was in the Huffington Post blog about twice-exceptional students. 
Here's the problem: If bright kids do not perform below grade expected levels, they are not seen as having a problem, don't receive intervention, and don't get referred for comprehensive assessment for special education eligibility.
 As a result, 2e students have been missed, misunderstood, and marginalized. The consequences are significant - underachievement, depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, low self-esteem, and school drop out.
It is now 2015 and it is time for educators to stop looking the other way, to stop saying "she is fine enough" "he is meeting grade expected levels," and "your child is doing much better than other kids with problems" and for students with real and legitimate diagnoses of ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, auditory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder, or autistic spectrum disorder to receive the evaluations and ultimately the educational help they qualify for.


Anonymous said...

Melissa wrote: "Except for HC (APP), Spectrum and ALOs are pretty much what the principal at each school say they are."

In our experience, HCC/APP isn't an exception--it has the same variability and inconsistency as is seen in other AL programs. The AL office doesn't have any oversight power, and there isn't really a curriculum, so naturally things are greatly dependent on the principals. At the middle school level things seem to be particularly inconsistent--differences in which classes are offered by grade, differences in scheduling (e.g., LA and SS blocked or no), differences in content for the "same" class, differences in the level of rigor and what's expected of students, etc. Teachers are obviously a key factor in these differences as well, but I think principal attitude and commitment to HCC (or lack thereof) play a big part.


Po3 said...

Having been in SPS for over 10 years and having had students in Spectrum, Gen Ed and APP schools I have come to the following conclusions:

The word "gifted" has too much baggage associated with it. People hear gifted and automatically think special and entitled.

Over the years, APP got the pegged as the special and entitled program.

And unfortunately, there is a sub-section of parents who believe that the gifted label makes their child special and entitled. (We have ALL met that parent who begins and ends every conversation about the trials and tribulations of their child's giftedness.)

The pendulum in education has swung to standardization with differentiation, which is an oxymoron— but regardless it is the widely held belief.

With teachers and principals being held to meeting/exceeding test scores, they need to scatter students who will earn the 3 and 4s across all classrooms, not just concentrate them in one room. Of course, that would never be uttered out loud; but it is obvious (to me) that is the basis for dismantling Spectrum.

In my experience, schools with APP and/or Spectrum raise the bar across all classrooms. Remove the programs, the bar is lowered school wide. I saw this in a school with just Gen Ed vs. a school w/ Spectrum. For example, in the Spectrum school homework was more engaging, school projects went deeper for ALL students. In the Gen Ed school ALL student's got lot of homework packets, Writer's Workshop and one size fits all math. At one point, I moved my non-Spectrum student from a Gen Ed school to a Spectrum school to reap the benefits of the Spectrum school. And I always felt that ALL schools should house a Spectrum program because…

ALO is a joke.

Because APP is accelerated two years students get to finish the CMP math and Writer's workshop programs earlier so by middle school they can focus on developing math skills and report writing. (Which I think ALL students should be doing, but as long as Gen Ed classrooms are tethered to Writers Workshop and CMP math, they will not be as prepared as they could be entering high school.)

So as we continue to move away further and further away gifted education, especially with Spectrum ending, our children will be left a one size fits all/Common Core/SBAC education. And with more years left, I am not looking forward to watching this happen and am prepared to continue to supplement as needed.

Anonymous said...

But here's a general question:

To what extent do other feel we even have "gifted ed" in SPS in the first place ? Maybe the approach taken in elementary school could be called that, I don't know, but once you hit middle school I don't see it. Classes aren't really tailored to the needs of gifted kids, to their unique learning styles, etc. Science, for example, is the same basic SPS curriculum, you just do it ahead of schedule. It moves as the same slow pace, and is not any deeper or more complex--in fact, people familiar with the HCC version of Biology in 8th grade say it's actually LESS comprehensive and challenging than the high school version of the same course. Similarly, high school AP classes are designed to serve a broad group of qualified but not necessarily gifted students, covering a set curriculum at set pace. There's little about the middle or high school HCC program that seems to be designed to really meet the unique needs of highly gifted kids. It seems to me more like a program for high achievers than gifted students. Advanced ed? Sure. But gifted ed? Hmmm...

That's just my impression, of course. I'm curious to hear what others think.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Po3, your experience is one of the most straightforward accountings of the situation that I have every read; thank you.

"With teachers and principals being held to meeting/exceeding test scores, they need to scatter students who will earn the 3 and 4s across all classrooms, not just concentrate them in one room. Of course, that would never be uttered out loud; but it is obvious (to me) that is the basis for dismantling Spectrum."

With that statement, I'll add that this is where you get the use of "inclusion" which saves principal and teachers from adding "we need to raise test scores throughout the school."

HIMS Mom, good question. How do we know when most of us have not experienced what other districts do/provide? I think you could go to ERIC and see what they say a good gifted classroom setting looks like but again, the variation from school to school, teacher to teacher is tremendous.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all posts above. A few years ago the legislature passed a law saying HC students should be treated as basic education and those changes went in effect this last school year. I don't have a lot of data points but all the families I have talked to at the HC schools seem to think that secondary programs are indeed failing to meet this goal at their school. So how could any one believe that the other non-cohorted programs are succeeding? There is really only ms LA/SS classes that are self contained and all other classes are mixed. (I guess Biology might be too or is that tied to math placement which is achievement based). One thing though is that there is a group of teachers who have historically been able to teach these kids. But unfortunately schools are having a tough time keeping up a good pipeline of those educators and some principals have said point blank they don't have to hire based on the ability to teach HC kids.

And yes MW 2e is indeed difficult. We were lucky that our kids achievement score in reading wasn't hindered enough to get into APP, but that was only through private testing, as she was a dozen points off through MAP. So yeah we are one of those private testing scofflaws. Then we had the psychologist test them at the APP school and determined that reading levels were not in line with IQ and was eligible for an IEP. Yeah! The only reason we thought to push it was we were aware of 2e, where their teachers were not, and we had older children in the APP program already. Otherwise lord knows what would have been the outcome. And to be clear not once have we been told they are not a good fit for gifted ed. In fact, it seems all report cards reflect a leader in the APP/HC classroom. For other 2e parents there is a great support program done by a SPS/2e parent Laurie Clark Klavins.

APP/HC parent

Anonymous said...

There is nothing advanced about Writer's workshop.


Anonymous said...


Po3 is saying just that. Reread it, post touts having 2 years less of it.

-Please not

Anonymous said...

What HIMSmom said. Middle school APP/HCC has become little more than a smattering of acceleration. The LA/SS is now aligned with GenEd. Few HCC teachers have experience with gifted ed. The math and science classes, though taught a year or two earlier, seem less rigorous than what you'd get in high school. There is little oversight, and seemingly little interest in providing an appropriately challenging program.

I see it as indicative of the district as a whole. There is inconsistency from class to class, and school to school. Teacher quality is highly variable. There is a lack of a coherent progression in skills and content, and few texts or resources to support student learning.

-disheartened and disillusioned

Anonymous said...

I think the elementary HCC program still retains some benefits in its approach to gifted ed and even "ed" in general. Our GenEd school rations its "differentiation" such that kids in early elementary are expected to repeatedly demonstrate perfect scores on all standards-based materials before they are allowed to access anything even remotely challenging or slightly outside or above grade-level standards. This is so unattainable (not to mention damaging for many types of learners) that they've effectively done away with their obligation to differentiate.

At least in HCC we've seen less of a focus on the students needing to prove to the teacher that they're infallible, and more of teachers striving to figure out where kids are and what they can teach them next.

Elementary Parent

Anonymous said...

The Spectrum kids at Hazel Wolf K-8 when it was at Jane Addams, would come to Hale for math classes so they had the same math teachers and classes that the high schoolers had. I wonder if this is a better method for giving advanced kids access to true high school level math and science classes. Does Jane Addams middle school do the same thing for its APP and Spectrum kids?


Anonymous said...

I'd think 6th or 7th graders taking Algebra 1, for example, would be able to handle a faster paced class than a 9th grade Algebra 1 class. Isn't this the reasoning behind Spectrum/HCC? The students thrive not just with acceleration, but with a faster paced class. Hazel Wolf students (while Jane Addams K-8) may have been able to access Hale, but it was only a handful of students (those taking Geometry?, or was it for Algebra?), yes? They didn't have enough students to offer higher level math classes at JA K-8. That's great that JA K-8 found a solution for those students, rather than just saying, "you're on your own," but it does not seem like an ideal solution. The AL program is supposed to be the solution - but it doesn't seem up to snuff these days, hence this thread.

There have been some exceptions (a recently retired math teacher comes to mind), where the class truly was geared toward advanced students, and not a math-lite version of the high school class, but this is also a function of text adoptions. The Discovering Algebra and Geometry do not provide enough material for an advanced class, yet the district adopts one text for all students. I'd argue the adopted texts are a poor choice for most students, but we're stuck with them (and the equally questionable CMP texts) until the next text adoption.

The middle school teachers assigned to high school level math and science classes are supposed to be certified to teach high school level classes. Students can request high school credit for high school level classes taken in 8th grade, so they are supposed to meet the same standards as a high school level class - not necessarily an honors level class, which would be appropriate for HCC students, just a high school level class.

-another 2cents

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Accelerated in grade not in pace. Now not even accelerated in grade except for math. Some program, huh?

The only benefit is the cohort which meets most students emotional needs to connect and primary school which has kept teachers involved in teaching HC kids.


Anonymous said...

I only have one year of experience in SPS, as the mother of a child who has finished one year of kindergarten. And based on my limited experience I agree that there is a mentality that as long as the kids are meeting the grade level standard, they are doing "just fine" and there is no need to dig deeper and see if they are meeting their potential or have any issues that might be pitfalls later on. This is problematic for ALL students who are working at grade level, not just the highly capable students.

I think my daughter might be dyslexic, but because she is performing to grade level standards I will have to fight to get her tested and to get her help if necessary. I believe she has figured out how to compensate for her disability (which is what the standard help for dyslexia entails, as far as I can tell), but with the additional help she might be able to do more, and struggle less on her own. I don't think she will ever qualify for HC or Spectrum, but she's still capable of performing above the standard. But all anyone cares about is that she's meeting the standard- not her potential.

I'm only one year down in the system, and I'm already done with testing and standards. When I was a student I always tested in the 99th percentile on standardized tests so it was all a joke to me anyway. And I was not a good student, so I suspect everyone thought I must have broken the test. I can't help having very little respect for these tests/standards. I wish our schools could just teach kids, and not tests.

-Forget the Test

Anonymous said...

to deny service.
Test are important forget the test,

But you need to get your child tested and don't let them argue 2 years behind argument.


2E parent. said...

Forget the test,
If you can afford it, get the testing done privately, then use it to ask for a 504. It is much easier to get services with test in hand than to force testing. It will be around $1500, and my insurance covered part of it. We used Karen Pavlidis, and were very happy with her. She's also one of the providers who can give tests for AL appeals, so you can use the results for that too if decide to go that route.

Anonymous said...

You would suspect that in the long run Seattle is too PC to educate smart kids to their full potential. For us it's a moot point any way since we are priced out of housing and plan to stay only one more year.
There are probably lots of eyes on the door, so I wonder if anyone knows of any districts in the state or in the Northwest which are both affordable and willing to let smart kids reach their potential. Recommendations would be helpful to everyone.

-- CB

Maje said...

@Forget the test: Another option is to request a SIT meeting. My daughter was in a similar position as your daughter - preforming at or above grade level in everything but reading while reading was a bit below. This past school year, reading was becoming a hated subject and the cause for much stress for her. We did just a reading eval (as opposed to the $1500 full day eval), learned she has dyslexia and will request a SIT meeting as soon as everyone returns back to work. Her teacher told me that they can move a bit quicker at the beginning of the year. You could also see if one of the teachers at your school uses Wired for Reading and request that your daughter be switched to her class. It can be a good program for dyslexic kids.

Anonymous said...

Maje , there is a very good local blog covering issues around dyslexia. I found it very useful when I first found out my student had dyslexia.

TC mom