Advanced Learning

It appears that we just need to repeat this exercise periodically as new people come to the blog, as people forget, and as the situation develops.

There is certainly a lot of room for legitimate disagreement among well-informed and well-intentioned people about how to address the needs of highly capable and high performing students, particularly within a Standards-based learning system.

In addition, there are a lot of folks who are simply unaware or misinformed about the various advanced learning programs at Seattle Public Schools. So I would recommend that everyone take the time - before entering the conversation - to educate themselves a bit with a visit to the Advanced Learning web site.

While the Advanced Learning Office has a role in AP testing, IB, and Early Entrance Kindergarten, the three primary advanced learning programs in Seattle are Accelerated Progress Program (APP), Spectrum, and Advanced Learning Opportunities (ALOs).

I know that there are a lot of people who are adamantly opposed to self-contained programs like APP and Spectrum, so here is a thread where they can present the research that exposes the weaknesses of that model and propose alternatives. Likewise, proponents of that model are free to present the research in support of it and tell their stories of how poorly their child was served prior to entry into one of these programs.

I would like to remind everyone that the ALOs are supposed to provide the rigorous and accelerated curriculum in an inclusive model to any student who chooses to accept the challenge. I think that these schools provide programs that many people crave. Please feel free to comment on which of the ALO models work well and which are not providing the desired effect.

Finally, I recognize that this is an area of discussion which quickly brings people to their emotional frontier. Let's try to be particularly respectful of everyone's views and stories. At the same time, let us remember, as Senator Moynihan is credited for saying: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts."

First, I want to say that I am a HUGE fan of ALOs and that I think they are great. I only wish that the District would watch them more closely and provide a meaningful certification of their quality and effectiveness.

My position, which represent no one's views but my own, is that Seattle Public Schools, like any Standards-based learning system, is focused primarily on bringing every student up to Standards, and therefore does not put adequate focus on supporting students working beyond Standards. As a consequence, the Standards, intended in theory as a floor function in practice as a ceiling.

The District's obsession with universally horizontally and vertically articulated curricula discourages (if it doesn't absolutely preclude) support for students working beyond Standards. Consequently, those students who are ready and able to work beyond Standards need a systematically different learning environment in order to be adequately served. I think Spectrum could be that program. My view is that any student working beyond Standards - regardless of their scores on some assessment of cognitive ability - has this need. Therefore I support self-selection for Spectrum. And if that means that 30%, 40% or even 70% of Seattle Public School students are in Spectrum, well that would be simply WONDERFUL. The problem with most Spectrum programs is that they are too small to be effective. Of course, coupled with self-selected entry into the program there would have to be some clear, well-defined academic expectations. Students not meeting those academic expectations would have to be returned to the general education classroom. As with ALOs, the District needs to closely monitor the quality and effectiveness of these programs and it cannot hesitate to de-certify them when it is appropriate to do so.

In addition to the Spectrum program I think the District still needs APP, but I think the eligibility criteria needs to be tightened up.

As for program placement, I think I've put forward enough ideas along those lines.

Now let's read what other people have to say.


Anonymous said…
My son is Spectrum-eligible and will attend Washington MS next fall, which is not his reference middle school (but is in his cluster).

Elementary School: I would do away with Spectrum at the ES. I believe the majority of Spectrum-eligible students are opting out because the benefits of going to their neighborhood school outweight the disadvantages of going to a remote school. Some disadvantages being uncertainty about the quality of the Spectrum program at the remote school, Spectrum being housed in a less desirable school than their neighborhood school, children not being able to go to school with the neighborhood community.

I would be satisfied with some beefed up training/acountability around ALOs in neighborhood schools. Currently not all schools provide ALO or any way to offer differentiated instruction. It doesn't seem that challenging to figure out how to share students between classes for math, reading and have one teacher focus on students below standard and the other above standard. I know that some schools are doing it successfully. My son's reading class is taught that way, but not math. Why can't we duplicate those successful models across the district?

Middle School:

At MS parents start to get concerned about college-prep and want their kids in academically rigorous programs. I think families would still prefer to send their kids to a neighborhood school to continue ES friendships/community. If I had the option of sending my son to a strong nieghborhood school with some self-selected honors courses in math, reading, science I would send him there over a remote Spectrum program. Right now I think most people are sending their kids to a remote Spectrum program because their neighborhood MS is not very strong. For example, if Eckstein didn't have a Spectrum program I bet a lot of Spectrum-eligible families would still choose that school because it is strong without the Spectrum program. On the other hand, sending a kid who is working beyond standard to Meany without a Spectrum program is pretty risky.

High School:

I think the current system of AP classes is a good model, but I would extend it to include honors courses in grades 9-10.

For APP, I agree that the entrance requirements need to be tightened, not opened up, so that it serves students who have such advanced learning needs that they cannot be met in honors classes in the comprehensive schools.
I need a little clarification, Spectrum 1; are you saying you know for a fact that you read, that the majority of Spectrum-eligible students opt out or is that antecdotal? I thought I understood that the majority of Spectrum-eligible students are either in Spectrum or APP. Charlie?
Anonymous said…
I was referring to the elementary level. I am specifically referring to my cluster, the Central cluster, where the Spectrum program is located at Leschi and the choice between sending a student to Spectrum at Leschi or a general program at Stevens, McGilvra or Montlake almost always falls against Spectrum. There are about 10 Spectrum-eligible students (have been testing each year and opting out) in my son's grade. They are all are staying at the local school or going to Lowell when they eventually test into APP. Now that they are transitioning to middle school, I know of 8 that are going to Spectrum at WMS and one has tested into APP.

I guess I don't know the statistics in the other clusters.

If you luck out and the Spectrum program is in a popular reference school and is relatively close to your neighborhood then I'm sure everyone jumps at that. For example I think it's Whittier, that has a Spectrum program that has a waitlist.

Is it just the Central cluster that has its Spectrum program in a school that is severely underperforming?
Anonymous said…
I just found a statistic from the Spectrum Advisory Panel that quoted 38% of spectrum-eligible students in 1-8 do not participate. But I bet the participation is much higher at the MS level than ES.
Charlie Mas said…
spectrum 1 is correct about the Spectrum participation rate in the Central Cluster for elementary students. The participation rate, however, varies by cluster and the determining factor, as spectrum 1 presumed, is the strength of the Spectrum program and the school where it is sited.

The data is available. I refer you to
this document.

It shows that in there were (in 2004) 138 Spectrum-eligible elementary students in the Central Cluster, but only 18 in the program at Leschi. 16 of the eligible kids lived in the Leschi reference area.

Other clusters with low participation rates included the Queen Anne/Magnolia Cluster where only 18 of 144 students in the cluster were in the program at Lawton, the South cluster where only 28 of 75 eligible students were in the program at Muir, the Southeast Cluster where only 6 of 61 students were in the program at Wing Luke, and West Seattle-South were only 3 of 82 eligible students were in the program at High Point.

There has not been, so far as I know, any comprehensive data collected on why people chose to test their child for the program but then not participate after their child was found eligible, but I have spoken to a number of these folks and nearly all tell the same story as spectrum 1: the school/program is so weak that I thought my child would be better served elsewhere.

Interesting data anomaly: in the West Seattle-North Cluster, there were 70 Spectrum-eligible students in the cluster but 103 in the program at Lafayette. Obviously students from outside the cluster are attending. That was my family's story. We live in the South cluster but drove our kids across the West Seattle bridge twice a day so they could attend the Spectrum program at Lafayette.

I have spoken to fa
Anonymous said…
Charlie, I couldn't agree with you more on the self selected Spectrum idea. Who could I write to in the district regarding this?

My son, an A+ student, was bored to tears in his gen ed. 6th grade classes last year (and he was in a top performing middle school), yet he did not score high enough on the test to get into the Spectrum program, and his school did not offer any other ALO's like honors. He always finished up his work in class, and was told to either read silently or do his homework. He was NEVER challenged. Since we live very close to a Shoreline MS, we opted to transfer him there for 7th grade as they have self selected honors in 4 core classes. He is taking honors science and honors history. And, get this, since he had an A+ in math in 6th grade, they asked him if he would like to skip 7th grade math go right into 8th grade math. Only requirements to all of this self elected stuff, is that he keep up a 75 grade average, which I'm sure he'll be able to do. At the Shoreline open house they talked about the honors program a lot and encouraged all students to take as many honors classes as they felt they could handle. Imaging that!

Why can't Seattle offer something civil and equitable like this? This would give every kid who was motivated the opportunity to participate. Talk about closing the achievement gap.
Anonymous said…
By the way, I should have also mentioned that in addition to honors classes, the Shoreline school also offered remedial classes in each core subject for students who were behind and would not fare well in the gen. ed. classes. The goal for these students was that they would transfer into the gen. ed. classes as soon as they were able to.

Imagine that?? A program for students who need some extra help, without dumping them in spec. ed.
Charlie Mas said…
Any answer I could offer about why Seattle doesn't offer self-selected Spectrum or why Seattle doesn't have a program designed specifically to accelerate the learning of students working below grade level and then returning them to their general education classes would be pure conjecture. It would probably also be un-sympathetic if not unkind.

Other than switching to Shoreline, which seems an excellent alternative for now, the best suggestions I could make would be

1) Re-test for Spectrum

2) Choose a different Seattle middle school.

2a) There are three with an ALO: Meany, Madison, and McClure. I cannot attest for the quality of any of these programs.

2b) There are a number of middle schools with undersubscribed Spectrum programs. If enrolled at one of these schools, there is an excellent chance that your child would be placed in the "Spectrum" class at the school to help fill the room. Again, I cannot attest for the quality or effectiveness of these programs.

3) Speak with your son's teachers about providing an appropriate amount of challenge and rigor. Ask them how they differentiate instruction and how you will be able to tell. Ask if they are familiar with parallel curriculum. Look for quality, not quantity. Your son should get more challenging work, not more work.

Collect samples of the assignments and your son's work. Keep records. You particularly want records of how much time the teacher provided for in class assignments, how much time your son spent on the assignment, and what your son was expected to do with the difference. Keep records of statements made by the teachers about your son's academic performance, about his classroom behavior, and about rigor.

4) Speak with your son's principal about getting the teachers to provide your child with an appropriate amount of challenge and rigor. Ask the principal how the teachers are supposed to differentiate instruction and how the principal assures that they do. This is the principal's primary job responsibility - to manage and lead the teachers.

5) Use the District Complaint process. That's what it is there for. The way to defeat a bureaucracy is to correctly complete its forms. It shouldn't take long before you find yourself talking to an Ed Director, Michelle Corker-Curry, or Carla Santorno. You may have to demand that someone talk to you.

6) Do not contact the Board. They cannot and will not help. This is not a Board matter, they will not get involved, and they are not the Complaint Department. Moreover, they will not forward your concern to the Complaint Department. This will prove a dead end for you.

Good luck. I sincerely wish you and your son well.
Anonymous said…
The district is in the process of evaluating the Advanced Learning programs. Most of the emphasis is on APP now, but they are supposed to do Spectrum as well. I was wondering if they are going to have any community input in this process. There might be a window of opportunity to try to push the district to consider an alternative like Shoreline..
Anonymous said…
"Imagine that?? A program for students who need some extra help, without dumping them in spec. ed."

Forget special ed., many of these struggling students remain in regular ed. classes, without receiving the help that they need to succeed. They fall further and further behind every year. Not only is this a disservice to them, but it lowers the bar or classroom expectations for the rest of the students.
Charlie Mas said…
The review was originally supposed to be all of Advanced Learning but it was later constricted to just APP. The reviewers were in Seattle during the last two or three days of school, which skewered their ability to observe classrooms and hampered their access a bit. Family groups were hastily assembled. The District didn't start to prepare for the review until just a few days before the reviewers arrived. The reviewers did meet for two hours with the APP Advisory Committee.

I suspect that District officials would say that the sort of opportunity spectrum 1 is looking for, self-selected Spectrum, can be found in the ALOs. Of course ALO programs are all site-based and unregulated, so you choose from what's available and you get what you get with no assurances of quality or effectiveness.
Anonymous said…
When I went to the open house at Meany two years ago I asked the Math teacher how many students participated in the ALOs program. He said one or two. That right there was enough to turn me away from Meany. I want my child in an environment where the school has a culture of high expectations. From what he said it sounded like it was just the opposite because there must be more than two students that are capable of doing advanced work, but none were stepping up to the challenge, either because the teachers didn't promote it or the peer culture discouraged it.

I did attend a parent sponsored 'get to know Meany' meeting last spring and the parents seemed to imply that all their kids were doing ALOs. So I'm not sure whether it may be getting better.
Anonymous said…
Maybe this is a dumb question, but what ever happened to grade-skipping? Is that done anymore? That was a common way to handle acceleration back in the day.
Anonymous said…
"Maybe this is a dumb question, but what ever happened to grade-skipping? Is that done anymore?"

I was wondering the same thing.

It seems like a lot parents don't choose APP or Spectrum because they want to keep their child in the neighborhood school. I would think that grade skipping for some kids would be a good way to provide the necessary academic support close to home.

Currently, it appears that the age requirements for grades is entirely inflexible. When did this change? Is this a result of the development of Spectrum and APP?

I'm the parent of a little kid who, as far as I can tell, has mastered everything in the SPS kindergarten curriculum and more. If he were five years old this year and entering kindergarten, I think he would still be able to fit in, particularly because kindergarten teachers already have to adapt to differing skill levels in kids.

Unfortunatly, my kid won't be of age for a couple of years yet, and I suspect he will be even more wildly out of sync with his peers by the time he meets the age requirement.

I doubt I would want my kid to grade skip (I'm not sure what we will do when the time comes. Suggestions?). I am sorry, however, that early entry doesn't appear to be something even available for discussion. I can't imagine my kid is the only kid who will have a hard time finding a reasonable fit for their first year of school.
Anonymous said…
futuresps: Early entry does exist; see the side bar at the advanced learning web site. The problem, from what I understand, is that testing happens after on time assignments are made so the only kindergarten spots that are available are ones at undersubscribed schools. I know at least three kids at our school who were early entry, but they were all younger sibs or teacher's kids so they moved to the top of the wait list.

I expect that grade skipping is discouraged because a high level of intelligence doesn't mean the child will fit in socially (much the same reason that social promotion exists?).
Roy Smith said…
Only children who have birthdays in September and October are eligible to be considered for early entrance to kindergarten. This is not a mechanism for grade-skipping, but a way to allow children whose birthday is within 2 months of the enrollment cut-off date to start a little bit earlier.

For any parents considering early entrance to kindergarten, you should also be aware that the application/evaluation process is not at all user friendly. My family did it last year for my daughter; the process consisted of one mandatory Saturday evaluation session and one mandatory weekday (during working hours) evaluation session. The appointment slots for the evaluation sessions were assigned by SPS, not selected by the parents; if you couldn't make the assigned date and time, then no early entrance for your child, and the evaluation fee ($90 last year, paid before the appointments were assigned) is non-refundable.

Also, as Maureen states, early entrance kindergartners are last in line in the school choice system, so you may have to choose between having your child start early and getting access to the school you want, if that school is oversubscribed.
Charlie Mas said…
The Lawton Spectrum program has not been more attractive in part because it is essentially grade-skipping and little more.

From the Lawton web site:

"Currently, we have what is referred to as a “blended” Spectrum model, where Spectrum students are generally placed in classrooms with students one grade level higher."

So what do the Spectrum kids do in the fifth grade? Repeat it?

Believe it or not, grade-skipping continues to be an accepted and endorsed method for providing students with acceleration. It's not perfect, but it does work pretty well for a great number of students. As far as I know, however, Seattle Public Schools doesn't do it.
Anonymous said…
Question for Charlie and others:

This question came up while I was reading posts on another topic (Helping Students Navigate AP at
Garfield) but felt it more pertinent to this topic.

Some folks were wondering if it would be helpful to extend APP eligability past 7th grade.

My daughter took a summer course at the Robinson Center and we discussed educational needs for her with some of the staff. She is currently at a K-8 and will stay there for next year even though she qualified for Spectrum.

If she tested into APP we would likely move her. But, we were told that it could be difficult to transfer into APP past 6th grade because most of the other students
would have had more experience with the program from much earlier on.

What do you think?
Charlie Mas said…
I wouldn't hesitate to move a student into APP at any grade.

Kids enter the program in every year and generally make friends pretty quickly. My kids entered in the fifth grade and the third grade and actually found old friends of theirs at Lowell. At Washington, they reunite with other friends and make new friends. They can make more new friends every year.

As for experience with the program, I wouldn't give it a moment's thought. When they get to the seventh grade, the seventh grade will be all new to them. Washington does loop the LA/SS block in the sixth and seventh grade (the students have the same teacher for both years), but the advantage of knowing the teacher only lasts for a couple weeks.

I don't know that I have ever heard my daughters mention people talking about "remember when we were in first grade together" very much. Anyway, it's possible that there are other kids from your daughter's K-8 who will appear at Washington in APP or Spectrum or the general education classes.
Anonymous said…
It's not true that no one is grade-skipped in Seattle Public Schools. I know of three cases off the top of my head, including one child who was grade-skipped while at Lowell, and one who retained a previous grade skip when entering Lowell.

I don't know anything more specific about the process. I suspect it's one of those things where the principal can veto such an arrangement, and usually does. But it might be only a de facto veto, that could somehow be overridden if you knew what to do.

The Iowa Acceleration Scale is a good instrument for figuring out which kids are appropriate candidates for grade skips. There is a description on Hoagie's:

My own feeling is that curriculum in *all* programs needs beefing up, and that Spectrum and APP need to be made more distinct from the regular program, not less. Entering Spectrum should be *as much of* a change for a student as skipping one grade, and entering APP should be *as much of* a change as skipping two grades. Not the same changes, obviously, but with as much impact.

Helen Schinske
Anonymous said…
Anyone seen this Time article yet? It addresses several of the issues raised in this thread.,9171,1653653-1,00.html

Anonymous said…
To Kim, who posted the link to the Time article: Part of the web address was cut-off on your post.

Could you please re-post the
address and/or give the title of the article?

Anonymous said…
Sorry about that! Here's the link again:,9171,1653653

The article is called "Are We Failing Our Geniuses?" and the questions raised are familiar to anyone who reads this blog: What to do about the fact that NCLB only asks students to reach basic benchmarks, not move beyond them? What about skipping grades? Why are programs for the gifted so often labeled "elitist"? Why is it okay to push students for athletic and artistic excellence, even to the point of "segregating" them on elite teams or in special programs - while students and parents asking for gifted programs are viewed suspiciously?

Interesting reading. Interesting that this article is showing up in such a mainstream magazine.

Anonymous said…
Arg! The article link keeps getting cut off. One more time (just remove any spaces between any of the following):
Anonymous said…
I agree, the Time article has some interesting information - try this link:,9171,1653653,00.html
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