Thursday, May 02, 2013

A calm, rational discussion of Advanced Learning

Let's try this one more time.

Let's not devolve into a shouting match. Let's not extrapolate the small sample of our personal experience and presume it is representative of the whole. Let's not talk about other people's children or get personal in any way.

Instead, let's consider two questions and discuss them just as calmly and rationally as we can.

Question #1: Does the District need to develop a plan to address the academic needs of students working beyond Standards?

I, for one, think that they do.

An inability to serve students working beyond Standards is the natural result of a Standards-Based system with a strong focus on closing the achievement gap. In such a system all of the focus, all of the measurement, and all of the incentives, are on getting students to the Standards. Consequently there is no time, resources, or interest in supporting students working beyond the Standards. The Standards, intended in theory as a floor, function in practice as a ceiling. Also, the focus on horizontal and vertical alignment of curriculum (a common effort of Standards-Based systems) actively discourages work beyond the Standards. We have a large body of empirical proof that shows - irrefutably - that students working beyond Standards are not reliably served in the general education classrooms in Seattle Public Schools.

So, should the District offer these students something else?

I don't think that this should be done on a school-by-school basis. The District could punt this question and put the responsibility to develop a response on the schools, but a lot of schools won't do it - just as a lot of schools don't do it now. There is no reason to believe that the District can reliably enforce such a requirement.

For me the answer is an obvious "Yes", but I'm sure there are people who would disagree. If a kid learns all of the third grade content by January of the third grade, then these folks would say that the kid can just sit there and learn nothing for a few months. "Good work! Take the rest of the semester off, Johnny." Or maybe they could be allowed to follow some independent study in a corner of the classroom by themselves. Or maybe they should be put to work as teacher assistants, helping to teach the other students in the class.

Question #2: If we are going to offer students working beyond Standards with one or more alternatives to the general education classroom, then what will those alternatives be?

There are some options here. There could be self-contained classes, such as APP and Spectrum. There could be push-in programs or pull-out programs that provide enrichment on a periodic basis. There's grade skipping. There is the possibility of skill level grouping for core subjects - either within a grade or across grades. There's parallel curricula, which is a ton of work for teachers. What else? Can MTSS offer a solution? Can there be a Tier 2 and a Tier 3 for those working beyond Standards? Would it be handled in a way analogous to those students in Tier 2 and Tier 3 of under-performance? If the District punts the questions to the schools, then what alternatives can or should the schools offer? I suppose there is also the answer from the folks who gave "No" as the answer to the first question: Sit there with your age peers and learn nothing new. Oh, and don't misbehave.

So let's see if we can discuss these two questions like rational creatures.

Here are a few things that people don't need to write in their comments:

  1. All we need to do is improve the differentiation in the general education classroom.
    This is a myth. There may be a few teachers who are so talented and dedicated that they can offer differentiated instruction a few times a week, and we are all grateful for them, but this cannot be the basis for a reliable system. Where has this been done successfully?
  2. Your precious kid is not all that special.
    It doesn't really take a super special child to be working beyond Standards. I don't remember anyone saying it did. Nevertheless, the bulk of general education classrooms are not structured to serve a student who has already mastered the grade level content. And, yes, my children are precious to me. I'm not apologizing for that.
  3. You prepped your kid to make them that way.
    This is often true. In my case I did all kinds of things to give my child a boost academically. I fed them, made sure they got enough sleep, kept them healthy, talked to them, answered their questions, used standard English, spoke to them in other languages, challenged their minds, counted things with them, read to them, modeled reading for them, reasoned things out with them, let them see me think things through, helped them to understand their school work, exposed them to a wider world, encouraged them, praised them, provided them with stability, kept them (largely) free from fear, and gave them all kinds of other prep. I didn't think if it as cheating in any way, just good parenting. I'm not apologizing for this either. Of course none of that matters. How the kids got to be the way they are - either due to their family, despite their family, are without regard to their family - really isn't the question. The question is what the schools will do with them now.
  4. They will all even out in the end.
    No. They won't. I don't know if you've noticed but they don't all graduate high school, they don't all pursue the same post-secondary education, they don't even all take the same kinds of classes in high school. They do not all even out. Not in the end, not ever. Look around. Are all of the people you know academically even? I don't know any two people who are academically even. People may be equal in the eyes of the law or before their creator, but they are not equal in any other perspective. We are each unique.
  5. We don't have to do anything for these kids; they'll be fine.
    No. They won't be fine. There is a large body of data that shows that children who are not appropriately served in school can and will go wrong. Sometimes very, very wrong. There is no basis for the belief that they will be fine.


Miki said...

Some thoughts on different options:

* I think there are two very different questions here. One is whether we have the obligation to meet the needs of advanced learners to actually have the opportunity to learn content that is new to them. The other is whether we have the obligation to meet the needs of advanced learners who have a different learning style, which research has shown is true of many such students. If the issue is solely the former, there are a range of potential options, including some that are relatively cost neutral. If the issue is the latter, the solutions become much more complicated. On one hand, meeting the needs of different learning styles can definitely improve outcomes. On the other hand, we don't as a district do much of anything to meet the needs of "typical" students with different learning styles. I would be hard pressed to say that we need to do this for advanced learning students unless we are also committed to making this happen for all students, because the need is clearly there across the board.

* Truly radical change would be needed to meet both content and learning style needs of students across the spectrum of intelligence and achievement in the different academic domains. While it is achievable -- and I've seen it happen -- it would require a very different way of looking at how and *when* we assess whether students have met standards in our standards-based system. While I would give much (and do much) to see this happen, I don't see SPS as being ready to take that leap any time in the near to intermediate future.

* If it's solely about content, then grade skipping -- either the entire grade, or for a specific academic domain -- has long been shown to be a cost-effective and workable option. The degree to which this is available as an option to students currently varies greatly depending on the individual school, teachers, and how well the parents advocate. Some states and districts have a very set and accessible method for grade skipping, which means that the criteria are clear and made available, and are the same for everyone. While Texas is far from a paragon of educational excellence, they do have this part down cold -- there are set exams for skipping an individual class or for a whole grade for K-8, and any student who meets a set score line on those exams is supposed to be allowed to skip that course or grade and move to the next level. Obviously, how smoothly this is implemented does vary some district to district, but it does work quite well in some places.

* Differentiation within the classroom isn't equally challenging across all academic domains and in all settings. That said, it is much harder to achieve within curricula that are very textbook-driven, which appears to be the case currently in much of SPS. And with curricula that are focused more on books and other sources of information, the ability to successfully offer differentiation can be heavily dependent on what resources a school can offer -- having an actual school librarian with a well-stocked library and good computer access makes a huge difference in this regard. It's not just about how good the teacher is, it's also about what resources that teacher has access to. Most schools I've seen probably have at least one teacher per grade who would be entirely capable of making differentiation work, given an appropriate curriculum and access to a broader range of materials. This is part of why the truly higher end private schools are able to make differentiation work for them -- it's expensive to do.

?? said...

So, if you don't agree with Charlie's #1 preposition, you can't take part in the debate.

Anonymous said...

So I guess the Times commenters who go on about those drolling idiot special education students aren't allowed to say anything mean about APP kids.

Zip it

Anonymous said...

"We don't have to do anything for these kids; they'll be fine.
No. They won't be fine. There is a large body of data that shows that children who are not appropriately served in school can and will go wrong. Sometimes very, very wrong. There is no basis for the belief that they will be fine."

Can you expand on this point, Charlie? What kinds of harms result for students working beyond standard when they aren't appropriately served? Is there an agreed-upon definition in the data for what "appropriately served" means? Would love to learn more about this because I have not encountered this kind of data. Citations welcome, but mostly just trying to learn more about what the harm looks like to students.

seeking elaboration

Anonymous said...

Would working beyond standards include say taking Biology in 9th grade and/or Algebra I in 8th grade? Does offering these type of courses a year (or two) earlier to students solve those achieving above standard? By simply doing this with courses, students are on track for AP level work in 10th grade and beyond. The sequences seems to start arounf 6th grade so am unsure what to do for kids in K-5.

Anonymous said...

Miki, are you saying we are meeting the needs of advanced learner's different styles right now? I don't think any kid of advanced learning we have now does that. I would say we are not to the same degree we do not for other students- generally the faster thing in APP, and we sort of hack this two years ahead thing meaning we get closer to some of their current content placements, but not style. Same curriculum, same basic schedule. I assume the same is true of Spectrum, but I don't know. Maybe with one class per grade it is different, doesn't need to be so standardized?

I really hate that all we have right now is two years ahead plus faster go go go or general. Not for learning style reasons, but how many kids out there have a knack for math who don't qualify for or don't want APP but just as much deserve a shot at learning how to learn new math? A lot. And functionally there is nothing for them. Certainly nothing that will go with them from grade to grade, beyond teacher whim.

I also think differentiation is a mirage. My children's teachers have been excellent, to a one. Organized, too, so they can differentiate up to a grade or so above, sometimes and still focus more on the kids a grade below. That really does get most of the kids most of the time, but leaves out the kids with a knack for whatever and the APP kids. And I don't believe the job of public education is to pump a particular set of facts into a child. I believe it is to teach them how to learn, which means as a first principle they have to be exposed to new concepts on a regular basis. Be bored sometimes, not quite get the style sometimes, but regular new concepts. I can't imagine choosing between my child being bored all 13 years or skipping their immature little selves to be with older kids, which would not be the right content anyway in a year or two. Plus I don't want them to have to be an adult earlier just because they learn math quickly.

Also, if kellie is right about the kind of growth we have had, APP should have probably grown, but Spectrum should have exploded. Don't we actually have fewer seats now (Thinking wedgwood and at least one nw school went to "clustering," ie not doing anything, which offsets the only newer program I can think of- JA)? I can see how some lack or alo in schools might be linked with capacity- harder to take a cluster or two or three kids up a couple grades for math if a couple grades up is overstuffed, but there should be plenty of spectrum seats, since it's just a teacher with the same umber of classes. I think it is political- people hate self contained, so much. But with enormous class sizes, I think it is the only option. Shrink class sizes to 17, have an aide I every k-3 classroom, walk to math and reading for two years, and while i'm at it make standards more fluid, and then I could believe in differentiation.

Anonymous said...

Argh, again. I am really sorry. That was sleeper, above. I promise it will not happen again.


Anonymous said...

Also I know that JA clusters, but the school is not yet overstuffed, and appears to be more committed to advanced learning, at least in the younger grades, both of which seem necessary- especially the not overstuffed part- for clustering to work.


Charlie Mas said...


As I wrote, "For me the answer is an obvious 'Yes', but I'm sure there are people who would disagree."

You can say that the District doesn't have to offer any sort of plan. You can say that the task should be assigned to the schools rather than the District-level or you could say that there is no need to offer any instruction beyond Standards. You can suggest that our general education classrooms are perfectly capable of providing instruction to students working beyond standards, though I think you would have a hard time convincing people of that one. Or you could suggest something that I haven't considered.

All I'm asking is that you provide rationale or data to support your contentions and that you maintain civility.

Charlie Mas said...

@ seeking elaboration,

Research has shown that when young high-ability children are placed in classrooms that are designed for low or average-ability students, they typically experience boredom, frustration, and decreased motivation. For more information read The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know? by Neihart, Reis, Robinson & Moon (2002)

Children who don't learn anything new in school become bored and frustrated. They act out and get punished. They come to hate school. Any number of families here in Seattle can tell you their story about how their young child hated school when the material wasn't challenging. Consider for a moment what it would be like for third graders to sit in a first grade classroom all day every day getting lessons about material they already know. It would be a strong negative all the way around the track.

Charlie Mas said...


I intentionally wrote the questions around "students working beyond Standards" rather that gifted or highly capable for two reasons.

First, it's less likely to spark flames. Second, I want to discuss a broad range of advanced learning, not just APP.

Like you, I don't see SPS restructuring, so let's work with the structure that they claim we have: a Standards-based learning system. All Standards-based learning systems struggle with the question of how to support students working beyond Standards. Usually they choose NOT to answer the question. Usually they focus exclusively on students who are working below Standards and pretend the others either do not exist or require no instruction - the Standards form a ceiling rather than a floor.

Grade-skipping is a perfectly workable solution, until the student needs to skip to another school building - where can a fourth grader go to do sixth grade math in a K-5 school?

Computer-based instruction is another solution. Especially if it is used by all students in the school and they are all working at their own pace on learning and practicing new skills, coming together to work on projects and do higher level cognitive tasks. This is done, rather famously, at RocketShip schools in San Jose and less famously at our own Queen Anne Elementary.

Differentiation in math and science is a heck of a lot harder than in reading, writing, and social studies. No doubt. Even in reading and writing it requires materials and assignments that offer something to learners across a wide range of preparation.

The expectation in elementary school that the whole class will stay together with the same teacher all day creates obstacles, but it is hard for people to let go of that expectation.

Raise the Bar said...

Federak Way has gone a long way in raising achievement for ALL children by allowing ALL children in to advanced classes.

Why does Seattle insist on using testing as a precursor?

?? said...

Ok, I'll try.

If a "gifted" child can't figure out how to navigate in a "normal" classroom, then they aren't "gifted."

Learning how to work and interact with the other 90% is skill far more valuable than having some excellerated curriculum.

When I grew up, I can guarantee my parents weren't worried about me being bored. There were libraries, science kits, paper and sports to keep me busy.

Why are these "gifted" kids so fragile?

Charlie Mas said...

I think that the District could push the problem down to the schools. They could make advanced learning an element of MTSS.

It would go like this:
Students who achieve a score greater than X on the MAP will be assessed to confirm the result. If the school confirms that they are working beyond standard then the school will be expected to have a response, just as they would be expected to have a response for students working below standards.

The District, however, will not dictate what that response must be, though they may offer a menu of options. Typical responses are likely to be the ones already used for students working below Standards: skill-level grouping, alternative instructional materials, small-group instruction.

The difference, of course, is that the goal is not to bring the students into alignment with the standards, as it is for those working below grade level, but to maintain or extend their acceleration.

The problem with this, for me, is that it measures learning along only one axis - further. It doesn't consider deeper or broader. Given the option, I would just as much like my child to take some time and gain a deeper understanding of third grade math - real mastery of it - before advancing to fourth grade math than to hasten on to the fourth grade material to show progress. I would also like my child to see a broader range of contexts in which the concept is applicable before rushing on to the next thing.

While the deeper and broader are just as (if not more) important than the further, the further is easier to measure and report, so that's what we usually get.

Maureen said...

Well, this went from 3 to 14 comments while I was typing (and doing other stuff), but I'll go ahead and post it anyway without reading those 11 comments or addressing Q#2.

Re Q#1:

I believe that the District should have a plan to address the academic needs of every SPS student working at every level (so, yes, that would include those students working above standards.) I agree that we cannot expect this to be done well on a school by school basis.

We have a large body of empirical proof that shows - irrefutably - that students working beyond Standards are not reliably served in the general education classrooms in Seattle Public Schools.

Citation please?

The only metric I can think of is the number of students who score 4 on the MSP who choose to test for APP and then choose to move away from their "gen ed school." (And some of those are kindergarteners whose parents decided to move them before they had any real experience at their school.)

I would argue that many students who are working beyond standards (i.e, score 4 on the MSP) stay in their gen ed schools. I don't know how we can tell that their needs are not being met. As far as I can tell, we don't really know what percentage of advanced learners (who may or may not have exceeded standards) move to APP, let alone choose to test and then move to APP.

I may not be interpreting your use of the words "irrefutable" and "reliably" correctly.

If a kid learns all of the third grade content by January of the third grade, then these folks would say that the kid can just sit there and learn nothing for a few months. "Good work! Take the rest of the semester off, Johnny." Or maybe they could be allowed to follow some independent study in a corner of the classroom by themselves. Or maybe they should be put to work as teacher assistants, helping to teach the other students in the class.

I think you are under-rating the ability of teachers to challenge kids and are over simplifying what goes on in class rooms. When I was in 5th grade I literally finished the 8th grade reading book (that's how my little school differentiated-just hand them the next book.) My childrens' teachers have been much more creative about finding ways to have my kids learn more (depth and breadth) within a gen ed framework. I'm not saying that all teachers do this for all kids. But I know it is possible. I think that saying this sort of teacher is exceptional and unreplicable is, well, BS. The vast majority of teachers do their best to meet the needs of their students. If they don't their principal should help them improve.

I'm not arguing that APP should be dismantled. But if SPS is rewriting policies, I would prefer they address meeting the needs of all students where ever they are instead of creating separate fiefdoms for each subcategory of student. I would prefer we all recognize some fluidity in the best way to educate all of our children. Putting the students who test at the top 5th percentile (or whatever) at any given moment into their own silo is not doing them a favor. SPS should have a plan for every school and every teacher to meet the academic needs of every student every day.

If that means that kids who are outliers in their classroom need to be given an option to access a peer group, fine. It's not clear to me that the MAP/Cogat/parent application combo is the best way to identify those kids (maybe give every 2nd or 3rd grader the Cogat instead?), but SPS should have a plan. For every kid. At every school.

Charlie Mas said...

Thank you for your questions, ??

"If a 'gifted' child can't figure out how to navigate in a 'normal' classroom, then they aren't 'gifted.'"

We are clearly working with different definitions of giftedness. What's yours?

Also, most children, particularly in primary grades, aren't allowed the autonomy to navigate the classroom on their own. They are expected to move from task to task under the teacher's direction. There is very little room for a kindergartner or first grader to "navigate".

You could be put in a sewer and I'm pretty sure that you could navigate it, but does that make it the right place for you? The question isn't whether they can take abuse; it's whether they should.

"Learning how to work and interact with the other 90% is skill far more valuable than having some excellerated (sic) curriculum."

No. It isn't. You're completely wrong about that. Do you have any data or rationale to support this preposterous contention?

"When I grew up, I can guarantee my parents weren't worried about me being bored. There were libraries, science kits, paper and sports to keep me busy."

Were you allowed to go to the library, work with the science kits, read the paper and play sports while in school instead of participating in the lessons? No? Then these opportunities are not germane.

"Why are these 'gifted' kids so fragile?"

All children are fragile. All of them can be demotivated very easily. Any child put in a classroom two grade levels below where they are currently working would be damaged by it.

Besides that, it doesn't matter why they are fragile. It is enough for us to recognize that they can be hurt - just like any other child - and for us to treat them with care.

Kate Martin said...

I like it Charlie.

Charlie Mas said...

Raise the Bar said...
Federal Way has gone a long way in raising achievement for ALL children by allowing ALL children in to advanced classes.

Really? What do you mean? What classes?

I hope you aren't referring to the automatic enrollment of students in AP classes based on their MSP test scores. Because if you are, then you've got it backwards. Seattle allows any student who has done the pre-requisite work to sign up for an AP class and it is Federal Way which is relying on a test.

Charlie Mas said...

@ Maureen,

My evidence that general education classrooms do not serve advanced learners comes from two primary sources and one sort of secondary source.

First, dozens, if not hundreds, of conversations and correspondences with families who shared their child's experience.

Second, conversations and correspondence with district officials who acknowledged the fact.

Third, the simple fact that the District doesn't track it. The District doesn't gather longitudinal data to see if students who scored well on the MSP in one year continued to score well in the following year. It's a fundamental rule of management that you measure what you care about. Not only don't they track it, they don't talk about it. There is never any discussion of meeting the needs of students working beyond standards in general education classrooms. Never. There is no reference to it in any CSIP I have ever read - not even at schools that purportedly have an advanced learning program.

I know that general education teachers can offer students support for learning beyond standards. I know that some of them do. But it is not as widespread as you might hope or expect. Again, there is no data gathered other than the anecdotal reports of families who moved their children to advanced learning programs and the admission of the fact by district officials.

Maureen said...

Here's an example of differentiation within a gen ed classroom with a normal (i.e, not rock star) teacher. Thirty one kids in an 8th grade class. Assignment was something about American media (I think).

Project #1: Six girls (yes all girls) filmed a 3(?) minute trailer for a horror movie in which one of them crept up on another (scary music) and screaming happened. Trailer shown to the class. Project #2: Student researched American realism. Painted (acrylic on canvas) a Hopperesque scene of the Pike Place Market (agonized about getting the light right)and wrote a short report (2 pages?) about American Realism and presented to the class.

I'm guessing all 7 students learned something and they all probably got an A.

There may have been two kids in the class who thought the project thing was "boring" and got a C- who may have been capable of testing into APP. Is that an issue that should be addressed through SPS policy or through parenting and student self control? I don't really know, that's why I'm asking.

Charlie Mas said...

I absolutely agree with Maureen's conclusions. I, too, would prefer the District address meeting the needs of all students where ever they are.

I, too, would prefer we all recognize some fluidity in the best way to educate all of our children.

I agree that SPS should have a plan for every school and every teacher to meet the academic needs of every student every day.

And I agree that if that means that kids who are outliers in their classroom need to be given an option to access a peer group, fine. Like Maureen, I'm not sold on the MAP/Cogat/parent application combo as the best way to identify those kids.

It would be nice if SPS committed to a plan for every kid at every school, but I know that would be too expensive and too labor intensive for our system.

suep. said...

Maureen -- "fiefdoms"? "silos"? Rather extreme and biased terms, wouldn't you say? Why can't we talk about schools, programs, and communities as schools, programs and communities?

Anonymous said...

My pie-in-the sky idea: make class sizes MUCH smaller. How about 18 kids max? The vast majority of kids, could be accommodated in a regular classroom in mixed groups with differentiation if there were few enough kids per teacher. Maybe even ALL kids could be accommodated this way with some extra support like a pull-out program and/or classroom aides. I realize this doesn't really address the real world of what SPS ought to do, but I'm throwing out there anyway.

Anonymous said...

But you can't do that during a second grade math unit on subtraction for kids who mastered that two years previously. Maybe once, as a cute one off, give them a fractions riddle, but many elementary concepts require direct instruction. Maybe you could have a couple groups, learning different digit subtraction. But that doesn't do anything for the kids done with division. I don't think I can be persuaded that you can teach a third grader new math three years ahead in math in a general Ed classroom. Nevermind 5. I think it is not hard to come up with one off lessons that sound fine up and down, but that is not the same as an intentional curriculum actually teaching new things. Gen Ed kids get a curriculum, as annoying as it is, intended to progress and teach them new things. Everyone should get that.

In the older grades I worry about the ability to have academic discussion making assumptions about prerequisites/ basic concepts in class. But my oldest is still elementary aged. So this is a little above my pay grade.

Maureen said...

Charlie, you're only acknowledging the (measured as eligible) kids who have NOT been properly served in their gen ed schools. No effort has been made to count the (potentially eligible)kids who are being served well in their schools. (And no one will ever know how many kids may have been served well in their original school, but chose to leave without giving it a chance.)

Again, I think something like APP should exist. I just sort of feel like the application doesn't meet the real needs. In particular, I don't understand the model of acceleration for advanced learners (as opposed to depth/breadth/alternative learning styles...)

Anonymous said...

Oh for lord's sake. Last time. Sleeper above. I was replying to Maureen.

Also think a lot of these ideas would work much better with Lisa's class size cap, but I think we 're about as likely to have individualized learning plan for each student as classes that small.


Maureen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maureen said...

I can see sleeper's point about math to some extent. In particular, if you have a math oriented kid and are working with them at home or have them in an after school program, then they will probably be bored in math at school (or, yes, if that is their thing and they self study). That could be true of kids who don't qualify for APP as well (because of their LA scores). I suppose walk to math is a solution. My kids just doodled and did their other homework during math. They had classmates who were much more advanced in math than they were (e.g., self studied for the Geometry EOC in 8th grade). I guess I'm a bad mother because I think if they can get through Calculus by 12th grade they will be ok.

Do we need SPS to articulate a detailed plan that covers every child at every level in a specific way? (E.g., students will be provided an instructor to cover whatever level of math they test into by any nationally normed test.) If so, we will have to hire teachers who can teach multivariate calculus and linear algebra to some of our kids. Do we need to articulate upper (and lower?)limits in what ever plan we adopt?

suep, I think fiefdom and silo are fairly apt and descriptive words in this case. Bob Vaughan is the lord of the APP fiefdom. (like Zakiyyah McWilliams is the lord of Special Education.) Writing a separate policy/plan for Advanced Learning puts it in a silo, separate from the Gen Ed and Special Ed silos. If Alt schools had a manager/director then they could be a fiefdom too. They do have their own silo.

Anonymous said...

Question 1: yes. I like Maureen's response. It's the ideal response.

Question 2: How to go about it within SPS framework - budget, capacity, and balancing needs is another matter. I think that's why many districts with AL programs set up their advanced learning in tier fashion along with feeder schools where they have self contained program. It's economical. Given current conditions, I would keep the APP self- contained at the elementary level. At this level, I would combine spectrum and ALO into one program and revitalized it in all schools and change the selection criteria so that kids who are asynchronous i.e. strong in math, but not verbal are given same opportunity to access an accelerated math program and vice versa for reading/writing. I don't know if there are any state money for advanced learners for spectrum/ALO currently, but these programs should receive those dollars as well.

Beyond elementary schools, I support having honors LAs and SS and advanced math and science pathways in middle schools, but not necessary as a self contained cohort. This way we can address the problem of students who may be very strong in one subject area, but not others. I think we are going that way already with math. Why not the same for LAs? Selecting for advanced science initially can be based on math level and standardized tests along with student's interest (motivation).

It's harder to compare with how students working below standards are taught due to the reasons why they are working below standard. Is it because they have learning needs along with developmental issues? Is it because of language (some are acquiring English, so they are competent in social discourse, but not fluent academically)?

I read an article about Prof. Joe Renzulli, a well known researcher on gifted education. It was an interview done in 2002, but so much of what he said still makes sense and rings true today. UConn Neag center has done some great work on this topic.


another parent

Anonymous said...

We could, say group them, by ability. Walk to math(though if you go very far up you put the fastest young learners with the slowest older learners, which seems poorly thought out). Spectrum. APP. I am not saying I am a better mother because I want my children to race through curriculum. Of course i don't. I want them to learn how to learn new things, not to be stimulated every second. I think the hot housing swipes are uncalled for. Kids learn things at different speeds and are at different developmental places. I think it's counterproductive to punish parents for being involved in their children's educations, but besides that, have you ever tried to teach a 6 year old something they don't want to and aren't ready to learn? Easier to have a honey badger over for tea.

I was giving one example of the faults of differentiation, to counter the example you have as proof of differentiation as panacea. I am a math nut, though, and believe that it is particularly easy for small children to forget how to love math, and making them go over and over years old material is one quick way to do it.

I am, though, starting to doubt your sincerity on this topic. Because your bright kids were fine being bored in this one subject, all kids should be fine being bored in any number of subjects? What about my ADHD brother who was "fine" with no iep or drugs in the 80's? No drugs or iep's for anyone, then? We have all said that we expect our children to be bored sometimes, in any program, but the problem is how often, How much of their day must they have mastered before they can move on? Isn't it a waste not to allow an interested, adept child to move on in whatever they are into? Shouldn't we have classes to address that? it doesn't need to be
Customized. There are plenty of these kids for a whole class - ie, self contained or aggressive walk to.

What if they are ahead in all subjects? What if a six year old looks normal and doesn't disrupt class but can do exponents and write a three page essay? Is that more than is able to be differentiated or do they hang around while their classmates learn to add(which is a perfectly great, on track for success thing for a regular class to be doing)? I notice in later elementary writing becomes harder to differentiate, and that science has become more standardized than when I was a kid. I think you are underestimating the amount of direct instruction teachers do during a day, and thus how many minutes they have for these extra projects.


Anonymous said...


My child was in a gen ed class for 4 years and was not damaged by it. The child was not challenged that is all. Damaged no. Let's keep the fear tactics down.


mirmac1 said...
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Anonymous said...

"Gifted" does not mean autodidact. Sure, some may fit that stereotype, but seriously? Kids should just teach themselves? It's these attitudes, sometimes expressed by teachers as well, that have me supporting some type of program for advanced learners.

-SPS parent

ccmontessorifrisco said...
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Anonymous said...

We looked into Federal Way schools as we're pretty far south and it would have been a short enough commute for us compared to say, Roosevelt or even Garfield. I don't know anything about the elementary level, but from middle school on there are just so many more options for ALL kids, that I think that's what "Raise the Bar" means.

There's Pre-AP, Pre-IB, there's Cambridge and Pre-Cambridge (a program from England)-so right there you have three different advanced learning options, which are open to all. There is an academics-only middle/HS that ends in 10th grade because after that the kids go on to college. There is Aviation HS, a pre-engineering program, and Technology Access Foundation Academy, and AVID, which sounds like an intensive college-prep program. I'm pretty sure I'm leaving a few programs out, but right there that's more than Seattle offers kids without having to test into a special program if they want a challenge.

We ultimately decided to try the new IB program at Rainier Beach next year. Our kid can walk to it and we know other families willing to give it a go. But we came really close to going to Federal Way.


Anonymous said...


You'e wrong about your child being the universal child. Mine is. My kid isn't interested in sports or barbies - that's why no other kid is either. I love this line of argument because it's so darn effective.

There are so many of these nonsensical arguments that come out when it comes to AL that it's hard to make any progress at all in the discussion. For some reason, adults know that adults are different from each other but then think kids are all the same.


Anonymous said...

The baiters are back and I can't resist- sorry
@ Ted, I take published academic studies more seriously than your n=1 sample of a gifted child (yours) who sustained no damage from 4 years in a general ed class. Thats great for you and your child - although I wonder, if not 'damaged' per se, do you think they reached their full potential?
What constitutes damage anyway. It doesn't need to be full on melt down, drop out rebellion. What about the insidious and less dramatic disengagement, loss of curiosity and desire to learn. It's all very well to say the parents can supplement or that "gifted kids should know how to 'navigate in a gen ed classroom" (WHat???). School is 6 hours a day, 5 days a week - its is their job. Think of how we feel in jobs that involve mindless repetitive tasks, little opportunity for growth etc - it's demoralising and you start to just check in and out, do nothing more than the minimum to get by. I don't want my kids experience in education to be like that. But it's great if it turned out OK for you Ted. Oh and parent, who are these kids who "learn to challenge themselves"? Where is the opportunity for that in the school day? Not all advanced learners are super-motivated, that doesn't make them any less worthy of having their educational needs met. As a society we should strive to identify and nurture these kids who (arguably) have a lot of potential to benefit society as adults.


Melissa Westbrook said...

"One is whether we have the obligation to meet the needs of advanced learners to actually have the opportunity to learn content that is new to them. The other is whether we have the obligation to meet the needs of advanced learners who have a different learning style, which research has shown is true of many such students."

Actually, that's the question for ALL students.

Are we meeting the academic needs of ALL children, either through content or learning style? Well, they all get the same content but APP and Spectrum moves faster (and sometimes deeper depending on the teacher). So that's being done.

Please do not equate the Times' trolls comments with what's being said here. I believe that our readers are far more intelligent and savvy than most of the Times' commenters.

Seeking, the suicide rate among high-performing teens is higher than for other groups. Is this a function of being frustrated/unhappy with academics? With suicide it's always hard to say but that stat is there.

?? - you are treading on this topic; you are warned.

Lisa, yes, smaller class sizes would encourage/enable differentiation and it works for private schools. (An aside to that is when a Garfield teacher, at the MAP press conference, said credit for boycotting tests should go to private schools as they don't do any of it beyond their own.)

Identity, Seattle does have AVID, Seattle students can go to Aviation High (SPS helps support it) and no one has to test into IB or AP or STEM. Thanks for the other info; I'm going to go read about what Federal Way is doing.

Some of you will find your comments deleted for not staying on topic.

Charlie Mas said...

Ted, your child is not representative of all children and your perception of damage is not universal either.

You don't think it was damaging for your child to sit in a classroom with out any academic challenge for four years? Really?

Jon said...

So much for a calm, rational discussion.

Here is what I see so far: "aren't allowed to say anything mean about APP kids", "they aren't gifted", "why are these gifted kids so fragile", "creating separate fiefdoms", "own silo", "child abuse", "drolling idiot special education students", and plenty more sarcasm, insults, and personal attacks.

Why is there so much hatred? These alternative programs cost nothing more. They do not hurt your kids. Why the visceral negative reaction?

Charlie Mas said...

By the way, I fully support self-selection into advanced learning programs and services. I always have.

I was promoting self-selection for Spectrum eleven years ago, and entry to the ALOs was supposed to be by self-selection.

I think we should have this discussion about the delivery model and the entry process for the program or service and that we shouldn't presume the retention of the legacy programs.

Anonymous said...

@ Charlie,

No my child was not damaged. Damage needs to be fixed. He may have been bored but damage no was had. Boredom is not the worst thing in the world. I would have let your comment slide had you said some children may be damaged but not all are.


Anonymous said...


I agree - the emotional damage can be intense. My (APP qualified) child was depressed, anxious and friendless after seven years in a general ed classroom. Years of being surrounded by classmates who didn't share any of his interests left him feeling something was wrong with him. By the end, I was afraid to leave him home alone. One month in an appropriate setting and he was happier than I've seen him since preschool.


Anonymous said...


Thanks, I did not know Seattle has AVID-what schools offer it? The difference with Federal Way to me is that there are advanced options in the MIDDLE schools where you do not need to test in-Pre-AP, Pre-IV and Pre-Cambridge, plus that 6-10 academic school and more. I think that's where Seattle could learn something-because if there are all these options-and at multiple middle schools, you don't have to rely only on a single advanced program and hope your child gets in, and that if he does, that it meets his needs. There are many paths.


Charlie Mas said...

So what's your point, Ted?

Are you saying that we don't need to provide anything beyond the general education classroom for students working beyond standards?

?? said...
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Anonymous said...

Oh, Charlie, if I had one genie wish for SPS, it would be to put you in charge of AL.
1. Absolutely necessary. If you aren’t challenging kids, you’re warehousing them.
2. A stand alone, high critical mass APP is vital. Whatever tier 2 additional local deliver model is decided on should be standardized, not entirely school-based, because it ends up being ridiculously difficult to evaluate the quality of programs and they end up unequal. Classroom-by-classroom differentiation stacks the deck against kids in lower income schools and very very few teachers are actually able or willing to provide it—it sounds nice, but it doesn’t fly. It my heart, I want every school to have a strong program, but some schools will have higher critical mass (some of our local schools have ALO programs, but if you dig into the numbers, almost no children actually use them), so I’m not sure that would work everywhere. Some things I am sure about: once a child is identified they are guaranteed services, taking out a huge layer of frustration, resentment, and uncertainty. Each neighborhood school has a designated go-to program, whether it’s onsite or in the middle school draw zone, that sufficiently concentrates kids. Programs that use a pull-out model are entirely useless—bored 98% of the time and do some project or puzzles—they don’t address the real academic needs and they also create a further social division. I think real cluster modeling could work, while providing the flexibility to absorb all qualifying kids instead of capping. OK, so now we have clusters with sufficient critical mass around the city, and they get…skill level grouping that could include a grade or two ahead in the same school. Kids with one stand-out gift could be served better this way, and the lines of separation would become sufficiently complex that the sense of division could be minimized.
Re:3 I guess some people might really try to prep their bright child into these programs, I really don’t know why, because bright children with high motivation are really in the best place to easily excel (I have one in high school, and school has been a smooth ride for her). My strategy with my now-APP child was to keep her as underprepared as possible, so school might seem interesting longer. She went to K at 4 and we tried to make sure she didn’t know how to read. This is the gods honest truth, but I get a lot of sideways looks when I say it. Once she got there, this strategy totally worked, until grade 1 when she was reading 4 grades above and was bored. She “navigated” to the very best of anyone’s ability—had friends, was respectful to teachers, and spent ¾ of the day drawing pictures of cats in Egyptian headdresses. Re:5 Some of the most dramatic adult failures I’ve ever met were kids labeled very smart as children. I myself am a poster child for the kind of tailspin that can happen—bored, teachers found me annoying, socially out of synch, attendance problems, became marginally rebellious. By middle school I was spending all day every day learning absolutely nothing. The last grade I finished was 6, the last grade I attended was 9. Processing power and executive function do not develop simultaneously. Because I could learn nothing at school or learn nothing working a dead end job--but get paid $6.50 an hour--I decided to tank my future so I could buy cigarettes, drugs, and ice cream. If you get the urge to say, X was bored and X is fine, they very likely aren’t the sort of learner in question.

Anonymous said...

On paper, there are multiple pathways - APP, Spectrum, and ALO - so why does the system seem broken? Maybe because they exist in name only at some schools. Is it that we need more pathways, or better oversight and definition around existing programs? Or both?

no answers

Maureen said...

I guess, part of the problem I have with using kids who are very advanced in math as examples is that they can't be served well in any existing classroom setting. If a 1st grader is doing exponentials, a true peer group (30 same age kids advancing at the same rate) for them doesn't exist. You point out (and I agree) that it isn't a solution to put the advanced younger kids with the slow older kids-they learn too differently and have different needs. I think it would be better to keep the advanced kids with their peers, but give them a much more in depth experience than what the other kids are doing.

It seems like there should be an advanced learner curriculum that runs alongside the gen ed curriculum. It could be done on a computer and could use the same language as the gen ed curriculum but go into much more depth and include more puzzles and exercises and links to more complicated concepts. Maybe research projects. The teacher would be there to make sure the child was making progress. I think some very capable teachers do this sort of thing already on a case by case basis. Does a packaged product like this exist in the real world?

Eons ago (after I finished the 8th grade math book!) I was sent to a box of cards on the windowsill. I worked my way through the cards one by one in, what I now realize, was a precursor to an online math program (cards led to other more advanced cards on the same topic and you could go into more or less depth on a topic. If I had problems, I asked the teacher. A few of us were doing it and were allowed to work together in the back of the classroom even though we were at different points in the box.

SPS parent, would argue that we can't expect kids to teach themselves. I agree that we shouldn't just stick advanced learners by themselves in front of a computer (or hand them a book or a box of cards), but I think there is evidence that with some supervision, the vast majority of kids can and do teach themselves all sorts of things, it's the motivation and discipline that is often lacking. If you have a 5th grader who is capable of doing calculus, you can't expect them to have a classroom and a teacher to meet their needs. They might be on track with some 17 year olds for a few weeks, but then they are going to outpace them. I think we are better off harnessing the power of technology and keeping them with same age peers.

If SPS adopted a parallel Advanced Learning curriculum, then students could have access to the same materials whether they were at TM or Lincoln or stayed at their neighborhood school. I guess the issue, as always, is money. For materials (software), computers, teacher training. Insurmountable? I don't know.

Is this what the old IPP was like, for those who know? Is Queen Anne elementary doing any of this? Some school somewhere must be, what does it cost them?

Lori said...

Oh the irony in ??'s last comment.

How do you think adults learn resilience? By practicing as a kid. By learning how to tackle a problem head on. By being challenged, sometimes struggling, but finding that with a little determination and perseverance, you can succeed.

That is what we deprive highly capable children of if we allow them to coast through school year after year. If they decide that they are inherently smart and never have to exert much effort to succeed, well, we aren't putting them on the road to success later in life. At some point, they will be met with a challenge that they are wholly unprepared to handle because they've never had to work hard. They won't be able to rebound from a failure because they've never failed before.

To me, this is what education is all about: preparing someone for life. And I strongly believe that my child's needs are best served in an environment where she is more often than not challenged, where she sometimes has to struggle, and where she learns that there is a direct relationship between effort exerted and result achieved. That's how you help someone live up to their potential. Keep them engaged and challenged and let them occasionally fail when the stakes are low.

And while I know that ?? is being snarky, the irony of course is that if he wants to hire resilient adults and not shrinking violets, then he would actually support advanced learning!

Anonymous said...


My point is to keep things real. Trying to not incite decisions/discussion based off of fear mongering. Damage is a bummer. Boredom is not.


Eric B said...

I think we do differentiation pretty well in some areas in SPS. My younger kid is at a school with walk to math. She goes to 5th grade math, even though she's in 4th grade. She's not with "slow learners" from a grade ahead, she's with the grade ahead. WTM at that school is largely funded by PTA (~0.5 FTE), and takes quite a bit of coordination between teachers to make it happen.

On the high school end, Ingraham opens most honors classes to most anyone who wants to be in them. There may be some restrictions (eg calculus not open to someone who hasn't passed algebra or IBX not open to everyone), but I understand that those are fairly few and far between.

Like most things, it's not so much a problem of money, it's a problem of management commitment. Where principals are committed, it happens.

Someone said...

I can't speak to the issues at SPS, and I do not have education practice expertise however - just wanted to chime in on the comments re: Federal Way's programs. My stepkid was in Federal Way's Cambridge program in middle school - we were impressed with the results, though the homework levels were astronomical her first year - I told her it was good practice for college. She could have done the Cambridge option for high school but we all decided she needed a break from that rigor - though they have given her many advanced options even without her being in a specific program. She's way ahead in math for example. I do think perhaps it's easier for a smaller district to offer more options - I've been impressed for example with the approach to SAT testing in FW - they (apparently) have grants that allow those who can't afford the test to take it etc. While no program is perfect, I do think SPS could learn from what's happening elsewhere - they always seem to be operating in a dysfunctional vacuum...my personal observation.

Anonymous said...

Eric B-

Again, the problem of taking one kid (yours) and extrapolating that to every other kid. Your kid is one year ahead in math, but my kid is three years ahead. My kid would learn nothing in a math class that is one year ahead because they did that two years ago.

I am also surprised to read so many adults saying it's just fine for kids to be bored through 12 years of school. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? My kid's elementary school (an SPS School) met with each kid individually a few days before starting kindergarten so that they could get a sense of where kids are. My kid met every one of the criteria for the end of kindergarten before setting foot in the classroom. It's okay for a kid to have that for 12 years? Really? I guess it's fine if it isn't you.

I am assuming that everyone saying that it's fine for kids to be bored for 12 years never complain about being bored themselves. Waiting for hours at the DMV or in a long airport security line? Just pull out your random science project and make it fun!!!! Make a movie!!!!

I am more than happy to pay my taxes to support tutors to help kids who are behind, and I wish that there was much more than that. I want every kid to have access to successful programs like Head Start and I am sick that program is being affected by the moronic "sequester." Society as a whole benefits from having the best educated population that it can, and it should include kids at all levels.


Maureen said...

@Jon (and suep), I didn't intend to be divisive or dismissive when I used the words "fiefdoms" and "silos." I wanted to be descriptive. Maybe I should have used a phrase like bureaucratic hierarchy? My point is that once you have an administrator in charge of a single program and hoops to jump through to access that program, you are making it harder to effect real change to the structure of that program and to who can access it. The current stakeholders (bureaucrats more so than families) have an incentive to defend what they have and a disincentive to make significant changes.

dw said...

Charlie said: We have a large body of empirical proof that shows - irrefutably - that students working beyond Standards are not reliably served in the general education classrooms in Seattle Public Schools.

And Maureen followed with: Citation please?

I think this almost follows in the same vein as Godwin's Law, where if you have a long enough discussion about a heated topic, someone is eventually going to start asking for citations.

You know there's not going to be peer-reviewed, double-blind, etc., study to quote from, so asking is kind of pointless. And we all know Charlie's style of communication is that of a story teller (as opposed to a journalist), and he purposely writes with the goal of arousing emotion, and hopefully critical thinking along the way. Anyway, just thought I'd point out that I think it was silly to ask for a citation here.

However, I will give what I feel is valid, logical, empirical evidence of what Charlie's saying:

If you assume the opposite, in other words, if students working beyond standards were being reliably well-served in general ed classrooms around the city, then virtually no one would make the huge effort and sacrifice of pulling their kids from their neighborhood schools.

Since most APP-qualified kids do NOT stay in their local schools, I think one can readily surmise that most general ed classrooms do NOT reliably serve students working beyond standards, especially those working well above standards.

Neighborhood schools are wonderful in many ways, they build community, walkable, etc. I really wish we could have stayed at our neighborhood school, but it just wasn't working. Long bus rides across town, long drives to all school functions, play dates with kids on the other side of town, these are all sacrifices APP families make to find a place where their kids can thrive.

dw said...

Right in the preamble: Let's not extrapolate the small sample of our personal experience and presume it is representative of the whole.

Followed by Ted's: My child was in a gen ed class for 4 years and was not damaged by it. The child was not challenged that is all. Damaged no. Let's keep the fear tactics down.

Comments like this make you wonder if it will ever be possible to have a meaningful discussion about advanced learning in this city.

Ted didn't explicitly say his kid was APP-qualified (maybe on another thread), but I'm going to assume from context that this is true. With that assumption, this particular discussion could lead down a few very different paths.

1) Ted's child is atypical. If so, maybe that's the end of the discussion. Though if it is true, it's really irrelevant to the conversation.

2) Ted's child is more typical than we think, and the implication is that everyone should just shut up about needy APP kids. I don't believe this is true, but it's an alternative conclusion.

3) Ted doesn't really understand what was happening inside his child during those 4 years and/or how it might play out in the future. This is something none of us can know, but a distinct possibility, no matter what Ted says. "Damage" may be in the eye of the beholder, but it can be subtle, and sometimes not show up for years.

For every story I've heard about APP-qualified kids who are "doing just fine" at their local buildings, I've probably heard 10 stories of kids who were suffering at their local buildings and blossomed, not just academically, but socially, after moving to APP. Yes, we hear this from a largely self-selected audience, but I've probably heard over 100 stories like this. It's really common within APP, no citation necessary.

4) The district is unquestionably qualifying many more kids into APP now than in the past. I take this to be self-evident that there are many more kids in the program now that don't really need to be in a centralized, self-contained program, but are. Over the past 10+ years, I've spent many, many hours in and around the classrooms, interacting directly with these kids. A decade ago that hands-on experience made me an absolute believer that the majority of kids who enrolled in APP (and traveled halfway across town to get there) really did need that model, especially in elementary. Currently, I don't necessarily believe that's still the case. The lack of options (like quality regional Spectrum) has been a huge part of the problem, and it's suffocating APP. If more kids who don't really need this type of program opted out, like Ted did for his kid, APP wouldn't be under the enormous pressure it's under now.

5) There are still many parents who just don't believe (or understand) that their kids can benefit tremendously from these kinds of services. Their egalitarian thinking doesn't allow them to even consider that their kids might flourish in an environment that they, as parents, aren't comfortable with, i.e. a self-contained advanced learning program, not in their neighborhood. Sadly, these are perhaps the only families who might benefit from the dissolution of Spectrum/APP, because in some cases it would have the potential of bringing a few peers back to their local buildings -- at the cost of destroying many other kids' opportunities.

Calm and rational enough?

Anonymous said...

You don't need 30 kids, though. You need maybe 8, and that's not hard to find at all. The example i gave was my son, of course, and he has plenty of peers in his class now, is not some kind of academic star there or anything. (also i doubt that the other parents in his k class knew was he was doing and may well think that's one more example of a not so different kid like a lot of the posters here. why would they unless they directly asked him what the cube root of 27 was? I don't go around quizzing other people's children on their math knowledge or reading comprehension skills, and i hope other parents are the same. He was just a sort of quiet goofy kid.)

Plus if they are doing exponents some part of decimals is still probably fuzzy, so there can be a range, just like in gen Ed. Teachers are certainly capable of some differentiation, the question is how much. I think it is too much to require in one classroom more than a grade or two, and in some subjects even that should be parsed. And if you are more than about two or three grades ahead in all subjects, we'd have to use an all city draw to find a peer group, but luckily we live in Seattle where such a critical mass exists, instead of a small town where a kid like that would just have to do algebra notcards ona windowsill. There are plenty of problems with educating in a dense urban area- we have to capitalize on the advantages when we can.

Shoot, really I wanted to talk about Spectrum and alo. Why isn't alo more of a thing, everywhere? What is the barrier? Classes already too full to shuffle around? It seems like such low hanging fruit compared to getting APP criteria/programming perfectly perfect to appease everyone, and yet that is where the energy goes. Do we need a standard for walk to math? I am loathe to offer more standardization as a solution because I want schools to be able to work with the kids as they come to them, but every school should have something.


Melissa Westbrook said...

1) Just from a teachers' perspective (not me but I've heard this from many), you do NOT want a bored kid in the class. They tend to find ways to try to amuse themselves that do not lend to good classroom behavior.

2) Sleeper, I'll go on record with my ALO thoughts. There should be some kind of ALO (or proven demonstration of rigor) at EVERY SINGLE school. I have no idea why this is so tough but apparently so.

If parents had this guarantee, we might not need Spectrum. But, until we do, we need Spectrum.

Rigor should be accessible to any child who wants it, whether it's math or LA, tested or not.

I will try to get some of these answers but Bob Vaughan is less accessible these days.

Anonymous said...

I think someone alluded the importance of critical mass in some schools could be challenging. That's true. What I see for those schools especially at the elementary level is probably a class for math/reading& writing that may have only 20 kids or multi-grade class (i.e. 3/4 or 4/5) with a shared P/T teacher. If we share school nurse now, why not have neighborhood schools share teachers? Why can't we put our academic coaches to work like that? Get them out and teach real kids. I'm looking at cost and sustainability. If thing changes, the school gets large enough class size to justify a FT FTE, then you don't need to do the teacher share.

another parent

Anonymous said...

Speaking of critical mass, there are elementary schools where well over 1/3 of students are qualified for Spectrum by the upper grades. This leads to a problem in implementing Spectrum (or ALO, and advanced learning in general) in schools where you'd think it would be easiest. When you have nearly 50% in and 50% out, it does create haves and have-nots and creates an illusion that AL is kind of silly and doesn't really mean anything. I concede that a special program is not really very "special" if it serves a near majority of kids at a given school. But this does not change the fact that we need to find a way to more effectively deliver acceleration to these kids in these types of neighborhood schools. There really are kids that will go an entire school year without learning anything new at school, but it becomes a joke in this situation, and then it's hard for a parent to advocate. In such reportedly great, high achieving schools, it is a real case of missed opportunity.

SpecAPP mom

Charlie Mas said...

So let's say that we do need to have a district-wide systematic response to students working beyond grade level.

Did you know that the District says that they are working on this and that it is a big priority for them?

It's called MTSS.

Yes, I know that we all think of MTSS as a process for identifying students working below grade level, getting them the interventions they need, and evaluating the effectiveness of those interventions, but it is supposed to work for students who are working beyond grade level in exactly the same way.

Think of how MTSS works for struggling students. An assessment suggests that the student is not working up to Standards. Further investigation confirms it. An intervention, some alternative instructional strategy is implemented, after a while the assessment is repeated to determine if the intervention needs to be discontinued, continued, or intensified. All of this done within the context of the general education classroom.

So whatever is done for students working below grade level to provide them with an appropriate academic experience - small group instruction, pull-outs, push-ins, alternative instructional materials, alternative instructional strategies, etc. - should also be available for students working beyond standards. Right?

And, just as MTSS allows for oversight and assessment of the effectiveness of the intervention for students working below grade level those management tools will be there for advanced learners as well. Right?

Jon said...

I am not sure we have agreed that Seattle's public schools should teach all children, including those children working past standards, which, frankly, amazes me.

In any case, for those who believe public schools are for all children, there is still the question of how to get the district to do that.

A big problem right now, as Charlie said, is that most of the metrics the district is rewarded for are based on thresholds. All that counts is the number of children working at standards. To the extent that anything else is measured, it is the achievement gap, which unfortunately is susceptible to being manipulated, since it rewards getting rid of high scoring children as much as it rewards helping low scoring children.

I think a simple solution would be to also measure and reward the district leadership for increases in average test scores. That would eliminate the incentive to manipulate the achievement gap metrics and encourage the district to make sure all students are improving.

Would anyone like to (calmly and rationally) talk about that idea? I would like to hear whether others think that is a good idea.

Eric B said...

@ pickle: I didn't say that differentiation in the classroom was the only solution. I was responding to people who said it wasn't happening or it was difficult in math and science.

For the very large percentage of elementary and middle school students who are doing work within one grade level of their ability, this works pretty well. It would probably even have worked for your child in elementary until he or she hit third or fourth grade and was looking for 7th/8th grade work, although your child was probably advancing faster than most kids working at that grade level, and would take some additional work by the teacher. A program like APP would be a good solution to this "problem."

On the broader point, I'm not an education researcher, so I can only look at what I see in my kids and their schools. I still stand behind WTM as a valuable differentiation tool based on what I've seen.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, at face value MTSS would be a great answer to the issue I posed above your comment.

SpecAPP mom

Anonymous said...

I think you are responding to me, and I don't disagree with you that wtm is great and should be standard. It just has limitations, with kids several grades agead(which is what I meant about the slower faster learners, and which you also just mentioned. I don't think being with kids a grade ahead is a big deal, or results in very different learners. 3 grades, yes, big difference.


Anonymous said...

Eric - Walk to math sounds great, but as you say, it's PTA funded at your school. The district doesn't seem fully behind it. You get into the situation that one school gets access and another doesn't. That's problematic, and a reason why the district needs to more clearly define and support services at a district level. This school by school choice - even down to the PTAs funding different math texts - just perpetuates inequities. For all the complaining about APP's inequities, at least it's open to any student that tests in. It's not like the walk to math or different math texts that can't be accessed simply because your neighborhood PTA hasn't stepped up with the financial support.

a reader

Anonymous said...

"Damage is a bummer. Boredom is not."

Really? That's what you'd tell a kid? "Sorry we damaged you. Bummer, dude." Occasional boredom might be a bummer; actual damage is something to be avoided.


Anonymous said...

Eric B said: "It would probably even have worked for your child in elementary until he or she hit third or fourth grade and was looking for 7th/8th grade work, although your child was probably advancing faster than most kids working at that grade level, and would take some additional work by the teacher."

Actually, what you said above isn't true. My child was at a high-achieving ALO Seattle public school for kindergarten. My child's teacher and the school principal met with us and told us to get our kid into APP for 1st grade. They said straight out that they wouldn't be able to meet the needs of our kid. They were very nice about it, and were genuinely interested in the needs of my kid. I appreciated their honesty.

This attitude of being anti AL unfortunately goes beyond just APP. We have seen parents complain about the "unfairness" of Spectrum or ALO on this blog as well. I am sure many principals hear about the "unfairness" of walk to math from those parents whose kids are not in it.

One principal who moved to Seattle from the south told me that he had never seen such vitriol against advanced learning anywhere else he worked in the country. I don't know whether this is true, but I always think about his comments when reading these threads. Do parents in Seattle think it's a slap in the face if their kid isn't in any advanced classes? It seems like people here really take it as a personal attack. It's unfortunate that egos ride on this. It isn't the gifted kids who are so "fragile," it's the parents.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Pickle, I'll let you off the hook on that last one but considered yourself warned. We are not going to name call here - you wouldn't like it so don't do it.

But you are right; I have looked into gifted programs regionally and nationally and no, I don't see the kind of reaction that you see here. I have no idea why it is.

Eric B said...

@pickle: Point taken. I think one of the reasons WTM is successful at our school is that it is in every classroom. While I suppose that some students get up and leave the classroom for math, it's both up a grade level and down. I'll ask about whether there's weird stuff between kids about what class they go to math in. Also, everyone benefits from reduced class size during math time, and the program is specifically promoted that way to parents.

@ a reader: Yeah, funding is the rub. On the other hand, our school is in a slightly weird budget situation because it has very low FRL and ELL populations, so there is relatively little discretionary money available to the school. While I wouldn't want to sub out the counselor (if that position is still there), I wonder if other schools might be able to jigger budgets enough to fund the extra staff person for the math time. Honestly, I don't know what the answer is here other than real state support of the education system so local money can support programs like WTM.

Anonymous said...

I've stopped trying to get my child into our school's Spectrum program; there were over 20 kids on the waitlist last year at her grade level. Really if they don't get in for 1st Grade, they're not getting in. There are waitlists at all grade levels, and I'm sure other people have probably stopped trying too.

North End Parent.

Anonymous said...

I am reading/entering this thread at the 69 comment mark. After reading them all, the one comment that really broke through to me was this one by Lori:

"How do you think adults learn resilience? By practicing as a kid. By learning how to tackle a problem head on. By being challenged, sometimes struggling, but finding that with a little determination and perseverance, you can succeed.

That is what we deprive highly capable children of if we allow them to coast through school year after year. If they decide that they are inherently smart and never have to exert much effort to succeed, well, we aren't putting them on the road to success later in life. At some point, they will be met with a challenge that they are wholly unprepared to handle because they've never had to work hard. They won't be able to rebound from a failure because they've never failed before.

To me, this is what education is all about: preparing someone for life. And I strongly believe that my child's needs are best served in an environment where she is more often than not challenged, where she sometimes has to struggle, and where she learns that there is a direct relationship between effort exerted and result achieved. That's how you help someone live up to their potential. Keep them engaged and challenged and let them occasionally fail when the stakes are low"

Bless you, Lori. The elementary/ middle school years are so critical for Social and Emotional Learning and set the stage for success at whatever they may face in life, be it work, , sports, relationships, whatever. To me, that is one of the fundamental benefits of finding the right instructional level for EVERY child.

QAE Parent

Anonymous said...

Thats is the thing I don't understand about spectrum. Why the wait lists? Why keep any eligible child from accessing this program? Especially when there is a waitlist of 20 kids - that is almost a whole classroom. These kids have to go in some classroom (they don't disappear when they miss out on getting put in a spectrum class) so why not make an extra spectrum class for these kids (round up the numbers with high-performing nonspectrum kids if needed). This doesn't require additional teachers or additional funding. The same number of kids being taught. Why do we want to hold them back if they are capable of progressing faster??
The current waitlisting system is crazy. Who decides how may spectrum seats will be available at a particular school and on what basis. I would like to see some transparency there.
This would be one of my number one things to address in AL. Not only would it make the whole program more equitable but it would probably ease some pressure off APP numbers if folks knew they could get a definite spectrum spot.
The other thing I would like to see addressed is related - make spectrum mean something, make it consistent (or at least, more consistent than it currently is) between locations. The program should be district-led and not at the mercy of unsupportive principals (some of whom seem to share the same philosophical opposition toward any kind of advanced learning/acceleration as some of the posters here).
Surely a strong spectrum program is a positive for school in terms of student outcome, attractiveness to families, test scores etc. And it comes at what cost ( it is not taking resources away from other populations at the school as far as I can tell)?
My kids are in APP and despite the issues with that, I think there are even bigger ones to be dealt with as far as spectrum and ALO go.

Advanced learning needs to be fixed both from the bottom up (i,e starting with the 'ALO' and spectrum programs) and the top down (better departmental leadership).


Anonymous said...

@ Lori
"How do you think adults learn resilience? By practicing as a kid. By learning how to tackle a problem head on. By being challenged, sometimes struggling, but finding that with a little determination and perseverance, you can succeed."

This. And the rest of your post. Totally agree.

There is strong bias against giving advanced learners everyone else isn't getting. I get that, except that if a kid has already mastered the math curriculum, and they are forced to sit in a classroom while the curriculum is taught, they are not getting what everyone else is getting: an opportunity to learn.

So are we looking for equity of treatment (all students must get the same lesson taught by the same teacher at the same time) or equity of benefit: all students are given the opportunity to learn and grow?


Anonymous said...


I wasn't meaning to name call, but I understand what you mean. I was actually quoting ?? who said this: "Why are these "gifted" kids so fragile?" I should have made that more clear.

To Lori's point (and what QAE parent just referenced) one of the great appeals of APP to me was the challenge and struggle it would provide for my child. I remember reading an article at one point about how some unchallenged kids enter college and end up dropping out because they never learned how to study. I wanted more for my child.


Anonymous said...

Maureen said: "If you have a 5th grader who is capable of doing calculus, you can't expect them to have a classroom and a teacher to meet their needs. They might be on track with some 17 year olds for a few weeks, but then they are going to outpace them. I think we are better off harnessing the power of technology and keeping them with same age peers."

As the parent one such outlier, I can tell you that I certainly DON'T expect my child's teachers or the district curriculum (regular or APP) to be able to effectively address my children's needs. Differentiation and special programs can only go so far, I know. However, I DO feel it is essential that the district has policies that allow for these children to be adequately served some other way. Technology, as you mentioned, is one likely option, but this only works if district policy allows for it. Unfortunately, the district's current policies serve as a barrier to this type of approach. For example, if you're a middle school student who is extremely advanced in math and beyond what the school offers, you can't just take an online program during math period at school. Yes, you can opt out of the school's math, but you have to be off campus during that time--making it not feasible for many (e.g., those who need to take the bus so can't have a late start/early release, or those who don't live close enough to the school to be able to walk home, do their work, then walk back to school all during a single 1-period class). The simple solution, of course, is to allow these kids to remain on campus, but working on their own independent coursework. Perhaps with the MTSS there's an opportunity here to ensure that kids have such access?


Anonymous said...

RE: Walk to math, it can work well for more typical kids who are simply a year or so ahead. However, it does not work so well for highly academically gifted kids, who pick things up very quickly and don't require the slow pace and constant repetition that is common in gen ed. For these kids, the initial WTM placement puts them at a more appropriate baseline, but since it does nothing to impact the pace with which material is delivered, they are quickly bored once again. Sure they're a year ahead, but facing many more years of coursework that moves at an agonizingly slow pace. WTM might work well as differentiation for those more typical kids who have been better prepared and are thus a bit ahead of their grade, but I can't see it working well for highly gifted learners. (Nor does the rest of the class like feeling "slow" compared to the quick youngster...).


Melissa Westbrook said...

Sniffy, right on all points about Spectrum.

The number of spaces around likely decided between Enrollment and the principal. It is sad to have so many kids test in and then can't access the program. And, probably never get in until middle school.

Also, I agree that some parents would choose Spectrum over APP if Spectrum was more readily available and/or more coherent.

Benjamin Leis said...

Re:Walk To Math.

Our school experimented with doing WTM for up to 2 levels this year. So the model is potentially extensible beyond what others have mentioned.

It seems to work well when you have clusters of kids walking up together or even better enough kids within a level at the same age so a separate class can be established.

For example, this year there was one entire class of 2nd graders doing 3rd grade math and the few first graders who walked to 3rd grade math went there as well.

The main point of this being that differentiated learning is still easier to do with clusters of sufficient sizes (although not necessarily fully isolated classrooms).


Anonymous said...

You also need wiggle room in class sizes to do that, because the +2 grade cluster will probably not be the same at each grade. There's not a third grade cluster leaving to 5th, which is ok if you ate not at capacity, but that is not reality for most schools near you, Most NE schools do not have class sizes that allow 3-5 extra kids. Many of these fixes become so much more effective/possible with smaller class sizes, just not overstuffed. I don't mention this just to tear down a great program- it's just a bit harder in other schools near you, and will be until more capacity comes online.

Remember how the first few years of the growth the district was insistent it was good news? Still waiting for the good news. When a school gets crowded the first thing that goes is advanced learning.


Anonymous said...

I also like walk tos.We had it for math at our K5 and it was great as soon as they opened it up to more than just the Spectrum kids. Spectrum or APP should get you in advanced math and other kids should get by teacher rec or parent request, with the understanding the student must perform adequately. Even some spectrum qualified kids struggle and get tutored and that is a problem, but the system cannot be perfect. As far as 2 years ahead, it should be feasible; more than 2 though might be problematic if it's only a very few kids. I could see supplementing until MS when they can skip to Algebra 1, which the district is OK with, although I have heard from parents with 6th graders in Algebra 1 that they were told there was not yet a plan to deal with grade 8.
I would also very much like to see read and write go to the walk to model. That is one of the best things about self contained spectrum, the freedom the kids have to read way over their level and "geek out" with other bookworms away from the pressure to conform and tone down their eggheadedness.
Now I just have to say that like Freddy on the other threqd, I know a number of kids who have been forced to go to APP, either to make logistics easier for parents with kids already there or regrettably, for the fact that it was felt to be best for the student, despite there desire to stay at the local school.It's really not a stretch to believe that kids want to stay with their friends that live close by. That's another reason to make all schools offer more rigor. As noted, it is happening at some K5s and at all Middle schools, for math anyways(LA seems to offer only honors with some classrooms being more rigorous than others, however).
For those who want it done yesterday, you are either new to the ways of government or choose to ignore them. I see progress in AL, lots of hiccups, but it IS new territory. Many district are struggling with these same issues and instead of blaming and getting defensive we should realize not every kid is going to get exactly what they need from the district, not now, not ever. we should help our kids at home and spend some time worrying about those that get no extra help, for whatever reason. This is not a zero sum game, we can all do better by our kids and by other kids.Sorry to be so preachy.


Charlie Mas said...

Just to be clear, there are two version of "Walk to Math".

One version, the one discussed here, has classes re-organize around skill levels for math instruction. This re-grouping of students may or may not cross grade-levels.

The District, however, does not recognize that model. They have a different definition for "Walk to Math". To them, it means that all of the students in a grade get their math instruction from a single teacher who is good at teaching math. In this model, all of the students in Ms Jones' class get up and move to Mr. Hawkins' class for math. Then, after math, they all come back to Ms Jones' classroom. It's like math as PCP.

When you say "Walk to Math" be sure that the person listening knows what kind of Walk to Math you mean.

Charlie Mas said...

The Spectrum waitlists do appear to be a mystery.

While some of the students on the waitlist may be in the building, I presume that they are not.

There are no more set-aside seats for Spectrum, so before a student can get into the Spectrum program in a school they have to gain access to the school first. While this access is assured if they live in the school's attendance area, there is typically little or no access to the elementary schools for out-of-area students.

In other words, access to Spectrum is often little better than access to language immersion. Students may live in the service area, but they don't get access to Spectrum if the school with the program doesn't have seats available for out-of-area students.

Jan said...

Here are my thoughts:

1. Yes. The goal should be that every student in the District is provided with the resources to learn as much as they are able to learn (within limits -- I am not trying to cram in the absolute last fact or process -- few of us probably maximize to the last degree what we do each day. But we need to treat student learning the way families treat raising kids -- to the best of our ability, each kid's needs get addressed.

2. I still think APP does a better job at the extreme upper end than anything anyone else has come up with. Obviously, if there are APP kids whose parents think that their kids will thrive in another available program, so be it. But it would be a huge mistake, both for the APP kids and for the classes that they would disperse into, to end this facet of program differentiation. I agree with others who have noted that the dismantlement of Spectrum has put lots of pressure on APP, and we need to do much more, at the school level, to provide "beyond standards" options for kids who don't qualify for, or don't want to leave for, APP, as well as for 2E kids.
I hate relying on tests scores as incentives, but I do think we need to track (and reward) schools that take bright kids "at standard" and get them well above standards. I think schools have a variety of ways of dealing with this -- computerized learning (QAE), Spectrum (real, or faux cluster models), walk to programs (ideally used either in schools with a close middle school so that 4th and 5th graders can "walk to" middle school classes, if necessary) -- in other schools, perhaps there needs to be some arrangement for a 5/6 split in certain classes, so that a section of the class can work at a higher level. Frankly, in schools with project based learning models, maybe the walk to model isn't what they need anyway. Maybe they just need teachers/classes that will differentiate in terms of the projects that are done by kids trying to get TO grade level, versus those working well beyond it. Having never had a kid in one of these schools, I am not sure how it works.

I think Miki's points are very valid -- are we looking for "deeper" or just "faster." There are little solutions going on everywhere, but they are neither publicized nor shared -- nor are they available system wide. In one of my child's third grade spectrum classes, the class worked together on some stuff, but the teacher had organized the entire math book (along with one for the next year up) so that kids could work at their own pace. Several kids finished both books by the end of the year, and had a great time doing it.

I would LOVE to hear more from Miki about "truly radical change!"

kellie said...

My contribution is pretty simple. In many ways the capacity problems have "fermented" into academic problems.

Once upon a time, there were lots of schools that did great differentiation. I know lots of parents with APP qualified kids that never considered sending their kid to Lowell or Washington because they had options that were "enough." So I think that all the parents that have commented on how there are kids who were successful outside of advanced learning are correct.

I also think that many of the parents, particularly those on this thread that are referencing younger kids, or the environment of the last 5 years, that strongly believe that APP is the ONLY place that they will get an appropriate education are also correct.

Under the choice system, schools had a way to say "enough students." The majority of the "good" schools that were well know for excellent differentiation, had wait lists at every grade. Many of those schools are now struggling under student enrollments that are 20-50% larger than enrollment under the choice days.

Spectrum seats are all but non-existent. In a district that is running well beyond 100% capacity, there is no real access to those seats. So that means that only APP with its guaranteed access is a true Advanced Learning option.

Why is anyone surprised that with enrollment growing by 1500 students per year and most options dying that interest and intensity around APP continues to increase?

The schools that did great differentiation are being loved to death. Most of them are still doing great work, but it doesn't look at all like it did pre-nsap.

Then let's not forget all the budget cuts that have removed so much from the classrooms. Differentiation does work for many kids but differentiation costs money. You have to commit to reasonable class sizes and classroom supports.

In the absence of those commitments, it practically guarantees that advanced learners will be bored senseless. Some kids are self starting enough to learn to manage that and move forward anyway but lots of kids don't.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Once again, Kellie, you're correct. I think your read on the APP increase is dead on.

Charlie Mas said...

I contacted Shauna Heath and she confirmed for me that the District intends to use MTSS to address the academic needs of advanced learners.

This will be, essentially, the end of ALOs and possibly Spectrum.

Whether it is true or not, the District will claim that every school and classroom will be reliably able to meet the needs of students working beyond Standards through this process.

Now, if it is true - and it will be true for a large number of students at a large number of schools - then it will be a great positive. However, no matter how true it is at however many schools there will be schools and classrooms where it will not be true and there will be students who are not identified and served.

There will be schools and classrooms where the practice simply will not be employed. We are not going to get 100% participation in MTSS and the District is incapable of enforcing it.

In addition, this process will only identify students who ARE working beyond Standards, not students who are CAPABLE of working beyond Standards.

That's a serious failing. It is, of course, a serious failing that we already have.

A primary source of the disproportionate identification of highly capable students is the reliance on academic achievement as a qualifying requirement. This doesn't measure the student's innate ability as much as it measures the student's exposure to material. Students don't know stuff they haven't been taught. So, no matter how smart the student may be, the student would not know stuff beyond their grade level if no one ever taught them any stuff beyond their grade level.

So smart students living in homes where they get exposure to academic material beyond their grade level will learn that stuff and will be identified in the district assessments while equally smart students without that exposure will not be identified.

Charlie Mas said...

Remember when people wanted to get their kid into APP because it was a ticket to Garfield and, therefore, access to the number and variety of AP classes there?

That's still the case for a lot of families. But now there is more.

As Kellie noted, access to Spectrum has been all but eliminated. There are a large number of students on Spectrum wait lists despite the fact that few schools have full Spectrum classes.

APP is now the only guaranteed access to advanced learning for families. Spectrum eligibility doesn't mean access to a Spectrum classroom - not at all. Only APP eligibility means guaranteed access to an advanced learning classroom.

Moreover, with the degradation of Spectrum over the past few years, even access to "Spectrum" doesn't mean access to advanced learning.

As we have been saying, and as district officials acknowledge, the degradation of Spectrum is a contributing factor to the growth of APP. Stronger Spectrum programs, stronger ALOs, and stronger ability of neighborhood schools to meet the needs of advanced learners will relieve a lot of the pressure on APP.