I'll list what did/did not happen at the meeting and then go into specifics.
1. Directors Peters and Burke had asked that additional documents - the NAGC's "Myths about Gifted Students," Advanced Learning Programs Task Force recs from 2012, the Advanced Learning Task Forces recs from 2014 and the WAC and RCW related to highly capable students - be available but, for some reason, these were separated out from the other documents and labeled as coming from Director Peters.
None of the documents were referenced during the work session. Also to note, Charlie and I were both on the task force from 2012 where the recs were ignored as were the ones from 2014. Oh wait, one thing from 2014 got done - they renamed APP to HCC.
2. There were two agendas for this portion of the work session. One was generated by staff and the other by the facilitator, Pat Hughes. It was a bit confusing.
3. Spectrum was barely touched upon and, in fact, when Wyeth Jesse mentioned that it was now cluster grouping, I coud not contained myself and I said, "And why is that?" out loud. He ignored it but later on, Director Peters asked the same question and also got no answer. It's as if a part of a program that has existed for decades in one form just never happened.
4. There was discussion over equity issues, types of giftedness,
5. According to my recollection and notes, only one single thing about Advanced Learning got settled (and it could still be a maybe) - to put Advanced Learning as a SMART goal. That could possibly elevate it up for more attention but really no amount of elevation seems to really matter.
6. To the best of my recollection and notes, Superintendent Nyland said not a single thing about the program. Curiously, head of AL, Stephen Martin, said nothing and was asked nothing. I found that curious given how little time Mr. Jesse has been the Chief of Student Support Services.
Director Burke, chair of Curriculum and Instruction, said that there was a long history of trying to make progress for Advanced Leanring. He said that there had not been a unity of voice around where to go. (And this is true as there has never been a champion for the program even as the program did not serve all the students it should have.)
Burke said that they had to take on race and socio-economics as part of the discussion. He said they wanted to engage the community respectfully and hoped "the community will help us and be patient and understanding and solution-focused."
I'll just say here that the community has been nothing BUT patient and still nothing has changed or improved with any part of the Advanced Learning program.
He also said that there are "issues and challenges and then priorities" but not solutions right in front of them.
Then Wyeth Jesse, the Chief of Student Support Services, talked about this work session being an "opportunity" and they thought having a facilitator would help the process. It didn't.
Then Ms. Hughes took over. She basically said she wanted to give everyone at the table a voice.
She then asked the Board to think about a question and then each take one minute to answer it.
What priorities come to mind that you would like considered tonight as related to the needs of AL learners
There is a distinction between AL and HCC. Peters wanted to know the barriers that prevent students, especially those in under-represented categories, from applying to the program or to classes. She said she believed it important that teachers and parents better understand what the characteristics are for gifted students. She also said there is not clarity around what is offering in HCC versus Spectrum.
He said he was looking thru the "constituent lens" and there were two issues that rose to the top.
1) the disparity in demographics in the program by race, ELL, F/RL and Special Education
2) there is a band of advanced learners that are underserved by current offerings, acceleration, and depth of learning and the district would benefit by improvement of the program.
She stated that Advanced Learning in Seattle Schools "is as clear as mud." She said her concern falls into the larger issue of what is building-based leadership roles and what are district roles and what's the thru line? She expressed concern that the discussion has become racially polarized and that good people can disagree with AL's implementation. She also asked about the 25-30% of parents who send their children to private school as a possible issue with AL.
(I'll just say that Patu seemed frustrated from the get-go. That isn't surprising given she's the longest serving member currently on the Board.) She said there had been many discussions about AL especially within her community. She said she didn't believe children in her community were given the opportunity to be part of the program and she had heard this from parents of color who feel like AL is "not for their kids, just white kids."
He brought up the issue of other kinds of giftedness including artistic. He said that the Cogat doesn't give credit for other abilities and that all kids are "highly capable."
He said he had heard a question from one constituent that he believed was the essence of the challenge of trying to reform the program: "Do we believe that the disparities in enrollment in AL are natural? And, if not, what is the role of adults in the system to reform it?"
She mentioned coming at the issue from a Special Education and legal direction. She said she had reviewed the law on highly capable students for what it is and isn't and "we can look in a broader way that could be more inclusive than self-contained intellect." She said they could look thru the equity lens and involve arts. She said go to the forefront for all kids "and not separating groups of kids from each other."
Mr. Jesse took over again and also mentioned other kinds of giftedness like socio-emotional. He then said that "Each child is someone's baby and how we treat them and identify them and those students know how they are being treated and classified."
He then went into a spiel about MTSS which was baffling given it's been around nine (9!) years and still isn't fully implemented and used.
Then he took questions. Here's the Powerpoint to follow along.
Mr. Jesse had made a point about how many students - about 600 - who qualified for AL stayed at their neighborhood schools. Director Peters pointed out that was true but there were more than 1400 students whose parents DID avail themselves to use the program. She said if that is the case, then maybe they need to look at MTSS and see if it is truly meeting AL learners' need. (Slide 13 talked about how MTSS helps students in AL but I'm not sure it's entirely clear what it means.)
Peters also asked about Spectrum but was given no answer.
Director Harris then chimed in and asked, "Is Spectrum and ALO dead? We should own it and figure out where we go next."
Jesse said he couldn't say it was dead because "of promises to families and we still provide transportation." (To what Harris said earlier, well, that's as clear as mud.)
Director Patu asked for the racial breakdown of students in the AL program. She didn't get an answer but it became a sticky wicket later on.
Jesse said there one true thing - that there is a disconnect between what the district says and what it does.
He then said that SPS defines AL in more of an "academic way" and that Tacoma SD does it in other ways. (I'll have to investigate this.)
There was a question of why so much is spent on testing. Slide 20 states that "45% of AL expenditures were related to eligibility practices." (I actually found that on the low side because testing used be about 90% of the budget.)
The sticky wicket came from Slide 25 which is two pie charts; one labeled SPS Demographics and the other, Spectrum/AL eligibility. Director Pinkham asked why there was no label for Native Americans or Pacific Islanders. Jesse said that for the Spectrum/AL eligibility pie chart N= less than 10 so those categories were not included. Pinkham pressed on and said, "But what about the SPS Demographics pie chart?" No real answer.
Jesse was also challenged by Geary on Slide 24 - "2015-2016 Highly Capable Eligibility Appeals" and asked why the total appeals were broken down by race but not the total number of successful appeals. Mr. Jesse said he could get that info to her.
Director Patu also singled out Slide 24, again asking why there were no numbers for Native American or Pacific-Islander students. She said she knew she sounded upset but that "we have talked about this forever."
Harris said that she had heard from some people that it's important to not get rid of private appeals because of students who are twice-exceptional and for whom group testing would be difficult.
Peters came to Slide 28 which I, too, had flagged as problematic. This is labeled "Advanced Learning Achievement." It seems to try to be saying that more kids eligible for AL but not in Spectrum or HC did better than those in the program. Peters pointed out that this was for last year with the new SBAC. She said that she was having trouble understanding the point of the slide and Mr. Jesse just sidestepped the question.
Director Blanford offered that he thought that there were some people in the community who want to tinker for AL and "a large segment" of population who wants to rethink all aspects of it. He gave no data to support either statement.
Director Burke said incremental work was not bad but it had to be done with a common vision.
Director Blanford then got his back up and challenged Burke and asked about if Burke was thinking of this as Chair of C&I and that perhaps this was an opportunity to "rethink AL."
Burke benignly said, "Based on what I have seen historically, the discussion could go either way."
Director Harris then spoke up and said, "I don't want to die of old age before a fix" and complained about "messing around the margins and there is 'no there, there.'" She said we basically have 99 AL programs and no one is happy across the board. She said they had all run for the office and said we would "do the heavy lift work."
Director Geary said that "we have to do something big or just to work on edges is to perpetuate an institutional problem. Make it a SMART goal and give district notice to redirect resources to do the work using the community engagement tool and the equity tool."
She also said, "I feel completely overwhelmed with root causes." She said a program that welcomes all kinds of kids will look different than what is currently being provided and they would not fix it in a two-hour work session.
Director Patu offered that there must be other ways to find kids of color and that some kids don't test well.
Director Pinkham said it might cost more but they may need a different kind of assessment to find more kids.
Director Peters went back to her point about teachers/parents being able to identify gifted children. She said those traits transcended race, gender and income.
Director Blanford then offered another question from someone, "What does the program do for kids not in the program?" (I'm not sure if he meant "for" or "to.") He said how do kids experience tracking and what are the implications of that? He said it was stigmatizing.
He also alluded to the earlier discussion with Steve Nielsen about the huge about of work to be done and "the number of planes in the air."
Director Harris brought up Spectrum again and noted that Sealth started blended honors 4 years ago and there is no data on how that is going. She said the lack of consistency is unfair to everyone.
Director Geary said one of the goals of the district is an inventory of programs. She said they could look to see how Thurgood Marshall does over the next year. "I get the sense that they are happy with what they are doing and advocating and marketing."
(I find that remark astonishing. Has Geary or anyone else on the Board had private conversations separately with parents and teachers about the changes? I find it hard to understand that "happy" remark.)
We were reaching near the end of the two hours when Mr. Jesse said "There IS a plan that centers around collaboration" With MTSS and there's a way to have consistency.
And then that was all he said on that. Unbelievable.
He then reminded the Board about how labels and diagnosis are used for Sped students but that they don't define students.
He talked about how relationships are the focus for this school year and that they want to reach more families so they will want to test for AL programs.
He also said they may want to consider "the student voice."
The facilitator then asked Board members for final thoughts.
Blanford - I like Jill's idea of raising this to a SMART goal level to track it. He said they didn't talk from the outset about what they want AL to be and who it serves.
Geary - passed but she seemed tense as she did. (They circled back to her and she then said that they should "immediately start addressing that giftedness includes creativity.")
Burke said he would like to see staff work on an ID process that minimizes racial bias and see what AL would look like under MTSS explicitly.
Harris said they needed to tell the truth about what we have now. She said the district broke promises for IB and other options programs. She said she agreed AL should be a SMART goal.
Patu said that the equity is still not there and "we can do more."
Pinkham said he would like to see more demographic data and wants to see data on Sped students. He also wants creativity included in AL.
Peters said there was a sense of urgency that now seems to be slowing down due to process. She said doing more outreach and education to families and teachers, finding a clear vision and statement of that this is a need and not a privilege.
- The Board needs to STOP allowing staff to run THEIR own work sessions. The evidence from the last two work sessions shows that.
- There is a lot that could have gotten done in two hours but I'm not sure that was the point of the work session for staff. I think the point was to allow the under-representation of students of color in the program to derail the entire program. But that's just me.
That issue DOES need to be addressed and the best way to do that - I believe - is to conduct focus groups with families of color and ask THEM what they do and don't know about the program and what it would take to encourage them to allow their students into the program. Those focus groups could also include families of color that ARE in the program to answer questions and describe their experience.
Also, if they redo the entire program, what happens to the students currently in the program?
- There has got to be acknowledgement that ALOs are a joke and are NOT in place and functioning at every school.
What would I have done differently? In advance of the meeting:
1. I would have sent the Board a history of the program.
2. I would have sent the Board an overview of the program as it exists today with any and all changes from the last three years noted.
3. I would have explained how the district does outreach to families of color; successes, failures and what else they could try.
4. I would have included a comparison with at least three other districts in our region/state.
5. I would have included analysis of both AL taskforces as well as the independent consultant report that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had done on APP.
6. I would have included every bit of demographic information possible.
That's what I would have sent the Board first.
I also would have polled the Board on whether they support self-contained classrooms. Because I think there are at least two directors who don't support that and they should just say that out loud so it's clear.
I plan on writing another thread on what I believe I see happening in the district large-scale.
But, from this work session and the seeming subterfuge of what got talked about and what didn't, I'd say - for Advanced Learning - there should be a sign at JSCEE that says, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here."