Advanced Learning Task Force

The new Advanced Learning Task Force (or Steering Committee or Advisory Committee or whatever) has had its first meeting. It's kind of a mess.

I'm on the committee. So is Melissa. So are Dr. Vaughan and Dr. Thompson. There are principals, central staff, teachers and community members. The committee is too big for any real discussion. It will be almost impossible for it to reach any authentic consensus. I suspect that staff will just write our conclusions for us and then allow us a final meeting to argue for small edits - which they will unilaterally decide to accept or reject. That's how the Demographic Task Force worked.

The committee met once in November and will meet again in December. By that time we will already be overdue with our recommendation to FACMAC on the placement of elementary north-end APP. FACMAC needs it now. Without it, they will just move forward with their decisions without input from the Advanced Learning Committee.

A couple people from FACMAC are on the AL committee also, but they had a FACMAC event scheduled at the same time as the AL meeting, so they were in and out. There was supposed to be a professional facilitator for the committee, but she didn't show up.

The real purpose of the committee is unclear. We can't tell if our charge is narrow (recommend a location - or locations - for north-end elementary APP) or if it is broad (set a Vision for Advanced Learning and make an implementation plan to realize it).

So, yeah. It's kind of a mess.

There are a number of well-known and longstanding problems with the Advanced Learning programs.

There was some talk about how Spectrum - in a lot of schools - is indistinguishable from an ALO. The schools say that they cannot create Spectrum classes for all of the Spectrum-eligible students. The numbers don't work out right because the students do not come in sets of 30. So they can either put kids on a waitlist - a waitlist that never moves - or they can break the self-contained delivery model for more flexible arrangements that will accommodate different sized cohorts. The flexible models may have validity in theory, but the implementation sometimes doesn't match the theory. The solution, of course, is for the District to assure the quality and efficacy of the school programs. They refuse to play that role.

We all know that there are capacity conflicts when the District wants to guarantee access to a building to two different groups. How can all of the APP students get into the school where they are guaranteed seats when it is filled by neighborhood students who are also guaranteed seats? This has already happened at Garfield and Lowell and it will soon happen at Thurgood Marshall, Hamilton, and Washington. The story with Spectrum isn't much different.

Again, the solution is obvious. The AL programs should be in schools without neighborhood reference areas as Lowell used to be. Either the programs are not co-housed with any other programs or, better, they are co-housed with option programs. The option programs, by the way, don't have to be alternative in any way. They don't have to be language immersion or Montessori or exploratory learning or anything like that. They can just be option schools for enrollment purposes. This, of course, would require a serious revision to the attendance area map. It is, therefore, out of the question. Why ask for a solution and then not allow the only one that will work?

Finally, there aren't that many buildings north of the Ship Canal that can be used to house north-end elementary APP. The only spaces are Cedar Park, Wilson-Pacific, Lincoln, and John Marshall. After you realize that Wilson-Pacific will be needed as an attendance area middle school, and Lincoln will be needed as an interim site, that only leaves Cedar Park and John Marshall. Cedar Park is small and in the extreme northeast corner of the district. The answer is obvious: it's going to be John Marshall. Do we really need to discuss this?

The best conversation came AFTER the meeting. I was chatting with some folks about what Advanced Learning should be. Was it supposed to be for talented students, for high performing students, or for motivated students? Right now it is only for students who are both talented (high CogAT scores) and high performing (high MAP scores) in both Reading and Math - that's true for APP and Spectrum. That's a pretty narrow group. Even still, they are not served particularly well.

Here's an idea. What if APP were for talented students (high CogAT scores) regardless of their current level of achievement? Would that make it more diverse? How would we serve those students to accommodate their needs? Could it even be done around our Standards and GLEs? Is there any reason that it should? And what if Spectrum were for high performing students (high MAP or MSP scores) with no CogAT score requirements? Then every student who could do the work would have the opportunity to do the work. Whether due to hard work or talent, outcomes are what would a student into the program. And what if ALOs were for highly motivated students without any eligibility testing of any kind? Pure self-selection. Any student who would accept the challenge could get the challenge, even if they were not already working beyond grade level. Heck, even if they were working below grade level. This would make the three programs different from each other instead of having APP with two echoes.

I know that if achievement alone determined eligibility to Spectrum, there would be some schools where about half of the kids would be Spectrum-eligible. And how is that bad? There are about 28,000 students in the district in  grades 1-8. Of those, about 6,500 (23%) have reading and math scores above the 87th percentile nationally. Think about that - 23% of our grade school kids are in the top 13% for reading and math. That's a pretty steep over-representation. I would think this would be a point of pride for the city and the district, but they are, as usual, ashamed of their high performing students.

Even if the bar were set higher - 95th percentile in reading and math - we still have about 3,500 students - over 12% - in the top 5% for achievement. That's phenomenal.

What do you all think?


Benjamin Leis said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Benjamin Leis said…
Does anyone know how many kids are on the waiting list for APP/Spectrum. Are there enough to justify setting up another building on top of the north end APP building?
Or will that relieve the pressure by itself?
Anonymous said…
Think about that - 23% of our grade school kids are in the top 13% for reading and math. That's a pretty steep over-representation. I would think this would be a point of pride for the city and the district, but they are, as usual, ashamed of their high performing students.

Really? The district is ashamed of the academic achievement? I haven't seen that. Don't you think that is hyperbole? This sounds like more advanced learning martyrdom.

dj said…
The MAP scores as screening devices for AL are new. Up until a few years ago, your kid took or did not take the AL teats mostly because you as a parent chose for them to do so. So don't we already know what APP looks like without an achievement component? I understand that there is a teacher recommendation form, but what.I was told when my oldest applied was that it wasn't that relevant.

Plus you can still sign your child up for the AL test in kindergarten without any qualifying MAP scores, so even. With the MAP screen, a sizable number of kids can enter the program without an achievement screenl
anonymous said…
To late to help my kids, but I'd hope someone advocates for an opt in Spectrum program. I'd like to see kids self select Spectrum. This would eliminate testing and barriers and would allow any kid with the ability, or the motivation to try Spectrum. Of course as an opt in there will always be parents pushing kids who shouldn't be in Spectrum into Spectrum, so there should be a grade minimum or some other type of measurement. For instance kids who can not maintain a C average in a Spectrum classroom could be bumped back to a general ed classroom.

Charlie Mas said…
@Ben - There is no waiting list for APP. The waitlists for Spectrum - districtwide - totals about 215. Since there are about 2,000 kids in the program, that means that about 10% of the eligible and interested students are kept out of the program by capacity issues. That's a very bad problem. The capacity issues are worst at middle school where 165 of the 215 students are waitlisted.
Charlie Mas said…
@parent - Oh! I must have missed the proud press release about this over-representation of high performing students. I must have missed the part of the State of the District talk in which this was mentioned. I must have missed the expressions of concern about how the District is going to make sure that these students get an appropriate academic opportunity. I must have missed the discussion of how these students will be served in the school CSIPs.

I must have missed the proud statements from the schools about the high performance of their Spectrum and APP students that are plastered all over their web sites. I must have missed any mention of these programs in the CSIPs.

I'm sure there's a lot of pride; I'm just missing it.
Charlie Mas said…
@dj - Yes, the MAP scores for screening are new, but there were other assessments used for academic achievement before. And there are kids who can qualify with the CogAT but cannot qualify with the academic achievement eligibility requirement - particularly in low income communities where students have the native talent but sometimes don't have the exposure or the preparation needed to show the achievement.

The District did try, a few years ago, to drop the academic achievement requirement for Spectrum in grades 1 and 2, but they never said how that experiment worked out.
Jon said…
On co-housing APP with other programs, clearly the best situation would be to have APP co-housed with an alternative AL program, perhaps something like Spectrum, perhaps something new for students who meet one APP criteria but not both. While that makes sense, it's a non-starter in the district, since the district administration wants to put failing programs in with APP and then use high APP test scores to make the schools look like they are not failing. It is cynically managing the metrics, not helping the students succeed, but it's the primary purpose of the APP splits, and the district is not going to back off from that now.

In many ways, all the work on advanced learning feels like fighting over scraps. No new advanced learning programs are going to be accepted or thrive as long as many in the district think a reasonable way to reduce the achievement gap is by getting rid of high scoring students. If you want alternative programs for advanced learning to succeed, you need to change the incentives for the superintendent and district administrators. The goal should be to maximize learning opportunities and test scores for all students, and the measures of success need to focus on maximizing learning opportunities and test scores for all students.
kellie said…
How many of the wait listed Spectrum students are enrolled in Spectrum or ALO but want to be in Spectrum at another school.

In other words, how many are truly shut out of the program and how many are looking for a better version of the program or a more geographically convenient version of the program?
Anonymous said…
Opt-in spectrum at the middle school level would make sense as there are actually grades to use a basis for maintaining standing.

dj's comment about testing is partly true - there was no screening prior to applying for AL, you just submitted permission to have your child tested (and it included a form submitted by a teacher). There absolutely was achievement testing prior to being admitted. Children only had the testing after they passed the cognitive testing benchmarks. Now, with MAP, it's reversed. The achievement testing benchmarks are based on MAP and the cognitive ability tests come second. There are additional achievement tests (beyond MAP) for younger kids prior to being admitted.
Dorothy Neville said…
My 'thanks for applying' letter stating that I did not get on the task force said that, "The group selected includes principals, teachers, advanced learning program advocates, concerned citizens, non-profits, and parents with both older and younger students from across the community."

So, what non-profits are on the task force?
Anonymous said…
Yes Charlie, you did miss it. My school is always touting the test scores of high scorers. And, the district gladly touts high scores (or improvement) it doesn't even have.

Besides, not saying the exact statistic you (1 person) noticed and hoped others might notice... isn't really the same as the district "being ashamed" of something is it? "Being ashamed" of high scoring students would mean something entirely different. Evidence of "being ashamed" implies an active put down. Where is that? Are you saying that if your student isn't constantly lauded... it is that now a put down?

Anonymous said…
@dj: Yes, parents with kindergarteners can sign up for the AL test without a qualifying MAP score.

However, both the CogAT and the child's winter MAP scores are considered in determining eligibility for Spectrum/APP. So the child still needs to have qualifying MAP scores to be admitted to the program.

(I have a son in kindergarten who is currently in the testing process on recommendation of his teacher.)

- D's mom
Anonymous said…
I would like to see APP entry based on aptitude only, and Spectrum entry based on achievement only. The two groups have very different profiles and learning needs.

APP should be designed for Gifted kids who test into the top 2% intellectually, regardless of achievement score. Gifted kids who enter from disadvantaged backgrounds should be provided academic support until they catch up with peers, perhaps by setting aside an "entry" classroom at each grade level. APP needs its own centrally-located building with guaranteed transportation and no waiting lists. APP teachers are trained for gifted education. Special ed must be provided in APP for gifted kids who have additional learning needs. IQ tests must be chosen that have no racial or class bias.

Spectrum should be for every academically advanced learner who is able to show by achievement test scores or teacher recommendation that they can work one grade level ahead in reading and math. Spectrum should be co-housed in buildings with regular ed, because these kids don't show significant social differences from their peers, and many Spectrum parents strongly prefer this style of program and having kids at the same local school with siblings. Students should be quietly transitioned into or out of Spectrum between grade levels based on their ability to be successful. Spectrum does not cost any more to administer than general ed because it's simply teaching one grade level ahead! There should be no capacity issues, because it's the same kids being moved around within neighborhood schools! Teachers don't need gifted ed training or materials for Spectrum. Every student who is able to do the work should be welcomed into Spectrum. Special education support should be provided to all learners in neighborhood schools.

Kids who test into both programs should be encouraged to enter APP. Parents must choose because they know which setting works better for their student and for their family.

Should students be automatically assigned to advanced learning to prevent underrepresented groups from opting out, to the detriment of their kids' education? Is that what other districts do?

I think more south end parents would move their kids to Spectrum if there ever was a genuine program set up near home! We have never had a real Spectrum program in south Seattle. The enrollment guides said our school had Spectrum, but kids who tested in were simply given extra worksheets! THAT'S ALL. Most kids who progress to APP start in Spectrum, so kids who live near Spectrum schools are able to see what it is, and more likely to be tested for both. South end families know there won't be anything special if they test for Spectrum, or when there is no program then parents are not told that advanced learning may be an option for their child.

-happy Thanksgiving
Eric B said…
How long does the AL Committee charge run? If it's for a few years, then there is a lot of opportunity for change from the committee over time. Also if it's long-term, you might also ask that the chair(s) of the committee be selected from non-staff members, preferably parents. That will give a lot more control over the overall agenda to parents rather than staff.

FACMAC was basically told that boundary changes aren't going to happen this year either. However, the reason is understandable: we're getting a new middle school in the north end in a year or two, and the boundaries will all have to be shuffled at that time. There's no point in shuffling them three times (including the original rollout) in five years, especially since parents complained loudly about lack of predictability.

This leaves a great opening. In a year when they are starting to work on boundaries for the north end, there is an opportunity to completely re-work language immersion selection, APP, ALO, etc. as part of the changes.
Anonymous said…
Happy Thanksgiving says that APP teachers are trained in gifted ed. This is NOT true. There is no gifted certification requirement in this district to teach in the program. I would like to see this change. Look at Hamilton this year to see why.

BagleyParent said…
I am the parent of a twice exceptional child who really needs APP but can't qualify due to his learning challenges. We would love to have APP opened to aptitude only. The current system does not serve kids like mine well at all. Instead it creates kids who become disenfranchised from school entirely because they can't get their academic needs met at all.
Carol Simmons said…
Does anyone know who was on the selection committee for the ALTF? To exclude someone like Dorothy Neville who volunteered to serve on this committee and is as knowledgeable and dedicated to students as anyone in this District is absolutely unbelievable.

Anonymous said…
Are FACMAC and ALTF committee meetings open to the public?
Anonymous said…
Sounds like the old saying "the camel is a horse, designed by committee" is apt. WSDWG
Anonymous said…
What's missing from this discussion, other than @happy thanksgiving saying there's not much choice in the South End, is how ELL students and families are treated.

If you, as a parent, are unfamiliar or intimidated by the process because of language barriers you will have a tough time advocating for your child, particularly when for often unfair reasons the District has excluded an ELL child from Spectrum or APP.

I work at Van Asselt and this is a constant issue that our classroom teachers are fighting all the time.
And, from my point of view, to have a number of our students be denied access to Spectrum based on last Spring MAP scores is wrong.
ken berry SpEd IA Van Asselt
Dorothy Neville said…
Carol, that's kind of you to say, but the letter said that 70 people expressed interest. It did not say how many non-profits expressed interest. Both Charlie and Melissa got invited and Charlie said the committee is too large to actually discuss things.

Yes, all meetings are open to the public. However, I could not find any information about the meeting that took place on Monday. The letter I got said that there would be something on the website this week about the committee, minutes and other information. I could not find that as of Sunday.
Anonymous said…
I really like the idea of a Spectrum selection based on achievement and APP the top 2% based on some type of test that identifies true giftedness. I've seen children with very quirky learning behaviors that were so far above my regular students in certain areas that I knew school was going to be a struggle unless they could find their niche. Most Spectrum kids that I know are high achievers more than truly gifted.

Also, separate housing for APP and Spectrum might work. At our school, there was a high degree of Spectrum envy and a rush to private testers to gain entry. That doesn't make sense.

Years ago, you were on a committee wth me, Charlie. Walking out of the building, you commented that you would not allow your daughter (as I recall) to be as bored as you were in school. We really need to fix that for all kids.

Sorry. ALO schools sound good in theory but asking the teacher to spread his teaching even thinner is not a solution. AS someone posted earlier: bring the idea of teaching into the twenty-first century and ask yourself how many clients can one person serve at a time? Think about schools in that paradigm: teachers do something no one else in society accomplishes - teaching kids from diverse backgrounds, at different developmental stages, with different values and parental support, different disorders and needs four, five and six subjects in a six hour day. Who else takes on such an endeavor?

A Teacher
Anonymous said…
Here is what I wonder about Spectrum placement, at least how it works at Hamilton and I think at other middle schools: why must a kid test well in both language AND math to be placed in Spectrum, when the Spectrum classes encompass only L.A. & Social Studies. Math is tested/placed separately.

So we have a kid like mine who was denied Spectrum placement because her language scores that are at APP level are dragged down by her "low" math scores. Those low scores got her placed in Honors Math (=1 grade ahead, which is the official designation for Spectrum). WTF?

She identifies more as a "writing person" than a "math person," yet can't qualify for advanced writing class in SPS and is pushed into advanced math class. Again, WTF? Parent advocacy and a lucky scheduling break got her into Spectrum L.A. for this year, but no guarantees for next year.
Anonymous said…
The question is what is the plan for AL. The committee is a steam-venting exercise, not a policy advising group. The decisions have been made and are already being implemented. I wish Bob and Dr E would just lay their cards on the table. This whole process of winning people over and diffusing opposition and anger gets on my nerves. I know that this is how things work in the real world of public bureaucracy, but it's dishonest. Charlie and Melissa, the bigmouths, are invited to both honor their very real and considerable efforts towards making the district better, as well as to calm them. It's a classic and timeworn technique to deal with- perhaps too strong a word - gadflies.
How about straight talk?

Color Coded
Anonymous said…
Amen, Color Coded.

Trying to avoid wrath by keeping their "enemies" close (and giving them a little one-on-one charm with Enfield) is how this administration is dealing with already-made decisions.

It concerns me that Enfield is often credited (including by Melissa) for her "communication skills." Mostly, Enfield does ego-stroking, placating and a little "wink, wink, nod, nod" that passes for candor in this post-MGJ

--it's a done deal
Anonymous said…
My point wasn't that this "task force" is a bad idea or Dr E is any different than any other public official. This type of action is how the world works. You see this in all levels of govt. when the two tasks of the bureaucrats is formulate a plan that is in the "best interest of their constituents", vetted by powerful interest groups, and then to sell the plan while making it appear that public input is being heard.
I don't disagree that things would grind to a halt in the public sector if this approach wasn't taken. Real democracy requires an educated and informed population and we don't and may never have that. We truly need people like Dr E to make decisions and get things done.
What irks me is that we can't get a little, just a little, more openness about the real process of decision making. Treat me like a responsible grown-up and I might act like one.

Charlie Mas said…
@parent, I am sorry I missed how your school bragged about students with high test scores. Please let me know which school that was.

When our students who excel in academics get the same attention from the District as our students who excel in athletics, then I will think that the District isn't ashamed of them.

When our schools speak proudly of high performing students then I will think that the District isn't ashamed of them.

When I see the District mention the strength of APP and self-contained Spectrum programs, then I will think that the District isn't ashamed of them.

When schools and teachers no longer try to dismantle the programs then I will think that the District is proud of them.
Anonymous said…
As long as the district doesn't mess with Ingraham APP I will be happy. My son is having an amazing experience there, and I want the program there for my APP Hamilton daughter.

Ingraham parent
I'm not sure I would agree that it's a mess. Dr. Enfield said that she wanted to find a way for consistency in the models, maximum acccess and figure out how we strengthen it. She said every child who tests in Spectrum should receive Spectrum services (whatever they look like) but there are no Spectrum dollars (unlike APP).

We are to complete our work by June so I don't know how this works with FACMAC (although we have a couple a people from that committee on our committee).

We have at least two principals - Chris Cronas from Wedgwood and Julie Breidenbach from Thurgood Marshall. One person from the Seattle Council PTSA. One person from Rainier Scholars.

Unfortunately, they didn't hand out a list so I was madly trying to write it down and may have missed a few people (and some came late).

What we were told about the schools' waitlists was that they were either students who had taking the testing and passed (but their parents didn't sign them up for Spectrum) and/or no room.

I will absolutely bring up the issues of ELL, twice-gifted (that actually did get brought up) and students who excel in one subject. Everyone who wants the rigor should get it.

As you may recall, the expert that Principal Cronas brought in has, in her district, a highly-capable program just for ELL students.

Maybe that could be incorporated into the new World School at Meany.

I'm not there to be window-dressing and I hope to make a difference.
Formerly APP said…
Actually, Melissa, that makes me feel a lot better. In fact. based on your take verses Charlie's, I would say I'd rather see you on the committee than him. He doesn't seem inclined to actually want to see much of a change. I'm also encouraged by Julie B's inclusion, as well as that of Rainier Scholars.

We opted to go private in the end but perhaps future AL kids will benefit from your work.
anonymous said…
" She said every child who tests in Spectrum should receive Spectrum services (whatever they look like) but there are no Spectrum dollars (unlike APP). "

Why would a Spectrum classroom cost any more than a gen ed classroom? They have nothing more and nothing less than a gen ed classroom, kids are just working a year ahead. Am I missing something?

Charlie Mas said…

The Spectrum classroom could cost more if it isn't full. Since Spectrum students don't come in convenient 30-packs, schools have to juggle class sizes and assignments to form the classes.

The Spectrum classroom could also cost more if students have to ride a bus to reach it.
hschinske said…
I would like to see APP entry based on aptitude only, and Spectrum entry based on achievement only. The two groups have very different profiles and learning needs.

Nice in theory, but in practice there is too little difference between the so-called "aptitude" and so-called "achievement" tests that the district uses for that to work. I've heard of an awful lot of students whose first indication of giftedness was very, very high scores on achievement tests, rather than aptitude tests -- most subsequently scored extremely high on proper IQ tests.

I think it's reasonable to require high scores on multiple measures, which greatly reduces the probability that the student just happened to catch a break on one administration of one test, but I don't think any one low score should be a veto, either.

Helen Schinske
Anonymous said…
@Formally APP, wait a sec: If I'm not mistaken, MW's kids didn't go through APP, but at least one of Charlie's did. (Correct me if I'm wrong MW or CM, btw.) But in any case, experience matters a lot for anyone in AL. I know plenty of APP parents who dig what Charlie does quite a lot! (MW Too!) WSDWG
Anonymous said…
Can anyone tell me what the qualifications are for a school to have ALO status? We chose to keep our kids at their neighborhood school at the encouragement of the principal, rather than send one to Lincoln and one to a Spectrum program. In the past two years have seen no difference than before the school received it's ALO title. Does the school have to demonstrate meeting any goals, or show any accountability to the kids who have APP or Spectrum status who stay at their neighborhood schools? Isn't it cheaper to meet the needs of these kids at their home schools rather than busing them across town, and doesn't it make our neighborhood schools stronger to keep families together?

Now we feel like we missed out getting moving our son for his 2nd and 3rd grade years, and with the moves going on at Lowell/Lincoln, hate to have so much more transition before Middle School.

We are disappointed, and I think most parents are that we were sold ALO as an option when it really means nothing. Can a school lost this status if they aren't providing any services, and who keeps track of this? Our principal is irritated when parents ask questions and has shown absolutely no effort in getting real information for parents over the past year, which is disappointed since we were only qualified as an ALO school in 2010 and it would serve many children at our school.

Will ALO be an issue discussed by the Task Force?

Disappointed by ALO
Formerly APP said…
I believe you're right, WSDWG, but Melissa seems to be going into this with the spirit of cooperation, while Charlie wrote that basically it was all BS, that nothing would get done by the group because staff would write the "conclusions" for them, and that it was all a mess.

Melissa's take was vastly different and she made a point of saying she would address some of the concerns other commenters made, such as ELL gifted needs. I don't think a person has to have a gifted kid to insist a student group be served.

It takes a little more "honey" than vinegar to work with a large group, especially if you're skeptical of the sponsors (the SSD), and I think Melissa's the "honey" to Charlie's acid. He didn't even sound in his write-up like he even wanted to be there.
Here's the issue on Spectrum; you have some kids who are bright and some who are gifted (as well as APP students whose parents have opted not to send them out of their region). You need to meet the needs of all those students. It makes sense for the teachers in those classrooms to have some gifted training.

Now I know many of you believe otherwise on Spectrum students. That's fine but there are always student who tested APP.

For the record, I had two students in Spectrum. One did test APP but I chose not to send him there. The other one probably would have but he's twice gifted.

Disappointed by ALO, that is something very important to me. The ALO status supposedly goes through a process with the AL office but what looks good on paper doesn't always come out in real life. We need a cohesive ALO program so that there isn't a mystery and it is generally rigorous from school to school. Here's where I would favor some alignment.

That your principal shows irritation is a signal that he/she isn't that interested in the program. I think some principals want to do some slap-dash thing and say they have an ALO when it is not much and doesn't provide rigor to anyone.

The problem is trying to have a small AL office check all these schools. It would be easier if they were aligned and were required to be doing the same things.

I would welcome any input or ideas. It is true I haven't had any direct AL experience in years (beyond AP classes) so I would appreciate any feet on the ground experience.
anne said…
In my son's high school you have to get an A in the first year, general ed science class to move on to honors the next year, and a B in honors to stay in honors. If a student really improved in the non-honors track they could get a teacher recommendation to get a second chance. I think that model works pretty well. Why couldn't it be used instead of Spectrum in middle school?

As long as the teachers maintained the rigor in those classes it seems like it would give everyone equal opportunity and save a lot of time, expense, and stress with all the Advanced Learning testing each year.
Anonymous said…
Melissa said, We need a cohesive ALO program so that there isn't a mystery and it is generally rigorous from school to school. Here's where I would favor some alignment.

This could be said for all AL programs: ALO, Spectrum and APP. It can vary widely from classroom to classroom within a school, let alone from school to school.

In the case of APP, there was supposed to be an aligned written curriculum before (or in conjunction with?) the splits. Apparently it's still a work in progress and some teachers are making it up as they go along. The principal is in the predicament that for some classes there is no specific curriculum to use for evaluating classes/teachers. If someone claims a teacher is not following the curriculum, can the principal just pull out the curriculum guide and say, yep, the teacher is way off? Or will the response be, what curriculum?

To be clear, it's not about using the same materials necessarily, but about covering the same content over the course of the year, i.e, Grade 4 will cover WA State history and Grade 5 will cover US History. It starts by following the grade level standards from OSPI...then having a clear outline for classes that deviate from that pathway, either because they are accelerated or enriched. At a minimum, they still need to cover the state atandards.

The specialization of teachers in 4th and 5th grade (children walk to a particular teacher for science, math, and writing) has helped bring some consistency to the program in elementary. This was first done at Thurgood Marshall and now is being done at Lowell@Lincoln.

The situation is muddled by the District's curriculum alignment (which equates to material standardization).

Some of Hamilton's issues have been related to the lack of a clearly defined curriculum in APP LA/social studies and, at the other extreme, a rigid math pathway as defined by the District Math Program.

Having AL programs overseen by staff that may not understand or even support the programs adds even more challenges.

-for what it's worth
dw said…
We have at least two principals - Chris Cronas from Wedgwood and Julie Breidenbach from Thurgood Marshall.

Interesting choices the selection committee made. Julie is a stellar pick. She understands gifted ed and how APP works within SPS, she knows how to support and advocate for her staff and students, and she knows how to manage a building.

Chris Cronas, on the other hand, hasn't got a damn clue about advanced learning, and is in the process of killing what was one of, if not the best Spectrum program in the city. He flew in a gifted expert (Dina Brulles) to speak a few weeks ago, and while she was exceptionally nice, refusing to explicitly step on his toes, it was blatantly obvious that based on all her research, what Cronas has done at Wedgwood is the poster child for what NOT to do.

With people like him on this committee, is it going to be possible to strengthen Spectrum? Rebuilding a strong Spectrum program is the single most important step in fixing all of advanced learning in SPS.

- A strong Spectrum program will keep more academically-inclined students in SPS (as opposed to leaving for private schools).

- A strong Spectrum program will keep more academically-inclined students in neighborhood schools (less transportation costs, stronger neighborhood communities).

- A strong Spectrum program will reduce the burden on APP to support kids who can be well-served in their own neighborhood programs. There are many families who are frustrated with the lack of support for Spectrum (let alone the outright hostility seen with Cronas at Wedgwood). Where is their "escape path"? It's APP. This not only reduces the level of service for the kids who absolutely need a program like APP, but it has stretched the planning and physical facility resources beyond their means. This is why APP north has no home, why Hamilton is going to be in trouble next year, and why there is such dire need to come up with a plan of action Right Now.

Most of the "growth" in APP has come thanks to a shameless weakening of Spectrum. One could easily take the view that APP is slowly being dissolved into what Spectrum once was. Anytime you hear the word "growth" with regard to APP, the question should be posed: why is that good? (hint: it's not good, it just sounds good in sound bites). It's all due to political/philosophical decisions, more smart kids didn't start randomly appearing throughout Seattle!

A big problem is that while it's fast and easy to destroy trust, it takes much longer to build or rebuild it. Even if the district made a legitimate concerted effort starting today to strengthen Spectrum around the city, it would take at least a couple years before many families would truly believe it.

Melissa, is there hope on this front? Can Spectrum be revitalized? Can it happen in time to save APP?
Anonymous said…
While I agree with everything else DW wrote, I note that more smart kids did just start showing up in Seattle. and they will continue to do so. As I have posted before, marriage and child-bearing patterns are producing more and more of a skew in the intelligence testing results of young children and national demographic trends are consolidating families who are more likely to have high-testing children in fewer and fewer metropolitan areas (and increasing percentages of them in cities rather than suburbs). The percentage of Seattle children testing in the top 2 percentiles of national tests is predictably high and predictably growing.

--Why is this so hard to see?
Charlie Mas said…
Some answers:

@WSDWG - Both of my kids were in General Education for kindergarten, in Spectrum in elementary school starting in first grade, in APP in elementary school, in APP in middle school, and chose non-APP high schools (The NOVA Project and Chief Sealth International High School).

@Disappointed by ALO - I, too, am disappointed by ALOs. I helped to create them and I know what they were supposed to be. When they were created, they were supposed to be highly regulated by the District. Before they were approved, their design was supposed to be subjected to a thorough and transparent accreditation process - that doesn't happen anymore. They were supposed to be subject to an annual review for quality and efficacy - that never happened. Their model was supposed to be a public document - that has only happened for a few.

ALOs will DEFINITELY be discussed by the Task Force because I will absolutely insist upon it.

@for what it's worth, you are totally correct.

Nearly all of the problems we see in Advanced Learning are a direct result of the District failing to fulfill commitments they freely made to students and families. The solution to nearly all of these problems is for the District to live up to its commitments. Right now, there is almost no one in the District leadership who was there four years ago. They don't know about a lot of these commitments.

They do know about some of them - such as the promise of an APP curriculum - but the District's culture is to make promises to suppress dissent and never to have any intention of fulfilling the promise. By suppressing the dissent it has already done its job and they are done with it.

@dw, I believe that Spectrum can be re-vitalized. I believe that Spectrum can be strong and reliable - in EVERY designated Spectrum school. The solution is not politically attractive to the District. Nine years ago they agreed to it, but then balked at implementing it. We'll see if they are willing to do actually follow through with a solution this time.

In the end, the community is going to have to hold the District accountable.
Ditto on Charlie. I am aware of what both principals bring to the table and Julie has already shown herself to be a smart person with good insights. Mr. Cronas did not talk as much.

Anne, what high school does your son attend? I had thought the issue of getting a certain grade to be in an honors class was gone.
Jet City mom said…
With people like him on this committee, is it going to be possible to strengthen Spectrum? Rebuilding a strong Spectrum program is the single most important step in fixing all of advanced learning in SPS.

Heard the saying, "keep your friends close & your enemies closer"?

Perhaps they can educate him, re: advanced learners & make him think positive changes were his idea.
dw said…
@why is this
Sure, I understand this, and related phenomena. Anyone remotely interested should read The Geek Syndrome for the scary side to this.

While I definitely agree this exists in Seattle, it's still far less than Silicon Valley, and it's not the main factor in APP growth. The main reason APP has been growing at the staggering(ly stupid) rates it has in the past decade is because of political and philosophical reasons. Why? Because in sound-bite format, it sounds wonderful that the district's highly capable program is "growing". But the crazy growth is killing the program and taking down Spectrum and ALO as well.

If child-bearing patterns were the dominant effect, and the district was responding in a rational fashion, Spectrum would be seeing huge increases in attendance as well, but that's not happening. Families are literally running away from Spectrum now, because of either real or perceived lack of support. In the case of Wedgwood, the program is being outright killed.

Also, there is no reason that the "top 2% on a national scale, both cog and achievement" is sacred. Pleasant Valley (Dr. Bulles' district) has a very different model, and it appears to be working fantastically. But they have district administration that believes in and supports gifted ed in all its varieties. The closest thing they have to APP in elementary is a self-contained program/building for gifted (not bright) kids, and I believe they cap enrollment at about 300 kids. That might sound scary, but it's not necessarily a bad thing when you have strong support in the other buildings for kids who aren't at the extreme end of the bell curve.

I'm glad we agree on the rest. I'm not discounting what you're saying at all, just that it's not the main reason for the advanced learning crisis in SPS. We need a range of advanced learning programs to serve all the kids who can benefit, and we need to do it in a sustainable way. The district has failed on both of these key points.

Mel/Charlie, it would be great if you have a chance in these meetings to ask Mr. Cronas if, after hearing Dr. Brulles' lecture he is ready to "undo" the (misguided) changes he is in the process of making at Wedgwood. It was quite obvious after that lecture that he completely misunderstood the entire concept of cluster grouping. Actually, this would be an important topic for discussion by the entire group, rather than a private conversation w/Chris, because there seem to be quite a number of staff that don't "get it".
dw said…
Charlie said:I believe that Spectrum can be re-vitalized. ... The solution is not politically attractive to the District. ... In the end, the community is going to have to hold the District accountable.

The community at large has exactly zero power (other than withholding test scores) to hold the district responsible for anything. But if we believe that the Board represents the community, and that they do have the power to hold the District accountable, then perhaps there is hope that the newly constituted Board might actually do this. The previous one certainly didn't.

I do have hope now, but most people (including our newest board members) don't have a great deal of experience with advanced learning programs. My reason for hope is that I believe our newest members are actually willing to learn, and they are going to have the resolve to write AND ENFORCE good policies. That hope extends to other important programs like SpEd and ELL, but until the chaos in AL settles down that's where my personal focus will be.

Sharon Peaslee has expressed strong interest in self-governing CACs. Is she (or any other Board member) involved with this committee? At the very least, can someone make sure the Board (including members-elect) is getting the meeting minutes as quickly as possible - like right after the meetings?

emeraldkity said: Heard the saying, "keep your friends close & your enemies closer"? Perhaps they can educate him, re: advanced learners & make him think positive changes were his idea.

Great quote. One can only hope.

I think it will be incumbent on the non-staff members of the committee to make this happen. The district doesn't seem to want to take the lead on any of this. Hence my call for Charlie/Mel to make some of these inquiries, hopefully in a public/open way.
TraceyS said…
There is a group of parents at Wedgwood who have been asking Chris for more details about the changes to the program. We have had to ask via email, because there have been no public meetings, no coffee hours, no time in PTA meetings, and no other public forums available to ask questions about the Wedgwood-specific changes, outside of a presentation made over the summer before school started.

We have seen no written documents outlining the new curriculum delivery model, the new classroom assignment model, any specific research paper or study references, comparisons to other local districts AL/gifted services programs, or any best practices being utilized (outside of the SCGM workbook, which is not being followed in practice). Our email questions, and his responses, have not been made public on the Wedgwood website. In fact, there has been no information at all about these changes on the website.

Public feedback and discussion has been specifically limited to one on ones with Chris, or via a one way survey that was sent out before the holidays (which did not ask several key questions, nor did it clarify several somewhat biased terms used in the survey questions).

His responses have left me and several others with more questions than answers. We still do not know, for example, whether any kid, much less a Spectrum-designated kid, will be guaranteed year ahead curriculum in any area. Classroom assignments are now being made solely on MAP scores and teacher recommendation (no cogAT at all), and kids distributed evenly among classrooms and not clustered. Spectrum designation is being disregarded in assigning a group. We do not if there is movement between groups, or the criteria for movement. We do not know if any advanced work will be provided outside of Readers/Writers workshop or Walk to Math. We do not even know how/if Walk to Math will be implemented. We do not know how or even if these changes are being measured or tracked, either within grade, between grades, or compared to past years. We do not know what criteria is being used to judge success or failure of any component of the program, or of the program as a whole.

We do know that he is determined to press on with making drastic changes to the program, regardless. My frustration level with this lack of information and highly limited public discussion is quite high.

There is a widely held perception that the Spectrum program (either contained or clustered) is being completely dismantled at Wedgwood, in favor of a strictly social-based, even distribution model. It is also widely believed that the people driving these changes see little perceived value in providing advanced or gifted learning within neighborhood schools (even though WW is not strictly just a neighborhood school, since it hosts both Spectrum and SpecEd).

DW is also right in that there are many parents who would strongly prefer to stay and receive AL or gifted services at Wedgwood (either self-contained or clustered), but are leaving or planning to leave because of a lack of confidence in the program. This is driving families into APP (expect a huge influx next year) or into private. I know of at least two families thinking of leaving SPS altogether for neighboring public schools.

The AL taskforce will definitely have their work cut out for them. The AL curriculum, AL program delivery models, and most importantly the commitment to these programs, will all play a huge factor in student distribution and capacity management over the coming years, particularly in northend schools. I do not see how the committee can be successful in planning for capacity without taking into consideration the current problems in the AL program.
Anonymous said…
Our choice of APP had a lot to do with the lack of a guaranteed placement in Spectrum for middle school.

Now that we're there, however, we're hearing that the Spectrum option middle school is allowing math acceleration beyond that allowed in the APP option school. I'm a bit dumbfounded by that piece of info.

The non-APP classes have been my child's favorite (band and language) and we're shocked by what our child has experienced in one of the APP classes (others have posted details on APP blog). To put it kindly, it's not exactly the experience for which we were hoping.

I too wonder what is the mission of the ALTF. Are they setting a long term vision and plan for Advanced Learning in SPS, or is it just a question of where to place students? It's unsettling to not know where our children will be from year to year, but it's even more unsettling to not know what's going on with the programs themselves.

For those fleeing Spectrum and opting for APP, I can't say the grass is greener on this side.

reluctant APP parent
TraceyS said…
reluctant, I think you bring up a good point in that the Spectrum/APP issues with program content and perception are different in the elementary and middle school populations.
You can't get this on the agenda for a PTA meeting at Wedgwood? Did you ask the President? Because that would be troubling given that this is a school-wide issue. If Mr. Cronas didn't show up, then you'd have your answer.

I would go to the Executive Director with your concerns.

I would write to the new Board (after Wednesday when the new members are in) about this issue and ask that clarifications be made.

I would go to your PTA president and ask that this be put on the agenda for the next meeting (or when possible). If the PTA president refuses, go to Lauren McGuire, president of the Seattle Council PTSA and ask for advice.

You should be able to discuss this as a group.
TraceyS said…
Yes, I have informally asked the PTA president for both a PTA general meeting, and/or for PTA-sponsored coffee chats. Katie and I had a good chat actually, about the lack of information flow, and the complete lack of public forums for discussion.

I personally would rather see the PTA host smaller coffees to start out with, because old wounds have been reopened, given how these changes have been handled. I am very concerned that in the current, highly charged atmosphere, a larger meeting would result in a lot of name calling and a lot of flaming. At the summer meetings, for instance, several of the Spectrum parents were openly called elitist for questioning the program changes. As a new parent to the school, I was deeply shocked by the name-calling and the lack of answers to even direct questions.

To that end, I personally spend a lot of time carefully explaining one-on-one that I, and many other parents, really do want to see year-ahead curriculum available to all students, but the current program changes are not likely to do that. This is NOT a self-contained vs clustered/blended argument. This is NOT a way to keep kids out (quite the contrary, we all want more kids IN). This is an argument about whether these changes will deliver advanced coursework to ANY student.

But I am only one person. Even our limited email group is not able to get information out publicly. Until we can get some true parent-to-parent and/or parent-to-teacher discussions going in a non-hostile, public environment, positions on both sides will be misunderstood and misrepresented. We need to de-escalate before we can move further, and I am not hopeful that there is any leadership desire to make that happen right now, nor do see much district-level involvement or direction at the school, either.

But as I said to someone today - we are a family that deliberately chose to join Wedgwood after careful consideration (we live in the nearby Bryant reference area). We also moved out of private and into public schools because of a firm belief in the need and strengths of a strong, community-based public school system. I very much want this to work out, and I want my newly adopted community to succeed. But right now, we need to roll up our sleeves and begin openly communicating. That is one reason why I post with my name (though like someone else, my handle is not easily web searchable). I want to be able to talk openly about these changes without fear, and in a public forum. We are just not there yet though, and I am deeply saddened that there has been very little movement to make that happen at the staff and district level.
Anonymous said…
Several of us are likely to go to Phil Brockman and or board members with our concerns in the near future. We were waiting for a response from Chris to our last emailed questions. We only got the response the day before Thanksgiving, and are likely to ask for more help clarifying the still-unanswered questions, and on the district policy on advanced learning programs.

I have lost a great deal of confidence that this new model will be able to deliver a rigorous Spectrum curriculum to any student, much less those who jumped through hoops to get into the program. I do not know why, if the school really does wish to implement this program, it wants to retain its Spectrum designation at all. It could give up trying to be a Spectrum school and do whatever it wants with the curriculum and student placement.
TraceyS said…
Sorry, that was my post above.
Anonymous said…
re: "Spectrum students don't come in convenient 30-packs, schools have to juggle class sizes and assignments to form the classes..."

That is true for every student group. Regular ed kids, fourth graders, kindergarteners don't come in convenient packs of 30 yet the school must provide for their needs!

Seems to me Spectrum is always cut because it's too small, or limited because it's too big!

They say we've never had genuine Spectrum in the south end, because there aren't enough kids to fill a classroom, but without any genuine Spectrum program to aim for, kids don't get tested! It's an endless cycle. Somehow it got started in other schools, why not here? Does anyone really think our kids don't have the brainpower for Spectrum just based on their home addresses?

In regular ed and APP some classrooms are multiple grade-level. That may be needed for Spectrum classes too.

I just don't want to see that tired old excuse used whenever admin wants to cop out from serving this group of learners!

-Spectrum access for all
juicygoofy said…
I love, love, love the idea of APP for aptitude, spectrum for high performers and ALO for all. My child qualifies for APP, but we opted to stay in spectrum because she isn't motivated enough (or developmentally ready) to work 2 full grade levels ahead. Spectrum is not a great solution for us, as she neither gets the special education she needs nor works at her comfort level. Of course, I understand that you can't please everybody either....
Anonymous said…
re: "You need to meet the needs of all those students. It makes sense for the teachers in those classrooms to have some gifted training"

Of course there are APP qualified students in Spectrum. But there are also APP qualified students in general ed classrooms too. Since we don't require gifted teacher training for everyone, why use it to limit Spectrum?

I don't buy the excuse that Spectrum can't be set up because of costs needed for teacher training.

-Spectrum access for all
suep. said…
Two quick points of clarification about APP:

To the best of my knowledge, the so-called 'APP funds' mentioned in earlier comments don't make it to the classroom. The district gets money each year for the advanced learning office. My understanding is that pays for Dr. Vaughan's salary and his staff, and much of it goes towards administering the AL tests every year.

APP kids do not get anything more expensive in their classrooms or anything mandated by way of teacher training.

Re: Hamilton. I believe the problems at Hamilton right now are not with APP, but with teaching and leadership. There is/are some very questionable behavior and choices being made by some APP teachers at HIMS. The mediocrity and bad judgment on display would be unfair and inappropriate for ALL kids, not just APP. I imagine these teachers weren't fantastic two years ago, either, when they were teaching gen ed.
anne said…

My son goes to Seattle Prep. We are not Catholic, but it is strong academically, close to our house, and half the cost of the secular private schools. We also selected it because of their traditional math curriculum. Interestingly, I was talking to the Math department chair and he said that they had tried Discovery math a few years back and found that it wasn't very good, especially for advanced learners, so they dropped it.
Anonymous said…
EM only goes to 5th gr. In SPS kids in AL programs are done with it in 3rd or 4th gr. It teaches kids how to read English and do basic math and gives them some weird choice of methods. It gets you beyond 94% of functioning adults.
It's fine.

Not a Rocket Scientist
Anonymous said…
Whatever happened to the promises made by Bob Vaughan and MGJ, that the APP split would expand advanced learning to formerly underserved communities and bring these programs closer to home? I would like to see him address that question in a public forum.

Would someone please investigate and report on the quality of the Spectrum program at Aki Kurose middle school?

-signed, South End Parent
Anne, I just asked about your school because I was fairly sure that no SPS high school has a grade barrier to being in an honors classroom or AP classroom. I just wanted to make sure.
dw said…

Your post above makes it clear that the situation is getting no better, and probably even worse (with all the community sniping). Seeing this materialize is no surprise to those of us who have seen similar problems over the years, but if Chris is still hellbent on moving forward with the destruction of Spectrum at his school, things definitely need to be escalated. At the very least to Phil, but maybe directly to Enfield as well (who will push it back to Cathy Thompson). Bob Vaughan has been steering clear of this for some reason. He was at the Nathan Hale meeting, but he doesn't seem to want to get involved, hence my suggestion to go up the other chain of command.

Keeping the discussions one-on-one is a great strategy to minimize the pushback. It's easy to hold parents back one at a time, much less so if you can get yourselves organized and work together. Finding everyone who is affected and frustrated can be difficult, but use email, this blog, whatever it takes. If you can get parents together for a large in-person meeting (like a conference room at the Wedgwood library, for instance), all the better. This happened a few years back when Eckstein was proposing similar changes, and parents were eventually successful in putting a halt to most of it. Chris Cronas was at Eckstein at the time. Coincidence?

If you do schedule an in-person meeting, please post time and place here on the blog.

Is anyone organizing the parents/families opposed to these changes? Specifically, does anyone have an email list of frustrated parties? It's hard to find everyone, which is why Melissa's idea of pushing harder to get on a PTA meeting agenda is great. At that meeting you need to get contact info for everyone you can; make it your mission. Sadly, things like this never seem to get fixed unless there's enough organized pushback. Even then, there's no guarantee, but at least you stand a chance.

As for costs, it doesn't cost any more to implement Spectrum than it does to blend the kids across all classrooms. I believe Dr. Brulles research actually shows that implementing self-contained gifted or cluster grouping is cheaper. If I remember correctly, it's because equal distribution requires significant differentiation, which requires special training and probably even IAs in many cases to get reasonable outcomes for the kids.

Please keep us informed, this is worth fighting for.
Anonymous said…
It's still not clear to me how the new cluster model at Wedgwood is being implemented. Are Spectrum students going to be grouped for math and LA in a walk-to-math or walk-to-LA type arrangement, but integrated for all other subjects? Or is the grouping within the classroom and they stay with their class, but get differentiated work?

Do other students get grouped with Spectrum identified students based on MAP scores? If so, then why go through the hoops for Spectrum placement? If students have been grouped in the high ability group (but haven't tested for Spectrum) can they continue on that pathway for middle school?
Anonymous said…
Melissa and Charlie.
I'm glad you are both on the committee. Could you post the dates, times and locations of the meetings. I think I read that the meetings are public? Can you confirm that too?

I'd really like to find out how any school doing cluster grouping will track results, confirm whether the change to cluster grouping does in fact have better outcomes for all students, and report those findings to interested parties/the community/ stakeholders. That was an assurance to the CAST team at Lawton (by Ms. Helm, who is no longer there) -- that outcomes would be measured and assessed to make sure the change didn't hurt Spectrum students and that it benefitted non Spectrum students. I just don't see how they could possibly measure that, and if so, how it would be reported.

I'm seeing at Lawton exactly what I feared. A cluster of Spectrum kids in a class who walk to math (provided they have math that day b.c if the other class/es have a field trip or MAP testing or an Assembly, math just doesn't happen on that day) so above grade level curriculum is deliverd there. Outside that W2M though, those are also the kids who get finished w/ their work in other subjects way before their grade level peers and are simply told to read independently or draw or something until the period is over. It's a shame really and certainly not in the best interest of those students.

Thanks for your advocacy.

-Spectrum mom
Anonymous said…
"Spectrum for all."

One of the reasons Spectrum works for the kids in it is because they are a group of high achievers who can keep up with the pace. Do you want to change that? It won't ne Spectrum anymore. Charlie, you told me as we were leaving a building many years ago that you would do all you could to make sure your daughter was not as bored as you were in school.

Spectrum for all if the "all" can do it. Otherwise, the consequence will be "Spectrum for none."

Anonymous said…
Truly gifted students sometimes have a profile of being low achievers, which is one of the reasons why using MAP for APP identification is a poor choice.

However, along with MAP, teacher recommendations and other data, high achieving (non-gifted)students should be challenged to their utmost. Something better than what was formerly Spectrum should be available to this batch of students at every school.

The district is currently cleaning up a Frankenstein program (Spectrum). At the same time, the district has never recognized how to do gifted education correctly at APP.

--pity the committee members
Anonymous said…
Self-contained vs. walk-to grouping. That should be the issue. Grouping is a best practice for large classrooms. Walk-to seems the fairest, with tested-in, and teacher and parent id'd students doing harder work. Tested-in kids CAN do the work and other identified students can stay in if they perform. Could be in every school. Should be. Math as well as read/write.

Anonymous said…

Frankenstein is right!

NLM said…
I'm not sure how it's working throughout Lawton but I do know that my child and at least one other moved into Walk to Math recently so there is some flexibility in how students are being grouped (which is what the cluster model is supposed to offer).
TraceyS said…
"Self-contained vs. walk-to grouping. That should be the issue."

I wish that were the only issue to discuss at Wedgwood. Unfortunately, we have much bigger problems to address right now with the lack of transparency, the lack of any written plan or documentation, the lack of metrics, the lack of public discussions, the lack of answers to repeated direct questions, and the overall sense that old wounds within the school community have been reopened. All of these things are roadblocks to having open and informed conversations.

I agree that much of this sort of discussion should be happening at the district level as well. And not to belabor the point, but I do agree with most of what you said. But right now, we have no idea at all what is being delivered in first grade at Wedgwood, nor what is planned for next year. That is our problem at the moment.
TechyMom said…
Charlie and Melissa,
I'd like to throw in an idea for the AL task force to consider...

What about allowing grade-skipping? Moving kids up a grade eliminates the scheduling headaches associated with separate Spectrum classes at the elementary level. Instead of having two kinds of second graders, you just have some who become 3rd graders.

Grade skipping fell out of fashion because of social issues. But, wouldn't those be mitigated if lots of kids were moving up a grade? You could group grade skippers together in the same class so they'd have age peers. If you have more than 30 such kids in a particular grade, you can put critical mass in more than one class.

How do you get a lot of kids skipping? I would place students who demonstrate that they can do the work in the next grade up *by default* with a parent opt out. This could be based on MAP scores, getting all 4's on your report card, MSP scores, teacher recommendation, or other measures (ideas?). Note that these are measures of achievement -- can you do the work -- not giftedness. Any kid who can do the work should be allowed to move up a grade.

An approach like this could replace Spectrum and ALO for 'bright' kids. Combined with opt-in honors for middle and high school, it seems like it could work well for a lot of kids and be much simpler to administer than the current system.

I also like the idea of a highly-gifted program based purely on IQ without an achievement component. Gifted and bright are not the same thing, and gifted kids need a different sort of teaching, not just acceleration. Bright kids need acceleration, but the normal teaching methods work pretty well for them.

Would either of you be willing to put the idea of grade-skipping on the table?
Lori said…
I've been traveling and too busy to post lately, but I agree with TechyMom that I'd like the AL Advisory Group to consider grade skipping as another acceleration option.

We seem to get really hung up on September 1 as some sort of magical date that determines a child's maturity and ability level. But I know that there are fall birthday kids who could truly thrive if grade skipped. For example, my PEPS group's kids are split between two grades due to the 9/1 cutoff, which has always seemed really arbitrary. I have a 3rd grader, while a kid born 10 days later is in 2nd grade!

Of course we need a cutoff date for school, but we should be more flexible, particularly with kids born a few months before to a few months after the cutoff and be willing to place them into an appropriate grade based on readiness, not age. At the very least, it could be another option to offer to parents, instead of only offering Spectrum, ALO, or APP. It might also keep more kids at their neighborhood school.

Right now, the only option for "grade skipping" is applying for early entrance to kindergarten, which not all parents know about or recognize as a possible benefit for their child at such young ages. But, if it becomes obvious in K or 1st grade that the child is ready for more challenge in all subjects, I don't see why parents can't have this option on the table again, especially if the child is close in age to the next grade level kids anyway.
Anonymous said…
Putting kids in year-ahead math if they can do the work is the way it should be. The way I see it the kids who test into Spectrum are able to do the work and should have to, and any others who show the ability should also be working ahead a year. If Lawton replaces self-contained with expanded walk-to math classes, that helps all the kids and makes for a more fluid grouping scheme.
I hope Wedgwood gets the same deal. The parents there should push for a like program in reading. As far as the hurt feelings, suck it up. Public school staff are immune to parent whining. They've all been vaccinated many times. Try to make a constructive compromise.

Anonymous said…
OK AS. We got it. Lawton parents got it. Yes, we've made constructive compromise like you wanted. Yes, we know you are immune. We marched to your drums. We got the "elitists" out. We will donate more ipads, support all PTA fundraisings, and anything else you want. Of course we will spend hours at home tutoring and "supplementing" with our kids to make sure those tests scores are spiffy. Yes, you are the best.

-we do really get it!
Anonymous said…
I am extremely concerned about suggested changes to the exceptional Spectrum program that has seen my children academically challenged and allows them to grow, learn, and really love going to school everyday.
Proposed changes from the current self-contained Spectrum model to the cluster model are detrimental to the integrity and successful advancement of Wedgwood children. The cluster model study put forth by Dr. Brulles (Brulles, 2005), and espoused by some does not look at the cost benefit of self-contained gifted learning vs. the heterogeneous clustering of gifted students within inclusive classrooms. In fact, it quotes Rogers (2002) that self contained and gifted programs have suffered mainly due to inadequate funding and administrative attention. The study of the cluster model only purports to be better than no gifted learning program at all (Brulles, 2010). My other concern is that Principal Cronas has indicated that the testing and selection of students for classrooms would not even be able to follow the cluster model as designed, further weakening any argument that moving to the inclusive clustering model would be beneficial to current Spectrum students and Wedgwood as a whole. My final observation is that two local Northeast cluster schools within one mile of Wedgwood, that are option schools, of which Jane Adams has a current model that more aligns with the cluster model thereby already giving options to parents that prefer a inclusive heterogeneous cluster program.
Why change a program that is not broken??
Anonymous said…
mw - because it is broken? For many. Too many kids who need more than gen ed but can't fit in a Spectrum class. That's a problem.
NorthSeattleParentOfTwo said…
When our students who excel in academics get the same attention from the District as our students who excel in athletics, then I will think that the District isn't ashamed of them.

I'm mostly with you, Charlie: bring on the mensa cheerleaders, the smartypants marching band, the front page news and the King5 news coverage for our chess clubs, our high IQ kids, our mathletes... and then we can ease up about the SPS pride and the phoning-in of advanced/gifted learning.

The fact alone that we, as a district, don't require gifted educator training for APP-tested kids is shameful.

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