Towards a Shared Vision for Advanced Learning

Let's see if we can do this without rancor, presumption of ill-will, or name-calling. I think we can if we try. The discussions of Advanced Learning are often the most heated, but they also provide us with some of our best examples of thoughtful discussion and consideration for the opposing view.

If we were to re-design Advanced Learning in Seattle Public Schools from a blank slate, how would we do it?

Would we have self-contained classrooms, intentionally integrated classrooms in the cluster model, randomly integrated classrooms with all skill levels, or some sort of hybrid in which students are sometimes in one mix and sometimes in another, such as "walk to math" or other skill-level grouping? Are there some gifted or high performing students who cannot be adequately served in a general education classroom? Are there some who could be served in a general education classroom? Are there some who could be served in a general education classroom - but only if there is some sort of deliberate effort to do so?

Who should be served by advanced learning programs? Gifted students with high cognitive ability? How high? Kids with high academic achievement, possibly as a result of talent, possibly as a result of motivation and effort, and definitely as a result of preparation and exposure? Kids who are really motivated and hard-working, even if they don't have any special cognitive ability? Some combination? Should some kids be served in one kind of program and other kids served in another?

Never mind what we have now. What should we have? Should we have anything at all?

For me, the issue turns on this question: are there students who will not get an appropriate academic opportunity in a general education classroom?

Accelerated Progress Program (APP)
There is a body of research that concludes that students with cognitive ability more than 1.5-2.0 standard deviations above the mean don't just think faster than other kids, they think differently. This research strongly suggests that these students should be taught in a different way and in a separate class from other students. They should get an education that is designed around this cognitive ability. That research is out there. You can choose to believe it or accept it or not, but that's what the science suggests. This range roughly corresponds with the cognitive ability in students who are identified as suitable for APP. APP, one might conclude, is an effort to provide that different sort of education - plus a lot of sensitivity and awareness around the other issues that come with it - needed by children in this range.

Eligibility for APP, however, also requires high academic achievement, which reflects preparation and exposure in addition to the cognitive ability. The instruction provided in APP seems to be more responsive to the advanced achievement than to the high cognitive ability. Should APP - or whatever would replace it in a re-design - be re-focused on the cognitive ability and away from the academic achievement? What would that look like?

Some suggest that these students don't need anything different and they don't need to be separated. I'm not sure what forms the basis for that conclusion, but I will tell you that nearly every family with a child in APP has a story about how they would have loved it if their child could have been appropriately served at their neighborhood school, but that wasn't happening. Many of them are convinced that APP saved their child's future, if not their lives.

Based on either the science or the personal histories, I cannot imagine that Seattle Public Schools would not have some sort of separate gifted education program to address this need. We can discuss whether eligibility should be determined by cognitive ability alone or cognitive ability and academic achievement and we can certainly discuss what sort of instruction should be provided in this program, but I'm pretty sure that there will be such a thing because the need for it is well-documented.

Here's a really tough question: How and when should kids be deemed no longer eligible for APP? Should their cognitive ability be regularly re-tested? Should students only be re-tested if a teacher voices a concern that the program may not be a suitable assignment? Should students have to produce some minimal amount of work or earn some minimal grade? Could a student be removed from the program based on behavior?

Can the sort of students who find themselves Spectrum-eligible get an appropriate academic opportunity in a a general education classroom? That's a trickier question.

On one hand we have a great body of research that is very clear that self-contained classrooms are, far and away, what provides the best opportunity for the bulk of these students. The same research also concludes that it does other students no harm to lose these children from their classrooms. Self-contained classes were the state of the art ten years ago and they still are.

In recent years, however, a number of studies are emerging that suggest that IF some sort of instructional strategy is followed or IF some sort of intentional design is applied, then we can get outcomes similar to those available from self-contained classes. Then there are the folks who simply jump to the conclusion that these students are not so special and that they will do just fine wherever they land. This determination is often based on the same process that discounts the need for child car seats.

The data is muddied a bit by variations in selection criteria. Are we talking about students with cognitive ability in the top 10%, the top 5%, the second 5%, the 90th-97th percent? Are the students further qualified by academic achievement and, if so, by what range of academic achievement?

As with APP, there are a lot of families with children in Spectrum programs with horror stories about how poorly their child was served in the neighborhood school and how much better everything is in self-contained Spectrum.

So as much as we would like to be able to say that our neighborhood schools should be able to adequately serve theses students, the candid truth is that some of our neighborhood schools cannot. What is the appropriate response to this reality?

Should the District even have a response at all? Your neighborhood school doesn't provide your child with an appropriate academic opportunity? Too bad. It's one-size-fits-all here. Maybe you'll get lucky and your child will get a teacher who knows how to differentiate instruction and does it every so often. Maybe you'll get lucky and your neighborhood school will allow some grouping by skill level. Maybe not. You're certainly free to work with your teacher and school, but they are under no obligation to work with you. The District is certainly beating a drum for differentiated instruction, but no teacher is under any requirement to march to that beat. The District's effort has been more cheer-leading than anything structural or enforceable. It certainly isn't reliable.

Should the District response be some district-wide effort to personalize education for every student - to make a stronger, bolder move to the universal application of differentiated instruction? Is the District capable of such an effort? Would the District's effort be effective? Could the District reliably provide differentiated instruction if they really really tried and used all of the tools at their disposal to make it happen? Could the District require schools to make some sort of documented, enforceable, intentional effort? What if the District required schools to describe in their CSIP how they serve their advanced learners or deliver differentiated instruction? Would this sort of effort and response create general education classrooms that reliably met the academic needs of moderately gifted, high performing students in the Spectrum-eligible range?

Should the District acknowledge that they are nowhere near being able to do that and resort to Spectrum or something like it? If so, then which students should the program serve? Gifted ones? Academically advanced ones? Gifted and academically advanced? How gifted? How academically advanced? Is there some other criteria that better defines those with the special need? And how should the District serve them? In the proven effective self-contained delivery model? In some other model that shows promise? However the school principal decides?

Right now the District is working everything at once so nothing at all is working.

APP brings together a strong cohort of students but it's less clear if the program is as selective as it should be or if it is too focused on academic achievement rather than cognitive ability both in eligibility and in program. If APP works it works thanks to the cohort and the teachers, not the principals or the district. It's the people in the classroom, not the program that works. The APP review described wide variations from classroom to classroom. The aligned, written, taught and tested APP curriculum that was promised - it was supposed to be implemented concurrent with the split - was never delivered. The APP Review project was dropped from the Strategic Plan without comment. There is no good measure of the results of any effort to align the APP curriculum. The program lacks clear, solid, legitimate rationale or design.

Self-contained Spectrum programs are reportedly working well where they are found, but they aren't found in many areas, and they often create capacity management issues. We have equity problems because there are large parts of the district that lack the critical mass of students needed to form self-contained programs. Then there are schools which have independently rejected the self-contained model - with or without the District's approval. Some of them have well-conceived models; some of them don't. There is no effort to align anything Spectrum. There is no effective choice in Spectrum either. Spectrum is so lacking structure that it doesn't even deserve to be called a program anymore.

Middle school Spectrum is really a mess. All of the middle schools supposedly have Spectrum programs, but some of the middle schools have absurdly few Spectrum students. There are twelve students enrolled in the Spectrum program at Aki Kurose and half of them, six, are in the eighth grade. Mercer has a total of 27 Spectrum students, 12 in the eighth grade, 12 in the seventh grade, and three in the sixth grade. Even in schools with large programs, the "program" is really only the LA/SS block class. There is an independent process for math placement and there is no Spectrum science class. If Spectrum is LA/SS only, then why do the students need to demonstrate numerical cognitive ability and academic advancement in math to be eligible? Why can't they qualify with verbal cognitive ability and academic achievement in reading and writing alone?

Advanced Learning Opportunity programs (A.L.O.'s)
A.L.O.s never deserved to be called a program. No one can say what is or is not an A.L.O. or how they are any different from what should be happening in the school with or without the A.L.O. designation. The schools were supposed to provide a structure and the District was supposed to provide accreditation for these programs but they never did. Consequently, the designation is meaningless. Not only are schools deciding for themselves what constitutes an A.L.O., they are also deciding which students may participate. The original intent of A.L.O.s was to allow students to self-select participation. That's gone. The original intent was that each of them would have a clear design. That's gone. The original intent was that each of them would be subject to review. That never happened. Schools can freely claim to offer an A.L.O. without any requirement that they justify the claim. Many of them make the claim but cannot support it.

If students cannot self-select participation into A.L.O.'s then we don't have any opportunity for students who choose to challenge themselves to go beyond grade level. Shouldn't there be such an opportunity that doesn't have some test as a gatekeeper?

Central Questions
There are a lot of other questions: If A.L.O.'s are a good idea in elementary school, why do they stop being a good idea in middle school? Why does Spectrum stop being a good idea in high school? What is high school APP and why do we say we have it at Garfield, but not at Roosevelt or Ballard where the number and variety of AP classes is nearly as rich and the cohort nearly as high performing? Why do we say we have it at Ingraham IB but not at Chief Sealth IB? Why aren't STEM and NOVA recognized as APP pathways in high school?

Let's focus on these two questions and see where they lead us.

  1. Who do we need to serve and how do we need to serve them?
  2. What requirements should the District set and enforce and what details should be left to the schools to determine?

Don't worry about legacy; there is none. All of the programs are in tatters. The good news is that we have a blank slate.


Great wrap-up, Charlie, and so much to say. I actually don't have time right now but here's what has been floating thru my brain. (Not sussed out, don't have all the moving parts).

Keep APP. These are kids who are very different kinds of learners and need teachers who are trained in gifted education. However, I would lower the bar to 92-90% to include some Spectrum kids.

I would house APP elementary in two buildings; one in the north, one in the south. This way it would not be a moving target for capacity issues.

So why would I lower the bar for APP? Because I would get rid of Spectrum.

Please don't confuse thinking about ending Spectrum as we know it (or how anyone "knows" it from their own school) with WANTING to end it.
I don't. I liked self-contained, it worked for my kids and I didn't see our school worked up in knots over it.

No, what I would do it throw it back into the face of every single school in this district. You say you don't like self-contained or you are providing differentiated teaching. Great, then prove it.

The district would now be responsible for the following:

- if a child is high-achieving in one subject, that child must have access to some kind of higher level work (in elementary I would limit this to LA/math).

- if a child is high-achieving in two or more subjects, the curriculum and teaching must be differentiated and higher level work available to this student.

- Teachers will receive training in differentiated teaching to help reach ALL students. If a student doesn't test high but wants more rigor, given him or her the same high-level work that tested kids get.

- the district will allow schools to use the Brulles method of cluster grouping to help get the best out of any given classroom. I've looked at this method and I think it has merit.

- NO school gets to deviate from this for the first couple of years. Everyone will be on the same page. If a principal or school believes it is differentiating already, AL staff will come in and review what they are doing to make sure.

That's my thoughts in a nutshell.

Not sure how it would play out in middle school.

But no more rogue principals reshaping a program. Either it's a district program or it isn't.
David said…
Thanks for bringing this up, Charlie. Great discussion already in your post.

I think a lot of the issues with ALO and APP go away if there was a strong Spectrum program. If there were great options for kids working a year or so ahead, that would eliminate the need for ALO and relieve pressure on APP. It would also answer the question of what to do with the rare case where a child should no longer be in APP, as well as the case where a child becomes ready for APP. There should be strong, regional-draw, self-contained Spectrum programs located in schools across the district. A strong Spectrum program fixes a lot of things.

As for the broader issue, sometimes I wonder if the discussion about advanced learning is more complicated and heated than it needs to be. Is advanced learning really something very different? Rather than treat advanced learning as something special, why not think of it as just another alternative program?

Alternative programs are specialized programs and schools designed to appeal to specific needs and desires of parents and kids. Isn't that what advanced learning should be?

With that in mind, I think decisions become a lot clearer. APP is is alternative program for kids working 2 years ahead. Anyone working two years ahead in math and reading can qualify. Spectrum should be an alternative program for kids working one year ahead. Anyone working one year ahead in math and reading can qualify.

There should be other alternative programs as well, such as STEM programs with a heavy focus on math, and programs with a heavy focus on arts and literature.

Alternative programs should be self-contained and have regional and all-city draws. All of them should continue on in middle and high school. And all of them should be duplicated or canceled depending on popularity with parents and the academic success of their students.
Anonymous said…
My child's elementary school is one of the few schools still offering the self-contained Spectrum model. My problem with it: if your child doesn't get in for First Grade, the child is unlikely to ever get in. There is always a waitlist, but no room at the inn. I would prefer to see advanced learning opportunities as appropriate and needed--rather than just one classroom that is predetermined when the children are 5. Many kids are later bloomers, new to the school, or simply missed the boat in K. This is the experience at our school at least—I know that may not be the case for all schools.
Anonymous said…
Here are my thoughts in no particular order.

1) APP needs to be either in its own building or in with an option school. It can't be in a neighborhood school because then you have two programs each with guaranteed placement in the same building (so there's no way to manage capacity).

2) I don't support a K-8 APP. My daughter is in 6th grade and is really enjoying being in a bigger middle school and getting to mix with new kids.

3) I would keep Spectrum and guarantee placement (similar to APP). I would also let kids self-select in (in addition to testing in) as long as they are able to do the work. I would like to encourage all kids to work at as high a level as possible - rather than excluding kids due to capacity problems (as is now the case).

4) I would very much like an elementary school APP with on-site before and afterschool care. Not having before/after school care is a real barrier for working parents (at least it is for our family).

Po3 said…
Get rid of ALO - it is a waste of time and resources.

Keep APP - no change in entry. Find them 2 buildings one north one south and create two 1-8 schools. Both schools use same materials, curriculum etc. so they are essentially identical. Staff the schools with people who believe in gifted education.

Spectrum - RAISE the requirement for entry to at least 90% so less students qualify. I have long felt the capacity issues are a result of the 87% entrance requirement.
Keep self-contained, but in more schools and offer some walk to math, walk to reading ability for students who may have tested in math but not reading or the other way around.
Floor Pie said…
Two points:

#1 - As a 2E parent, I think that advanced learning programs should be available to special ed students who test in. If the school that houses the APP or Spectrum program can't serve the IEP, then that's effectively prohibiting the child from attending. In many cases (definitely in my son's case), the advanced curriculum is as crucial to his well being as anything on his IEP. 2E students shouldn't have to choose between getting their academic needs met and getting their special needs met.

I keep bringing this up and I keep being told that there's no problem, that 2E kids are being served in AL programs just fine. Maybe it's true. 2E parents, has that been your experience?

#2 - About the rogue principals...I understand why it's not ideal, but at the same time I like that our principal's "rogue" way of implementing Spectrum has made Spectrum possible at all at our school. I'd rather have rogue than nothing.

Instead of leaving it up to individual principals, perhaps we could have a few (maybe 3) standard models for Spectrum depending on enrollment.
Anonymous said…
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TraceyS said…
Great post, Charlie. I have longer thoughts on this that I'll try to get out tonight. One quick thought - nearly every other district in the Puget Sound area has some sort of gifted or advanced learning program in place, with many doing programs both in neighborhood schools as well as a magnet-style school. And almost none of them have the level of flux that we have in Seattle. Providing gifted/Advanced learning is not a new nor unique problem.
Tracy is right; other districts have all types of gifted programming including self-contained. I note that someone tried to say Federal Way didn't have them and I looked and they do. It is more common than many like to believe.
Anonymous said…
Keep APP. Don't loosen the standards. Acknowledge that the existing program is already not meeting the needs of some kids.

Keep Spectrum level differentiation, but allow for something other than the self-contained model. Walk-to-math and reading allow for more flexibility and serve students only working ahead in either math or reading. The problem? Some schools will do it well and some won't. Some will have a large enough cohort to make it work (Jane Addams), some won't.

The question is: Is it reasonable to expect teachers to cover that range of abilities, as Melissa proposes? What's the reality that all teachers will be able and willing to differentiate? That's why the self-contained model works - the teachers have a narrower range of abilities in a classroom and the kids are more likely to get an appropriate curriculum.

Come middle school, there should be opt-in honors level (Spectrum) classes for those that maintain the grades. Of course this is "tracking," which SPS seems to abhor. Math is already ability based in middle school, so why not LA?

As far as a 1-8 APP school (it couldn't really be a K-8, as it starts in 1st grade), I agree that the middle school experience offers more as a middle school, not a 1-8. On the flip side, when APP is part of a neighborhood school, the assigned teachers are not necessarily trained to teach gifted/APP, and when it is one of many programs within a neighborhood school the principal is less able to focus on maintaining any program integrity.

The aligned, written, taught and tested APP curriculum that was promised - it was supposed to be implemented concurrent with the split - was never delivered.

This, along with some teachers having little to no experience teaching gifted ed, has been a real problem at Hamilton.

Why is AL having such an identity crisis?

my 2 cents
Anonymous said…
AAP Elem
APP Middle
Either have 2 of each or 3 of each to spread across the city.

All neighborhood Elems - walk to math and walk to reading for grades 1-5. Some kids might even walk two grades ahead.

Remove ALO and Spectrum.

- an idea
CAlifornia Dreamin' said…
I would like to see some of the options found in other districts such as pre-AP and Pre-IB and even Pre-CAmbridge for middle school (like Federal Way) rather than Spectrum. I would like to see the pre-IB, pre-AP and/or honors middle school programs be self-selecting, as Federal Way and Shoreline allow (as far as I know). I'd like to see more such programs at the high school level than we have.

I haven't heard of too many other entirely self-contained elementary or middle school programs such as APP, but I don't oppose it for those that want it. In an ideal world, though, I'd like to see either differentiation and walk-to classes ALSO offered. Not everyone wants to be so corralled and some have kids who get along fine with less academically gifted children sitting next to them, as long as they get the challenges THEY need.

Finally, I'd like to see a real, concerted outreach to minority families for all of these programs. There is simply not enough representation in APP and it's not because minority kids aren't capable. I personally know 6 kids who are/were APP eligible and chose private, public neighborhood schools or went out of district rather than have their minority child be a one of only a handful. It leads to a catch-22-parents won't send their kids to APP because of the lack of minority participants then when new minority parents take a look they see few minority kids and won't send their kids there...

Hopefully this committee will create some good proposals and the district will listen...
Anonymous said…
I would like to see AL be more individualized. It is strange to expect that kids will be exactly & only 1 grade level ahead in all subjects or 2 grade levels.

Some kids are 4 grade levels ahead in math & only 1 grade level ahead in reading. Or behind in reading. Or they are 2E.

There should be multiple ways to address needs for advanced learning including guided independent study, walk to a different grade level or a different school, small study groups, flexible groupings, opportunites to take another elective instead of a required class, integrated opportunities and differentiated instruction. We shouldn't limit kids to one rigid model, but maintain flexibility in every model to meet different needs.

Years ago when we looked at APP for my oldest, the principal told us that they would not be able to meet my child's needs because she was more than 2 years advanced in math & reading. She would have to do the same materials that everyone else did, no modification. (And she was not equally advanced in both so having a program that was 3 years advanced or 4 or 5 would not have answered either.) We got more individual attention in our neighborhood school with no advanced learning program at all because they wanted her to learn & were willing to be flexible.

Is there really an interest in meeting the needs of kids or just in saying that we have a program?

- AL didn't meet our needs
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
Sign the 5:21 post

Dissatisfied with ALO and differentiation
Anonymous said…
As far as who should be included in AL, anyone who wants to and can do the work. Seriously, why exclude a kid who would clearly benefit from it and wants it b/c some test says their cognitive aptitude isn't high enough.

If they can keep up and do the work, and want to, why not include them?

Anonymous said…
From Advanced Learning -

If you have already responded to our survey, thank you! We have already received over 1500 responses! (with the email going to 5300 families)

That's a pretty good response rate (though take into consideration some families submit one response for each child).
Anonymous said…
I agree with Amy in Greenwood. The truth with Spectrum in certain parts of town, as I have known it, is if you didn't get in in 1st or 2nd grade, you never got in.

And I respectfully disagree with Melissa regarding her description of her school and self-contained spectrum - my kids were at your school around the same time yours were - and there was a definite tension between the Spectrum "haves" and the non-spectrum "have-nots" parents. Was the school tied in knots? No, but there was definitely a perception of Spectrum kids getting something "better" or different than the regular ed kids. And it did cause resentment. It just may have been more under the surface than you were aware of. At least that's my memory of the school at that time. And that, I think, is one of the problems of self-contained spectrum. It may work, but at what price? And what is the answer to that problem? Its beyond me.

I very much like Melissa's recommendations for how spectrum should look going forward, but really have some doubts in this district's , and any teacher's ability to make that type of differentation work without some MAJOR changes in teacher, family and student expectations, class size and funding.

As to APP, I dont have a strong opinion - just that why does it even exist in high school? Seems not necessary, but I dont know enough about it.

Signed, Doubtful
Anonymous said…
APP doesn't exist in high school.
Honors or Advanced placement(AP) classes only.

I recall the teacher of our older child (who went to Lowell APP and had a fabulous elementary education)
saying that even though she was teaching 28 (yes, 28) kids who placed in the top 2%, they each were very different from each other within that spectrum. Teachers versed in Gifted Education and accompanying skills should be the teachers in any APP classrooms.

Two and a half years to go.
I'm a little surprised here.

People want Spectrum? What version? Who chooses what version? The principal? The teachers (all of them or just the Spectrum ones?)? Parents?

There is no APP program in high school. Just a cohorts.

Last, Doubtful, you have me at a disadvantage. You say our children were in the same elementary and then offer a judgment of "haves and have-nots"without me knowing if you were actually there.

Tell you what. E-mail me at

and tell what school it was and your name.

Otherwise you could just be someone who doesn't like Spectrum.
Eastie said…
Anonymous at 5:21-differentiation DOES actually work in some settings. It's what Montessori is built on. I've seen third graders reading with 6th graders, doing 5th grade spelling and 3rd grade math. Or 6th graders doing algebra while still working on cursive writing. It's where I had my kids when they grew up in a state without gifted ed. Differentiation worked quite well.

The challenge is to be able to do it in a public school setting.
Anonymous said…

Interesting. How large were the classes?

I think 3rd graders reading with 6th graders is great. I'd like to see more free movement by ability.....those were high 3d graders, right?

I can't envision that kind of free movement in an SPS school. The time and coordination would be huge. Do teachers want to commit to that? Would parents go for it?

Anonymous said…
Question about HS. how does a kid qualify for AP classes?

Anonymous said…
The current program assumes an evenness of ability across subjects which leaves out a great number of gifted kids. Kids who test 99% in one subject, but 70% in another should not be left out in the cold. Many private schools in the area for highly capable kids recognize and serve kids who are uneven in giftedness across subjects, why can't SPS?

Charlie Mas said…
JB asked how kids qualify for AP classes.

It varies from school to school and class to class, but generally speaking any student who has completed the pre-requisite classes and wants to take an AP class can take the class. Some of the AP classes, such as the world language courses, have a lot of pre-requisites and some of them, such as the history classes, do not.
David said…
One new idea I see in these comments is to drop Spectrum and ALO and only offer APP, lower the bar for getting into APP, then significantly increase the differentiation available both in general education and APP.

The idea seems to be that a student in general ed could be working two grade levels ahead in math but be a little behind in reading, while a student in APP could be one grade level ahead in reading and four grades levels ahead in math.

I like this idea a lot in theory, but worry about the ability of most teachers to implement it. In a class of 30, teachers will no longer be able to expect all students in their class to be doing the same work (with a few kids struggling and a few kids way advanced and bored), but will have a wide range of kids doing work over three or more grade levels. Especially with a district administration that has appeared hostile to support and incentives for differentiation in the classroom, I suspect that the likely outcome will be that most teachers will focus on the middle and, in most classrooms, you will see no differentiation.

From a practical standpoint, I think you need to try to group students with similar abilities. At a minimum, you need to group students with unusual needs together, so a teacher will be expecting and planning for diverting from the norm. Otherwise, I think you will get teaching to the middle and no differentiation, especially when combined with large class sizes.
basically said…
All APP teacher must have Gifted Ed endorsement. From 1-8 grade. period. Other than that, I don't really care if it is housed in a tent in a parking lot. We have been in APP a Very Long Time, and the teacher makes all the difference. We have been in self contained school, split, merged, etc, and it boils down to the teachers who truly understand (and I know someone will flame me for this, have at it) TRULY understands that these kids learn differently. They are no more special than any other kid in SPS, but they learn differently. Teachers who understand this, and don't resent the children for being quick and clever are what is needed in APP at every single level through middle school.
Anonymous said…
A freshly conceived advanced learning program would gain strength from openly acknowledging that testing and it's accuracy does not have a proven track record in the young, especially when predicting future academic ability. Advanced learning programs which allow other avenues of entrance such as proven academic ability to do advanced work and teacher recommendations would improve equity and fairness.

Anonymous said…
I am a kindergarten parent at a school with a self contained spectrum program. I find it ridiculous that kids in kindergarten are tested for entrance into spectrum, especially when part of the basis for that admission is the seriously flawed MAP test along with criteria that seems to change from year to year. There are many kids on the waitlist who didn't test well in kindergarten. There are kids who got in whose parents could afford to pay the expense of private testing and appeal. The whole concept of spectrum admission is flawed to me. Layered on top of this is the fact that our school is very overcrowded and part of that problem is the non area spectrum kids (although a huge outcry was raised at the mention of moving spectrum so that was quickly pulled off the table.)

I also really don't like the way spectrum is set up at our school as a separate set of classrooms. I just don't think it is fair to kids that are advanced in one subject only and also kids who are late bloomers. All kids should be getting the opportunity they need to thrive and not just those who test well in kindergarten or those whose parents can make sure of that through very expensive private testing.

Concerned mom
Charlie Mas said…
I have read some answers to the central questions:

1) Who do we need to serve with some alternative to the general education classroom?

Some, like Po3 and my two cents, have written that we should keep the APP and Spectrum as two separate programs with eligibility criteria either right where they are or slightly adjusted.

Melissa wrote that we should serve only the students performing in the top eight percent outside the general education classroom. An idea also suggested dissolving Spectrum.

David, and others such as Dissatisfied, say that the students we should serve outside the general education classrooms are those who are working beyond grade level - without regard to their cognitive ability.

Floor Pie raised a valuable question about whether we serve our twice exceptional students and, if so, how.

KP questioned the need to qualify in multiple subject areas.

The other central question was
2) What requirements should the District set and enforce and what details should be left to the schools to determine?

Amy and Jane say that the district needs to insure that there is space available for qualified students. No waitlists.

Floor Pie and my two cents advocate for a limited menu of two or three delivery models, a compromise between rigid adherence to a single model and the present anarchy.

California Dreamin' suggested national (and international) models for advanced middle school curricula in lieu of Spectrum.

Dissatisfied with ALO and differentiation promoted a more open grouping of students by skill-level, essentially the dissolution of the age-based grouping we now use. Eastie appears to agree.
David said…
Thanks for the summary, Charlie. I might add that one point of agreement seems to be that, while APP is generally working, ALO and Spectrum are not working. Solutions to ALO and Spectrum vary from enhancement to dissolution, but I think we do have general agreement that the biggest problem with advanced learning right now is the inconsistency and poor support of ALO and Spectrum.
Eastie said…
Dissatisfied-I want to say that the classes were roughly 25 kids-it's been a few years. I know we have some public Montessoris in Seattle-I wonder how they work it, because as I said true Montessori is designed to allow kids to work at their level.

Another thing Montessori does is allow the kids a lot of self-directed learning, so it probably works well even with large classes because the kids are expected to do a lot of the work on their own. Montessori teachers rarely, if ever, stand in front of a whole class and teach AT the kids. They are more like guides. Their background is in looking at each child as an individual. In a perfect world, I would like to see that in EVERY classroom for ALL kids.
ArchStanton said…
Regardless of any real or imagined redesign; I would like:

* a clearly defined advanced learning program
* that is designed with "the intelligent application of relevant data"
* that is delivered consistently and equitably throughout the district
* that is supported by administration
* that is physically self-contained or co-housed with programs that are welcoming instead of antagonisitc
* that has stable physical locations and is not threatened with splits or relocations every other year

Beyond that, it could be: K-12, housed in tents under I-5, blended, housed with SpecEd/ELL/2E, use grade-skipping or walk-to-whatever... as long as it meets the needs of as many kids as possible without leaving so many underserved and is CONSISTENT and STABLE.

It was the lack of those things that were the biggest factors in our decision to go private.
Anonymous said…
I totally agree with basically that the most important factor for APP is making sure the teachers are well trained in working with highly gifted students. We currently have a teacher with no training in this population and no understanding and no willingness to learn more of the children's needs. It has created a very difficult situation.

Need more training
Lori said…
So many thoughts but will try to be succinct!

I posed a question on the APP blog a few weeks ago about the potential value of using local norms for AL identification rather than national norms. Given the current MAP boondoggle, I am ever more interested in this idea now. Is the committee discussing this idea?

Here's what the report that I saw said, "Advantages of local norms. The primary limitation of national norms is they do not take into account local variations in ability or achievement. However, the need for special programming at the local level depends on the discrepancy between students’ current levels of cognitive or academic development and that of their classmates – not all other students in the nation. In some schools, the average student scores at the 20th national percentile (NPR). In such a school, a student who scores at the 70th NPR is probably significantly mismatched with her peers. Conversely, in some very high-achieving schools, a child who scores at the 95th NPR may not be seriously mismatched with the instructional challenges in the classroom. Because schools vary widely in the average ability and achievement of their students, policies that require all students in the district or state to attain the same level of excellence on a nationally normed test result in schools in which no child is served by the program and other schools in which a substantial fraction of the children are labeled “gifted.” Local norms eliminate both of these problems.

The article goes on to say how such an approach can increase participation in gifted programs by traditionally under-represented populations.

It's something to think about, particularly as we get into the more "grey" areas of Spectrum and ALO. At a high-achieving school, do kids scoring in the 87th percentile really need self-contained classes if the "average" kid in that school scores in, say, the 70th percentile? I don't know, but I think it's worth asking the question as we revamp these programs.
Lori said…
I hope some of the AL Task force members as well as parents attend the Northwest Gifted Child Association (NWGCA) conference in Edmonds this Saturday.

The keynote talk is entitled, "So What? Who Are These Kids and Why Do We Serve Them?" The description is:

Frequently it is difficult to explain to teachers or a neighbor or relative why it can be challenging to have a very bright child. Or to be a very bright child. Or to educate a very bright child. This presentation is designed to help participants articulate to others who gifted children are, what their characteristics and learning needs are, what their social and emotional issues are, the myths surrounding this small population, and the risk factors they face. Filled with examples to illustrate and research to quote, this presentation helps participants themselves feel like now they can talk about it to the others in their lives.

You can find the other session topics at this link:
David said…
Maybe I went too far when I said APP generally works. Others raise good points that APP needs to be much more stable and be staffed with teachers trained in gifted education.
Anonymous said…
Had the district acted on the outside review of years ago, many of the concerns would be moot. As Charlie says, an aligned, written, tested curriculum...where is it?

Looking to Bellevue, they recently had an outside review by the College of William and Mary Center for Gifted Education (which develops gifted curriculum) in June, 2011. Already, they are acting on the recommendations by providing teachers with PD in "new literacy curriculum designed for gifted students," as well having middle school teachers "meet to plan alignment of the middle school curriculum with the Core Standards and across grade levels."

From Bellevue:

There are also several recommendations in their budding stages. Your Prism teachers are aligning their curriculum with the Core Standards and the National Gifted Programming Standards indicating where they have differentiated their instruction and curriculum for their gifted learners. We are researching identification tools and procedures that will better identify students in need of gifted programming services. And, we are communicating with an in-state college regarding further professional development and possible specialty endorsement in gifted education.

So, an outside review was performed, and only months later, they are acting on the recommendations.

And in Seattle?

-ranting parent
Anonymous said…
A link to Bellevue Gifted:

-ranting parent
juicygoofy said…
Great summary Charlie.

I'd like to add that regardless of how things are set up today, we should note that a child with high cognitive abilities does not (necessarily) have the same needs as a child who achieves high academically. In many cases, these abilities do align, but our problems seem to be occurring where they do not.

I would like separate for the gifted, regardless of achievement, and another for high achievers regardless of IQ. This is very close to how we are currently operating, or how I thought APP/Spectrum and ALO should be operating, but with a slight change to eligibility requirements.

While we're talking ideals, guarantee access to all, get rid of EDM and never use MAP data for eligibility criteria!
Anonymous said…
A link to the Bellevue Gifted program review:

Many of the recommmendations for Bellevue would apply to improving Seattle's program, such as:

- Program staff should have a background in gifted ed (and existing staff should be encouraged to get PD in gifted ed)

- Curriculum should be designed to meet the needs of gifted learners

- Students should be cluster grouped based on domain specific giftedness

- A full-time staff position should be dedicated for overseeing curriculum delivery, coordinating PD, writing policy, managing data, etc.

- Reevaluate screening procedures

ranting parent
ArchStanton said…
David said... Maybe I went too far when I said APP generally works.

It's all relative. I think APP parents are glad to have anything that even begins to meet their needs, warts and all. It works better than GenEd or Spectrum for those that need it and is more consistent compared to Spectrum.

If we didn't have the option or the means to go private, we would still be in APP and be glad that we had that much, but we'd still be pushing for SPS to get it's 'stuff' together. In fact, we'd be happy to return to SPS if that day ever comes.

On another note; we were included in the survey. From the questions, it seems like there was an intentional decision to include families that had left SPS. Maybe there is hope...
Lori said…
thanks for the link to Bellevue's gifted programs.

I can't help but notice that Bellevue's program is very different than ours. One huge difference is that Bellevue is serving a much smaller population. Their self-contained PRISM program requires a CogAT of at least 99.7%, equivalent to an IQ of at least 144.

Their only other program is a weekly pullout "enrichment" program for kids with CogAT of 98%, equivalent to an IQ of 132. These kids go to their "regular" school 4 days a week and to a pullout program at another school once per week.

PRISM and enrichment at Bellevue roughly match our APP program. They have nothing for what would be our Spectrum population (CogAT of 87% or higher). I find this difference in approach very interesting. Not necessarily a model for SPS, but I guess I'm surprised at the very different approach.
Anonymous said…
Bellevue's current assessments are the CogAT and the ITBS for reading. They are tested in the 1st grade for 2nd grade placement.

"Questions on the verbal and quantitative sections [CogAT] are read to the students at this grade level[1st grade]"

No mention of testing K students. And no mention of computerized tests.

Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
TraceyS said…
I've been preoccupied with family matters lately, so I can't respond too thoroughly. However, last December I started looking at gifted/advanced learning programs at school districts in our region, with the goal of having a comparable list of programs. I also wanted to eventually look at other comparable cities across the US, such as San Francisco, Boston, Bay area, Ann Arbor, etc. I won't be able to do any of that for a while, but from what work I did manage to do, a few things stood out:

1. Most districts have stable programs. I simply did not see unannounced or last-minute program changes that we see here in Seattle on a regular basis.

2. Lottery systems for programs were not unusual, meaning not every eligible kid gets in. Some were based on random numbers and some were based on student test scores. I did not gather enough data to definitively determine how common this is. But it is certainly not rare for districts to not be able to meet the needs of all qualified students.

3. There is a lot of variety in the programs, from in-school enrichment style programs to separate schools with self-contained programs. Some districts offer more services than others, but many (most?) had at least a two-tier program, the common model being a self-contained program for the very highly gifted, and an in-school model for the gifted/motivated learner.

4. Nearly every district had some sort of program, and most touted having staff trained in gifted education. I was not able to get a complete handle on how common this was, but my impression was that was the norm to have some sort of formal training for both the teachers and the administrators.

Once things settle down in my household, I'll try and get back to my surveying. In the interim, perhaps we could collectively put together a list of programs. It is good to see what others are doing, and why, as we think about what we'd like our own district to provide.
Charlie Mas said…
A path is becoming clear for me. It's heavily influenced by something that Lori wrote.

How's this:

One program designed for children with cognitive ability in that narrow range more than 1.5 standard deviations above the mean - about the 98th percentile. Science says that these students think differently and learn differently, so they should be taught differently. This program would be essentially APP, but with a curriculum and instructional strategies more focused on the cognitive ability and less on the academic acceleration.

Another program with some kind of structure and accountability that is implemented within each school for the students in that school who are working beyond the pace of their class peers. Eligibility for this program would be based entirely on academic progress without any cognitive ability assessment and it would vary from school to school. A student who qualifies at one school might not qualify at another. The rationale here is that the instruction in the general education class is pitched to a midpoint and that doesn't serve these students well. Schools that offer skill-based small group instruction or skill-level "walk to math" are already doing this and don't have to change anything. This could be done in separate domains - a student could be in the program for reading but not for math, for example.

I have to wonder, aren't Spectrum students well-served even in the general education classes of schools with a lot of high performing students? Aren't those general education classes taught to the frontier of the high performing students' knowledge and skills? If we approach the question from the perspective of "Which students are not well served in the general education class?" then doesn't the answer vary based on what is happening in the general education classes?

Charlie Mas said…
Ours is a world full of unintended consequences. I have been thinking of what may be the unintended consequences of APP based on cognitive ability that pays reduced attention to academic acceleration and a Spectrum program with eligibility based on super-local criteria.

First, some families that are focused on academic acceleration might not choose APP for their APP-qualified children.

Second, some families might choose to keep their high performing child at a school with generally low performing students. Some might even keep their only-slightly-above-average performing child at a school with generally low-performing students, thus ending the "brain drain" at those schools.

Third - and this would be really weird, but I don't put it beyond reality - some folks might actually choose a nearby school with a lot of low-performing students for their moderately high performing child for access to the program in the chosen school when they would not gain access to the program in their attendance area school.

Don't scoff. Look how many people got addresses in the JSIS and Garfield attendance areas after the NSAP. People will re-arrange a lot to seek educational advantages for their kids.
Charlie Mas said…
Or maybe I'm wrong.

Maybe the District has successfully aligned curriculum and the lessons in the third grade class at View Ridge is no different from the lessons in the third grade class at Wing Luke.

Maybe the teachers do such a great job of differentiating instruction that a student's individual academic needs will be met no matter how they may differ from the academic needs of the child's classmates.

Maybe there is something about Spectrum students that they are not well-served in a general education classroom even if that classroom has a critical mass of students working one grade level ahead and accelerated learning is supported.

I don't think I am wrong about this.

More than that, a decade of experience with advanced learning leads me to believe that families want APP, Spectrum and ALOs for two main reasons:

1) To provide their child with an appropriate academic opportunity

2) To escape the elements of the general education classroom that they dread - teach to the middle (if not the bottom), peer pressure to under-achieve, the absence of an intellectual peer group.

So I think school-level eligibility based on the peer group should be acceptable.
Interested said…
I've looked at NYC's G&T website a few times for comparison. They test kids pre-K for placement into programs in kindergarten. Where is the compendium of program option throughout the world to look at and make comparisons? Are all programs invented from scratch or do people study these programs and write papers or books ? I have heard that the task force read the Mongomery County Schools newspaper article. What other districts will you look to for examples? Maybe the district can hire a researcher for you!
Anonymous said…
Charlie --
My impression is that as far as math is concerned, the 2nd teacher is teaching the 2nd grade EveryDay Math curriculum, regardless of the ability of the students. In reading, the children will likely be reading different books geared to their level during free reading, but the daily reading instruction or activity the teacher is giving is the same for everyone, regardless of whether the school is a school filled with above average kids or not. Ditto for science -- everyone teaching from the district kits. Now maybe the "high achieving" school moves a bit faster so they may cover a few more units by the end of the year, but I don't think they do anything materially different, at least not in elementary school.
--Elementary Mom
Charlie Mas said…
Gee, Elementary Mom, I'm not sure how I feel about that.

On one hand I guess it's good that the teaching in the district is generally aligned because that speaks to equity.

On the other hand, I'm deeply concerned that the teachers are moving forward with the grade level curriculum in schools in which a significant portion of the class could not demonstrate proficiency with the previous year's content.
Anonymous said…
Melissa---I'm totally opposed to lowering the standards for APP. What you are describing is a radically different program than exists today.

That's not to say APP is perfect. But if you are going to redefine it to that degree, keeping the same name is a fig leaf of continuity.

You're obviously entitled to your opinion---though I must say I'm disconcerted to hear that you are advocating this when you are on the AL task force---but if you really think that's a good idea, you should be honest and present it as a total replacement for the current offerings, distinct from what exists, with zero continuity and no transfer of institutional knowledge.

For any new program like this, you would need to answer all the questions about how eligibility for such a large number of students will affect existing neighborhood schools, where the space will come from to host these schools (when demand is likely to be in areas which are already overcrowded), how the curriculum will be defined, how teachers will differentiate in this new setup when they don't differentiate very effectively in APP as it is today, etc. etc. I wouldn't be convinced by "that's how APP works today" as an answer, because what you propose is not a variation on APP.

Oh, and by the way---is the new cutoff number well-supported by research (as compared to what we have today)? My guess is not, but I'd love to see any citations.

David said…
Like that idea, Charlie, APP based on cognitive assessment and another program based on academic achievement. In practice, that would mean APP would stay the same as the cognitive assessment program and Spectrum would be remade into the academic achievement program, correct?
Porkypine said:

"But if you are going to redefine it to that degree, keeping the same name is a fig leaf of continuity."

Yes, and that would be the problem with Spectrum today.

David, I agree that Charlie's idea that you commented on may be a tack to take.

FYI, I have not communicated any of my random thoughts (and that's all they are) to the AL Taskforce.
Anonymous said…

Appreciate the response. I'll reiterate the last question, though: is the 90-92% bar supported by research or practice? Put another way, does it come from anywhere other than the need to deal with current Spectrum-qualified kids?

BTW, a 90-92% bar gives you WAY more kids than will fit in two locations, assuming there's a high percentage of qualified kids who opt in. Hard to know without having the testing numbers that AL has, but my guess is that it at least triples the population of APP.

Judy said…

I like your proposal a lot. I think "spectrum" kids can be, for the most part, served in their local schools. I think plenty of kids who don't test into APP can handle the work. I think it's obnoxious when APP parents think there should be a really tight band around IQ and achievement tests to qualify when GenEd students are dealing with a MUCH more diverse classroom.

I also like the idea of lowering the bar even more and allowing opt-in with strict exit guidelines. My daughter is at L@L and a lot of "average" kids at her old school could DEFINITELY handle the work. Unlike most entitled APP parents I've met, I feel bad that those kids aren't given the opportunity. I don't think my kid seems much different than those kids. Maybe she just tests REALLY well!

Anonymous said…
I'll just note that there are lots of paths to APP as it is. For some kids it's an attractive alternative to neighborhood schools, but not that big a deal. For some kids it is a (metaphorically speaking) lifesaver, and going back isn't really an option.

I know both kinds of families, which makes it difficult for me to label people with pejoratives like 'entitled,' when everyone is just trying to make the best decision for their kids.

I will admit a bias in that the kids who don't do well outside of APP need to have a place to be. Changing the entrance requirements radically may take that place away.

I do feel that there are kids right around that eligibility line who are out-but-should-be-in, or in-but-should-be-out. I'd like to see the eligibility rules be flexible enough to deal with that, and when there's kid who isn't benefiting from the program that should be handled more proactively than it is now.

Anonymous said…
AMEN Porkypine.

StringCheese said…
I have a couple of points to make. First, my ideal "blank slate" program would be one based on ability level and not age. A program where each child is being challenged in each subject independently. Human growth is a flexible and dynamic thing. We should treat it as such.

Is the 2nd grader born in late August really a year ahead of a peer born one month later who is, by virtue of their birthdate, only in 1st grade? Yet, in our current system, we expect them to be. Get rid of "grade levels" and place all children by comprehension, achievement, and pace. For the most part, they will still end up in cohorts of similarly age peers. Does "I'm in 4th grade working at a 6th grade level" designation make more sense? I think not. Your academic progress becomes a true journey. You are no longer trying to fit the square pegs that are your highly capable AND the academically struggling into pre-drilled round holes.

My child qualified for Spectrum last year and APP this year. We chose not to send her to our sham of a Spectrum program and we have a lot to think about regarding APP.

We would LOVE to keep her at her current school. However, we have been told repeatedly that because of the structure of EDM, it is impossible for them to have her skip a grade (or two) within the school or differentiate any further in the classroom. There is simply no way for the teacher to move onto another section of the preposterous spiral with only a few students. Has anyone else encountered this? Because EDM felt the need to rename every single math concept and item (dot cube? really? what exactly is wrong with dice?) skipping ahead becomes more of an exercise in foreign language than cognitive ability to grasp the reasoning behind the concepts.

So much more to say... perhaps another day...
Lori said…
Agree with porkypine @352PM and also with Stringcheese.

I've long supported the idea of grade skipping, particularly for kids born shortly after the cutoff date, as an alternative to moving to Spectrum or APP. I remember a quote in a book on gifted ed a few years ago that said something like, "arranging kids in classrooms by age makes as much sense as arranging them by height." Sure, we need to start somewhere, and age makes sense, but cutoffs should be soft and flexible based on individual need. The latest thinking in gifted ed is that grade skipping does *not* harm a child socially or emotionally, which is usually the reason given for not doing it.

I hope the AL Task Force considers grade skipping as an option, particularly if the goal is to serve more children in their neighborhood schools.
Anonymous said…
We have become resigned to teaching most math at home, even though our kids are in APP. Accelerating a spiraling curriculum like EDM is not ideal, nor is a program like CMP. I'd like to know for what kids - gifted or not - these programs have shown success.

Depending on your child's level, APP may not provide the challenge your child needs in math. There is no programatic way of serving students beyond the standard APP curriculum. Just FYI.
David said…
Ah, I was just remarking at how unusually civil and pleasant this discussion was, then I saw Judy's comment with its smears of APP parents as being entitled and of the APP program as not being diverse.

I know it is fun to attack APP, but your rage really is misplaced. The numbers say APP is as diverse as the city of Seattle, it is the same racial composition as the children of Seattle. APP parents are actively engaged in public schools and working to help public schools.

Perhaps you should direct your venom toward the 30% of Seattle parents who have bailed on public schools and gone private, the Seattle parents supporting charters and gutting our public system, or the Gates Foundation CEO who has no children in our public schools nor lives in Seattle yet thinks it appropriate to try to buy the Seattle School Board. Parents using and working to improve Seattle Public Schools are not the enemy.
Lori said…
Actually, I should say I agree with everything porkypine has said. I too would want to know whether lowering APP entry criteria to 90% is evidence-based.

I fear that such a move would be making the mistake of creating a one-size-fits-all approach to gifted education and ignoring the great heterogeneity that exists among gifted kids.

Experts now generally talk about 5 levels of giftedness and recognize different needs among them.

Here's a link to the levels, by IQ and early childhood milestones:

And here's a link to a recent article in Psychology Today about the needs of the highly gifted:

This quote in the Psychology Today article stood out to me: "As such, Davidson programs for the gifted serve what they refer to as profoundly gifted youth. They define that with tests that are 99.9% or higher or children that are 3 standard deviations above the norm. Depending on the IQ test, children participating in Davidson programs may norm differently and can peak anywhere from 145 to 150 in terms of IQ. The problem, as addressed in Genius Denied, is that “while children of IQs of 120 to 160 may be called gifted, they learn at different rates and think at very different levels.” The range “includes students who may be satisfied with moderate academic advancement such as taking algebra in 8th Grade, and more intellectually advanced students who may be ready for calculus in elementary school. It covers students who read just a little above grade level to twelve-year-olds who read Tolstoy by flashlight under the covers at night. Yet educational policies tend to view the gifted as a homogenous group and assume that any gifted program in place will satisfy all these children’s needs.”

I don't think it's elitist to be asking questions about what the right cutoff is. I want all kids challenged at the edge of their ability, but I'm not sure that increasing heterogeneity in APP is the answer. Remember, Dr. Brulles who spoke at Wedgwood pointed out the differences between "bright" kids and "gifted" kids, and her definitions of bright roughly correlated with our Spectrum, while gifted roughly correlated with APP. And her cluster model has these kids in different classrooms, where the bright kids can shine and be leaders in their own right.
Charlie Mas said…
Lots of questions about where the cut-off should be.

I think the cut-off should be at the point at which the students cannot be reliably well-served in the general education classroom.
sixwrens said…
so when is SPS going to figure out what they are doing with APP? We've got a child who qualifies & would benefit, but it will be hard to commit (this March?) to a change in schools if we don't know what we're signing up for.
Anonymous said…
David @ 6:05PM 2/2, I would hold off directing venom at parents who choose to send their children outside SPS system. There are many good and valid reasons why Seattle parents send their kids outside SSD. There are Seattle school kids in other public school districts and in private schools. I don't begrudge them those choices as I don't know the circumstances that led them to do so. But I don't think they went to all that trouble just to show off or bear a grudge. They did so because like us they are trying to do the right thing for their children.

For families who value a religious education, I think it's better to have their kids in such schools. For kids with learning issues, they may find more support and the help their kids need to thrive at Hamlin Robinson and Morningside Academy. For those kids who have parents eager to send them to a better and safer schools than their assigned neighborhood schools, they went private on their dime or with scholarships. Same for those who want language immersion, more alternatives like Waldorf or montessori, but cannot find a place within NSAP or option schools. I would rather focus on the things that need fixing rather than finding more targets to pick a fight with.

shared vision
TraceyS said…
Something I have been mulling over for some time is whether I would support a lottery-based admission into a gifted or advanced learning program, either at the APP level or at the neighborhood school level. The lottery could be based on test scores or on random numbers.

The reason I have been thinking about this is that there are a lot of programs out there that do exactly this, and get a stable and predicable system in exchange. My husband, for example, went to a lottery-based gifted high school in his youth in San Francisco, and I know several local districts used some form of lottery as well.

I think we need to discuss the competing interests of stability alongside universal access. Trying to put together a program that does both would require a great deal of commitment and planning, something that I am not sure SPS is able to deliver on at this time.

Please note that I am NOT advocating for a lottery. I just think that is needs to be discussed.
Anonymous said…
TraceyS, if you go to lottery system for fixed number of seats, you may gain stability for that one program. But for all the kids who didn't get in, the problems go back to the school they are in. You still have a problem reconciling unmet academic needs.

I understand "differentiation" is the district's answer, but I am not sure trying to provide 2+ grade above level of instruction in class size of 30+ would be fair to the teacher or the kids (talking ES here). You would neeed many walk to math/LAs groups to manage that. And if you don't have a large enough cohort to even do "walk to" group, then should a school even try to provide that?

dw said…
Some good thoughts on this thread.

TraceyS said: The lottery could be based on test scores or on random numbers.

Those are two very different plans. A lottery is random, luck of the draw. But limiting admission based on test scores would simply be drawing a line in the sand every year. A line that would likely shift year to year.

The first idea seems grossly unfair, regardless of other districts using it. The second idea seems quite reasonable, although it would be frustrating for kids "on the cusp".

The problem with a random lottery is that you're just as likely to accept a kid right at the cut as a profoundly gifted kid that truly needs a special program. You'd end up with far more kids dreadfully ill-served with a random lotto. At least with a limited, but test-based cutoff, the kids who were close but didn't make the cut would be much more likely to survive in a neighborhood/Spectrum/ALO program.
Anonymous said…
I do not understand why there is a need to limit entrance into either APP or Spectrum solely because there aren't enough seats. I don't support Tracy's idea of a lottery. I think the underlying philosophy should be to have as many kids performing at as high a level as possible. And so if there are 4 classrooms worth of kids that meet whatever the IQ or cut-off test-score is - then provide 4 classrooms worth of service. These kids have to be served somewhere. I realize that kids don't come in neat classroom size packages of 25 and you may end up with uneven numbers - but that's true for gen ed classes as well. I strongly oppose capping enrollment in either APP or Spectrum. And for Spectrum - if there are only enough kids for 1/1/2 classrooms - then I say open it up to academically high performing kids who didn't quite meet the testing cut-off.

I also think that for middle school and high school, any could should be able to opt into "honors" or "advanced" types of classes. If they can't do the work, then they should be exited out. But it is bizarre to me that we limit the number of kids that can participate in the advanced classes due to some arbitrary capacity limit.

Anonymous said…
Also, I don't think grade skipping is an alternative to providing separate gifted education. My son is a young first grader (August birthday) who scores very highly and can do all the work - but emotionally, is definitely a 6 year old. He is capable of doing academic work 1 to 2 grades ahead - but he is not capable of keeping up with the social dynamics of kids 2 grades up. I'm certainly not opposed to having the option to skip a grade - I'm just saying it's not a replacement for some kind of advanced learning that allows kids to be challenged academically - but also takes into account where they are socially and emotionally. Jane
TraceyS said…
Just to be perfectly clear - I am NOT advocating a lottery AT ALL. All the points mentioned are valid ones.

I brought it up mainly because I see so many other districts using some form of lottery to manage access to their programs, In fact, one could make the observation that in Seattle, Spectrum seats are currently assigned by lottery at certain schools, since not all qualified kids get in.

What I think does need to be discussed is the effect a lottery would have on stability, and the trade offs made to achieve that stability. The programs would be far easier to plan and manage with a fixed number of seats. But for those left out, it is highly problematic and a very poor solution. But we already have a big issue with too few Spectrum seats in SPS, and I suspect in other districts have the same problems as well. What I am curious about is how they serve those kids who do not make the cut for whatever reason, and how the lottery system is perceived by the parent and teacher community.

That also leaves us with the corollary issue of how to manage uncertain capacity without a lottery, if we really are committed to serving every qualified student?

Personally, I think we should be making an effort to try to serve all kids, and have multiple identification points, and multiple entry points, and flexible programs. But that does make for a more complex system, and a heck of a lot of commitment and planning from SPS. Not their strong suit at the moment, I am afraid.
TraceyS said…
Also, if I were in a truly snarky mood, I might make the observation that the switch to MAP scores as a gateway test is, in effect, a partial random lottery, given the reported variations in the scores.
Anonymous said…
One thing I'd say in favor about using MAP as a gateway for advanced learning testing is that several of my son's classmates said that it wouldn't have occurred to them to have their kids tested - except for the letter they received from the District suggesting that they have their kids tested. I think that's a pretty positive aspect. And I think the kid only has to score 80th percentile or above in order to be tested.

I really think you need some way to screen all kids and identify ones who should be tested for advanced learning programs. The previous system relied almost entirely on parent initiative - which is fine for parents like me who are somewhat connected (i.e. know parents with older kids already in APP) or like researching. Teachers have little incentive to identify kids for APP as it takes a high performing kid out of their classroom (this was definitely our experience with our daughter).

I would use a system of using MAP (or something like it) to identify kids plus still allowing parents/teachers to nominate kids for testing.

dw said…
Tracey said: That also leaves us with the corollary issue of how to manage uncertain capacity without a lottery, if we really are committed to serving every qualified student?

It's a good question, but I think we may need to consider a hard numerical enrollment limit on APP. I've been against this for many years, but after looking more into how things are done elsewhere, and seeing how the district is killing APP by "growing" it (like we're magically sprouting hundreds more kids that need this special service. sigh.), and how they're killing Spectrum programs outright, I'm changing my mind.

I do want to reiterate that a lottery is not the same as an enrollment limit based on test scores. I'm not in favor of a lottery, but I could support an enrollment limit based on test scores. With one disclaimer: we need a valid instrument, and MAP is apparently NOT a strong instrument for assessing very high achievers. Especially with the current fiasco. But it's far and away better than the WASL/MSP, which has been used at times in the past.

Tracey also said: I might make the observation that the switch to MAP scores as a gateway test is, in effect, a partial random lottery

Yes, I agree. So oddly enough there's could be a strange kind of overlap between lottery and an enrollment limit based on test scores! But in theory that shouldn't be the case.
Anonymous said…
I grew up in Seattle and was bused all over the city to participate in the program that preceded Spectrum. It was self contained, but since it was housed at only a few locations, there were generally three AL and three GenEd classrooms per grade. I think I got a pretty good education, but the comment that jumps out at me here is " It may work, but at what price?" The tensions that exist now also existed back then, and were painfully obvious to me as an elementary and middle school student. I had a real sense of relief when I got to high school and the programs and their labels disappeared.

The school that my children attend was nearly torn apart by debates over implementation of the Spectrum program. Whether you favor a self-contained model or not (I don't, except perhaps for APP), I don't think it works well in a neighborhood school. Ultimately our school adopted cluster grouping, with walk-to-math and walk-to-reading in upper grades. Is it perfect? Probably not, but I think it is better than the alternative because it meets the needs of more students (i.e. those who don't test, don't test well but are high performing, perform well in only one subject, etc.). And I think (others may disagree) that it has helped to break down some of the damaging social barriers that existed in the past.

I think the key to making any program work is really going to be the quality of instruction. ALL of the teachers at our school committed to some professional development around advanced learning and differentiation. I would love to see the district go in this direction. Less focus on eligibility requirements, and more on the actual teaching piece. It would of course be more expensive and more difficult to execute than an approach based solely on testing and grouping strategies, but if we're talking vision, why not dream big?

-SPS Mom of Two
dw said…
SPS Mom of Two,

When people talk about "tensions" and "labels", it's hard to understand how non-self contained options like walk-to-math are any better. Having done walk-to myself as a student, and having decent teachers that actually did do some differentiation, I come to almost the opposite conclusion.

When kids are ability grouped within their classrooms, or a handful leave the classroom every day to work with other kids, it's blatantly obvious to all the kids what's going on from a very young age. No matter how the teachers try to spin it. That model highlights more than any other to the students that there are "smart kids" and "not-so-smart kids". If there are kids who are susceptible to emotional harm by being lumped in the lowest group, this is the best way to mess them up. And for others, who fear being labeled as smart/different, this is the best way to make them hide (and ultimately lose) their abilities.

Self-contained classrooms have the ability to mask that much better, at least at the early grades, but ONLY IF the teachers, principal and parents make an effort to keep the overall community attitude strong and healthy. Yes, this takes effort, and there are always a few bad eggs that want to cause trouble, but it can be done.

Years ago, Wedgwood used to be a divisive mess. In-the-know parents refused to send their kids there because there was such hostility between the Spectrum and general ed programs. Much of it was due to nasty parents, but some teachers as well, and it was obvious to the everyone, including the kids. Veronica Gallardo came in as principal and within a couple years the changes were remarkable. There were still the occasional undercurrents of discontent, but very, very low key. Many of the younger Spectrum kids didn't even know they were in a different program, let alone that there was anything wrong with it. I believe a couple teachers were "encouraged" to move to other buildings as part of this change, but the end result was a huge net positive.

Fast forward a few more years, and look what Chris Cronas has done. He's killing Spectrum, re-igniting old hostilities, and he's destroyed any semblance of different programs living together as a happy community. Now it's parent against parent, and the ultimate losers are the kids.

Just wanted to share a different perspective on differentiation/pull-out vs. self-contained.
hschinske said…
When kids are ability grouped within their classrooms, or a handful leave the classroom every day to work with other kids, it's blatantly obvious to all the kids what's going on from a very young age. No matter how the teachers try to spin it. That model highlights more than any other to the students that there are "smart kids" and "not-so-smart kids".

The best solution I've seen for this situation (and it's probably not perfect either) is to group THE MATERIALS, not the students. My kids' first-grade reading worked that way. Each child was on "red box books," "blue box books," etc. You progressed through at your own pace and saw your progress. Someone else being in a different box didn't matter as much because almost everyone was going through all the same boxes that year at some point. It was similar to belt levels in martial arts.

Now, granted, that system wouldn't have done much for the kid like me who was already reading stuff like The Hobbit and Anne of Green Gables at that age, but it did cover a large swath of kids.

Helen Schinske
hschinske said…
Their self-contained PRISM program requires a CogAT of at least 99.7%, equivalent to an IQ of at least 144.

Yabbut... that's on a GRADE-LEVEL test. Which means all the kids are doing is being VERY VERY ACCURATE at grade level. (You can't get a score like that if you miss more than about two questions.) It doesn't really show terrifically out-of-level thinking at all. I would expect the kids who can perform that task to be very bright, certainly, and for there to be fewer of them than qualify for APP, but I wouldn't expect them to be a whole lot brighter than an essentially random selection of APP-qualified kids.

What they're SUPPOSED to be doing for gifted identification is using out-of-level testing: administering the CogAT at a couple of grade levels above the student's current level. If you're 99.9th percentile for a first-grader taking a third-grade test, that's a far more accurate result than getting a 99.9th percentile result for a first-grader on a first-grade test, plus there is room for some careless errors or overthinking some questions, without undue penalty.

Helen Schinske
Anonymous said…
It's very hard to figure out how to make the system work for everyone. For my own personal situation, I agree with Porkypine that we should not lower requirements for APP. I have a child who is in APP, apparently at the higher end of the APP range. He is under-challenged by APP, but it is much better than at our neighborhood school. At our neighborhood school he did a lot of work in small groups with the spectrum-qualified kids. Those kids were wonderful, bright kids, but my son was SO DIFFERENT. I'm talking diferent planet, different solar system, different galaxy kind of different. His needs were not met at all. It was painful for me to watch. I would just cry if APP was changed so that my son was back in that situation again.

The one case where it might work to lower the requirements for APP would be if APP became more of an independent study type thing or a cluster grouping thing and not the lockstep program that it is now. In theory that could be great for everyone. But it seems like it is easier to leave APP alone and work on changing Spectrum/ALO so they work for more people. And there are some good ideas in this thread on how to do that.

Anonymous said…
I think APP and Self contained should stay. I think this serves the kids better than putting onus on overworked teachers trying to serve 3,4 or more different learning levels in a classroom. I also agree that the ALL programs should be based on district rules no an individual mismash based on bad science/psycology. For the record my kids are both in Spectrum but tested in second and third grades. One was initially waitlisted but a space was opened which was great and both my kids really enjoyed school for the first time. If self-contained goes away I will get my kids retested so we may have options of APP.
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Unknown said…

Everything is very open with a precise explanation of the issues. It was definitely informative.

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