Thursday, October 20, 2011

Advanced Learning Committees - History and Future

I have seen, for the past three years, a number of references to an advisory committee that the District will form to discuss and decide issues regarding Advanced Learning. This isn't the first time that the District has promised such a thing.

In 2000 the Board ordered a review of Spectrum to address the same questions and problems that we have today. A committee was formed that fall and worked all through the school year. Their meetings were prickly and divisive and the committee did not reach a consensus. Their work was reported out to the Board by Dr. June Rimmer, the Chief Academic Officer at that time. Her report did not accurately reflect anyone's opinion but her own. The Board received hundreds of emails advising them that the process and product was corrupted. This was my first activism in the District - reporting the dishonesty of Dr. Rimmer's report and calling for people to email the Board. To their great credit, the Board tossed out those results and ordered the staff to do it again - and do it honestly this time. Back then it was unusual for the board to get over 300 emails on a single topic, all on the same side of the question, and all really angry. I think it happens more often now and makes less of an impact.

I was on the next Spectrum Review Committee formed in 2001. It was a strong, diverse group including student family members with children in Spectrum, in APP, and outside the programs, Spectrum, APP and general education teachers, principals at schools that had programs and principals from schools that did not, the then head of Advanced Learning, and Dr. Rimmer. Everyone, with the exception of Dr. Rimmer, worked together well, cooperatively, honestly, and respectfully. Dr. Rimmer, however, demonstrated bad faith at every opportunity and nearly de-railed the entire effort.

It was during this year that the District first recognized four schools, starting with John Hay Elementary, which had home-grown programs to systematically address the academic needs of their high performing students. Dr. Rimmer did not tell the committee anything about the District's plan to recognize these programs. We learned about it when we saw the Enrollment Guides. The committee was strong enough, however, to overcome that bad faith. It was this committee that created and codified Advanced Learning Opportunities. The product of this Committee was a presentation to the Board.

The committee's work product, which set the definitions for the programs, remains the basis of the current understanding of advanced learning.

APP is a 1-12 program for students with cognitive ability more than 1.5 standard deviations above the mean and academic achievement in the top 5% nationally for reading and math. These students are taught - generally - to Grade Level Expectations about two grade levels above their age peers when developmentally appropriate. Elementary APP was to be in a school without general education students. Middle school APP was to be co-located with a general education program in middle school. The APP students would be in self-contained science and Language Arts/Social Studies classes, but with general education students in their other classes. At the high school level there would be no classes specifically for APP students; the program would be a cohort program. The critical mass of APP students in the same high school would be create the necessary demand to support a large number and variety of advanced classes (and teachers with expertise serving gifted students), but all students in the school would be eligible for those classes and could be served by those teachers.

Spectrum is a 1-8 program for students with cognitive abilities and academic achievement in the top 10% nationally for reading and math. These students are taught - generally - to Grade Level Expectations about one grade level above their age peers when developmentally appropriate. Elementary Spectrum students would be served in self-contained classrooms in schools with general education programs. In middle school the Spectrum students would be in self-contained Language Arts/Social Studies classes, but with general education students in their other classes. In schools that did not have enough district-identified Spectrum students to fill a classroom, the school would complete the class with high performing students who, in the opinion of the teachers, were ready and able to succeed with the Spectrum curriculum.

Advanced Learning Opportunities were programs developed by the schools as a systematic effort to address the academic needs of high performing students in an inclusive classroom. ALO's were to have no eligibility criteria. Any student who chose to accept the challenge of participation in an ALO would be free to participate. These students are taught - generally - to Grade Level Expectations about one grade level above their age peers when developmentally appropriate. ALO schools could provide advanced learning services in any delivery model they had cause to believe effective except self-contained. The self-contained delivery model was the distinctive feature of Spectrum. Inclusion was the hallmark of ALOs.

To be clear: the only difference between Spectrum and an ALO is the delivery model. If the delivery model is self-contained, then it is Spectrum. Anything else - including pull-outs, challenge assignments, small groups based on skill level and more - and it is an ALO.

The Spectrum Review Committee also called for the District to peform a quality assurance role. The District was supposed to closely review schools' applications to form a program. In addition, the District was to make regular reviews of the programs to assure their quality and efficacy. Finally, Spectrum programs needed to form at least 50% of their Spectrum classes with district-identified students to maintain their Spectrum designation. This rule would have led to the de-certification of a number of Spectrum programs, most notoriously at Denny.

The Board accepted all of the committee's recommendations and included the implementation of the recommendations as their adopted priorities for the coming year. There were all kinds of commitments made to follow the recommendations from the Committee.

The District began to renege on their responsibilities almost immediately. They lowered the bar for program applications after the first year and stopped reviewing them entirely after the second year. They never made even a single review of any program for quality and efficacy. For a few years they claimed to require schools to mention their advanced learning program in their CSIP, but they never enforced the requirement. They also failed to hold the line on self-contained Spectrum.

In the fall of 2003 superintendent Manhas averted a Spectrum student boycott of the WASL by making six specific promises to the Spectrum community. He never kept any of them. He denied any responsibility to keep the promises he made. I am amazed when people praise his integrity. I challenge them to provide any example of Raj Manhas demonstrating integrity. There are none.

The Committee continued. It was re-named the Advanced Learning Steering Committee and ran for another two years (2002-2004). I served on it all that time. While the committee continued to be a respectful place for meaningful discussion of opposing views on gifted education, I must admit that the Committee was not particularly effective. District staff simply didn't provide the committee with requested information, ignored the committee's recommendations, and took action without consulting the committee. The committee bitterly complained about the district's failure to meet its commitments but the complaints fell on deaf ears. After two years Superintendent Manhas disbanded it. It was supposed to be replaced by three Parent Advisory Committees - one for APP, one for Spectrum, and one for ALOs.

I should note that Advanced Learning had a revolving door of leadership at this time. Dr. Vaughan led the department for years, but left for UW after 2000-2001 and the first (failed) Spectrum Review. There was new leadership in 2001, 2002, and 2003. Dr. Vaughan returned to the position around 2006 or 2007.

I served on the APP Parent Advisory Committee for two years. It is still going, but it is not particularly effective. The Spectrum Parent Council met sporadically for two years before melting away. The ALO Parent Advisory Committee was never formed. As with the Advanced Learning Steering Committee, the district staff takes action and makes decisions without consulting with the APP PAC and does not follow their recommendations. There are some episodes of bad faith in the history - the staff refusing to meet with the committee, involve the committee, or even inform the committee. The commitee makes an annual report, but the district ignores it.

When Dr. Goodloe-Johnson introduced her Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All" in 2008 one of the projects was a review of the advanced learning programs - just like the review of Special Education, bilingual education, and the safety net programs. The review was conducted by respected experts from the University of Virginia. They arrived on the last week of the school year to observe APP and interview stakeholders. They did not observe Spectrum or ALOs. They issued their report at the end of the summer, and the district staff was to write a response - there were formal responses to all of the other audits and reviews. A number of actions were delayed pending the APP Review project but the APP Review quietly slipped off the list of Strategic Plan projects sometime in 2009. It was never mentioned again.

The APP Review by the folks at UVA specifically called for the creation of an Advanced Learning Advisory Committee. The District staff immediately agreed that they would do this. That was three years ago, in the fall of 2008. No committee has ever been formed. A number of actions have been delayed over the past three years with the promise that the district will take action when they have the committee to review it.

The UVA experts were specifically asked about delivery models and about the possibility of splitting the program. They strongly supported the self-contained model. They also said that the district should absolutely not split the program until they had implemented a consistent curriculum for the program. In addition, they cautioned against co-housing the program in a school where the neighborhood program was markedly different from the APP students in achievement and demographics. The District then split the program and put half of it into Thurgood Marshall. They promised an aligned, written, taught and tested curriculum for APP that would be implemented concurrently with the split. No curriculum was ever written or implemented. Despite prompting, no member of the Board would ask for it. Other promises associated with the split have been broken as well.

Board policy calls for annual review of the program, but the Board has not reviewed the program for quality or efficacy in the past four years. Not once. The Board directed the superintendent to review and suggest revisions to the Highly Capable Student Program policy (D12.00), but the superintendent never did it and the Board never followed up.

The state of advanced learning is about as bad as it has ever been. Elementary APP is split into two unequal halves. One half at Thurgood Marshall doing well enough (at last report). Two-thirds of the student are displaced from their long-time home at Lowell and are now camped at Lincoln in classrooms they carved out themselves. They have no clear future. The north-end program is likely to be split again and shoved into whatever empty or half-empty buildings can hold them without regard to location, building readiness, or amenities. Think Lowell, Cedar Park, Broadview-Thomson, and John Marshall. They will complain a bit, but they will accept whatever the district decides. Elementary APP families are just so happy to have the program that they will endure almost anything to keep it. The district never had to invest any money in Lowell because the APP families wouldn't care if the classes met under trees - so long as their children got an appropriate academic opportunity.
Middle school APP is also split. They are holding their own at their traditional home, Washington, but are already blamed for overcrowding at Hamilton after just three years there. High school APP at Garfield has also been blamed - unfairly - for overcrowding at that school and were among the students moved out. The District hastily created a new program at Ingraham - and that school is now running up against capacity issues as well. APP is under pressure all over the city.

As much as APP is under pressure from the District - split, re-defined, re-located - the pressure on Spectrum is even worse. I won't catalog it all, but the program has been robbed of all definition. Families, having lost confidence in Spectrum are scrambling to move their kids into APP. Beyond that, the program still has exactly all of the same problems it had in 2000 when the Board ordered a review of the program.
  1. North of the Ship Canal the District has not provided enough capacity to meet the demand for the program. Eligible students are denied access.
  2. The public questions the legitimacy and quality of the small programs south of downtown.
  3. There are serious questions about which students should or should not be in the program.
  4. There are serious questions about the program's structure and delivery model.
  5. There are serious questions about the impact that the program has on capacity management.
None of these issues are new. They are the exact same ones that the District has had for the past ten years - maybe longer. The District has proven incapable of resolving them.

The ALO programs may be in even worse shape. We have no way of knowing. There is no data whatsoever about ALOs - who is in them, what they offer, how well they work. We don't even know if they really exist. At a board meeting in 2009 Dr. Vaughan touted the creation of new ALOs in southeast Seattle and promised that they would not be "ALO in name only". We have no way of knowing which ALO programs exist only on paper.

I hope to serve on the new Advanced Learning Advisory Committee when it is formed - if it is formed. I not only have the institutional memory that they need, but also the experience to demand assurances. I will work for clear definitions and real efforts to assure quality. I don't know that I will push for any specific definitions - there are a lot that I can live with - but I want the definitions set and I want them kept. That would be a very big step in the right direction.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Great overview, Charlie.

I'm on the Committee and I will push for you to be included. I had deep doubts about being on the Committee but I am going to believe that Dr. Enfield is sincere about wanting to improve this program and all its parts.

But I won't be window-dressing and I will speak out for a more coherent, cohesive and quality program. Given that we are asking, via ALOs, for many more students throughout the district to be served, the need is there for a better program.

Anonymous said...

How are you already on the committee MW? I was told recently they haven't even posted the ways to apply by those organizing it?

L@L dad

Anonymous said...

thanks Charlie.
One question... you said
"To be clear: the only difference between Spectrum and an ALO is the delivery model. If the delivery model is self-contained, then it is Spectrum. Anything else and it is an ALO."

Is this relative to delivering curriculum a year ahead only? Not in terms of qualifying for the program, right?

I thought students in the Spectrum program took the tests (including CoGAT) and needed to score within a certain percentage [on all three tests] to be eligible, whereas no testing (incl CoGAT) was required for ALO students (ie, they may have tested into Spectrum but preferred to stay at their neighborhood ALO, or a teacher or parent could recommend and they could be in ALO classes, but w/o the testing requirements) Is that accurate?

Thanks for your continued advocacy for the AL programs.

parent of spectrum students

Benjamin Leis said...

From the outside I've always thought it was extremely strange that APP allowed no transfers in during high school.


Charlie Mas said...

@ parent of spectrum students,

You are correct that Spectrum has eligibility requirements for the students. I wasn't speaking so much about who is in the programs as I was speaking about what happens in the programs. The level of instruction and the academic goals for Spectrum and ALO are the same. The difference - between the structures; not the student corps - is the delivery model.

Charlie Mas said...

@ ben,

A number of other folks have proposed that students should be allowed to join APP after the 8th grade. This is one of the student eligibility issues. The District is two-faced about it by saying that APP-eligible students who didn't enroll in 8th grade APP don't need access to Garfield by practically denying the program there. They say there are no APP classes at Garfield and other high schools offer AP and IB classes. But if YOU were to deny the value of the program at Garfield they would strongly defend its legitimacy.

There are other eligibility issues.

Some folks think that the eligibility criteria for APP should be increased to cut the program in half - or smaller.

Some folks think that Spectrum eligibility criteria should be tightened. I have read that opinion on this blog within the past week. I have read it here every other week for the past four years.

Some folks think that Spectrum shouldn't have any testing eligibility criteria - that it should be open to any student who wants to try it. A strong, clear exit process would have to be developed and implemented in concert with this.

Jon said...

Charlie, I know it is error prone to try to guess the motives of others, but any thoughts on why the district behaves this way toward advanced learning?

Is it neglect? Advanced learning is considered a very low priority and always falls off the bottom of the stack of things to do?

Is it hostility? Some in the district admin think that the public school system has no business teaching students who are working above grade level, that public schools aren't for those kids?

Or is it something else?

NLM said...

I would like to see some discussion and solution offered for high achieving students (e.g. 95%+ on ITBS or MAP) who do not or cannot demonstrate that same capacity on a cognitive abilities test. I am not suggesting that these students be grouped with those who demonstrate high ability and high achievement but I do wonder why so little is available to them. If the best predictor of current performance is generally past performance on the same or similar tasks, why should these students be denied access to content that they can obviously handle? Cognitive abilities tests, WISC, etc. are really good at telling us how kids learn and how they should be taught...not so much about what they should be learning.

NLM said...

ETA - I would also like to see strong exit criteria for *ALL* students in AL programs since, especially as kids age, effort is every bit as important as aptitude (e.g. why does Ingraham IB have a MAP requirement and not Garfield?).

Anne said...

I was on the Spectrum Advisory committee as a representative from WMS five years ago. We met several times a year with really little effect. I also participated in a series of meetings about the future direction of Advanced Learning and nothing came of that either.

I was very frustrated with Spectrum and felt that APP at least had some traction because they were all in one building and could pull-together for advocacy more easily. That seems to be going away as well with all the APP splits.


Anonymous said...

NLM, Thanks for your post! As a parent of one child who found her challenge in the APP program, and another who--despite A's and B'a in class work AND playing three instruments without much in the way of lessons--can't pass tests much above a C-, I am recently reminded that there is not much in the way of assistance for this student who manages to 'cope'. We're thankful for teachers that work with us to allow her to "be successful" (success for
ALL students, right?). She learns differently.
But I'll tell you, it's getting tough to keep her interested in the material that she is dealing with every day. To quote her,"boring".

Two and a half years to go

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I would like to be on the committee or at least attend. I have one kid in app and one in spectrum. how can I apply for the committee?



Charlie Mas said...

I must note that there is a clear policy and procedure for the formation of advisory committees. If it is true that this committee has already been formed, then the policy and the procedure was not followed.

I would take a very grave view of violations of this procedure. I would do whatever I could to make things VERY unpleasant for folks if they don't meet their obligations for an open, honest and transparent process.

Charlie Mas said...

NLM, I am with you on both counts.

Anonymous said...

The district and majority of the board are committed to the Strategic Plan.

I'd ask Enfield and the board the amount of time and resources they are willing to commit to advanced learning. My guess;not much.

Signed, Exercise in Futility

Anonymous said...

I would like to see some person or group advocate for all advanced learners. I mean kids in APP, kids in Spectrum, kids in ALO. Kids on waitlists. Kids who don’t fit the programs.

We know from current research that most advanced learners develop asynchronously. So many of them will be advanced in one way, but not another. Those kids don’t fit the SPS model and often have no access to advanced learning.

Then there are kids who are more than 2 years advanced. Like the 6th grader I see sitting in the back of the math class working through a calculus textbook.

And the twice exceptional kids who are mostly not even identified because most SPS staff doesn’t believe they exist & has no training to recognize them. Often when they are identified neither special ed nor advanced learning wants them and often they are force to choose if they get served at all.

You cannot justify ignoring advanced learners because they don’t fit into the current program models. There needs to be flexibility available that provides access to online learning, possibility of working with volunteer tutors, flexible schedules so a child can take another elective instead of sitting through a math class that is a waste of time, etc.

I also don’t believe there should be a mandated upper limit on the level of academic material kids can address because we only have programs for kids who are exactly 1 year ahead or exactly 2 years ahead.

-Rose M

Charlie Mas said...

@ Jon, I am loathe to make conjecture about the motivations of others.

I will, however, give you a quote from the District's former Director of Equity and Race Relations: "No student should be taught beyond Standards until every student is working at Standards."

In this way, the Standards, intended as a floor, become a ceiling.

I know that quote sounds incredibly like the old Soviet policy that "No farmer should own two cows until every farmer owns one cow." but I assure you it is absolutely true.

For more about the motivations of those who would tear down these programs, look to the arguments made by the staff at Lawton for the dissolution of the Spectrum program there.

I often hear people express the idea that it isn't necessary for the District to serve these students because "They'll be alright." Often the fact that they have knowledge and skills acquired outside of school is used as evidence that they don't need the schools to teach them anything.

I have often heard the vacuous argument that, as adults, the students will have to work with people of all intellectual aptitudes so they should go to school with people of all intellectual aptitudes as some sort of preparation. This statement is, of course, bananas. Lawyers work with lawyers. Doctors work with doctors. Engineers work with engineers. Retail clerks work with retail clerks. In addition, we don't put third graders in classes with first graders or fourth graders in classes with seventh graders. No one seems to think that skill grouping in that way is evil.

Finally, there is a strong and mistaken belief that Spectrum and APP students are getting something more. They aren't. They are getting something different. They are getting what they need just as other students get what they need. The Spectrum and APP students just need something different.

Jon said...

That's what I thought. Very sad to hear it, but thanks, Charlie, for letting us know.

seattle citizen said...

Blog admins:
The "comment" part of the second Charter post, History, is not there. Instead, at the bottom of the page there is the school calendar, then the list of blog topics and archives etc.
Maybe it's just me, but I can't find a place to comment on it anywhere.

anonymous said...

My kids have aged out so it won't help us, but I'd like to see Spectrum be an "opt in" program without barriers. I'd like to see any kid that was motivated be able to try it. Sure, there could be some guidelines, if the student was struggling for instance, they could be bumped back to regular ed. But at least give all kids who want it a chance.

There is a saying I love:
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.

In other words motivated kids, even if not as "smart" can and often do better than unmotivated "smart" kids. So lets give ALL kids who want to try Spectrum a chance.

That's my input Melissa.

level headed

seattle citizen said...

OT again - Blog admins, any help? I see on the main page that the charter history thread has a comment posted, but when I click on the comment, the thread comes up - the stuff that is usually on the right, the calendar etc, is down below the post with nary a comment in sight. Strange, indeed. Maybe it's just my blogger account doing it?

dan dempsey said...

"No student should be taught beyond Standards until every student is working at Standards."

Equality of educational opportunity based on the individual talents and capabilities of each student has morphed into a push for equal outcomes for all. Total Nonsense is frequently displayed by SPS decision-makers.

Let all the graduates be prepared to make hats on the assembly line before any graduates are prepared to become future lawyers, doctors, or engineers..... Good Luck to WA state's economic future....

Anonymous said...

We chose SPS above private school for two reasons:
1-The Spectrum program which our child tested into.
2-The excellent experienced teachers.

Our school had an all inclusive Spectrum program for Spectrum student and also those students who can keep up. This was another key factor in our school choice. We liked the inclusive atmosphere and the school handled it very well. It worked great until the SPS summarily and without warning eliminated it from our school (with no parental input) and moved it to another school in the quadrant. Robert Vaughn came to our school and said specifically that "nothing would change" when Spectrum was eliminated, ALO would supply identical advanced learning advantages. How can this be true - unless you believe that Spectrum is just a farce. If ALO is like Spectrum then why even have Spectrum anywhere?

I firmly believe Spectrum is now being used by the SPS to redistribute students in the district to artificially raise the test scores of poorly performing schools. A typical cynical tactic on the part of the Seattle Public Schools. They don't have a vested interest in improving education for struggling students or for supporting advanced students.

Sign me extremely bitter.

seattle teaching said...

I'd like to strongly encourage the reformulation of the advanced learning debates. I am an educator who listened this morning to a fascinating study on NPR that documented a significant fluctuation in teen IQ points. Listen to this: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/10/20/141511314/iq-isnt-set-in-stone-suggests-study-that-finds-big-jumps-dips-in-teens

This is not the first piece of recent research to suggest that IQ has a plasticity, and that traditional tests (CoGAT, Wechsler) perhaps do not provide more than a temporal and unpredictive glimpse into either intelligence or ability-- or long-term success. Indeed, to the poster above's point regarding the merits of hard work, Carol Dweck and other researchers have made effort a focus lately, with interesting results: acknowledgement of student effort actually increases achievement (but the reverse is not true-- noticing achievement does not bring an increase in student effort). In any case, our approach in this district does not seem to me to be evidence-based any longer: there is no reason supported by current research that we should exclude students who, say, score high in one category but not another, from our AL programs. I would like to be on this committee because I am concerned, frankly, that people whose motives are political (I want to keep the status quo for my child) will potentially outweigh evidence-based approaches.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, did the APP acceptance criteria change in the 2001-2004 era? You list it as top 5%, but my recollection from roughly 2004 was top 2% across the board.

Of course there have been plenty changes in subsequent years, changing to a mixture of top 2% and top 5% in different areas, adding a non-verbal portion and using best 2 out of 3 methodology, now using MAP scores for achievement (even though they don't work well for very high achievers), plus probably many more subtle changes that the public has never been aware of over the years. The constant diddling with the cutoffs and methodology has unquestionably affected the number (and types) of kids in APP over the years.

- frustrated with the lack of transparency

Baffled said...

I'm (still) having the same problem, Citizen. Now it's showing 6 comments but I can't see them. Why is this-can anyone tell me how to fix this?

Maureen said...

Citizen and Baffled, I got that same problem when I tried using Internet Explorer, but Chrome works fine.

Anonymous said...

Something else about the APP/Spectrum testing: I have a recollection of out-of-level tests being administered one year that our child tested. The cutoff may have still been 95%, but the hurdle was raised by administering a test one year advanced. I'm not sure if it was done in previous years and I was just made aware of it at the time our child tested, or if it was something new.


Maureen said...

Seems relevant to this thread: New evidence that IQ test results can change significantly throughout adolescence (up AND down). Another reason why APP should be accessible to new students in HS and that some restesting of previously identified students should occur.

By the way, NLM, from what I can tell, only NEW applicants to APP at Ingraham will be required to have MAP scores above 95%, not previously identified APP students from HIMS or WMS.

hschinske said...

I have a recollection of out-of-level tests being administered one year that our child tested. The cutoff may have still been 95%, but the hurdle was raised by administering a test one year advanced.

The CogAT is designed to be given at least one and preferably two years ahead if it's for gifted identification. There are norms for younger children available, so that if, say, a first-grader takes the test usually given to third-graders, they're judged against how other first-graders do on that test, not against third-graders (so the hurdle is not really raised at all).

The reason this method of testing is more accurate is that there is more room at the top, so that the differentiation is between students who can answer lots of out-of-level questions and those who can answer fewer, not those who are super-accurate at grade level versus those who make careless errors or over-think the questions. Nor are students bored by having to answer a lot of questions below their level.

Helen Schinske

NLM said...

Interesting, Maureen. I thought it (the MAP requirement) applied to all of of the students. If the requirement is to make any sense, IMHO, it ought to be applied to all.

Anonymous said...

To say that self contained Spectrum or APP is not better only different is wrong. The top 1% and the top 8% get to work together and the remaining 92% get to work together? That is real different. It works great for kids in the programs but is not fair to the rest. I don't advocate abandoning APP but the reason for it is to exploit the abilities of these kids for the greater good. Spectrum is where it gets dicey.
AL newbie

TraceyS said...

So what how do other school districts in Washington state provide accelerated or advanced learning for high achieving students?

The most frustrating thing for our family is the constant churn involved in school choice, program availability, endless testing, and the almost careless way that programs are relocated or dismantled at the very last minute. It seems that everything is always a moving target in the public schools here.

So what do other districts in the area do to provide for their various populations, from ELL to SPED to AL, and others I am sure I am leaving out? We surely are not the only ones with these problems.

Floor Pie said...

"So how do other school districts in Washington state provide accelerated or advanced learning for high achieving students?"

I talked to a 2E parent at Lake Washington school district over the summer about this. Let's see what I have in my notes...

You have to have been in the school district for one year before you can be tested for advanced learning. I think she said they do the testing at a central location on one day (not sure which test it is or how the logistics work). Appeals aren't allowed.

They have a full-time advanced learning program and a part-time one. FT works like a magnet school. PT is a pull-out, one day per week students are bussed to the other school. PT classes are held in portables. Not sure if FT/PT is decided by lottery or based on test scores.

2E students are welcome, and the advanced learning program is able to serve IEP's (although she noted that there's always a few parents every year who object to sharing space with 2E students, but the administration is supportive).

They don't have anything like Inclusion B, but the district does have an autism team that trains and supports teachers and staff.

Hope I got that right. My takeaway from all that was that things are imperfect no matter where you go.

BTW, there is Spectrum at BF Day now. We're new to the school and I don't know too many people, but the ones I've met are very happy with it. My son is 2E and so far it's been a great fit for him. Such a huge improvement from last year. I can see now why Spectrum/APP families are so protective of the programs. Keeping my fingers crossed that the district doesn't come along and mess with it...

Charlie Mas said...

@ AL newbie,

Please share with us how self-contained Spectrum and APP is not fair to students who are not in the program.

NLM said...

I talked to Everett Public Schools because DH and I were considering a move back to our last location or Everett next year. They provide AL for students at or above 80 percentile on CogAT but also take into consideration achievement test scores, teacher and parent input as part of their evaluation of the whole child. Students receive full-time, self-contained services at Cedar Creek and (I think) one or two other elementary schools and funnel up through the system. They were also incredibly responsive!

I also agree with the point about the new IQ research. Whoever it is that serves on the AL committee needs to understand what cognitive abilities and IQ tests do and don't do and what they're weaknesses are. In other states, I think North Carolina is one, they also support AL designations for gifted children in music, performing or visual arts.

Charlie Mas said...

I took a look at the Advanced Learning web pages this evening. I was looking for a description of the Lawton program - the District has long promised to post descriptions of each of the programs. There are no descriptions of any Spectrum programs there.

While I was on the pages, however, I saw this description of Spectrum:

"The program is guided by four core principles:
1) Provide a rigorous curriculum.
2) Provide an accelerated curriculum that focuses on student proficiency in grade level expectations and one grade level beyond or more in reading and mathematics
3) Bring district-identified students together through self-contained or cluster-grouping strategies to form classroom rosters.
4) Provide instruction by teachers familiar with the needs of students who are academically gifted.

The third item now includes "cluster-grouping". This represents a change in Spectrum's "Core Principles" made without any community input or discussion. Hmmm. I guess the principles weren't all that core if they could be changed that easily.

WW Parent said...

This message was posted on the Wedgwood website this evening. Dr Brulle's presentation has been moved to Nathan Hale, this Wednesday Oct 26. I am guessing there would be room for a lot more parents there.

Dr. Dina Brulles’ visit is next Wednesday 10/26 at 6:30 pm, and she will be discussing gifted education and cluster grouping (she is one of the co-authors of a book that is floating around the district at the moment, specifically at Lawton and Wedgwood, and perhaps other Spectrum elementaries as well).

Hello Wedgwood families,

I'd like to remind everyone about Dr. Dina Brulles’ visit next Wednesday 10/26 at 6:30 pm. She will be talking about gifted education and the school-wide cluster grouping model.

Please note that we are changing the location of the presentation to the Nathan Hale High School Commons to ensure there is enough room for all who wish to attend.

Thank you and I look forward to seeing all of our families there. The presentation will be informative for all families - not just those who have students in the spectrum program.

Chris Cronas

Anonymous said...

Following is the definition for the state of Colorado. They also use multiple methods to qualify kids and can not disqualify kids based on one method.

"Gifted and talented children" means those persons between the ages of five and twenty-one whose abilities, talents, and potential for accomplishment are so exceptional or developmentally advanced that they require special provisions to meet their educational programming needs. Children under five who are gifted may also be provided with early childhood special educational services. Gifted students include gifted students with disabilities (i.e. twice exceptional) and students with exceptional abilities or potential from all socio-economic and ethnic, cultural populations. Gifted students are capable of high performance, exceptional production, or exceptional learning behavior by virtue of any or a combination of these areas of giftedness:

General or specific intellectual ability.
Specific academic aptitude.
Creative or productive thinking.
Leadership abilities.
Visual arts, performing arts, musical or psychomotor abilities

-2e parent

AL newbie said...

OK Lets take 65 students, say it's a Spectrum school and has kids out of the NSAP. You have 4 APP tested and 18 Spectrum, about 1/3 tested as gifted or highly gifted. Unusual but it happens.
If you take the Spectrum and APP level kids and put them together with the teacher ID'd high achievers as per the self-contained model, you have 32 0r 33 kids in a class that ranges in ability and achievement from the 10 - 15 % of students on up. Maybe you have some APP level kids who are so advanced that they are hard to teach but they have the APP school option. A class with this limited range of learners makes it easier to reach most kids needs.
Take classroom 2 with abilities and achievement levels ranging from SPED and dyslexic(if not Spectrum or APP), many years behind grade level in math and/or reading up to the 80 or 85% where he other classroom starts taking them.
Is this fair to the kids who just miss the high class? Is it fair to the very low kids who can't keep up with the average load? Is it fair to the teacher who has 4 or 4 times the range of ability and achievement to teach?
These kids need some grouping but Spectrum is a blunt instrument when we need a scalpel. AL needs to look at other grouping strategies. I would welcome a district-wide committee of interested parents and educators to explore options at other districts. Brulles is the current wunderkid, but her methods are not very applicable to SPS. As a forceful Hispanic intellectual, however, she has the gravitas to help rid the district of self-contained Spectrum. What parents need now is an improvement on Spectrum, not just scorched earth.

Melissa Westbrook said...

As a forceful Hispanic intellectual, however, she has the gravitas to help rid the district of self-contained Spectrum.

Explain that statement please. What does being Hispanic have to do with her ability to communicate? Are we trying to "rid" the district of self-contained Spectrum?

Anonymous said...

Well Melissa, I saw Dr Brulles at Lawton and she is formidable. Dressed in Johnny Cash black, very articulate, very handsome, young, somewhat annoyed at white middle class angst regarding their smart kids. She comes from a poor hispanic district and has little apparent sympathy for upper middle class Seattlites.
Her model isn't really applicable to spectrum at all but she has the mojo that Bob Vaughan lacks in spades. I don't think he could sell a raft to a drowning man, so they call in a hit-woman. Being hispanic from the southwest has no doubt had effects on her and she reminds me a little of Dr E in that she is a really smart woman who knows her way around world of public education.

Seeing race doesn't mean racist

Anonymous said...

Rid the district of Spectrum? Are you just noticing that, Melissa? They don't pay for Brulles (pronounced brooyays) to jet up for nothing. You should go and ask questions. I plan to do so. I want to find a new way to reach the top kids that is more inclusive and better for all the kids. This is a chance to move into new territory for gifted and general ed and whining about Spectrum is not moving forward.
Movin' on

TraceyS said...

AL Newbie,

If I understand the crux of your argument, it is that the Spectrum classroom has the advantage of a narrower range of learners, while the non-Spectrum classroom has the disadvantage of a wider range of learners, comparatively.

In the model proposed at Wedgwood over the summer, all students would be equally distributed among all classrooms. This means both Spectrum and non-Spectrum would be in classrooms with a wider range than in the previous model. In other words, every student would have even more of a disadvantage, due to the maximum possible range of differentiation in every class. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

I am not a proponent of all-self-contained, all the time. And I am extremely frustrated by the very high hurtles set to even land in an accelerated classroom in this city. I have never understood why every possible means are not used to identify then accommodate as many advanced students as possible, as opposed to throwing up barriers and making advanced curriculum seem like some sort of prize. It is crazy.

However, the current, real-world solutions that are replacing Spectrum in this city are dramatically increasing differentiation within the classrooms, with a few exceptions. I am not sure this is really what any parent is wanting for their kids.

I do not think self-contained is as much of a problem, as it is a general commitment by this district to provide a stable, clear, accessible, and rigorous curriculum for every student who may even vaguely be qualified. Why not take the opposite tack in oversubscribed schools, for example, and make all the classrooms work one year ahead, and provide tutors and differentiated materials to help those who are behind? Or have blended classrooms in others, but place students to limit, rather than maximize, the range in each classroom? Why not have magnet/option schools in regions where demand is currently low? Why not re-mix the classrooms mid-year, to handle any behavioral or learning issues that crop up (a frequent complaint of self-contained is it is hard to break up problem pairs of kids).

There is more than one way to skin this cat. And I am surprised that the AL office does not have more public discussions about ways to provide AL services to every kid that needs or wants it, and then some. The more we parents battle over a single strategy, the further we fall behind.

What we need to be doing is to put pressure on the AL office to be looking at best practices in other, similar districts, and to be having either parent forums or committees, or both, investigate them and make recommendations. We lose too many students right now - to private schools, to other districts, to home schooling, and those just left languishing in a too-easy classroom. And it really doesn't have to be this way at all.

This is not about self-contained vs. differentiation. It is also not a zero-sum game. It is about whether our school district is committed to providing appropriate opportunities for all kids.

Anonymous said...

AL Newbie. I think I'm still missing your point? Your classroom 2, if you add the APP and Spectrum kids to it means the teacher has a WIDER spread to teach. That doesn't do anyone/ group any better. The point of cluster grouping (which I'm not too keen on, but understand the theory) is to narrow the scope required in the classroom. So you don't have the way above grade level and the way below grade level in the same class. There are other important elements too (ie those kids who "just miss the cut" do better when they're not with the above grade level kids... you'd have to read Winebrenner/Brulles book, but that's what their studies show)

And the fairness component only goes so far to I think. It's very Seattle (everyone gets a trophy and all) but this is about meeting this particular need or aptitude (in this case, academic) of kids where they are and providing them the tools they need - at their level - to advance. Is it fair that my kid isn't on select soccer? Not really. He'd like to play select. But he's not that great at soccer and so he plays local -that's his aptitude. Different kids (people) have different aptitudes. Covering them with the cloak of fairness doesn't help in the long run.

spectrum mom

Anonymous said...

Thank You Tracey S. for putting it so well. If we ever have an AL committee, I hope you'll bring what you just said to that table.

Seattle mom

Anonymous said...

Spectrum mom,

I am not arguing for dismantling the self-contained system. However my experience in SPS is that general ed teachers deal with a range of learners including gifted learners in their classes even with self-contained classes available in the district.

First there are the kids on the spectrum waitlist which often includes APP qualified kids in some schools. Then there are the gifted kids whose parents don't test or didn't want to change schools. Also the 2e kids, like the math genius who is also dyslexic. And there is the child who has perfect scores on achievement tests in writing that is not recognized or programed for in our system because you can't be gifted in writing in SPS. There are some ELL kids who come into the country far ahead in math but with limited English skills. Many kids read several grade levels ahead but are not great with math. Often kids with anxiety do not show their gifted abilities on tests. I have also known 2 families that pulled their profoundly gifted children out of APP & sent them back to neighborhood schools because their academic levels weren't being addressed so why travel so far. In one case at least the neighborhood school used some different materials & assigned some tutors to work with the child.

So preventing the dissolution of self-contained spectrum will not prevent general ed teachers from having to deal with gifted kids.

-Rose M

Anonymous said...

@Charlie Mas

I believe you're not correctly representing the facts when you say "Lawyers work with lawyers. Doctors work with doctors. Engineers work with engineers. Retail clerks work with retail clerks. " Yes, lawyers work with lawyers - and also with clients and law clerks. Doctors work with doctors, and also with patients and nurses and administrators and regulators. Etc. Life isn't terribly compartmentalized and neither should ALL learning be. Some of learning is learning to deal with those who are far less intelligent than you are, or far more intelligent, or from another culture. That's not to take anything away from your other points - only that your "like goes with like" isn't the whole story.

Pam S.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Tracy said:

Why not take the opposite tack in oversubscribed schools, for example, and make all the classrooms work one year ahead, and provide tutors and differentiated materials to help those who are behind?

They DID try this at Maple with great success but then had to stop because they had used all their dollars towards this effort and something had to give. The district, of course, did not recognize the benefits and did nothing.

And to the point that the AL kids have to mix sometime with others - please. These kids mix in all kinds of activities with other kids. It's not like they get to college never having interacted with many people. We don't have APP or Spectrum in high school as well.

Anonymous said...

@Melissa 9:01
I must disagree with your statement that AL kids ' mix in all kinds of activities with other kids'. Do you mean outside of school? From my experience with APP in middle school, APP students rarely 'mix' with non-APP kids.
APP students are self contained in LA/SS and science, and are most often grouped with other APP students in electives because of scheduling. To their credit the school attempts to have events where students mix with those outside their program, but with little real effect. I still think it is beneficial that APP students are in a school with general ed/spectrum/sped students, and would not place my student in a 1-8 self contained APP school.