Monday, December 03, 2007

Review of Gifted Programs (not so much)

So it was announced that the review of the gifted programs was completed in an article in today's Times. The article only talks about APP so I wonder if Spectrum or the ALOs were even looked at. Maybe it's only the programs that get state funding that were reviewed. If so, that's not very useful. From the article:

"An outside review of gifted education in Seattle Public Schools said the district should act aggressively to diversify its program.

Almost three-quarters of the students enrolled in the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) are white, compared to about 40 percent districtwide."

I know, for a fact, that huge outreach has been done so I'll be interested to see what else the district comes up with to find more minority students.


"But according to the report, APP is perceived to be "elitist, exclusionary and even racist," and that some of its African-American students are bullied and isolated."

Okay, perceived by whom?

But at the heart of the problem?

"The program's curriculum lacks vision, the report said, and rigor in classes is inconsistent. "The philosophy and definition of giftedness in Seattle do not reflect current developments in the field of gifted education," it said."

This is absolutely key and, to me, absolutely true. I trust Bob Vaughn, who is now the head of the department, but if he doesn't get key support, nothing will change.

Here's a link to the full report which I haven't read yet.


Anonymous said...

Here is a link to the entire APP report (the report is dated August, 2007!)


Anonymous said...

In my school, (mostly white), you're either gifted or disabled.

Anonymous said...

My son qualified for APP, and we opted to send him to Spectrum. He was originally at an "ALO school", which did not do anything in the way of ALO, and he spent all of first grade reading novels in his desk.

I was very put off by the way APP presented itself. It did not seem developmentally appropriate at all, and actually referred to students as "Lowell Material", or "Not Lowell Material". What if someone decided my son was not "Lowell Material" once we transferred him there? I also got the impression that they viewed parents of highly gifted kids as necessarily pushy and in the way.

He is more challenged in Spectrum than he was last year, but it does seem pretty "one size fits all". There is not much of a spark happening, and I am a little disappointed. But still not ready to send him to Lowell.

I read through the report, albeit quickly, and am interested to see what comes of it.

-SPS mom

Anonymous said...

I read the APP report and found it to be quite interesting and full of useful information about APP and to a lesser extent, Spectrum.

Our family chose to have our kid stay in a regular classroom rather than transfer to Spectrum this year. We will likely be going through the same process again.

One of the most confusing aspects of choosing an academic program (advanced learning or not) was trying to understand what our kid
needs and how that relates to the testing and eligability requirements. I appreciated the report suggestions to have the district change how they evaluate testing and data for entrance to these programs. Currently there are no factors considered for motivation level, learning styles or other learning experiences that demonstrate a need for an advanced learning curriculum.

On another note, the report's strong statements about the need to look at racism and bullying of kids of color at APP was good to see.

Anonymous said...

Funny that people would use "private schools got all the blacks in town" as an excuse for APP's lack of diversity. Private schools catering to gifted students are disproportionately white... making the disproportionality in the public schools a lot WORSE than published, not better.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that APP qualified students who chose NOT to go to Lowell have significantly better achievment. Does this say something about the quality of the education at Lowell? Or does it say something about kids whose parents select Lowell?

Anonymous said...

I wish I could trust the school district to implement these findings in a responsible way. The report certainly is thought-provoking and brings out many significant issues with APP. It would be nice to believe that this report will provide a road map to make a great SPS program even better.

Instead, I'm worried that APP is about to get sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. Is that being paranoid or just realistic?

-APP Dad

Anonymous said...

I sure hope that everyone has an opportunity to read the complete report because it validates comments and concerns which APP parents have been making for years. Specifially, that there has been a lack of district support in curriculum development and teacher training for the gifted programs.

The Seattle Times is looking to sell newspapers and thus highlights one paragraph and one recommendation from an 85-page report. Every APP parent and APP teacher knows that there is under-representation of people of color in the program. This report just states the obvious and provides recommendations for how to address the problem.

APP has been a great program for both my kids. Both of them joined APP at Washington and are now at Garfield. We chose to wait to move them into the program until Washington (one at 6th grade and the other at 7th) because they were fitting in well socially at their elementary and middle schools. We did need to move our younger child from Bryant to Wedgwood to get her into the Spectrum program when she wasn't being challenged at Bryant.

Anonymous said...

Charlie -

Suspect you have plenty to say about this? Your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff B -

Of course the Seattle Times wants to sell newspapers; that's it's business.

Anonymous said...

You mean that the Times is not in the business of improving our community, but in the position of improving their bottom line. I am shocked.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 9:02 says "Interesting that APP qualified students who chose NOT to go to Lowell have significantly better achievment"

That is interesting. I haven't read the whole report, but I don't see data on comparative achievement scores. Where did you see that?

On a related subject: The report says (pp 28-29) that APP students are currently being re-evaluated at transition times (5th and 8th grades). How are they doing this? Does that mean that some Washington (Lowell) APP kids do not qualify to go on to Garfield (Washington)? Could APP qualified kids that stayed at their neighborhood schools access those spots at Garfield in some way? (there is no current mechanism to test into APP in 8th grade)?

Anonymous said...

Here's a question for APP Dad,

What is your definition of political correctness? This report is about fairness and equity across econonomic and racial lines. Calling it political correct is why so many of us still think its okay to do nothing about these disparities. We can just brush it off as another Seattle School District politically correct saga.

Anonymous said...

Maureen: The information about testing scores for APP qualified kids attending and not attending APP can be found on page 16 of the report under Curriculum/Instruction and Problems, Issues and Concerns.

There are links to information about re-qualication on the district website and the Advanced Learning home page.

And, I too found the report to be thoughtful - the suggestions seemed realistic and useful and I hope they can be implemented especially in relation to issues of equity and inclusion.

Most compelling were issues of bullying with students of color. ALso appreciated comments about inequity of having best music programs only at schools with advanced learning programs.

Anonymous said...

"Interesting that APP qualified students who chose NOT to go to Lowell have significantly better achievment."

That's *far* from a correct summary. Both the APP-qualified students attending Lowell and those elsewhere have very high average achievement, but there was a significant difference noted in mean WASL reading scores. (Not on math, and not on any other achievement tests. If I remember correctly, it was only one year's data on the fourth grade WASL that was looked at.) However, that difference is in the range where a grade-level test, and a criterion-referenced one at that, can NOT differentiate or rank students with any accuracy.

One of the observations made in the report was that teachers used only on-grade level testing. I think the limitations of on-grade testing should have been a concern throughout, from identification onward. Many kids who may only squeak into a 4 on the WASL end up getting state honors on talent search testing, for instance, while others with higher scores on the WASL have been known to score much lower when presented with out-of-level material.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

"Calling it political correct is why so many of us still think its okay to do nothing about these disparities."

No one is arguing that we should ignore the disparities! Indeed, no one has pushed harder for reforming the testing process than those of us who've been through the whole ridiculous hoohah and know exactly why most people give up on Advanced Learning.

It's NOT a situation where anyone is sitting pretty. It's a situation where those who have various kinds of socioeconomic power (status, race, money, time, whatever) find it easier to deal with the bureaucratic absurdities. That doesn't mean anyone likes them or thinks they're the right way to do things. We'd *all* benefit if the process were fairer and more transparent.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

To clarify: I think the report is good and timely. I also appreciate the discussion of bullying and racism. The main issue I have with this report is that I feel it overdramatized the racism issue -- it speaks of "increasingly overt racism" in the summary, while the actual text refers to specific, isolated incidents, and does not address at all whether they came to any responsible adult's attention or how they were handled.

But "increasingly overt racism" puts one in mind of Jena-style nooses and that kind of nonsense, and naturally this is the aspect that the media have seized upon.

No, my concern is about the school system's response to this report, and the possibility of this strengthening the hand of those in the administration and the community who think APP is elitist, racist, and "not really public school." It doesn't take much to stir up a racially tinged brouhaha in urban public school systems, and that's what I'm worried about here.

--APP Dad

Melissa Westbrook said...

I found this passage interesting:

No single assessment instrument or its results must deny student eligibility for gifted programming services.

That would be nice but it's unlikely to happen. They even use the WASL as a big stick if students want to stay in the program (you have to take the WASL if you want to stay in).

Does anyone know what came first at Washington/Eckstein - music or APP/Spectrum?

I suspect music and, of course, no music program gets built overnight.

Charlie Mas said...

The achievement measure used to compare the APP-eligible students in the program with the APP-eligible students outside the program was the WASL. The reviewers did not regard it as conclusive of anything. This is particularly true given the criterion-based nature of the test. They wondered if it isn't an artifact of the WASL prep done in general education classes that isn't done in APP classes.

Most of the report was no surprise, but it was a relief. It was great to see an outside authority confirm the lack of vision, the lack of professional development for teachers and administrators, the lack of administrative support, the lack of professional qualifications among teachers and administrators, the lack of communication with the community, and the lack of program evaluation.

I was deeply trouble to read about racist statements and race-based bullying by teachers and students in the program. That was news to me as I hadn't observed any of that.

There were some hard words for the Advisory Committee. Some families felt that they were not well represented by the Advisory Committee. The reviewers also wrote that "on several issues the boundaries between advocacy, advice and interference had been blurred in ways that were not healthy for the program in the long run."

I find it amusing that the reviewers recommended the creation of a new advisory committee. The committee they propose would have the same mix of membership that the Advanced Learning Steering Committee had - before the District disbanded it in favor of the current committees.

I found a number of conflicting messages in the review. For example, on one hand, the reviewers write that the APP teachers aren't really doing anything different than general education teachers, then they recommend that the District create environments in which the expertise and high quality instruction offered by APP teachers can benefit other students. Those two ideas appear contradictory to me.

The reviewers clearly prefer dispersing the APP students into self-contained classrooms within general education schools, much as Spectrum appears now. I'm not sure how this would be accomplished when there are not enough 1st grade students for two APP classrooms, and five sections of fifth grade APP.

I can't wait to see which elements of the review the District accepts and acts on.

Anonymous said...

If the entire school district could promise the parents of Seattle a quality education program for their children (as the APP program attempts to provide), there would be no need for private school and the city wide student profile would, in fact, closely match the profile of the APP program.

Instead, parents whose kids do not test into a program like APP or have a school that they feel is challenging their children (and who have the money), send their children to private school. This is why the overall racial make-up of the school district does not track the racial make-up of the city.

The reality is the APP population is much more reflective of the racial make-up of Seattle since it is an all city draw and it is an attractive program. Hence, parents throughout the city whose kids test into the program generally send their children. This is why the student population of APP is majority white, the city is too!

Above and beyond the above facts, there are also a myriad of other reasons to explain the nuances of the student population of the APP program. One can find studies in books to explain this and I won't go into it on a blog site. Suffice it to say, the school system does not operate in a vacuum.

The important thing to remember is that this small program within the Seattle Public Schools is a special needs program for children that are two years ahead of curriculum and these kids must test in in order to be admitted. It is not a program for everyone, and to water it down on the basis of political correctness does a disservice to those students who desperately need the challenge of a rigorous curriculum to maintain interest.

APP parent

Anonymous said...

The report took pains to include both commendations and recommendations. This seemed very reasonable to me. But did I miss something, or does the report not mention the HC grant and the WAC that sets the minimum criteria for gifted programs in Washington state? While no one test should be used for eligibility, -SPS does not use just one test- I thought that the WAC required Cognitive testing and an achievement minimum. Maybe I am wrong. Also, the WAC provides that in the absence of a any tests overwhelming evidence must be provided that supports eligibility. I don't know if the district actually allows students in without tests though.Can someone help me out here? Maybe I just missed something or maybe things have changed?

Anonymous said...

>>>This is why the student population of APP is majority white, the city is too!

But the majority of the white gifted students are already in the myriad of private school that serve gifted students, leaving SPS with a kind of second tier gifted program which is also racially exclusive. EG. 60% of Lakeside seniors get some kind of national merit recognition.

Anonymous said...

"EG. 60% of Lakeside seniors get some kind of national merit recognition."

Lakeside draws from surrounding districts as well, though -- particularly Bellevue.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

... and Lakeside is just one school, as an example.

Anonymous said...

"app parent" - my point exactly. If we are going to examine racial imbalance, why aren't we looking to see why Seattle Public Schools as a whole have a different racial makeup from the city at large, rather than looking to see why one specific program doesn't mirror the rest of the (racially imbalanced) district student population?

Anonymous said...

Duh.... because of rich people. ??? Not so different from other cities. Seattle is very rich, white people in particular are very rich here in Seattle and they go to private school to get a better education. What's the mystery? We don't need another study.

Washington's Basic Education Allocation is around $4,000, and around $3,000 goes to each building. That's $3,000 that goes to your school, for your kid who isn't disabled, free-lunch, or ELL, etc.

Private school = mostly white = $15,000 to $25,000 + annual giving. You can get a lot more there but yes, you have to pay for it. In Seattle, that's no problem.

Anonymous said...

re:the comment that the SPS program is for "second tier" gifted students (with the % of Lakeside seniors qualifying for National Merit Scholarships offered as evidence):

I think that is patently false. If you take the number of National Merit Scholars from Garfield and Lakeside this year, and divide by their respective class sizes, the % of National Merit Scholars is very close (Garfield may even be slightly higher). This is just a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it serves the purpose in this case.

Clearly, the APP program has "top tier" talent. It is unfortunate that the inflammatory bits and pieces of the long report are getting all of the attention, while the fact that the curriculum and organization of the whole program seems flawed receives little attention.

Anonymous said...

I thought this 80-plus page report was very insightfully written. It day-lighted a number of concerns that have been floating around for years. In particular, as a parent of high-testers who are staying put in the neighborhood school, it gave me hope that the District will follow some of the recs and better support teachers through professional development to differentiate more in all classes. Every kid benefits this way. And the report's point that the APP program fails kids who are off the charts in one subject but not another is well-taken. Let's nurture giftedness at all schools. Point of clarification before I'm jumped on- this doesn't mean advocating the break-up of Lowell. It means raising the quality of teaching across the board, making classrooms in general better for all kids.

Charlie Mas said...

I would not put much reliance on the prospects of the District helping teachers to differentiate instruction more in all classes. I have seen precious little evidence to support such a hope. The report particularly called for the need for differentiation within the APP classes.

While APP does not, middle school Spectrum and the ALOs currently provide accelerated instruction for kids who are off the charts in one subject but not another. I'm not sure the reviewers were aware of that fact.

By all means, let's nurture giftedness at all schools. Until then, however, let's not pull the rug out from under the kids we are now serving. The reviewers were sensitive to the question of how to expand access to APP without diminishing its effectiveness for the students now in the program or diminishing the challenge and rigor in the curriculum.

Their solution was to introduce differentiation which would address the current range of skills and allow for an expanded range of skills.

I hope re-gifted doesn't feel jumped on. I, and every APP family I know, fully support all of these ideas. My first choice would be for my children to be appropriately served in their neighborhood school. Some neighborhood schools are up to it, some are not. Some are honest about that, some are not.

Everyone supports raising the quality of teaching across the board, making classrooms in general better for all kids. But saying that we want it isn't enough to make it happen.

Anonymous said...

The point of Lakeside vs. Garfield isn't about talent difference. The point is about demographics. If all private schools were suddenly closed (or if we even consider the private schools). The APP program would suddenly become MUCH whiter and MUCH bigger. Because these schools heavily recruit gifted students and they are also OVERWHELMINGLY white. Similarly, the disproportionality of black students in special education would be much worse (greater) than it is. That is because private schools specificly don't accept disabled students. All things being equal and equitable, in this district, many more than 20% of APP students should be black; many more than 40% of special education students should be white.

Anonymous said...

"All things being equal and equitable, in this district, many more than 20% of APP students should be black; many more than 40% of special education students should be white."

But all things are not equal. In the case of severe, indisputable special needs, there are obvious disparities in prevalence among different socioeconomic categories. Many disorders are related to environmental factors such as prematurity that currently differ widely among various groups. I don't think it's unreasonable to suppose that the same socioeconomic groups with high incidences of severe special needs could well suffer from a higher than average incidence of less-definite special needs.

That's not to say that every special ed placement has been fairly and equitably done. Obviously I can't know that. But the mere existence of a racial disparity in special ed doesn't in itself prove much about fairness in the schools. You might much more reasonably draw conclusions about inequities in society, prenatal health care, etc.