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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cluster Grouping Talk at Nathan Hale

I attended the talk last night by Dr. Dina Bulles put on by Wedgwood Elementary (and held at Nathan Hale High).  (FYI, her name is pronounced Bree-yays.)   The other SPS staff represented were the principal of Wedgwood, Chris Cronas, Ex. Director, Phil Brockman, and head of Advanced Learning, Bob Vaughn.  Mr. Cronas pointed out that several Wedgwood teachers were in attendance as well.   There were a large number of seats put out  but the room wasn't full. My guess is it was  about 60 people. 

Dr. Bulles explained that in her district, Paradise Valley School district (which is just outside of Phoenix, Arizona), all of their elementary schools use cluster grouping.  (Her district is about 35,000 students and there are 31 elementary schools.)  She said out of those 35,000, about 5,000 student received gifted classes/services.  (Help me out anyone else who attended; I thought she said towards the end that this was included high school students taking AP/IB.  Is that what you heard?)  She also made a startling statement that 68% of her teachers (and I believe this is in elementary) had 3 years or less of teaching experience.  Wow. 


What was most fascinating to me and an absolute pleasure is that here was a educator who made no apologies for wanting to serve gifted students.  She gave a PowerPoint and several times talked about the need to serve these students needs as a district would any other student with a special need like ELL or Special Education.  It was very refreshing and I have never, in all my years in SPS, heard any SPS principal or Board member or staff member or Superintendent speak in this manner.

She started out by showing a list from J. Skabos about differences between gifted children and bright children (and I note that she believes both groups need to be served).   I couldn't find the exact list but here is link to one that is quite similar.

She said that IQ is about ability and that achievement is about finding out what a student already knows. 

She showed a chart explaining the range of abilities across a classroom (which I believe had about 8 slots).  She spoke about gifted children not just needing acceleration but also that the work needs to be more in-depth.  She talked about how gifted children do not learn in a linear fashion and so a standard, "step 1, step 2, step 3" kind of teaching would not work well for them. 

I found one statement she made striking, "We should test first to know what the child needs to learn before you start teaching."  This would almost argue for the MAP test first thing OR some kind of class assessment in the first weeks of school OR that the current teacher had the scores from last year in front of them.  She also said, "All gifted learning is local" which is a corollary to the adage "All education/politics is local." 

She also showed a chart about cluster grouping explaining how to divide the students up in a classroom.  There were 3 classes at one grade level.  The first class would contain all the students who had tested in the gifted range plus medium  learners.  There would be no lower level learners in this classes.  The other two classes would have the bright kids (unclear to me whether these students were tested) along with some medium learners and the lower level learners.  The idea is to keep the gifted students together (presumably to be a cohort and not be isolated in a classroom) but not with the lower level learners as this would be two clashing groups of learners. 

There are some caveats, some rather large caveats.

One, this cannot be done without professional development for all teachers, both in teaching gifted students (if they are in your class) AND how to differentiate your teaching and the curriculum.   She said that very clearly, both in her PowerPoint and in her talk.

Two, the gifted students stay together year to year.  (It was unclear what happens if more students test into that category but I would assume if it were one or two, they would stay with the original 6 and if it got bigger then there would be a new cohort in another classroom.)  All the other students change.

Three, that helping "teach" other students is not the job of gifted children.  That's because, well, it's not their job and also because many of them couldn't do it because of how differently they learn themselves.

Four, she also stressed the need for on-going assessments for students' strengths and needs and, of course, she meant all the students in the class.  Question is, how to do that?

What was also interesting was this list of different types of gifted students.  There are ones who are better in one subject, creative ones, twice-exceptional and one category that made me smile - "non-productive gifted students."  I think I was the only one to raise my hand when she asked if anyone had met one of these students.  I could only think, "wait until middle or high school."   I can't tell you how many parents I have met at that level who tear their hair out over really bright kids who have zero motivation. 

She did bring out some data about cluster grouping versus non-cluster grouping BUT there was a rather big hole in it.  The non-cluster grouping class had no real differentiation going on so it's hard to say that the cluster grouping is what made the difference or the teacher's training in differentiation.  (I'd have to read the paper but she admitted that difference.)  She also said the report was currently being peer-reviewed.

She took questions but she was very careful to pass off any about the Wedgwood/SPS system to Mr. Cronas.  I'm not sure if she didn't understand our program or just didn't want to get too deep in the weeds. 

There clearly is a difference between the testing cutoffs that her district uses and what SPS uses.  She didn't want to compare because it wasn't apples to apples.  I spoke to Bob Vaughn afterwards and he said SPS was not changing its system.

Also, Mr. Cronas said (and this was to a group of parents afterwards) that this was a "pilot" project at Wedgwood.  (I was unable to ask him a couple of questions like who paid for her services and how much it cost, the school or the PTSA.  It wasn't, to Bob Vaughn's knowledge, the district.)  He went on to say it was being piloted at 1st grade this year, then 2/3rd next and then 4/5th the next year.   He also said it would not be possible to compare outcomes between the self-contained program and the cluster grouping program.  A parent pressed him on this and he said it wasn't possible.  I am perplexed as to how he will know, for certain, what is working for better academic outcomes.

Dr. Brulles said that she knew that some of her principals did not always follow her direction on cluster grouping, preferring to have just two gifted students per classroom (spreading them out).  She said the outcomes didn't work as well especially for the gifted students. 

I did get to ask a question.  As you may recall in my previous thread on this topic, I said I understood how she did cluster grouping in her district. 

One reason is because it sounds like there is tremendous buy-in from teachers.  I'm not sure teachers from across our district would buy-in to doing this wholesale at every school.   Also, as another parent pointed out, this is a tremendous amount of professional development that would cost a lot of money and time if we wanted to spread this throughout the district. 

Two, I looked through the Paradise Valley district's gifted webpage.  Very illuminating.  Her district has an APP school (although it does NOT take all who test in).  Her district has a separate school for twice-gifted learners.  They have a program for ELL students with a test (Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test) to find and serve those gifted learners. 

Three, their state has a gifted teaching endorsement that all their teachers have to have or be working towards.  Washington State does not.  The district doesn't even make sure that all APP/Spectrum teachers have training in working with gifted students (and I'm hearing a lot about this from Hamilton parents and that's a separate thread). 

Four, does she have staff!  I'm sure Bob Vaughn would LOVE to have this amount of staff.  She has Gifted Education Specialists (at every school to do the pullout work or honors work), Gifted Education Liaisons (who are gifted teachers who get paid a stipend to organize the honors in their high schools) as well as testing technicians and an administrative assistant. 

Also, just to reiterate, all of Paradise Valley's middle and high schools have honors classes.  Interestingly, at least in middle school, you have to test in to take those classes.  Kind of like Spectrum in middle school here.  

I also thanked her for coming and sharing her work with the group and how great it was to hear an educator who didn't feel embarrassed or apologetic for wanting to serve these kids.  You can tell it is her passion. 

I could see this cluster-grouping idea replacing Spectrum AND APP.  Maybe it would only apply to Spectrum.

I asked Dr. Vaughn and he waved it off as something Wegwood was looking into.  Then a parent told me that the principal at Eckstein had told her parents about this talk as something to think about.   I'm not buying for a minute that this is just one school trying something different., sorry.   I think this may be the direction the district wants to go. 

I can only say that Dr. Brulles is very clear on the need for qualified teachers who know what they are doing.  One day of professional development is NOT going to cut it for a change like this.  The district should think long and hard about any plan and, in particular, where the money and time to enact it would come from. 

There is one thing her website says that I'll leave you with:

Gifted students need consistent opportunities to learn at their challenge level - just as all students do.  It is inequitable to prevent gifted student from being challenged by trying to apply one level of difficulty for all students in mixed-ability classes. 

51 comments:

dw said...

Couple small comparison notes:

The 5,000 students receiving some type of advanced learning in the district did indeed include high school, all K-12 (yes, she said K), and because they don't have a separate gifted ed program for high school, that implied AP/IB/whatever else, even though I'm not sure she explicitly said that.

As for the 68% of teachers with 3 or less years of experience, I think that was in the other district where got the comparison numbers for their study, although I'm not positive.

I would guess there were quite a few more than 60 people there, I'd have guessed more like 80-100.

Other than that, I think this is a very good summary of what happened.

Charlie Mas said...

The "pilot" program at Wedgwood doesn't sound anything like Dr. Bulles cluster grouping.

If the District is going to change Spectrum to allow TWO delivery models (as they have already changed it on their web site) then they will have to enforce that.

If they enforce it, then they should not allow the "pilot" program at Wedgwood since it is neither of the two approved delivery models.

How, exactly, is the "pilot" program at Wedgwood different from a program which is not a "pilot"?

TraceyS said...

I am running off to pick up my daughter at WW right now, but a couple of clarifications to your really great summary:

1. I have read her paper, and it is not applicable to us. Her non-clustered group received no differentiation and no services for gifted at all. It cannot be compared to contained.

2. The success of her clustering model depends greatly on how the kids are assessed. Our current District assessment tools are compatible with her model (I'll post more in this later).

3. Roughly, her definition of "gifted" correlates to high IQ and is independent of achievement testing (level 1 kids). Her definition of "bright" (level 2) is one who does well on achievement tests, but is is not in the 2 standard-deviation or higher category of IQ testing. Report card and MAP scores alone are not sufficient to determine this. Distinguishing these two groups is key to her model.

Gotta run, will post more later.

Jet City mom said...

Her district has a separate school for twice-gifted learners
As the mom of two twice-gifted kids- this would be fantastic- cause other wise they really fall between the cracks- twice gifted students are not highly functioning in all areas to be recognized, but they are not needy enough to get support. ( although if they had support they can excel as much as the more linear learners)

dw said...

Here's a bit more, as a carryover from the previous thread.

It was all I could do to keep from asking, “So what you’re saying, without actually saying it, is that Mr. Cronas has no clothes?”

To which she would have replied "Again, I'm not here to talk about specifics of your building".

She was paid by the district to come and give a talk about gifted ed in general and detail out what Cluster Grouping is, and why it works. She was not going to say anything bad about her hosts.

That said, I had the distinct impression, just as you did, that she was very unimpressed with what has happened at Wedgwood, as well as some other things in our district with regard to gifted ed. One thing in particular she did not hide was the fact that they let their extremely advanced kids in math move ahead to whatever level they need. I mentioned that our district won't even let APP 6th graders enroll in Algebra I, and she did not hide her shock and disappointment at that.

All in all, the talk was very interesting, and I now have a great deal of respect for Dr. Brulles and her research. Unfortunately, Cronas is not even remotely close to implementing ANY of the important aspects of Cluster Grouping.

1) It takes 1-2 years planning before implementing SCGM in a building. This was verified by Dr. Brulles last night. This is not a frill, but a requirement to get everything in place to even have a chance at making it work.

2) The #1 most important thing about SCGM is that it narrows the range of kids in the classes, across the board. What Cronas has implemented is NOTHING like SCGM, as it INCREASES the range of kids across the board when compared with the self-contained model the building has had for decades.

I think point #2 is the important bit of data Dr. Brulles was able to give the concerned families at this meeting without specifically calling out Cronas. Especially because what he has done is almost the exact opposite of what she recommends. And unfortunately, because of the way our district identifies and places gifted students, it would be very difficult, if not impossible to properly implement SCGM at WW.

WW Spectrum families: what do you think? Do you feel helpless? I think there's a way to fix things at WW, but only if Spectrum families are more or less united in wanting a return to self-contained classrooms. Talk amongst yourselves and post your thoughts here.

Lori said...

Thanks, Melissa. Good summary of the meeting.

I too was impressed with Dr. Brulles' passion for gifted education. We could sure use some of that unbridled support and enthusiasm up here.

One thing that really struck me, though, is how different their system is than ours. As such, you can't just replicate their program here in Seattle.

Specifically, their definition of giftedness is scoring in the 97th percentile or higher on at least ONE domain on a cognitive test such as CogAT. In Seattle, scores must be sufficiently high in all domains, which means that children gifted in one subject but not another do not get appropriate services. So I like the "looser" criteria that they use.

Relevant to the Spectrum discussion, they apparently would not classify children who score in the 87th/90th to 96th range as "gifted." However, these kids are probably the "bright" kids who end up in the "high average" clusters in their model.

So trying to apply this model at a school like Wedgwood, I think it has the potential to meet the needs of children who are gifted in one area but don't meet the SPS criteria for Spectrum; that's a good thing because I truly believe that all children should be challenged appropriately. But, is dismantling self-contained Spectrum and putting the "bright" or "high average" members of that cohort back into heterogeneous classes the right thing to do, particularly given that we don't have the same infrastructure that they have in Dr. Brulles district? Her district has on-going professional development in gifted ed, gifted ed specialists at each school, gifted ed liaisons with the district, and last but not least a wildly supportive advocate in Dr. Brulles herself.

I'll be interested to hear what Wedgwood families have to say.

Anonymous said...

small correction: it's Dr. Vaughan, with two a's

TraceyS said...

Oops, should have said incompatible, not compatible:

"2. The success of her clustering model depends greatly on how the kids are assessed. Our current District assessment tools are incompatible with her model (I'll post more in this later).

Anonymous said...

As a non-Spectrum, non-APP parent, I really liked the thoughts posted here about all children being appropriately challenged. It isn't only the kids who officially identify as gifted who are not appropriately challenged in most standard classrooms with the standard curriculum. I'd say that there is a very small range of kids for whom the standard classroom is the appropriate placement.

- I wish I knew how to solve it

Benjamin Leis said...

Kindergarten is a pretty extreme version of that. Some kids come in reading, while others don't even know their letters yet.

Especially at schools with several K classes it would be nice to sort the kids into several basic buckets so general lessons could be taught at an appropriate level.

I worry about the tail end not getting enough attention, while the top spins their wheels doing alphabet exercises.

What's interesting about this is the prior knowledge has very little correlation with long term ability so it needs to be dynamic and not a rigid tracking system.

Ben

Anonymous said...

Thanks Melissa. I've heard Dr. Brulles speak and have read her book and this jibes with both.

I agree that this has real potential as a way to serve gifted learners without the perception of underserving any other student. But the lack of two key components (both at WW and Lawton)-- front end planning and PD is concerning. This isn't something you just pop into.

WW and Lawton have done the divding out the kids part of cluster grouping but it's pretty much stopped there. Lawton has had 1 PD session on differentiation. But the 2 5th grade classes have groups 1-5 in them (which is neither Brulles version of CG, nor the version that was described to staff and parents), and they are huge classes which further complicates delivery of any curriculum, let alone differentiated curriculum.

There is also a real disconnect between the testing criteria and designations that doesn't seem to be synched up w/ cluster grouping (per Vaughan's comment that SPS isn't changing testing, which I've heard before from AL as well) As long as SPS tests and criteria stay the same, the gifted (Group 1) cluster will be the Spectrum kids..and that doesn't seem to help the situation. Unless you go the quasi-cluster grouping route which is - divide the kids and end it there.

For any schools permitted to roll out cluster grouping, SPS should have a set of requirements to follow(starting with required reading of the handbook by all staff, community discussions/buy in, real/advanced planning on how to use the tools in the handbook, accomplish PD BEFORE it rolls out) and reporting tools (during the year and at years end) to make sure students are receiving the curriculum at their appropriate level (I can hear Charlie laughing from here : ) ....)

Sounds like one more way SPS is launching headlong into something w/o forethought, planning, accountability on and on.

- spectrum mom

dan dempsey said...

The focus has been toward a one size fits all plan for the last four years. Here Dr. Bulles presents a plan to do something positive in improving services based on the actual needs of each child .... and including the gifted.

NOT with this Board and Superintendent. This would require stable leadership with a plan for improving student learning based on needs of each student .... The District currently is miles away from that.

Remember the current patch work minor strategy is to put Conditionally Certified teachers into high poverty - high minority schools.... without performing a careful review of all options to close achievement gaps.

The Bulles plan requires actually planning and marshaling of resources. The SPS is more prone to Knee Jerk responses.

Step #1 Toss the incumbents.

Step #2 See if Enfield might be able to do the Job (unlikely given her embrace of all thing Ed reform)

Step #3 Evaluate the resource picture ... and likely wait for the school funding clouds to clear and then take another look.

#4 ... The success of her clustering model depends greatly on how the kids are assessed. Our current District assessment tools are incompatible with her model

#5 ... Professional Development dollars

Jan said...

Wow. Now I know where I wish I had been last night. This makes me realize that much if not all of my support of SSD's self contained models is defensive -- I like them because they at least sort of work for gifted kids, and because the other "options" that have been suggested (mostly amounting to -- just dump 'em back into the pool, those elitists will all do fine") are so wrong and harmful.

Frankly, I like everything about Ms. Brulles proposal better. I love the idea of greater focus on other areas of giftedness -- so kids with huge talents in one but not all areas get opportunities that challenge the areas where they excel. I love the idea of all the training and emphasis on teacher skills for making the cluster method work. I love the idea of timely and accurate assessments in populating the clusters and determining what to teach.

Maybe, what the WW parents (and they should get Eckstein parents to join them, since WW kids will end up there) should do is call a meeting, get a board member or two there, the ex. director, Vaughn, Cronos, and even a UW gifted ed person or two -- and ask the District to either give them back self-contained, or commit to a TRUE pilot program, through WW and Eckstein, of clustering. And then -- go looking for the funding for grants for some of the resources (for assessment -- because this isn't MAP stuff -- teacher training, etc.)

In other words, rather than having a process which is blatantly, obviously purely political (Cronos doesn't want to support self contained because staff and non-spectrum parents complain about it, and because it makes filling classrooms more complicated), WW could start to drive a process that is (a) research supported, and (b) potentially MUCH more inclusive for all sorts of kids who learn at different levels across the spectrum.

IF we really committed to this method, 2xEs would get a shot, kids gifted in only one or two areas would get a shot, kids who are "bright" but not cognitively at level 1 would get recognized and get opportunities and pacing that works for them. And kids in lower groups who need NOT to be working with gifted kids -- because they need linear pacing and opportunities to learn at a steadier pace (I have one of these too) would get more attention.

Any chance Cronas, the WW faculty, and the WW parents are up for being the leading edge of a major reform in SSD gifted education?

dw said...

should do is call a meeting, get a board member or two there, the ex. director, Vaughn, Cronos, and even a UW gifted ed person or two -- and ask the District to either give them back self-contained, or commit to a TRUE pilot program

Jan, this is a great idea. One that I think will be a very hard sell, but worth pursuing if the parents are relatively unified. The key point being that if they can't or won't commit to a properly structured SCGM, that they must return to the self-contained model.

What they have in WW now is a huge step backward from either self-contained or SCGM, in fact, it's almost the poster case for what Dr. Brulles said NOT to do. One of the first things she brought up in her talk is that you don't just blend all the levels equally, which is exactly what Cronas has done. It's the worst of all worlds, with no kids getting anything helpful whatsoever, and all the teachers' jobs are harder than they need be.

The biggest problem, and why I think it won't fly, is that the assessment process we use in SPS is inadequate for this type of program. The advantage of getting together a group like this is that there would be a definite path of success either way; either proper SCGM or back to self-contained Spectrum if they can't manage the former. Given the timetables for enrollment, things would need to get started fairly quickly.

Who's ready to call a meeting? I would suggest the first meeting should be parents only, before bringing in district staff. Thoughts?

Anna Bertasi said...

This is fascinating. Having recently moved from Europe, where cluster grouping is much more common and where, certainly at the middle school level, different subjects are taught according to ability (and there is mobility between the groups), I find the Spectrum and APP programs both confusing and exclusive. My own newly arrived fifth grader is unlikely to get into either program, because although he's performing at a 7th grade level in reading/writing, his math is 'only' 5th grade level. I'm utterly perplexed as to why kids have to achieve in both domains to be admitted to either Spectrum or APP, when the Math is grouped separately at middle school anyway?

TraceyS said...

(I've broken a long post up, so bear with me)

I cannot speak for all the Spectrum families at Wedgwood in this forum, just our own. I can say that I do agree with most of the observations made so far - that Dr. Brulles' model requires a lot more district support than we currently have; that current District assessment tools are not sufficient for assigning cluster groups; and that the model that Chris Cronas rolled out last summer is substantially different than Dr Brulles' model (he divides all level 1/2 kids evenly among all the classes, and has not publicly addressed how assignments are made). In general, I like the concept of clustering, if it were properly implemented. And there are real problems with unidentified kids using the current District assessment tools. But a poorly implemented version of clustering, I think, would do more harm than good.

A bit of background on us: we are new to SPS and to Wedgwood this year, and have a daughter in the 2nd grade Spectrum program, which is self-contained this year. We are not in the WW reference area, but next door in Bryant, and we specifically chose WW because it had a stronger academic curriculum for our daughter.

We first found out about the changes to the Spectrum program after open enrollment, as did everyone else. We happened to see a notice about the summer meetings on the school website when I looked for school carnival info. I went to three of the four meetings. Chris Cronas mentioned the Brulles/Winebrenner handbook at the first meeting, so I bought and read it before the second. I also tracked down her paper on clustering vs non clustering and read that as well.

The meetings were all essentially the same, just presenting the same information to different grade levels. I heard there was also an meeting earlier in the spring, but I do not know what was presented then, because we weren't in the building yet. Last night's presentation was the the only followup to the Wedgwood community since the four summer meetings. This lack of communication has been quite frustrating to me, and to others as well. Chris has offered to meet one on one with families, but there has been no other means to brainstorm or provide input or gain buy-in from parents. I do not know how teacher meetings have gone, either.

The WW slides that were shown over the summer had an even distribution of level 1 and level 2 kids in all classrooms (what Brulles referred to as gifted vs bright).This varies significantly from the Brulles model, which specifically separated these groups. It also showed an even distribution of level 3 and level 4 groups among all the classrooms as well - in fact, every classroom would be equally balanced, thus widening the range of differentiation, not narrowing it. This was pointed out by several parents at the time (including me). Brulles' handbook has a specific balance for two class grade levels, so this is something that Chris developed himself. It is not in her book at all (in fact, even in last night's presentation, she stated that narrowing the ranges and separating gifted and birght kids were key components to her model).
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TraceyS said...
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TraceyS said...

(I'm going to try this again - it;s a very long comment, split up into four sections).

I cannot speak for all the Spectrum families at Wedgwood in this forum, just our own. I can say that I do agree with most of the observations made so far - that Dr. Brulles' model requires a lot more district support than we currently have; that current District assessment tools are not sufficient for assigning cluster groups; and that the model that Chris Cronas rolled out last summer is substantially different than Dr Brulles' model (he divides all level 1/2 kids evenly among all the classes, and has not publicly addressed how assignments are made). In general, I like the concept of clustering, if it were properly implemented. And there are real problems with unidentified kids using the current District assessment tools. But a poorly implemented version of clustering, I think, would do more harm than good.

A bit of background on us: we are new to SPS and to Wedgwood this year, and have a daughter in the 2nd grade Spectrum program, which is self-contained this year. We are not in the WW reference area, but next door in Bryant, and we specifically chose WW because it had a stronger academic curriculum for our daughter.

We first found out about the changes to the Spectrum program after open enrollment, as did everyone else. We happened to see a notice about the summer meetings on the school website when I looked for school carnival info. I went to three of the four meetings. Chris Cronas mentioned the Brulles/Winebrenner handbook at the first meeting, so I bought and read it before the second. I also tracked down her paper on clustering vs non clustering and read that as well.

The meetings were all essentially the same, just presenting the same information to different grade levels. I heard there was also an meeting earlier in the spring, but I do not know what was presented then, because we weren't in the building yet. Last night's presentation was the the only followup to the Wedgwood community since the four summer meetings. This lack of communication has been quite frustrating to me, and to others as well. Chris has offered to meet one on one with families, but there has been no other means to brainstorm or provide input or gain buy-in from parents. I do not know how teacher meetings have gone, either.

The WW slides that were shown over the summer had an even distribution of level 1 and level 2 kids in all classrooms (what Brulles referred to as gifted vs bright).This varies significantly from the Brulles model, which specifically separated these groups. It also showed an even distribution of level 3 and level 4 groups among all the classrooms as well - in fact, every classroom would be equally balanced, thus widening the range of differentiation, not narrowing it. This was pointed out by several parents at the time (including me). Brulles' handbook has a specific balance for two class grade levels, so this is something that Chris developed himself. It is not in her book at all (in fact, even in last night's presentation, she stated that narrowing the ranges and separating gifted and birght kids were key components to her model).
(continued)

TraceyS said...

(continued)

Also at the WW summer meeting, nothing was said about how the cluster groups would be assigned. We do not know if assignments will be made strictly on MAP, be based on in-classroom teacher assessments, or if any sort of cognative ability testing will be performed. I asked some of the teachers at last night's meeting if this had been discussed or addressed during the day session, and it had not. No one could say how the first grade cluster assignments were made this year either, so I do not know if they were made by Chris Cronas, or if the teachers played a role in the division.

This is another huge problem, because Brulles research hinges strongly on the division between gifted and bright. Roughly - a gifted child scores very high (two standard deviations or more) on cognitive ability testing, but may or may not score highly on achievement testing. The bright child always scores high on achievement testing, but their cognitive testing is average to above average, but not off the charts. Both children may bring home similar report cards, but their learning styles are different. That is the compelling reason to put them in separate classrooms - both to allow the gifted cluster teacher to address the gifted kids different learning style, and to allow the bright children to find leadership roles separate from the gifted.

I am not sure I fully buy into her argument, but I do know our current APP/Spectrum/ALO designation is not compatible with this. Since the cutoff for Spectrum is lower, but requires high scores for both achievement and cognitive ability, the label captures some of the bright and gifted kids but it cannot tell them apart. It definitely misses some as well. I did ask Bob Vaughan after the meeting if he planned to release CoGAT (cognitive ability) scores to Wedgwood to help identify the gifted from the bright, and he said defnitely not. So the only thing WW has to go with, for placement purposes, is the MAP, MSP, and in-class teacher assessments at the beginning of the year. There is no cognitive ability testing, and I do not see how her model can be followed without it.

I know that most of the APP kids will fall into the gifted/level 1 range, and I asked Dr Brulles specifally last night about their self-contained school versus their neighborhood gifted cluster program. She mentioned that their self-contained school (their version of APP) required 97% or higher in both literacy and math achievement, plus 97% or higher cognitive, and most kids exceeded those ranges. The children that were placed in the gifted clusters had 97% or higher in one or two of these tests, but not all three, and usually scored at least 90% in the remaining areas. I did not have a chance to ask her about how they identified bright students, or differntiated them from the gifted.

We simply do not have the means to do this type of assessment and cluster assignment for every child. This would require either more coordination with the Distriuct office, more in-school assessment, or both, prior to being assigned a cluster. As of right now, the Wedgwood parents do not know how assessment and cluster assignment is done - is is a very opaque process. And done poorly, it will simply be arranging deck chairs on the Titanic - there will still be underserved kids, and their will be an increased workload on teachers who may or may not be getting the additional support they need to go with this model.
(continued)

TraceyS said...

(last one, continued)

There has also been very little effort to gain buy in from all the parents, both Spectrum and non Spectrum. I think this has been the most frustrating thing to me, because in addition to the unaddressed problems above, all sort of assumptions are flying around. Even though we are in a self-contained Spectrum program now, it is obvious to me that there are problems with how kids outside of it who want or need to be in it are being served (or not being served). There is also a group of parents and teachers who would rather not have the label at all (and believe it or not, I fall into that camp). Many of the teachers I have talked with have expressed frustration with being unable to individually slow down instruction when needed for the self-contained classes. They are also frustrated with not being able to accelerate for a non-labeled kid as well. I fully agree with this, as does nearly every single Spectrum parent that I have discussed this with. Almost all of us hate the label, and think it does not fully capture every child's changing potential.

So why did our family jump through the hoops to even get an Advanced Learning label at all? For us, it came down to how the District delivers accelerated materials. If I (or previous teachers or test scores) feel my child needs advanced materials, the ONLY way to guarantee that within SPS is to gain that ALO/Spectrum/APP label. This year WW may be moving to clustered, but who knows what the future will hold. I understand, painfully, that even having the label does not guarantee access to approrpiate curriculum, but without the label, our daughter's chances are even worse. This is independent of the incredible work done by so many teachers to circumvent this crazy labeled system we have in place now. I know there are many dedicated professionals out there who are working towards exactly the same goals, and are equally frustrated, though for different reasons, with this labeling system.

Until there is some stability and transparency put into the District's approach to advanced learning, our family will probably continue to slog it out with our label, and continue to test year after year to keep our options as open as possible. But we'd really, really rather not. And I would personally like to see more committee work done on improving district-wide accessibility and flexibility to the advanced learning program. I am hoping that a repeat of the committee that Charlie Mas worked on ten years ago will be re-formed. I'd like to see these problems be addressed at District level, not just at the individual school level, and both a clearer, more flexible, and definitely more stable program will be developed. Right now there is not enough support or direction being given at the local school level, and parents are increasingly unable to predict or rely on the quality and strength of the advanced learnign programs across the board. I think there is far, far more common ground out there than parents, teachers, and administrators realize, and I have my fingers crossed that we, as a district, will start speaking plainly about it.

robyn said...

Sure sounds like Paradise in that valley!

anonymous said...

I found one statement she made striking, "We should test first to know what the child needs to learn before you start teaching." This would almost argue for the MAP test first thing OR some kind of class assessment in the first weeks of school "

This is basically what Eckstein does. First weeks of school they do math assessments and then move students into appropriate classes as needed. Same for LA. My child, who is not in Spectrum, was moved to a Spectrum LA class two weeks after school started.

I like this idea of doing some strong assessments right at the start of the year and then making adjustments to serve kids where they are.

my2cents

dan dempsey said...

I like this idea of doing some strong assessments right at the start of the year

Is MAP a strong assessment?

NLM said...

Just bringing this section of my thoughts over from the other thread...

"Ms. Brulles said she doesn’t get a lot of parent complaints and I imagine that is true. Her model allows every child to have access to curriculum at their level because pre-testing, compacting and differentiation are available in every class, not just the gifted cluster classrooms. This goes directly to the issue of what to do with smart, high achieving kids who may not necessarily be ‘gifted’ as determined by IQ or ability tests. In her district, the gifted designation primarily affects how students are taught (e.g. higher order thinking activities, greater depth and complexity) not what is taught (with the exception of her APP-like program which is leap years ahead of APP)."

The biggest problem with Seattle's program (and this isn't just a problem in Seattle) is that you can only get access to higher levels of curriculum if you have that damned label. So parents test, and retest and test again until they get the label. My kid's only going to be here a year so not only is the label vitually meaningless but it wouldn't change the placement for the year we're here anyway!

Anonymous said...

TraceyS, your last post is spot on and so similar to the message I and others tried to get out, but never got the opportunity to do so. Ask your principal to make the process transparent, engaging, and open so your school can come together to make cluster grouping work. I too believe there is common ground here to lay a strong foundation to deliver quality education to all our kids. I hope the district is paying attention amidst school board race, budget cuts, and capacity issue.

-hopeful

Jet City mom said...

Some districts use intelligence testing WiSC/ Stanford-Binet...- that is probably the most accurate.

When my daughter who had tested into the 0.03% with the Stanford-Binet, didn't test into the Spectrum program, I just figured the program was set up to benefit learners who did well on the group administered assessment & since she didn't qualify- it wouldn't have been an appropriate place anyway.

I never did have a chance to visit the APP program, but from what I saw the Spectrum program wasn't really for " gifted" kids. Depressing.
( She got a scholarship to attend UCDS- otherwise I might have tried to use the psych assessment to challenge the district)

Anonymous said...

great post Melissa. It inspired me to fire off an email to the school board asking them to read your post.

Jane

Maureen said...

(tin foil hat alert) Is it conceivable that Cronas is applying this random assignment method to supply the control data for REAL pilot of Bulle's method at some point in the future?

Anonymous said...

Tracey. great posts. Sorry if I misunderstood you, and check w/AL dept) but once your child tests into Spectrum, that designation stays through middle school w/o a need to retest, as long as your child is enrolled in the Spectrum program. Or so we've been told and has been our experience w/ our older child.

If you're in Spectrum, hoping to get into APP, you do need to test again to make that jump, and per SPS website, should your kid have a bad day a flop, she still keeps her Spectrum designation.

That's as I understand it.
-spectrum mom

Anonymous said...

The district is not interested in meeting the needs of kids. It is interested in labeling a one-size-fits-all program so they don’t have to deal with all the varieties of learners that are in our schools. I have spoken with Bob Vaughan several times about this. He has no interest at all in gifted kids who don’t fit the program, including kids in APP who need more than the APP curriculum. His response is, ‘Well we can’t serve everybody.’

I think we should at least try.

I am afraid that the advanced learning advisory committees will be made of up parents who are desperately (& understandably) trying to defend a model that works for their kids. Well that is what district staff wants too. But I think we are missing the boat for so many other kids and not even serving those in the programs very well, when we won’t meet individual needs for acceleration or remediation.

-in the program, but not with the program

WenD said...

Before Seattle, I lived in AZ. My oldest attended PV and Scottsdale schools. He would've been well-served under the Brulles model, but when he was a student, PV had the same testing-in cut-off SPS uses now.

Jon said...

Unfortunately, many in the district administration don't think that public schools should try to serve all the children of Seattle, In particular, many in the admin don't think the public schools should be for children working above standards and don't care if they are served well or not in the public schools.

See, for example, Charlie Mas' comment earlier on his experience with talking to people in the district about advanced learning:

http://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com/2011/10/advanced-learning-committees-history.html?showComment=1319154689313#c6906283518465726269

dw said...

TraceyS,

Are you in contact with other Spectrum parents at Wedgwood? What are the general feelings about the direction the building is headed with this?

I ask because a couple years back a vaguely similar plan was proposed at Eckstein. The parents had a couple meetings on their own to discuss what was happening and then worked as a group to get things stopped before the building administration was able to start dismantling Spectrum at Eckstein.

The current plan is hugely flawed, it's exactly what Dr. Brulles called out as what NOT to do. And the district doesn't seem to have either the ability or will to build a real SCGM program. But it will take a concerted effort to halt this train wreck. Are the parents ready to take this on?

dw said...

TraceyS,

Are you in contact with other Spectrum parents at Wedgwood? What are the general feelings about the direction the building is headed with this?

I ask because a couple years back a vaguely similar plan was proposed at Eckstein. The parents had a couple meetings on their own to discuss what was happening and then worked as a group to get things stopped before the building administration was able to start dismantling Spectrum at Eckstein.

The current plan is hugely flawed, it's exactly what Dr. Brulles called out as what NOT to do. And the district doesn't seem to have either the ability or will to build a real SCGM program. But it will take a concerted effort to halt this train wreck. Are the parents ready to take this on?

Jet City mom said...

Unfortunately, many in the district administration don't think that public schools should try to serve all the children of Seattle, In particular, many in the admin don't think the public schools should be for children working above standards and don't care if they are served well or not in the public schools.

I will go farther & say I don't think many in administration are really interested in educating children. period.
Just in advancing their own careers/pet projects & staying employed with the district.

I have been involved in local education for 30 years & while for a time there was an indication that alternative choices like NOVA & TOPS were going to be supported and perhaps even expanded so that families had real choices for their kids, that seems long ago.

However, that is the more reason to stay involved & advocating for real change.

dj said...

Thank you for the recap.

One thing I did not see -- did she speak at all to the issue of self-contained vs. cluster grouping? Past threads on the topic have said that cluster grouping advocates say cluster grouping is a strategy to be used when self-contained classes aren't an option, but I didn't see anything in your summary about that issue.

NLM said...

DJ, no she didn't, but she did transition her curent school district to the schoolwide cluster grouping model when they previously had a self-contained program. She mentioned, in passing, the resistance she met wth initial implementation.

dw said...

NLM/DJ,

Dr. Brulles did not say she transitioned from self-contained, in fact there was a question asked about that. As I understood her answer, she transitioned from general blended classes (with initial resistance) to the cluster model. Slowly, but surely, starting with a pilot, and growing from there.

She (politely) refused to address the fact that the Wedgwood situation is essentially the opposite situation, transitioning away from self-contained. Her rationale for not addressing the question was because "it was building-specific", but in reality it's because it would have made Cronas look like a buffoon.

She was being very, very careful to not step on the toes of those who invited her to speak, and it's hard to blame her for that. But if you read between the lines there was a very strong subtext that said: "Wedgwood is NOT AT ALL doing The Right Thing".

A few days prior to Dr. Brulles' talk I spoke with her business partner, and was able to ask some questions without any interfering bias from SPS. I found out two interesting things:

1) They advocate for both self-contained and cluster-grouping. Which makes perfect sense, if you think about it and understand both models. They both work toward the #1 goal, which is to reduce the range of learners in a given classroom.

2) She unequivocally stated that if the entire plan isn't implemented fully and properly, as documented, don't bother, because it will not help. Not only is Wedgwood not implementing it fully and properly, as far as I can tell they're not implementing ANY of the recommendations at all! Not the least of which is that it requires (not optional) 1-2 years of prep to get things in order before starting. That was confirmed by Dr. Brulles after her talk.

dan dempsey said...

dw said:

"They both work toward the #1 goal, which is to reduce the range of learners in a given classroom."

and

"She unequivocally stated that if the entire plan isn't implemented fully and properly, as documented, don't bother, because it will not help. "

The SPS has been living through the aggressive implementation of the "one size fits all model" ... which has NOT reduced the range of learners in a classroom.

Although the "one size fits all" model has been a failure .... The fix presented is not to switch from this model ... but believe that "More" professional development can produce a faculty that can effectively deliver instruction to Classroom Populations with an incredibly large range of knowledge, ability, and interest.

Apparently the School Directors will buy damn near anything when it comes to academics. Common Sense is nowhere in sight.

TraceyS said...

Sorry for the typos in my earlier post - I had to run to an event, and didn't get a chance to review.

I just sent the following out to some of my fellow Wedgwood parents, but thought I should also post it to the wider audience here. I am hoping that other AL parents, including Eckstein, Lawton, View Ridge, Jane Addams, etc, would also add a voice to the conversation.

----

I think it is important to keep in mind that there is still a problem with how SPS identifies kids who need additional instruction. Clearly the existing test process misses kids who need or want accelerated work, especially if it is only needed in one area. I think there is huge agreement on this among nearly all parents, Spectum, non-Spectrum, and APP as well. I hope none of us lose sight of this - we ALL want more opportunities opened up. I just don't think these changes are even coming close to delivering on it.

One of the more subtle points of Brulles' talk was that both gifted and bright kids need accelerated/compacted curriculum. But gifted kids have a different, less linear learning style, and their instruction should be tailored towards that style. Teachers assigned to the gifted cluster benefit greatly from additional training and professional development to be able to provide for this differing style (Brulles says it is critical to success, in fact). But what is getting lost, I think, is that even though both groups should be taught accelerated/compacted curriculum, they must be in separate clusters and taught with different techniques for the model to be successful. You can't just throw both into one cluster and expect success.

I have been trying to find out what criteria was used in first grade this year to determine cluster, and no one has been able to explain it. If it was just MAP scores, then that is simply not sufficient by Brulles/Winebrenner standards. I spoke with Dr. Vaughan after the meeting, and he was emphatic that coGAT scores were not released to Wedgwood, and will not be, so as far as I can piece together, there is no cognitive or ability testing criteria used to determine groups. My best guess is that the clusters were simply determined by achievement levels. This is NOT clustering. It is simply ability grouping by achievement. If anyone has additional information on how the first grade clusters were formed, I would love to hear about it.
(continued)

TraceyS said...

(continued)
Though I don't necessarily have an issue with creating clusters based solely on achievement levels, it is absolutely not the SCGM model, not by a long shot. And though it will certainly open up accelerated curriculum for more students (a good thing), it will not address at all the learning style issue (a bad thing), which is a foundation of SCGM. It will also significantly widen the amount of differentiation in each classroom (also a bad thing).

That violates another basic cornerstone of the model, which is to reduce the differentiation needed in each classroom. Overall, it will make the teachers' jobs that much harder, as wonderful and hardworking as they all are. And it will increase, not decrease, the likelihood that kids at either end of the differentiation scale will be shortchanged. If a teacher really does have 4 or 5 different levels in her classroom, I do not see how she/he will have the time to provide for them all. In fact, Brulles' work is also emphatic about reducing this range, not increasing it.

As currently implemented, the plan at Wedgwood cannot be called cluster grouping - it is straight up ability grouping. Learning styles are not taken into account, assessments used to place the kids are probably limited only to past achievement scores, and cognitive assessment is not being done. In fact, it is still unknown precisely how or what assessment is being done at all.

Though ability grouping divided evenly among all classrooms (as laid out by Cronas) seems on the surface to open up more opportunities, I think the net result is that it will be far more work for the teachers, and there will be far less acceleration/advanced work going on in the higher groups (especially if kids with differing learning styles are all jumbled up in one cluster), and far less tutoring/catching up in the lower groups. There are only so many hours in a day. And if I understood Brulles talk on Wednesday, she was saying essentially the same thing.

One last point - the SCGM model also adamantly states that a planning year is crucial to the success of the program. All the stakeholders need to be brought on board. The testing/assessment criteria needs to be well-laid out and transparent to everyone. Teachers need to be identified and supported with additional professional development. None of which have happened here at Wedgwood. We have not even had an open discussion forum about these changes, just meeting with slides that state the plan has already been decided and will be implemented with little to no input from all stakeholders, especially parents.

dw said...

TraceyS said: I just sent the following out to some of my fellow Wedgwood parents, but thought I should also post it to the wider audience here. I am hoping that other AL parents, including Eckstein, Lawton, View Ridge, Jane Addams, etc, would also add a voice to the conversation.

Please keep us up to date. Let us know if there will be any parent meetings, etc. Being at least semi-organized and presenting a unified front is the only possible chance you have of any influence.

Though I don't necessarily have an issue with creating clusters based solely on achievement levels, it is absolutely not the SCGM model, not by a long shot.

I'm not even sure what "clusters" are being created in the process of spreading out the district-identified Spectrum kids among the classes. Unless the teachers are pulling those specific kids aside and teaching them in a different way or a different level, I'd say there aren't even any clusters at all.

And though it will certainly open up accelerated curriculum for more students (a good thing)

Will it? (Seriously, I'm not trying to be rhetorical). My first thought is that if they are actually doing anything with the cluster kids, then they are not doing it with the other kids. Unless the teachers are working very hard to identify other borderline kids, doing pre-assessments all the time (lots of extra work, some of which requires special training to interpret), then I'm not sure anything is opened up at all.

It will also significantly widen the amount of differentiation in each classroom (also a bad thing).

Bingo! This is the worst part. It was the big issue that Dr. Brulles said was the most important aspect of cluster grouping. Self-contained gifted also does a fine job of this, and Cronas is taking it away. Replacing it with fairy dust and BS.

This needs to be stopped before it spreads to the upper grades.

Lori said...

Anyone still reading this thread?

TraceyS wrote, "I spoke with Dr. Vaughan after the meeting, and he was emphatic that CogAT scores were not released to Wedgwood, and will not be, so as far as I can piece together, there is no cognitive or ability testing criteria used to determine groups."

I have heard this before, and I don't really understand it. The district sends the CogAT scores to the parents, and it would just make sense to send them to the current school too, particularly because qualified students aren't allowed to transfer into appropriate programs until the following fall. You'd think the school would want to know testing results even if it only helped them better serve the student from January (when results come out) thur June.

Is there some privacy reason not to send the results to the schools? Could parents who have the results in hand take them to the school and ask that they be added to the child's file? We did that when still at our neighborhood school and our daughter's needs were not being met.

Finally, I also don't understand how/why people don't know how Wedgwood formed this year's groups. Has anyone point-blank asked the principal? Does he just refuse to answer or try to obfuscate?

Anonymous said...

Finally, I also don't understand how/why people don't know how Wedgwood formed this year's groups. Has anyone point-blank asked the principal? Does he just refuse to answer or try to obfuscate?

Yes. He obfuscates on this and many other questions. I have watched him refuse outright to answer even simple questions about the changes. We have no idea what is actually being done in the first grade classrooms right now.

- frustrated

dw said...

Yes. He obfuscates on this and many other questions. I have watched him refuse outright to answer even simple questions about the changes.

If this is in front of a group of people, as opposed to a one-on-one conversation, it's usually easy to call someone out on that. Simply follow-up, with a very firm voice, that he didn't answer the question. Restate the question and ask for a specific answer. It takes a very highly skilled politician to sidestep this more than once, and if the next person "called on" asks the same question again, stating that it wasn't answered, well you get the picture.

There is no place for obfuscation in matters like this.

We have no idea what is actually being done in the first grade classrooms right now.

I thought it was explicitly spelled out that he did an even split of the 18 district-identified kids. Splitting them 6 in each classroom. Is this not the case?

Anonymous said...

They are supposedly split evenly (not sure who is who). It is not clear whether these kids, or any others, are getting the Spectrum curriculum last year's first graders did. The lack of communication is appalling.

I sure hope Lowell and View Ridge are ready, because anyone who can leave very likely will.

-f

-frustrated

dw said...

It is not clear whether these kids, or any others, are getting the Spectrum curriculum last year's first graders did.

Isn't anyone talking with the teachers? Or have they been given a gag order?

I'm not familiar with 1st grade curricula anymore, but It should be easy to look at your child's EDM book and see which book they're in and where they're at. Compare with a Spectrum View Ridge parent, or with any other non-Spectrum school in the area.

There is no excuse for secrecy or obfuscation!

dw said...

Wait, are they doing walk-to-math in grade 1 at WW? I mean real walk-to-math, not the BS Peter Maier and his clan have been talking about lately.

If that's the case, then the question would be about the other, non-math topics, and I could see why that would be a little more difficult to ascertain. Still, the teachers should be able to tell you if your child is getting last year's Spectrum curriculum this year. If not, that's reason to email the superintendent.

As for Lowell and View Ridge getting WW refugee students, you're probably correct. But View Ridge provides "blended Spectrum" (whatever that means), and Terri Skjei was at this meeting, so who knows where they're headed. Lowell is a nomadic program right now with no home and no guarantee that they won't be split again, leaving practically nothing of their program.

Advanced Learning is falling apart in Seattle, and I'm sorry to say it's happening on Bob Vaughan's watch. The big question is: who is to blame? Bob is a smart guy, and I have a hard time believing he is purposely instigating these changes on his own. Is it his boss, Cathy Thompson? Is it her boss, Susan Enfield? Is it Dr. Enfield's boss, the Board? Is it their "boss", monied individuals on the east side with too much influence? Or is it general fallout of standardization and a national push for One Size Fits All, to hell with any kids that aren't in the mainstream??