Update: here are the minutes from that Work Session; in some ways more fleshed out than mine but I don't see all the things I have reported. (They also attribute something to Director Pinkham that I do not believe he said and I will ask him about it at tomorrow night's Board meeting.)
This section will cover only the Advanced Learning Work Session on Feb. 8th because this thread turned out to be quite lengthy.
I'll cover the UW Equity Summit on Gifted Education, Feb. 9-10 in a final part to this series.
Advanced Learning Work Session
All the Board members were there except for Director Blanford. (As an aside, I see that Blanford seems to be missing more meetings or coming in very late. Not sure why but a trend.)
There were a number of staff/parents (?) from Thurgood Marshall.
Staff included Michael Tolley, Deputy Superintendent, Wyeth Jessee, head of Sped and AL and Stephen Martin, the head of the AL department. As well there is a new-to-AL staffer, Kari Hanson. Interestingly, the former head of the AL department (at two different times), Bob Vaughn, was there. I had wondered why until I later learned that he's working there. (It's unclear to be in what capacity but I will try to get clarification. It's hard to assess whether this is a good or bad thing for AL.)
Ms. Hanson spoke at one point during the meeting about different HCC parent groups including the TM parents but seemed unaware there was a long-running APP listserv group that she might consult. I sense that much of the input that AL gets seems to be coming from Garfield's Honors for All and TM's Social Studies' programs and I hope that they intend to hear from and listen to more parents from across the district.
Here's the agenda.
Mr. Jesse led much of the meeting and managed to spend the opening moments with a basic overview that was reflected in the agenda and therefore, really didn't need to be repeated. When staff does this over and over at Work Sessions, you have to wonder if they are just trying to run out the clock.
Highlights (Editor's note - I am only pulling out key points from the presentation, not all items that in the presentation.)
- On page 5, "Strengths," it was noted that "systems upgrade to increase referral efficiency" means they have changed from manual to technical system "to streamline this process).
- On page 6, "Weaknesses,"
1) demographically disproportionate number of student referrals. There was not a lot of discussion at this point but clearly, there are things that could be done.
2) impact on staff time due to identification, testing, and eligibility process (August to February).
Yes, there is too much time on this process and it's to the detriment of supporting teachers and students in the program.
3) lack of consistency and common definitions of services.
Finally! Staff admits that this does exist and is a problem. Of course, the question is - how did that happen and why has it gone on so long?
On page 7, "Opportunities"
4) Provide meaningful services that meet the academic needs of Advanced Learners and Highly Capable students available at all attendance area schools through MTSS
Well, that statement was going well until...MTSS. Because MTSS isn't fully rolled out at every school, how will MTSS be used to meet these needs and schools haven't done this with the existence of ALOs so why would it be different with MTSS?
On page 9, Board Concerns and Status
The Board has quite the list and I applaud their directness.
- On Disparity in enrollment demographics, staff says they are "well on their way to address this in a number of different ways." They want to have more info sessions, targeted to parents.
- One of the highest priorities for the Board? Need for shared understanding of services and expectations (HCC, Spectrum)
Director Pinkham asked about referrals and who can make them. Staff said that referrals can be made by not only teachers and parents but by community members. I cannot find that language at the AL website.
It was also pointed out that there seems to be a disconnect between principals and parents over one Board concern - stakeholder engagement.
Page 10 - Highly Capable Services Eligibility 2015-2016 - "In Seattle Public Schools, 8.1% of students were eligible for Highly Capable Services." To note, that word "eligible" does not mean that all those eligible are receiving services.
Director Patu asked about options to qualify more students of color. Jesse said that there are challenges in a standardized process. Patu pressed on and said that she saw no Native American or Pacific Islander students in the chart. It was explained that they don't report numbers of less than 10 to protect student privacy.
This was in reference to a handout, "Advanced Learning Referrals by Region, Grade Level, and Ethnicity, 9/7/2016-10/6/2016." However, the handout DID show numbers less than 10 as was pointed out by Director Pinkham to the consternation of staff.
Director Harris asked who was on the selection committee. Martin said it is outlined in the state WAC. There are four people from the organizational chart on page 4 along with him. Harris expressed concern over finding twice-exceptional and ELL students.
Jesse stated that the district is "partnering" with Rainier Scholars (and I'll have a thread on that organization soon).
Page 12 - 2015-16 Highly Capable Eligibility Appeals
As I pointed out when this presentation first became available, staff either wrote the page in an inconsistent manner; whether that was deliberate or not is unclear.
Director Harris said that people who test for HCC may be doing it because "they don't recognize Spectrum as stated by the district" to be what is delivered at schools. Jesse said (with no trace of irony), "That's why we are investigating" because of inconsistencies.
My notes reflect, "Hallelujah" and "why did this take years to say out loud?"
Director Geary asked about including students in stakeholder feedback, saying that HCC kids don't integrate well in high school "I heard that."
President Peters had the most questions throughout the Work Session.
- She said it appeared that testing was stressing out the AL department because it's such a heavy lift.
- She said there does not seem to be enough PD for teachers.
Martin said that as far as eligibility goes, that they are said they want to look at potential and not just a score on an achievement test.
I learned something new on page 17 - the AL department does the testing for early entrance for kindergarten.
page 23 - Looking Forward/Next Steps
President Peters again asked several questions.
1. She asked about the Advisory Committee; Ms. Hanson was not sure. She did say that her thinking was around groups from Thurgood Marshall and West Seattle Elementary and she wanted to "capitalize" on their work.
Peters stressed looking at the work of the various AL taskforces (thank you, President Peters).
2. It seems that PD for AL teachers is "on-demand" but that means teachers/schools have to be proactive. Martin said they had a meeting on that and all schools will have this kind of information on the MTSS teams.
3. Peters asked what the HCC curriculum is. Tolley said it was just acceleration by two years. But he said all AL students are part of the MTSS effort.
4. Peters also pointed out that the appeals numbers - such a source of conflict over equity issues - is something of a red herring because if the appeals process wasn't there, you'd still have the same disparities in the population.
The issue of why the numbers of parents of color who do not appeal was not explained. I would have to think that if a parent went to the trouble of applying and having their child tested, that most would follow-thru if they knew appeals testing was available (if they qualified as F/RL).
Harris said that Chief Sealth had been using blended classrooms but where is that data?
Geary asked about the appeals process and said that HCC should be 2%, 8%. She said that "self-contained is not equitable nor good for our schools."
So if you had any doubt on her stance on self-contained classrooms, now you know. I may find it helpful at some point to ask her to provide more nuance to that statement.
Director Burke said that the CSIPs needed to be accurate on what schools are doing to provide for advanced learners.
Harris said that 12 appeals from 2E students did not seem to be in the data. She also pointed out that the staff stated 16 schools had received PD but did not name them or how many teachers had taken the PD.
President Peters and Wyeth Jesse had some back and forth about appeals. Peters said that she was trying to understand the figures around the appeals. She got clarification that the total eligibility number of 570 included 236 students on appeals.
Jesse said that getting rid of the appeals would probably solve the disproportionality but, by law, they have to have an appeals process.
Peters said that it might be worth examining who does appeal and, that not every appeal is successful. She said the numbers show that, proportionally, the number of white students' appeals is the same as the number of students of color appeals. She said it did mirror the overall program.
This was one of the most open discussion about Advanced Learning that I had ever heard. Staff did finally admit to issues that they had not previously. The Board was direct in their questions.
But again, I don't hear the urgency to create change even in the face of obvious disparities.