Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Advanced Learning

This is likely to be one of my last posts on Advanced Learning.  Oh, not because I'm not interested or don't care.  But frankly, I'm tired of caring.  I'm tired of waiting for this district to at least have a program that is coherent and easy to understand.  So I'm done on advocating on this topic in any big way.

This comes on the heels of having a small discussion with Dr. Enfield about Spectrum and then a longer meeting with Dr. Vaughn (the head of Advanced Learning) and Roger Daniels, consulting teacher.   These were good conversations and I did feel like they were listening.  But I don't think they really care that the program makes sense to parents.

I asked Dr. Enfield about the issues around the changes made at Spectrum programs at Wedgwood and Lawton AFTER open enrollment had ended.  (Noel Treat was at this meeting and listened quite attentively - poor guy, I don't think Susan and I gave him much of a chance to speak.)  I told them that it seemed like a bait-and-switch and unless there is an emergency, no program should change after Open Enrollment and that information needed to come down from the top of the district. 

They seemed to agree that it wasn't right but neither one of them really knew why it happened.  I told them my background with Spectrum and my belief that Advance Learning never had a champion in any upper level administration and so as long as it existed, that was good enough for leadership. 

I also asked them how, with multiple versions of Spectrum, they could know what is really working.  These children generally all do fine on the MAP and HPSE so how did they know the various programs were all working?  They said they could see that as a problem.  I went back to my old (and probably tired) line that parents should not have to be detectives to understand any program in this district and that includes Advanced Learning.  I also pointed out that there was not an ALO at every school as promised (more on that later) and since we had gone to neighborhood schools, it was the responsibility of every school to have additional rigor for any child, IDed by the district or not, who wanted it.  

That was my meeting with Dr. Enfield and Deputy Superintendent Treat (I feel like he needs a badge or wear a cowboy hat.) 

So onto my meeting with Dr. Vaughn and Roger Daniels.  Let me say upfront, I have known Dr. Vaughn off and on for years through his work in SPS.  (He left for several years to work at UW and then came back.)  I respect both these men and they were very generous in their time with me. 

On the issue of the different Spectrums, their answer was that it is really about how many kids sign up.  What is interesting is there are problems in both directions.  Meaning, too many kids and not all of them can be in Spectrum OR not enough kids to make a class.  They claim this is the issue at Lawton - not enough kids - and thus the split classes.  (There was a little disagreement between them over who made the decision but it came out that staff and the principal made the decision.)

What's interesting is that when Lawton got Spectrum many years ago, apparently Hay was worried about losing students to that program and started the earliest ALO which they called Pathways.   Apparently Hay was able to keep many of their students and so Lawton's program struggled with numbers. 

They also say that the numbers do not reflect any real change to support the idea that unhappy Spectrum parents are sending their students to APP.  (I didn't ask them for the numbers but I'd like to see them.  Because if that is true,  then MAP is finding a LOT of new APP students.  They also say they think a lot of private school students came in the system but I hear that the private schools are still full.  It's hard to know what to think without the data.)

They also said, to my disbelief, that the Spectrum first grades at Whittier and Lafayette were never full.  I politely said that my son's first-grade class was when he was at Whittier and they said that the class was not totally Spectrum.  All I can say is that means my principal at the time lied to us and I know him and do not believe this is the case.  I don't understand how the two schools that have self-contained Spectrum classes do not have full Spectrum-identified classes in first grade. 

It didn't seem to matter to them that the program is not easy to understand and could cause concern to parents over the issue of how it is presented at their school versus how another school presents it.  

On the issue of the Spectrum Advisory committee, well, again, I'm confused.  Roger said they are working on it but had nothing specific to say.  I can't find it right now but I'm sure I saw a district notice that there IS going to be a revamped committee.  Of course the issue is that what will all these parents talk about with Spectrum being presented differently at every school?  Hard to find common ground.

We did talk about appeals and they said that there is no way they would accept any appeal that looks fudged.  Meaning, the counselors/psychologists that give these tests are professionals who would not fudge a test just so someone's kid could get into Spectrum or APP.  I back them up on this statement.  (They did say they occasionally got a parent who privately tested, still didn't get the scores required but still wanted their kid in the program.)

They did let me know that Ingraham's APP program, while not at the numbers they had hoped (it's at 47), still is enough for a strong program.

Then we moved onto ALOs.  Now, I'll have to go back to my files but I'm pretty sure when ALOs came into being, the idea was for EVERY school that wasn't APP or Spectrum to have one (or be able to show their rigor was so high, they didn't need one).  Roger and Dr. Vaughn said that was never the case and so that's why not all schools have one (even as we have gone to a neighborhood plan which would seem to insist for this kind of proof of rigor).

I did point out that many schools put down a lot of different things as evidence of an ALO (plus enrichment activities).  I asked if the district had a list of items schools picked from and they said no, they had to meet curriculum goals.  I got to bring home an ALO report card (but it is being revamped) and there is a lot the teacher has to figure out to say if a student is meeting the goals.  What is odd is that only district identified Spectrum or APP students can get the ALO report cards but not the regular student who might be participating. 

I asked why some schools did not have an ALO.   Their example was McGilvra which, apparently, has actively said no.  They believe their overall program has enough rigor to work for all children (and it's full and popular so maybe so).  I did not come away with the impression that they knew, for sure, what every school was doing to provide rigor and challenge to any student, identified by the district or not, who wanted to try it.  

(I also quibble with the schools' explanations of their ALO programs which read like something from a teacher training handbook.  Parents don't know all the words/phrases used to describe pedagogy so it comes off as something the school throws together for the district, not for parents.)

They did say that the district had committed some resources to help them to provide rigor to students working in the top 10% academically of Level One schools.  These are students who are the most unlikely to be tested and yet, as we all know, bright and gifted students are everywhere.  This is great news because those students chosen (I assume by identification by teachers) will hopefully be working at a higher level and be better prepared for more challenging classes in middle school.

They did mention the PRISM program over at the Bellevue district.   It is quite the contrast with the SPS Advanced Learning page which is long and quite detailed but STILL doesn't come clean about how Spectrum gets presented.    They also don't mention that the ALOs are not available at every school.  The PRISM program looks to be quite easy to understand.   They also just have one parent group which I think would be better than two.  If there was one parent group, well, there is strength in numbers and they could always have sub-committees for the different programs.  Just a thought.

So why am I giving up?  Because it has been years and years of asking and pointing out the obvious issues in the Advanced Learning program.  Clearly, it doesn't matter to the district that:
  • it is a very complex program to understand and why is that?  Why do parents have to be detectives to understand a program?
  • the amount of variance from school to school is astonishing for Spectrum/ALOs
  • not everyone who qualifies gets into a program
  • they really don't know what works well because of the myriad of programs
  • the programs go thru periods of major upheaval and parents with students in the programs never know when this is coming and have to scramble to keep up 
So really, why bother?  They clearly believe this is a program that works well.  I think it works well for them (although I would think streamlining it would make it easier to track from school to school).

But if anyone says the schools have no control, well, this is one area where they do.  Principals and staff at schools get to make these decisions (well, maybe not for APP) and parents are just bystanders. 

What is sad is that most of the parents with students in these programs are just grateful for something and so don't advocate for a more coherent program that might better serve even more students.  And I understand that because making a better program that serves more students is the district's job.  

We hardly ever hear about ALOs; I'd love to hear from parents about what their school does and how well it works and the participation. 


dan dempsey said...

I told them that it seemed like a bait-and-switch and unless there is an emergency, no program should change after Open Enrollment and that information needed to come down from the top of the district.

"They seemed to agree that it wasn't right but neither one of them really knew why it happened."


Po3 said...

Why all of a sudden did they want to spread Spectrum students out? I think because teachers are now evaulated on test performance every teacher needs a few "sure bets" in their classroom for those test result reports.
And Spectrum students provide that service.

Anonymous said...

As McGilvra realized, some neighborhood schools are essentially Spectrum and beyond because of the demographics.

I'm wondering what the district does with those parents who want their kids in APP after the scores don't pan out. Melissa, did they elaborate?

I personally know several parents who lobbied to get their kids into APP (without the scores to get in)...and they got in.

--wondering how the district explained the elephant in the room

whittier07 said...

That is crazy for Robert Vaughn to state that Whittier's 1st grade Spectrum class has NEVER been full. It certainly was in 2008 & 2009! Although the district's definition of "full" is a bit ambiguous.

2007 : 1st grade had 20+ students Spectrum qualified, maybe 6 kids who were "teacher" qualified ... all but 1 of those kids passed the district test that fall and were officially Spectrum qualified for the 2nd grade class. That class is now in 5th grade & is enrolled with 30 students.

2008: 1st grade @ 28 and 6 kids left on the wait-list. That class is now in 4th grade & is enrolled with 30 students ... I think there are 3 kids left of the wait-list.

2009: 1st grade full (not sure of #) but I know of at least two kids that were left on the wait-list. That class is now in 3rd grade and the class is enrolled with 27 students.

2010: 1st grade class had 26 students. That class is now in 2nd grade, has 28 students enrolled and 12 kids were left on the wait-list.

2011: 1st grade class has 19 Spectrum qualified students and 9 teacher qualified students.

I think this is a sign that parents might not be willing to change schools for a program knowing that a younger sibling is not guaranteed a spot at the school in the following years. Whittier was actually lucky to have the extra space this year as all 3 of the 1st grade classes (Spectrum + 2 gen-ed) are enrolled with 28 students.

Whittier is holding an "Advanced Learning Q&A" with Robert Vaughn next week ... could be interesting.

Anonymous said...

it seems like this vaugh guy epitomizes what is wrong with this district - dodge, punt, delay, hide, outwit, outplay, outlast ...

maybe some other chump* will step into the breach!

*you're not a chump for stepping up and you're not a chump for deciding that there are only so many hills you can die on - but to the jscee set, we're all chumps.

Outlasting is Winning

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's accurate to say that the McGilvra program is rigorous for more advanced students.

McGilvra has strong teachers and a very involved parent community and they do an excellent job of getting nearly all students up to grade level standards -- but that doesn't serve advanced students. In the past, McGilvra had small class sizes so there was some ability for teachers to differentiate. With the NSAP (and the broken contract with the district), that is no longer the case and the McGilvra administration have stated that they don't differentiate.

Previously, kids who tested into APP generally stayed at McGilvra, but that is no longer the case. There was a much higher than average outflow to APP this year after last year's changes at McGilvra.

Let's be clear -- McGilvra is full because the schools south of it are not very strong so families in Madrona, Leschi, etc, continue to waitlist into McGilvra. It has little to do with their ability to serve the upper 10%-20% of students. I will be very surprised if McGilvra's test scores don't drop this year.

I love McGilvra, but this is not one of its strengths

Anonymous said...

For real ?? Vaughan and Daniels are really going with "They also say that the numbers do not reflect any real change to support the idea that unhappy Spectrum parents are sending their students to APP."

If they are going with that story then they are clearly unable to track any data at all, or more likely, they just don't want to.

At Lawton I personally know of 9 kids who went to APP/Lowell v. staying at Lawton (spread over grades incoming 1st to incoming 5th.) This was absolutely due to the change in Spectrum. Additionally 3 other Spectrum kids (that I know of - there could be more) went to another ALO school because of the distaste of how it was handled at Lawton and because the other programs were more convenient to them and/or there was no reason to stay at Lawton w/o Spectrum, because Lawton has essentially become an ALO program. 5 other kids (that I know of, could be more) left due to a lack of response from admin to various classroom placement issues, three last year and two this fall that stemmed from the yo-yo back and forth with the 4th and 5th grade classes (including the shuffling of kids the night before school started, after class lists had been posted twice already on Friday and Saturday.)

All off these enrollment losses can closely tied to the decision to split Spectrum in the first place and the rollout of cluster grouping. That's 17 kids that I know of, over half a class worth of kids. Granted it was spread over grades 1-5 but having those 17 kids would sure mean we'd get to keep our Asst Principal, who will most likely get reassigned because of numbers have dropped. And that we would get to keep our 3rd day of PE, collateral damage to enrollment losses.

A little bit of introspective evaluation here on the part of the admin and staff as to their role in these losses would be a good idea.

It may be that these parents didn't communicate their reasons for leaving Lawton for other schools (Lowell, Blaine, QAE, private.) Perhaps Principal Helm and the AL department doesn't know. But I find that highly improbable. They either 1. know and don't care (in the case of Lawton staff) 2. know and are incapable of doing anything about it (in the case of AL department) or 3. don't know because they are utterly clueless (both Lawton admin/staff and AL Dept.)

Thanks for your advocacy over the years on this issue Melissa. I'm with you, it's like banging your head against a wall.

-exhausted from the fight

ArchStanton said...

It may be that these parents didn't communicate their reasons for leaving Lawton for other schools. Perhaps Principal Helm and the AL department doesn't know. But I find that highly improbable. They either 1. know and don't care 2. know and are incapable of doing anything about it or 3. don't know because they are utterly clueless

In my experience, they (you know, "they") never ask parents why they are leaving. So; unless a parent is determined to communicate, no one ever learns why. And if a parent communicates, "thanks for your input" is the likely response. Mostly, I think they just have too much churn to do anything about one or a few families. You want something that's not on the menu? If you can find it somewhere else, more power to you and don't let the door hit you on the way out. You're one less squeaky wheel they have to listen to and there's a good chance someone will be happy to take your place.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be no integrity to the way APP is handled, in the district or at some of the schools. What they say is not what they do, what they do makes no sense, and they manage to alienate large numbers of people in the process. Sounds like it cost Lawton an assistant principal, a full-time teacher, and another .5 FTE, whether they admit it or not.

The Lowell debacle is a case in point. Really, District? You are going to figure out in June that there is no room for APP in September? And Hamilton seems to be on the same track for next year. Not enough room. How hard is it to plan more than 3 months in advance?

I have to believe if the leadership were a) actually committed to kids at the upper end of the distribution and b) actually were competent, APP would be thriving and all the wasted energy reconfiguring Spectrum and relocating programs could be put to use moving the bottom of the Achievement Gap upward. I know it's not easy but, come on people, this is your job!

Amazed at the incompetence

Anonymous said...

The poster on mcgilvra is correct: this is not a school that differentiates for advanced learners. Our experience is that the faculty is by and large complacent and parents do a lot of enrichment. Mostly well prepared students attend. The out migration to app seems higher than ever. Over the past 5 years the performance of students w learning disabilities is the same as elsewhere in the district (dismal). So on several fronts this idea that there is effective or consistent or committed differentiation is not the everyday reality. This is a very privileged faculty, probably the new principal walks on eggshells.

Former parents

Math Major said...

Methinks Dr. E is a bit disingenuous when she claims to not know why things happened as they did at Wedgwood and Lawton. Parents were up in arms at Lawton and had the principal and Bob Vaughan scrambling like crazy to put down the revolt. My question is always "what's in it for downtown to have these confrontations repeat themselves over and over?"
My conclusion is thus: Vaughan has indeed crunched the numbers and what pencils out is that Spectrum and APP parents will ride out these problems, it won't make them go private. These parents are in public because they are 1. thrifty and 2. believe in public schools as a force for good. On the other hand, parents who have the means and whose kids are not AL level potential learners WILL bolt for private if they feel that their kids are getting labeled as "dummies" at school.
Enfield and Vaughan know how to do the math.

Anonymous said...

I would *hope* that Enfield and Vaughn would put student needs over head counts. Then again, I see no actual long term planning whatsoever for advanced/gifted learning in this district.

If parents are not willing or able to leave SPS for other public districts or for private, then perhaps it's time to opt out of MAP testing.


NLM said...

The whole Spectrum at Lawton fiasco is still reverberating. The whole feel of things at the school is just "off". There are lots of little kids and not so many big ones and even I, a newbie, know a family that bolted for QAE.

The biggest thing I noticed about AL here in the city is how differently it's handled in other parts of the region. Go 40 minutes north to Edmonds/Everett and you'll find a real, honest to goodness evaluation of the whole child is used to screen for advanced learning and they wait until after K/1 - it's not strictly a numbers game. Who knew things could be so humanitarian?

Anonymous said...

Arch is right about the" who cares" attitude. We avoided getting hit by the door on our way out. They can punt spectrum/ALO out of Magnolia, but Lawton will be full next year. Our neighborhood like many others in the northend is full of little ones waiting in the pipleline. Since the district is having a hard time managing capacity in the northend, we don't have much hope that AL is a priority for them. Heck we don't have much hope they can manage capacity anyway since no one at the district or the board seems to think it is a serious long term problem.

Lawton's situation is similar to McGilvra in that many parents can afford to provide enrichment for their children and offset the lack of meaningful "spectrum or ALO". Of course, that gets harder to maintain as kids move on to middle school. Hence some growing pain and nervousness at McClure. It does get tougher to jump ship when other neighborhood middle schools are full and wait list not moving.

-another brick wall head banger

Maureen said...

Board Candidate Kate Martin is taking Questions over at the Discuss APP blog.

Anonymous said...

My children are both in Spectrum, attending a north end school. The "program" at our school seems to be progressively hidden. At curriculum night yesterday you would have no way of knowing that there was even a spectrum program in the school, even though one child is (supposedly) getting differentiation in a blended class and the other (supposedly) is in a self-contained class...or maybe not...there is absolutely no information provided to clarify this. The only mention of advanced learning last night was a disparaging aside from one of the teachers, which hardly instills confidence. My impression is that Spectrum is treated like a dirty little secret to avoid irritating parents whose children are not in the program, but this is speculation. A letter from the principal at the beginning of the year simply muddied the waters further, and failed to even explain clearly what the school's delivery model is. As far as I can tell my kids get a math book for the grade above and an incomprehensible report card. We transferred to this school for this program and it is profoundly disappointing. The only response I've received from inquiries to the administration in the past was "transfer to APP" - with the implied "don't let the door hit you on the way out," and no acknowledgement that APP might not be an option. Institutional, inflexible, condescending...and incredibly aggravating.


Anonymous said...

My child participated in ALO at John Hay. It was language arts only (no math) but was well done. She also received the special report card that maintained her eligibility for APP. I found this report card to be completely useless (other than retaining her elibility for APP). The report card format was incomprehensible and didn't provide meaningful (or really any) information as to how our daughter was doing.

I strongly feel that all children who are eligible for Spectrum should be given a spot (if that's what they want). I don't understand why they limit the number of Spectrum spots. I feel strongly that all kids should be able to perform at their highest level and be challenged.

Finally, I'm dumbfounded at how the District handled the Lowell capacity problem (notifying families AFTER in June after school ended) - and now that my daughter is at Hamilton, I'm waiting for the same thing to happen.


Anonymous said...

Vaughn's purpose is simple: when the district wants to do something to the advanced learning programs, they ask their resident expert, and he says yes. Consultation has thus occurred. This is the nature of bureaucratic theater. This is how Wedgwood played out last year.

-- Whittier parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

Boy, does this all sound familiar. And that it sounds familiar over my 14+ years in the system makes me very sad.

Anonymous said...

We are a family that left Lawton for QAE. We didn't leave because they decided to split Spectrum kids up, but the way that whole issue unfolded showed me a lot about the way the school looked at Spectrum kids and families. And that prompted us to at least consider a move.

It became clear that to many, Spectrum was "teh evil". The moral high ground was to not test, to trust the school to meet your kids' needs, and to keep your concerns to yourself. Spectrum parents were viewed by many as uppity elitists, rather than people participating in a program well-suited to their kid's particular needs. I don't care what a few misguided people think, but this was also the attitude of several Spectrum teachers and the principal. I could envision these attitudes impacting my kids.

I did feel that my Spectrum child's needs were met far better than my not-Spectrum-identified child's needs. So I can understand why parents of kids who didn't test in might resent the program. But to me, that's not a failure of Spectrum, but of the school.

The way the situation was handled caused us to at least look at other schools. We figured Lawton was "good enough", and we would not likely move our kids. They are kids, not plants in the garden that you dig up and move at will.

But when we did that due diligence, we were blown away by what we saw at QAE. We visited the school twice and observed classes, and talked to the principal and to parents. We saw a school that actually walks the talk of meeting kids where they are, honoring their unique gifts, nurturing their creativity, teaching them to work cooperatively, and building the strengths that actually correlate with success. (Hint: think character, not test scores.) We also saw a strong team with all oars in the water pulling hard in the same direction, rather than a boat circling madly in the water.

We believed our kids would thrive at this school. Our kids were open to a change, which is pretty telling.

So far we are very happy with what was a very carefully made decision.


Charlie Mas said...

Bob Vaughan has been promising this steering committee/advisory committee/task force/whatever for about two years now, ever since the APP Review. Every time somebody asks any questions for any length of time he pulls out this promise of creating this group and defers all decisions and rulings to that group.

In the meantime, the group is never formed, the decisions are never made, and he can float along without answering any questions or providing any definition for anything.

There are no written procedures around anything in Advanced Learning so there are no rules. In the absence of rules, everything is completely made up as they go. People have all the authority they can usurp.

The Board is supposed to require an annual report on every program, but they haven't had an annual report on advanced learning in about four years. The Board, who are reactive rather than pro-active, never noticed the absence of any of the annual reports they were supposed to get - least of all the one on advanced learning.

Anonymous said...

Bob Vaughn is no shill. APP/IB at Ingraham shows that.

The issue is there is no advocacy for spectrum. and yet that has been said for years and ... there is still no advocacy for spectrum.

-Please temper personal attacks

Anonymous said...

So today in the mail comes letters from SPS encouraging me to test each of my kids for APP based on their MAP scores. IRONY!

More kids will test, more will get in to the non-program that Spectrum is becoming and the APP that is the ugly stepchild of the district.

Do they have a clue?


Charlie Mas said...

Okay, let's separate personal attacks from statements of fact.

"Bob Vaughan has been promising this steering committee/advisory committee/task force/whatever for about two years now, ever since the APP Review." That's a statement of fact.

"There are no written procedures around anything in Advanced Learning so there are no rules. In the absence of rules, everything is completely made up as they go. People have all the authority they can usurp." Those are statements of fact as well. By the way, the creation of the APP/IB at Ingraham was a violation of Board Policy D12.00. The policy was suspended for the APP split, but at least the Board voted to suspend it.

"The Board is supposed to require an annual report on every program, but they haven't had an annual report on advanced learning in about four years." That's a statement of fact.

So where are the personal attacks?

I'm thinking that this was seen as one: "Every time somebody asks any questions for any length of time he pulls out this promise of creating this group and defers all decisions and rulings to that group." But ask yourself if it is true or false. If it is true, then how can it be an attack? Isn't that what he did in response to Melissa's questions about Spectrum?

Was this a personal attack:
"The Board, who are reactive rather than pro-active, never noticed the absence of any of the annual reports they were supposed to get." Again, how can it be a personal attack if it is true?

Steve said...

JB says "They are kids, not plants in the garden that you dig up and move at will." I'm afraid that the attitude of Advanced Learning assumes that parents seeking this kind of education for their kids will willingly treat their kids like plants in the garden. The AL programs (esp. APP) are "programs" that the district believes can be moved to another location and function in the same way. But, as e.e. cummings so eloquently wrote in another context (and with a real word), "there is some s@*t I will not eat." I believe that it is only when we stop waiting for AL to form committees and make decisions and try to take the situation in our own hands will they stop monkeying around with programs that work. I don't know exactly what this looks like, but I think it looks more like a political campaign than just petitioning Dr. Vaughn or participating in established systems.

Anonymous said...

For all the negatives, I am happy to see that the new IB/APP at Ingraham has decent participation - 47 students - in its first year. Kudos to all, and especially to Martin Floe, for his professionalism and decency in brining this program to his school.

Of course, such good deeds rarely go unpunished. So I wonder if his neck will be on the chopping block again this year.

As a former Spectrum parent, and with 2 kids in Advanced Learning programs, it saddens and sickens me to see how politics, jealousy, lack of tolerance and understanding, and plain old ignorance seem to guide how this district provides advanced learning programs, and how people in positions of power happily pit groups against each other based on political ideologies at one end of the spectrum or the other, instead of viewing all students on the same continuum and endeavoring to make every student be their best by removing barriers and offering opportunities.

Pettiness and resentment between parent groups at the school level plays right into giving political cover to the Board and Staff when they choose to screw over one group to supposedly benefit another. As though one school got sprinkled with gold dust one year, so they have to eat dirt the next year while the attention and "gold" get sprinkled somewhere else, on the other side of town.

So long as we, the parents, play into that trap, the district will continue to play families and students as pawns, while failing all kids at all levels of the spectrum.

I guess they just need to create another slogan or gimmick to convince the public that front-line teachers and counselors are the problem, and the powers that be can sail right forward smoothly as always.

Depressingly obvious and simple, yet effective. WSDWG

Anonymous said...

And God Bless MW by the way! You've done your duty well. I can't imagine what AL in SPS would look like without the strong parental involvement and influences of folks like you and Charlie. WSDWG

kellie said...

Like Melissa, I really feel like this needs to be my last post on this topic. After having this same conversation for so many years, you eventually need to get some distance. But here goes on the basics of Advanced Learning and the unintended but impossible to avoid consequences of the NSAP.

The change in the student assignment plan from the old SAP to the NSAP was going to have dramatic impacts in advanced learning. This was pointed out in many community meetings and the districts answer was ALO at every school.

The reason for this dramatic and unavoidable change to advanced learning is shocking simple. Every system, everywhere, needs to have a way to control capacity. Period. No exceptions.

In a choice system, capacity is controlled on the backs of individual families and students. Students are assigned as individuals to "programs." When a program is full, a wait list is started.

The short version
In order to control capacity in a choice system, students are turned away as individuals. By contract in an attendance area assignment system, students are turned away as groups. And in this case, that group is spectrum.

kellie said...

Here is the longer version.
In a choice system, program matters. Full programs have wait lists. Less desirable programs get mandatory assigned students.

In a choice system, students are second to the program. Some students win the the good assignments and everyone else gets what is left. Students with desirable addresses close to the good school get in. Families with addresses that are too far, get mandatory assignments. Students with a good lottery number get the alt school. Students with a bad lottery number, don't.

That system is no more. Accordingly programs, like Spectrum, that were completely and utterly dependent on the ability to turn away neighborhood families to control capacity, died. The issue is that nobody had the funeral.

Under the NSAP, where a neighborhood is "guaranteed" access to a building AND that building is promised to meet the needs of all learners in those boundaries, every building can only have one focus. The single focus under the guaranteed system is the thing that used to be known as a program.

The change to the NSAP shifted the burden from decisions to manage capacity from the individual student to the community/buidling.

This is because this change made it impossible for a building to co-house two programs. In the whole sibling debate, the board and the district kept saying "you can't promise one seat to two students." This was their way of saying they can't guarantee that both neighborhood mandatory assignments and siblings can share a building.

This is also true for advanced learning. You can't guarantee any building to both the assignment area and guarantee that building will have just-the-right-amount-of-left-over-space to create a functional vibrant advanced learning community.

The proof of this theory is Lowell. Lowell was "guaranteed" to two groups. That arrangement did not last very long. Since both groups had a guaranteed, the district was required to solve the capacity dilemma.

By contract, Spectrum is not "guaranteed." Only the attendance area is guaranteed. Same issue with the old "inclusion programs." They were not guaranteed. Hence, the district does not need to solve it and can push it back on the buildings.

The answer to this program is as simple as the premise. Advanced Learning must be placed in buildings that are designated as option schools for the purpose of assignment. Left-over-space can then be given to siblings or interested community members.

Anonymous said...

One positive outcome of the APP split is that there is now a K-5 and 6-8 APP in the northend. Something parents have wanted for years.

Northend APP Parent

Anonymous said...

Northend APP Parent-

Yes, the programs are in the north, but I would like them to be stable. Are APP 5th graders going to Hamilton next year? Who knows? Where is the elementary going after Lincoln? Who knows?

Asking for the moon

What, no conspiracy? said...

kellie sounds like she sits in on meetings at JS. Her info sounds logical and true. Maybe it's not a conspiracy but simp le logistics of moving to the NSAP. I agree the district is saying that siblings are not going to get to go together and parents need to deal with that if they want APP for one of their kids.
Spectrum is too much to deal with as a whole and they want to see site based AL for kids who don't leave for APP.
You know I would accept that, as a Spectrum parent, and work hard at making differentiation or whatever, work at my school. Enfield and Vaughan should lay the facts out and let people act like grown-ups if kellie's tale is accurate.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think would be funny for the district to create a Spectrum 1-5 or APP/Spectrum 1-5.

Just put those kids off in a tent by themselves and any teacher or parent who doesn't believe in the program won't ever have to view it in their school.

It would be WILDLY popular and fill in a second. Those parents would go to town with the enrichment opportunities, etc.

But that will never happen because as much as the district doesn't like Spectrum - they need those kids to keep up the test scores and the union desperately needs to separate more of them into every classroom so the teacher's assessments look better.

I get that need but it is a sour taste in my mouth that the district doesn't want to create an accessible, coherent program in return.

Charlie Mas said...

All of the problems in Spectrum today are the same problems that Spectrum had ten years ago.

Capacity - The capacity doesn't match the demand. The District talks alot about capacity management, but they only think in terms of geographic communities and they only think in terms of butts and seats (not programs). They need to find a way for Spectrum capacity within a school to expand to meet the demand. I honestly don't understand why it doesn't. The kids are already in the building. Kellie says it can't be done in the neighborhood school. I say it can, but only if the District sets the target enrollment at 90% or 95% of capacity. They blew it by targeting 100% capacity usage. That was just stupid.

Program consistency - The distiguishing feature of Spectrum is the self-contained delivery model. Without that it is just differentiation in a general education classroom, i.e. nothing. If it isn't as self-contained as the school can make it, then it isn't Spectrum.

Program quality - This was never an issue for the District but it has always been an issue for the students' families. The District is supposed to review programs for quality and effectiveness. They don't. Consequently they are failing in their duty.

Program eligibility - The District is now using the CogAT and the MAP to determine eligibility. That's better than some things they have used in the past. Spectrum eligibility gets a free ride from the APP testing. Personally, I would prefer allowing students to self-select into the program - if it were paired with a strong exit criteria.

For a couple years the District did use only the CogAT for grades 1 and 2 in an effort to find under-developed talent. I never heard any results of that effort.

In middle school, Spectrum is only Language Arts and Social Studies because the district uses other methods for 6th grade math placement. Should the eligibility criteria drop the math aptitude and proficiency requirements?

Program Placement - Spectrum used to be in the most popular schools in the affluent areas, the least popular schools in the low-income areas, and schools of middle popularlity in mixed areas. So if you lived in an affluent area, Spectrum came with a bonus: access to a popular school. If you lived in a low-income area, Spectrum came with a penalty: enrollment in a challenged school. That's not quite as bad as it used to be.

Maureen said...

The potential for conspiracy is in whether or not SPS saw this coming and pretended not to notice or if they were blindsided. Either possibility is not good.

Kellie is right that under NSAP only nonguaranteed programs can logically share space with guaranteed programs. One problem with sharing with Option Schools is that APP and Spectrum (as defined by N/S and by MS attendance area respectively) are just too big. There are very few (Addams? Wilson Pacific? Lincoln?)buildings available that could house 500 APP kids and even just one class per grade of a K-8 (and most Option schools strive to have at least 2 classes per grade.) There are only seven Option programs in the District. Most of their buildings are full. The logistics of shrinking the Options in half and then splitting APP seven ways seem much more daunting to me than just creating a couple of big APP 1-8 programs in big buildings and filling their 'excess' space with self contained Spectrum classes that (since not guaranteed) fluctuate with the APP enrollment. Staff could move back and forth between APP and Spectrum cohorts much more easily than Option/Alts and APP (Just imagine the staff meetings at a Pinehurst(AS#1)/APP hybrid :-o )

Charlie Mas said...

I was a member of the Advanced Learning Review Committee / Steering Committee from 2001 - 2003. I was part of the group that created ALOs. I was there. I know how they came about and what they were supposed to be.

It all started with a horrendous act of bad faith, John Hay Elementary, and four dots.

The Committee was meeting every couple weeks, building trust, and working pretty well together despite known differences of opinion. There were people there from all sides of the issues, so building trust was a big deal.

Then the Enrollment Guides came out. I don't know if folks even remember the Enrollment Guides, but they had a matrix that showed which schools had what kinds of programs. Four elementary schools had marks indicating that they had advanced learning programs - four schools that didn't have APP or Spectrum. Nothing about any of it had been mentioned in the committee. It was a HUGE breach of trust by the District and by June Rimmer and Joseph Olchefske in particular.

We got over it, but we got over it by laying down very clear rules about what was APP, what was Spectrum, and what was an A.L.O. In addition, the District committed to a program accreditation structure whereby new programs had to meet specific criteria and there would be regular reviews of continuing programs. Programs that didn't meet the criteria would not be accredited. Programs that didn't pass their reviews would be de-certified.

The District started to break faith right away. While all of the new A.L.O. programs and most of the continuing Spectrum programs completed their accreditation packets, some of them didn't bother with them. The District went to de-certify the Spectrum program at Denny because it wasn't self-contained, but then backed down in the face of popular opposition. Three schools were supposed to be re-labelled as A.L.O.'s instead of Spectrum. Only one actually was.

By the second year the criteria for accreditation was dropped to writing a program description (a lot of schools were recognized as A.L.O.s without even that) and all they had to do to keep the designation was make the program a project in the school's Transition Plan (now called CSIP). Almost none of the schools did it, but none of them were de-certified.

In the third year the schools only needed to mention the program in their Transition Plan, but only a couple actually did.

In short, the District absolutely failed (refused) to enforce any of their rules for Advancaed Learning.

That's where we are and where we have been for the past five years. There are no rules and, even if there were, the District would not enforce them.

As a result the District's advanced learning is an incoherent muddle with grotesque variations in programs design, quality, and effectiveness.

An Advanced Learning Review was supposed to have been part of the Strategic Plan, but the project was quietly dropped from the Plan without mention or explanation.

The latest insult, of course, was the split of APP at the elementary and middle school level. The District made a number of promises at the time of the split. They have broken all of them. The most prominent broken promise was the written APP curriculum. The District never delivered it and the Board - despite a lot of prompting from the public - refused to ask for it.

The Future? said...

SPS could always change the standard for APP and reduce numbers. I think ultimately we will have a stronger ALO that offers more for high-potential kids along with a smaller self-contained APP. I think some schools are accepting that and trying to make it work. For ALO schools like Bryant, it looks positive and for Wedgwood and Lawton and other self-contained schools it will look like back-sliding, but the goal is get rid of the labeling in schools, make schools deliver to APP level kids who want to stay local, and still provide a refuge for those who really need a segregated environment.

Anonymous said...

Here is Kate, School Board Candidate, stating that students with other than English as a Second Language, and who have special needs, are detracting from the education of the "average" child in general education classrooms. I wrote on that APP thread that I find her attitude very disheartening. These children are not the problem and nobody should be blaming them. For special needs students, it is the legal right. She doesn't seem to know the law.

Here's the excerpt:

"The achievement gap isn’t just the difference between the lowest and highest achieving students, it’s failing to challenge the “average students” who aren’t in advanced learning classes or programs, but instead are often languishing in general ed classrooms with ELL students, Special Ed students as well as students with basic behavioral problems or disassociation issues that cause various degrees of disruption in the classroom or who take the attention of the teacher leaving very little for the other kids, the “average students”. Having raised a couple of average students, I see that those gen ed classrooms are dumbed-down to accommodate the gigantic variations in students which is tragic."


Susan said...

Disheartened, I think you are trying to turn Kate's words into something that she didn't say. You only cut and paste part of her comment which is not cool. I don't know who she is, but I interpreted what she wrote much differently than you did. I actually agree with what Kate wrote which doesn't equate to my not knowing the law or thinking the kids she mentioned are not entitled to an excellent education. The "average" kids and well-behaved kids ARE languishing due to class size, curriculum alignment and no money for tutors, etc. The teachers can't handle ELL kids and special needs kids with classes this large while also being expected to differentiate curriculum.

Susan said...

The Future?:

Labeling in schools is not going to go away with ALOs - even if SPS completely eliminated APP and Spectrum. Our neighborhood school has Walk to Math. That's leaving parents wondering why their kid who did well on MAP is in the "slower" math group. These "walk to" options are going to create serious issues. I'll put money on that. Say 2/3rds of the total 2nd grade class could handle 3rd grade math, what do they do? Shove 2/3rds of the kids into the classroom while the math class doing 2nd grade work only has 1/2 as many kids? No way that will happen. So, what will? The classes will be split evenly with some kids capable of doing the advanced math being left behind due to no capacity. Are those kids then forever behind since they weren't working up a year when they could have been?

The answer is smaller class sizes so the teachers can differentiate coupled with a much, much more challenging curriculum. That needs to be coupled with funds for tutors so the kids at the lower end of the spectrum can be pulled-out and caught-up.

NLM said...

Susan you just described my child. At home she works a year ahead in math...no room in walk to...and at school she does 3+2. If two thirds can work ahead than the class should work ahead and then support those kids who can't

Ability Group said...

it always come back to grouping kids by ability to narrow the range for the teacher. It makes sense but butts up against the "fairness" question. Some kids are going to be close to getting in the advanced class but can't because of space. Studies show the kids who just miss the cut do well as leaders in the regular class but parents see it otherwise and staff likes to spread the pain of the really low kids. The district( Bob and Dr. E) should be educating the teachers and parents about the reality of ability grouping and maximize learning for ALL kids.

Anonymous said...

Love to see true differentiation and ability grouping in class of 32-33 kids. Ability grouping is supposed to be fluid. All the academics and studies are great, but reality is in a large classroom where you have not 3 ability groups, but 6. What you really get is a little of this and that on good days and pretty much just get through the day on others. That is the reality in my younger child blended classroom.

I won't even go into insufficient Honors seats in middle schoool and spots for competitive programs like IB and biotech for those kids who not only can do the work, but want the challenge.

- deep frustration

Anonymous said...

The idea is where you have 6 levels in two classes, 1/2 the kids are the top 3 levels of ability and they go together and the bottom three levels go together in the other classroom. The problem is no parents wants classroom #2 and neither do most teachers.

Now if classroom #2 had less kids or another teacher it would fix the appearance problem but cost money for the district. '

It's not a winning situation. Blending solves the FTE and the parent perception problem at the cost of the kids getting what's best.

NO Surprise There

Anonymous said...


No, I did not misrepresent Kate's comments. You are free to point out how and others are free to read the context.

School Board Directors are on the frontlines. One of the biggest problems with Kate's way of thinking is that she does not appear to be holding District leaders OR the union accountable for student performance. Instead, she targets and blames children who are "different" from whatever definition she is using for "average." ... Sorry, but Kate has totally lost my vote.


Anonymous said...

9/20 from APP advisory committee
*This letter from the District has just gone out to Lowell Elementary

Dear Lowell Elementary families:******
I hope you have all had a good start to the school year. I am writing to
provide you with an update on several issues related to Lowell Elementary
and future planning for programs and locations.****
I am thankful to you for all the hard work that went into moving the APP
program to Lincoln for this school year. We have heard from many in the
community that moving the APP program again next summer would be very
challenging following the hard work involved in the recent move. In
addition, before decisions are made about the future location for APP, we
need to take the time to complete a thoughtful process that engages all of
the advanced learning communities. * Lowell APP will therefore remain at
Lincoln for the 2012-2013 school year.* This two-year period will enable us
to conduct a thorough planning process as we move towards decisions about
the future of APP, Spectrum and other programs.****
In order to begin the important work of working with our communities and
planning the future of advanced learning, we will appoint an Advanced
Learning Program and Facilities Advisory Committee in coming weeks. This
committee will help the district assess advanced learning needs and options
and then make facility recommendations. The committee will be comprised of
designees from the APP Advisory Committee, Spectrum, PTSA, parents,
principals and teachers. It will advise the district’s Capacity Management
Advisory Committee, which is also being formed. Our website will be updated
soon with information about the new committee and the process for appointing
Finally, we remain committed to ensuring we maintain a vibrant school at the
Lowell site. We will be working with staff and families as we move forward
to ensure we reach that goal. ****
I look forward to our work together on these important efforts.****
Best Regards, ****
*Noel Treat*****
*Deputy Superintendent*****
*Seattle Public Schools*****

--just pasting it in