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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Equitable Access to Spectrum Denied


Are you genuinely concerned about equitable access to programs?

Take a look at the enrollment and wait list report, and you may notice the number of students wait listed for access to Spectrum. These students have been denied access to the program due to an element in the student assignment process. Unlike before, there are no seats in these buildings reserved for Spectrum students. Before they can gain access to the Spectrum program within the school, they have to first gain access to the school. If the student does not live in the school's attendance area, then there is little real opportunity for the student to be granted assignment to the school, and, therefore, they are shut out of access to Spectrum.

The solution would be for the schools designated as Spectrum sites to set aside seats for the program - as they used to do and as the District assured families that they would when the New Student Assignment Plan was introduced.

Let me highlight a few specific situations:

  • In the Denny service area there are six students wait listed for 3rd grade Spectrum at Arbor Heights despite the fact that the school only expects 15 Spectrum students in the third grade. The school does not have a full class of 3rd grade Spectrum. As you know, there are no other elementary Spectrum programs in the Denny Middle School service area. If these three students are from that service area - and we don't know where they live but we can presume that most, if not all of them, do live in that service area - then they have been denied access to Spectrum because they don't live in the Arbor Heights attendance area. That is a failure to provide equitable access.
  • In the Whitman service area there are two elementary Spectrum programs, one at Broadview-Thomson and one at Whittier. They both have waitlists for Spectrum at grade 2, 1 for B-T and 7 for Whittier. Broadview-Thomson has a projected Spectrum enrollment of zero in the second grade. That's right, zero. But there is no room for a single student? Whittier has a projected Spectrum headcount of 25. These seven students, if they live in the Whitman service area - and we have every reason to presume that they do - have been denied access to Spectrum based on where they live. That is not equitable access.
  • In the Washington service area there is only one elementary Spectrum program, at John Muir. Muir has Spectrum students on the waitlist in grades 1, 2, and 3. These students may live in the Washington service area, but they might also live in the Mercer service area. The school is expecting 5, 12, and 12 Spectrum students in these grades. There is room available in these classes. If these students live in the Washington service area they have been shut out of Spectrum. But what if they live in the Mercer service area? The only elementary Spectrum program in the Mercer service area is at Hawthorne, where there is a Spectrum wait list at grade 3.
  • In the Eckstein service area there are three elementary Spectrum programs - at Wedgwood, View Ridge, and Jane Addams. Yet they all have a wait list at grade 3 - 1 at Wedgwood, 7 at View Ridge, and 4 at Jane Addams. None of these schools have full Spectrum classes in the third grade. These students, who almost certainly live in the Eckstein service area, have been denied equitable access to this program.
  • In the Madison service area there are wait lists for Spectrum in every grade at Lafayette, the only elementary Spectrum program in the service area.
  • In the McClure service area there is a wait list for Spectrum in the 1st and 3rd grade at Lawton, the only elementary Spectrum program in the service area.
Review the wait list report and note the number of students on wait lists for a Spectrum program. You will find a dreadful failure by the district to provide equitable access. This failure is the direct result of a broken commitment by the District. When the New Student Assignment Plan was introduced the Board and the public were assured that seats would be set aside in schools for the programs sited in these schools. That commitment has been broken.

The Board should keep faith with the public and demonstrate their commitment to equitable access by directing the superintendent to find a Spectrum seat in their service area for each Spectrum-eligible student currently on a wait list.

It would not be micro-managing because the Board has already stated their commitment to equitable access.

49 comments:

Happy said...

We live in an area that has a Spectrum designated school without adequate openings.

Here is the truth: there are many advanced learners going to non-spectrum schools. Teachers are really good at differentiation and there is a high level of expectation and academic rigor at these schools. The entire classroom benefits.

These elementary aged children have moved on to high school and are very successful.




Melissa Westbrook said...

Happy, I'm glad it worked out for you but you cannot - with any authority - extrapolate this to all schools (or even all Spectrum schools).

I know - for a fact - that the district has not provided PD for all teachers (not even most of them) in differentiating curriculum or teaching.

So the expectation that this will work out in every school is flawed.

Charlie, when my sons were at Whittier the classes were packed at 32-33. To see a 25-seat Spectrum class is jaw-dropping.

Happy said...

It is also fair to say that you no longer have children in elementary school and can not say- with authority - what is happening in all schools.

You do not know about the PD happening through PTA support- or through teacher collaboration etc. You do not know about the experiences all of our teachers have had.

You can not comment- with authority- regarding the scope of abilities in ALL of our classrooms. I can assure you there are more than 35 kids per grade that are advanced learners.



Signing off.

Signing off

Anonymous said...

FYI ... for the past 2 years, the program at Whittier has had students apply from different service areas for spots in 1st grade. In 2011 a student from Cap Hill joined the school and in 2012 a student from Ravenna was assigned. I'm guessing their parents are wanting a self-contained class ... not sure how many are left in the district?

Melissa, admin is trying to follow the teacher's contract. 26 students K-3, 28 students 4 & 5. The only exceptions have been directed from downtown:

2nd grade = 27
3rd grade = 27
4th grade = 28
5the grade = 30 ... I think this is the last class under the old contract???

Whittier Mom

Anonymous said...

Whittier Spectrum ... after 3 principals over the past 6 years that don't support the program, I would expect it to be dismantled within 2 years. Next year we are supposed to be having "discussions" about the program's status at the school.

Whittier Mom

Anonymous said...

A question for Charlie--if you were in charge of directing district resources to address equity issues, where would the inequitable access you describe here rank relative to other inequities in the district--for example, the inequitable representation of students of color in the Spectrum and APP programs? In other words, is it a higher priority to make space for Spectrum students in zip codes that are already over-represented in that program, or is it of higher priority to identify students for the program that are currently under-represented? Or maybe that's too simplistic--I guess what I'm really wondering is what you would use to guide your decision-making about the resources you'd devote to advanced learning versus what you'd allocate toward closing the achievement/education/opportunity gap in our district.

South End Mom

Just Saying said...

South End Mom makes very good points. I'd like to hear what Charlie has to say.

Teachers receive 5 professional days per year. Why does Melissa think teachers aren't receiving PD?

?? said...

You need to remember, Melissa is speaking about her experience at Whittier which was a decade and a half ago.

There have been several principal changes, a few superintendent changes and, I would suspect, a complete turnover in parents.

I know from my experience at our child's school, that the culture changed drastically in ten years. Not better, not worse, just different.

Melissa (and to some extent Charlie) are not extrapolating from their experience and the hearsay comments - often left unattributed - to make their points.

If they don't like your comments, you get "warned" and then deleted.

Frankly, the schools we have had experience with have been good to great. A few stumbles along they way, but so long as you tune out the naysayers, this district has some great teachers and some incredible resources.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Just Saying, go back and read what I said. I did not say teachers weren't getting PD; I said that they were not getting PD on differentiation. That is key to this discussion.

Whittier Mom, you should let me know if there are any meetings about this topic at Whittier; I'd like to hear about it.

?? - Well, yes, my experience was a long time ago BUT I'm not saying my experience is everyone's (as others seem to like to do).

Yes, I know the principals have changed (I do keep up that way).

Charlie and I go out of our way to try to talk to as many people as possible and to as many staff as possible so yes, we are likely to have a broader base of what we know.

We delete only anonymous comments and comments where someone is name-calling. Don't like that, don't come here. It's for everyone's protection and ability to have a civil conversation.

Charlie and I have long said we have many, many great schools in our district and truly, the real issue is the administration.

I am proud to have two children who graduated from SPS and I frequently defend this district from say, the people at Crosscut who have nothing good to say.

Anonymous said...

@Happy,

I assume you're going to a school with a low FRL percentage, high parent involvement and high scores. There are many schools at the opposite end of the spectrum (pardon the pun) in SPS where the teacher, even if trained, would not have a chance to differentiate instruction. Take the north-end elementary where my son went: incredibly diverse (kids from 3-4 different continents in most classrooms), 50% FRL, high numbers of ELL, low contributions to PTSA. When a teacher has a class with many non-English speaking kids, many kids way below grade level, etc. they just can't be expected to even start to meet the needs of an advanced learner.

Mom of 2

Charlie Mas said...

South End Mom asked where I would direct my effort to address the inequitable access to programs and services in the District.

There are a number of examples of inequitable access and they all need to be addressed if we are to live up to our stated values.

I would set-aside a fixed number of seats in the schools with Spectrum, language immersion, and Montessori programs, and make those seats available through the assignment process used for Option Schools.

In addition, I would expand the programs to meet the demand for them.

I would also expand alternative programs to meet the demand for them. The waitlist for some of them would allow for the creation of a second - if not a third - location for the program. After decades of talk about duplicating successful programs, where is TOPS II?

This would certainly require re-drawing boundaries. I'm okay with that.

I would change the eligibility criteria for APP so that all students with cognitive ability more than 1.7 standard deviations above the mean were eligible without regard to their academic achievement.

I would change the eligibility criteria for Spectrum so that all students working beyond Standards were eligible without regard to their cognitive ability.

I would create another advanced learning program that would be open to all students on a self-selection basis.

This would not resolve the disproportionate representation of students of color in the Spectrum and APP programs. Access to these programs is predicated on preparation, and African-American, Latino, and South Pacific Islander - on the whole - get less preparation than other students. That's at the root of their under-representation in these programs.

The resolution to that problem will be found through improved access to pre-school and improved parent education. There are limits to what the school district can do about these things.

The District can, and should, emphasize for principals the importance of intentionally fostering a culture in their school community - a culture that values academics and the life of the mind. A culture in which people all read and the heroes are authors, thinkers, scientists, and artists. That would help address the opportunity gap.

The school district can and should make student motivation a central effort for school staff and emphasize boosting motivation through allowing students greater autonomy, allowing students to stay with topics until they achieve mastery (instead of just familiarity or proficiency), and reminding students that their education is part of a larger effort through the culture effort. That would help address the opportunity gap.

The district can - and should - make advanced learning available to all students on a self-selection basis. That would help address the opportunity gap.

There is no conflict between getting more qualified students into Spectrum in the northeast and getting more students qualified into Spectrum in the southeast. The suggestion that these two goals are in conflict is deeply troubling.

There are no resources - to speak of - devoted to advanced learning, so there's no conflict between advanced learning and closing the achievement / education / opportunity gap. Again, the suggestion that these two goals are in conflict is troubling.

This sort of thinking reminds me of what Caprice Hollins used to say. She said that not one dime should be spent to support students working beyond grade level until every student is working at grade level. I can't understand that kind of thinking. Every student should be supported to rise as high as they can - without a ceiling.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I would say for students in underrepresented areas that we use students with good state/MAP test scores (plus teacher recommendation) without further testing. That would somewhat negate the "preparation" Charlie speaks of and allow those students with promise to be in a Spectrum class. I trust teachers to know if a student would be able to handle the rigor.

One thing Charlie left out is that many families don't know what this would mean for their child (and fear leaving a neighborhood school) OR they don't want their child to be the only child of color in the class. I can understand that and the way to solve that is to create classes in those schools as well have outreach by people in the building that the parents know.

Anonymous said...

National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) position statement:

NAGC Identification of Gifted Students

The use of multiple measures increases the likelihood of an appropriate placement. You don't want to put a child in a program unprepared to do the work. You want them to be challenged, but also be successful. Using only MAP would be misguided. Also, whatever the criteria, it needs to be consistent for all students that apply.

2cents

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the responses, Charlie and Melissa. Charlie said: "There are no resources - to speak of - devoted to advanced learning, so there's no conflict between advanced learning and closing the achievement / education / opportunity gap. Again, the suggestion that these two goals are in conflict is troubling." I disagree with two points: I would argue that every high quality teacher standing in front of a Spectrum or APP class (and I'm not saying all Spectrum/APP teachers are high quality, but think it's safe to say many are) is a high-quality teacher that struggling students are not experiencing. Luckily, many teachers standing in front of general education classes are also of high quality, but I think it's important to acknowledge program-dedicated teachers as a resource that AL students receive. Secondly, I don't see the *goals* of serving advanced learners and struggling learners as in conflict--I see the resources as scarce and wanted to know how you would, in a magic-wand scenario, allocate scarce resources to each group.

Melissa said "I trust teachers to know if a student would be able to handle the rigor." I think many times this trust would be well-founded. I also hear parents of color and families learning English express less trust than white families of my acquaintance. These families often share disturbing examples of times their children have been underestimated by school staff. Have you heard stories like these, too? They stay on my mind when thinking about our systems for identifying students working beyond standard/advanced learners.

--South End Mom

Anonymous said...

I think you are hard pressed to call program dedicated teachers an ALO resource. All these kids would have teachers. They are no more a resource than the typical classroom inclusive time special ed kids get. It's just their basic seat. And if those teachers are a resource, the the district has really ripped the programs to shreds, moving them around and splitting them up wily nily, shedding institutional knowledge all along the way, and needs to do some rebuilding and infuse some resources.

I think our current budget does reflect a prioritizing of special needs and struggling students, as I think it should. I just think we also need to expect district level results for our advanced learners and include them in district goals. They are learners, too and deserve the same help to meet their goals struggling students get. Right now they are not included, and the new strategic plan explicitly makes no goals for them, and if read uncharitably actively pushes for harm. I would hope the district would not actually want to slow the progress of motivated kids, but I also know you educate what you are incentivized to educate.

And every inexperienced, less competent teacher thrown into ALO to learn is a teacher struggling students do not have to struggle under.

I have found differentiation to be very spotty. I still want to know how many Spectrum seats we had 6 years ago vs now, compared with the growth of the district.

-sleeper

Anonymous said...

I think it is unfair to students & teachers to assume that teachers know how much rigor a student can handle.

My child had 6 years of excellent teachers, some very experienced & some newly trained. All assessed him as a little bright (not enough for spectrum) & quite lazy. I too assumed that teachers could tell the academic level of a child & the level of instruction needed.

In fact psych-ed testing revealed that my child was above the 99.9th percentile in IQ & below the .01 percentile in the area of a specific learning disability.

I had assumed that if my child had a learning disability that teachers would tell me there was a problem. But instead they disagreed with even testing for a problem because they were so confident in their own diagnosis & I had to go outside the district to get an assessment.

By the time we understood the problem it was too late to do many of the remedial therapies that would have helped at a younger age.

I do not blame these teachers for not diagnosing a learning disability or giftedness. I do blame them & myself for assuming that they knew the academic level of my child.

Please do not encourage parents to assume this.

-regrets

juicygoofy said...

Commenting on Charlie's original post. You note that 2nd graders on Whittier's wait list are likely in the Whitman service area. I know Spectrum wait list students (various grades over the years) who are in WHITTIER's reference area! In all cases, they didn't qualify until after 1st grade, too late to get a spot. These students aren't even guaranteed an ALO space, because Whittier is only a Spectrum school. There are other students, not on the current wait list, because they were not willing to retest every year to maintain eligibility.

To make thing more unbelievable, there are a few Whittier Spectrum kids from other Spectrum reference areas. In the cases I personally know, Broadview Thompson's and BF Day's Spectrum programs weren't large enough to fill a 1st grade class at the time, and those "lucky" children got into Whittier.

As strong as Whittier's Spectrum program is, these glitches have been festering resentment. The (very new) administration and BLT periodically mention that it's time for a change, but nothing has been formally discussed or announced (yet.)

Anonymous said...

South End mom said, I disagree with two points: I would argue that every high quality teacher standing in front of a Spectrum or APP class (and I'm not saying all Spectrum/APP teachers are high quality, but think it's safe to say many are) is a high-quality teacher that struggling students are not experiencing.

and, I think it's important to acknowledge program-dedicated teachers as a resource that AL students receive

1.) Teachers assigned to AL classrooms are not required to have any special training or experience above that of non-AL classroom teachers. The are assigned to a school, not a program.

2.) The teacher quality varies in AL classrooms as much as in non-AL classrooms. They range from good to great to a handful of awful.

3.) All students should have a capable, high quality teacher. A belief that some students are somehow less deserving of a competent teacher, because they are in AL - I don't even know how to repsond to that claim.

been there

Anonymous said...

"3.) All students should have a capable, high quality teacher. A belief that some students are somehow less deserving of a competent teacher, because they are in AL - I don't even know how to repsond to that claim."

Did south end mom said that? I get both her and sleeper's points though.

Mom too

Anonymous said...

"3.) All students should have a capable, high quality teacher. A belief that some students are somehow less deserving of a competent teacher, because they are in AL - I don't even know how to repsond to that claim."

Did south end mom say that? I get both her and sleeper's points though.

Mom too

dw said...

Happy said: Here is the truth: there are many advanced learners going to non-spectrum schools. Teachers are really good at differentiation and there is a high level of expectation and academic rigor at these schools. The entire classroom benefits.

Let me fix that for you.

Here is the truth: Most teachers are NOT really good at differentiation, and at many schools there is definitely NOT a high level of expectation and academic rigor. Kids who are struggling DO NOT benefit from having kids in their class who already know the material, and in the rare cases where teachers actually do differentiate, the kids who are ahead unnecessarily steal valuable prep time from the teacher that could have been used to help the typical and struggling kids.

See, I can speak with just as much authority. Probably more.

The real difference is that you've experienced one situation at your school, and I've spent a decade with multiple kids in APP (and other schools previously), which means I've heard many, many, many personal tales told to me firsthand from parents across the entire city. The bottom line is that most schools and most teachers really do not differentiate for advanced learners. Certainly not with any regularity or efficacy. I believe the many dozens of tales I've heard in real life far more than one person's claim about how their own school is working. If something is indeed working at your school, consider yourself very lucky, but don't even pretend that it's happening with any regularity in most schools.

1) Many teachers, sadly, do not even believe in differentiation for advanced learners. Please do not even attempt to refute this. I've heard it directly from teachers with my own ears. It's sickening.

2) Of those that believe it has some merit, many feel it's just too much effort, and they'd rather spend time working with struggling kids, getting them up to standards. I can't really blame these teachers too much, given that there is so little PD in this area, and it is hard work.

3) Of those left that actually make some attempt, I've seen or heard of few that are very effective. They might make some effort, but because it's such hard work, and the immediate needs of the bulk of their kids are right in their faces every single day, the efforts slowly disappear. I've seen good intent peter out more than a couple times, again, firsthand.

4) Of those teachers that clear the bar on all the previous stages, some still need to deal with principals and administrators that do not support their efforts because they're not adhering to standards. This is a big pile of steaming dung, because these few teachers are our all-stars, and I'm aware of several cases myself where outstanding teachers have been badgered and bullied until they retired or just outright resigned.

There are very few teachers in Seattle these days that have made it past all these hurdles.

Oh, and the thing that gave you away as a troll is your "The entire classroom benefits" comment. I would say I'd love to hear your reasoning, but frankly it's been discussed and disproved on this board (and around the nation) so many times that the conversation really isn't worth pursuing anymore. Unless you're a newbie parent, I think it's safe to say you're a troll and I shouldn't have bothered to write this post.

Charlie Mas said...

I would argue that every high quality teacher standing in front of a general education class (and I'm not saying all general education teachers are high quality, but think it's safe to say many are) is a high-quality teacher that advanced learners are not experiencing. Luckily, many teachers standing in front of Spectrum and APP classes are also of high quality, but I think it's important to acknowledge non-program teachers as a resource that general education students receive.

See. That sword slices both ways.

I'm not aware of any reliable method for quantifying teacher quality. Consequently, I'm not aware of any reason to believe that Spectrum or APP teachers are "higher quality" than general education teachers.

Also, teachers who do well with struggling students may not do well with advanced learners, and vice versa. It's a style thing and a relationship thing.

I will say this. The families of advanced learners will agitate if they think a teacher is ineffective. Sometimes that leads to the teacher's re-assignment, but sometimes it doesn't. Less engaged families of struggling students are less likely to agitate to have a teacher removed. So perhaps over time this could lead to fewer bad teachers in advanced learning programs.

I'm not sure how to fix this other than to get the principals to step up their effort to identify and address ineffective teachers rather than relying on the student families to do it for them.

Anonymous said...

every high quality teacher standing in front of a general education class (and I'm not saying all general education teachers are high quality, but think it's safe to say many are) is a high-quality teacher that advanced learners are not experiencing.

You can say it but that is false. APP and spectrum students are experiencing those teachers and that resource since they are present in their classrooms and have full access to them. I don't actually follow the line of reasoning behind the original sentiment, but your rebuttal is even further off the mark.

If equitable access was something you really cared about - you'd be looking at much more egregious examples of that problem, which is in special education. The real special education, as defined by IDEA. How about the fact that NO autistic students are allowed to attend Center school - again. Ninth grade was closed. Imagine, one of the few options available to students closed off to an entire group. For APP students - their program can ever expand, at many sites OR they can forgo APP and still have equitable access to many schools. Not so for students with disabilities who are railroaded into whatever is available - and at whatever school. Still.

sped parent

Anonymous said...

Every teacher in every classroom needs to differentiate. Whether you have several grade levels in the room because some have disabilities or are ELL or developmentally different learners or because they have seen the material elsewhere.

My child was in the class the year every first grader was tested. 12 kids in that grade in the school tested into APP. We toured Lowell & the principal told us that our child would, in general, not be addressed by the APP curriculum because it was 2 grade levels ahead in 2 subjects & our child was 3-7 grade levels ahead in 5 subjects. This was confirmed by a teacher in our school who had taught at Lowell. So we stayed in neighborhood school. And so did 10 other of the kids who tested into APP, only 1 child moved to Lowell. So when you hear all the horror stories of kids whose needs were not met, remember that sample does not include kids who didn't move. (Not saying they don't happen, just saying it is not a random sample.) All 11 of those original group are together in the neighborhood high school. I am not saying it has been a panacea, but certainly worth staying for.

There were actually many learning activities that our child benefited from in the general curriculum. There was also a lot of differentiation, including small group work, pull-outs with tutors, walking to other classrooms, working one-on-one with the librarian or other staff, & independent study. There were other children who needed differentiation even more than my child like the ELL kids who came from Asia & were math whizzes. They would not have been in APP or Spectrum, so the general ed classroom had to address them. Either that or advanced learning needs to be able to differentiate & address different learners too.

I think that every teacher needs to differentiate, gen ed teachers & advanced learning teachers (presumably sped teachers do this already?). Our teachers often had varieties of activities & materials for different learners that they just pulled from their file cabinets when called for. (That included kids learning the same material but needing different materials because of processing differences.) Teachers should have resources in their classrooms & support from advanced learning, ELL & Sped staff to differentiate instruction.

That school has completely turned over in teachers & principal & no longer differentiates so well. It started with the EDM fidelity of implementation when district staff walked into classrooms with the principal & berated teachers if all kids were not doing the same activity that the book called for. New teachers coming in could not be mentored in providing for different learners. And teachers requested that parents not talk about any differentiation they saw. Sad.


-high school parent

Anonymous said...

Our experience with AL in general is that the program itself is considered the differentiation. There was very little flexibility for those working beyond the one or two levels of acceleration in either Spectrum or APP.

weighing in

Melissa Westbrook said...

How come when you hear these stories about great schools "where my child didn't need APP", no one ever names them? It's almost like phantom schools. I'm sure they exist but that no one ever names them is odd. (Although you say it has now changed.)

High School, you said several interesting things.

One,
"There were other children who needed differentiation even more than my child like the ELL kids who came from Asia & were math whizzes."

How about ALL kids need differentiation because the goal is to meet ALL kids needs and triage for some? I'm sure it happens - teachers have to assess their classroom and figure how to reach the most kids and who they will have to wrangle/differentiate/handle the most.

Two,
"All 11 of those original group are together in the neighborhood high school."

Ding, ding, ding! The peer group cohort. I can almost guarantee that you would not have been as happy (or your child as happy) if the peer group had been small or non-existent.




Carrol Simmons said...

Dear Sped Parent

You posted that "No autistic students are allowed to attend Center school-again"

Would you please elaborate.

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

If SPS is truly serious about the lack of representation of certain groups in advanced learning, then there are several things they need to do. It isn't just a matter of IDing kids correctly, it's what comes after. Research shows just as under-performing poor kids need support and resource$, so do poor kids with potential and identified advanced learners. That shouldn't be surprising because if you look at the under-performing schools, you see the challenges that a school as a whole face. The focus and political pressure will be on the populations that need the most obvious help.

In the meantime, kids who show potential aren't provided the enrichment and the resources such as meaningful ALO or Spectrum classrooms. In APP, its sink or swim. There isn't much money for AL, but I question if there's a will to do a better job with what money and resources we do have.

The other thing I read and hear from this blog and APP blog, is a lack of understanding about intelligence. It isn't about IQ level and cognitive test results. Intelligence is influenced by many factors and environment is a big one. Intelligence and its growth is affected by what we do with kids and what we don't with them. There are beliefs that students need to be tested into advanced classes first and it can't be based on self-selection. That's true for coursework that requires prerequisite and have a certain pathway. Yet neuroscience research shows how important motivation is to the success and growth of all learners. That is why you don't praise the achievement, but the effort.

What hinders advanced learning isn't just the logistics of capacity, Spectrum/ALO demise, funding shortfall, but a good bit of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about its best practices. Best practices aren't all pie in the sky, expensive changes, but changes in attitude. It isn't just about changing attitudes of people who are against advanced learners, but attitudes among parents and staff of advanced learners and also of advanced learners themselves.

We want our kids challenged at whatever level they come at. Some of that challenge may just be to provide better curriculum and level of instruction because supportive parents make sure their kids have access to enrichment and social support at home. Other kids lack that and may have challenges from the minute they get up in the morning, so their life's challenge isn't about what's in the classroom, but beyond. Resilience is built into their lives already. Rainier Scholars is a terrific little program, but its entry is competitive and limited to a very small number of students. It isn't a solution, but the program tells you what it takes to make these kids shine and send them on productive pathways. And kids need to learn and understand humility.

At the end, what is the point of having advanced learning program? Why should school system support this? Why should taxpayers support this? What is the societal benefit to do so? Personally, I don't see any difference in my support of advanced learners than any other kind of learners. It still is about developing the best in each child so they can enter the world as a learned, curious, thinking, responsible, and productive citizen.

another parent

Maureen said...

High School parent makes the point that I tried to make way up above, but did it more clearly. The advanced students whose needs were (are) being in their nonAPP school are not visible. It would be interesting to look at the results for those current 11th graders (who were ALL tested for APP) to see how many of them moved and where the ones who didn't went to school.

I don't think it's very surprising that people like HS parent aren't identifying their children's schools. That is very common here. In any event, when we do mention our kids' schools posters generally say "Oh well, of course Bryant (Whittier, TOPS, Hay, Coe, McGilvra, Eckstein....) can do that." Which totally misses the fact that the majority of people who post here have kids in the more wealthy schools (or APP). And misses the point that maybe whatever they are doing could be a model.

The size of the cohort is important, but (as an APP parent above pointed out) you don't have to have 30 of them, or even 12. So, if the school (or even grade) has too small a cohort size, then it's great that APP is an option, but if the cohort is bigger, a teacher can often (not always) differentiate. It depends very much on the culture in the building and support of admin (and flexible curriculum.) Those things can exist, but current SPS policies and practices (and the NSAP in many ways.) seems to have made that increasingly difficult.

I feel like I have to explicitly say that just because I think an advanced learners needs can be met outside of APP, and that many families prefer that option, I do not mean APP should be dismantled. And I expect many of the other posters here who are being accused of attacking APP, feel that way too.

Maureen said...

I was referring to the discussion on the APP thread, not this one.

Eric B said...

@Melissa: One of my children tested into Spectrum and was eligible to transfer to another school. The other child tested into APP. We elected to keep both children at Loyal Heights Elementary in the ALO program (standard classrooms, some walk to math for the younger child).

dw said...

"All 11 of those original group are together in the neighborhood high school."

Ding, ding, ding! The peer group cohort. I can almost guarantee that you would not have been as happy (or your child as happy) if the peer group had been small or non-existent.


Melissa has it exactly right. Merely the fact that 12 kids in your school in one grade tested into APP, especially back then, when qualifications were tighter, means that you were in a very atypical school. Melissa talks about "phantom schools", but we could narrow this one down to no more than a handful, just from what you said. Probably one of the 2-3 NE elementaries that often have numbers like that, or maybe Lafayette in West Seattle, maybe TOPS and a couple others, but what you're describing in not a common situation around our city.

I appreciate the fact that you recognize good situations like this are transient:

That school has completely turned over in teachers & principal & no longer differentiates so well. It started with the EDM fidelity of implementation when district staff walked into classrooms with the principal & berated teachers if all kids were not doing the same activity that the book called for. New teachers coming in could not be mentored in providing for different learners. And teachers requested that parents not talk about any differentiation they saw. Sad.

This is what I was talking about in #4 above, thank you for acknowledging this horrible problem. It only works when everyone is on board, from district administration to principals to teachers to parents. If any of those support legs are missing or antagonistic, the system fails.

So when you hear all the horror stories of kids whose needs were not met, remember that sample does not include kids who didn't move.

I'll acknowledge part of the point you're making here, with a big caveat. Most parents who do not opt into APP are generally pretty attached to their communities (which is great), but APP families are part of 2 communities, their school community and their home community. Kids still play at their local parks, they're still on the local soccer, softball, swim teams. We still see our friends at the grocery store, have play dates when the kids are young, etc. Local families certainly hear fragments of what happens in APP (mostly when it goes bad), but simply by the nature of the situation APP families generally have a wider perspective on the differences between their local schools and their kids' programs. There are also quite a few families with kids in both their local school and APP.

Something else that doesn't get talked about much is that because of the social stigma surrounding advanced learning here in Seattle, there is a natural (unwritten, or even talked about, really) way that APP families talk with other families, socially. In general, you're far more likely to highlight what's troubling or not working, rather than what is working well. Yes, there's plenty bad stuff to talk about, it's not "made up". But there's not really any point in highlighting how much better things are for your kid after making the move, to a parent who has chosen to keep their kid(s) in their local school. It's just natural. An exception is when you're talking with a fence-sitter who's explicitly asking questions.

I'm actually quite happy that your situation worked out well for your particular group of kids during those years. I just hope people understand that it doesn't work that way for most families, most years, in most schools, with typical teachers and administrators.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"At the end, what is the point of having advanced learning program? Why should school system support this? Why should taxpayers support this? What is the societal benefit to do so? Personally, I don't see any difference in my support of advanced learners than any other kind of learners. It still is about developing the best in each child so they can enter the world as a learned, curious, thinking, responsible, and productive citizen."

So there's two parts to that paragraph. I absolutely agree with the last sentence.

As for "support", well, we allow the district to decide who gets "more" support. Special Ed costs more but have special needs (and costs) and, as a society, we recognize that. (I will say other countries do not to the same extent as the U.S. I will also caution parents of Special Ed kids to NEVER read the Times when they have a story of this nature. There are some who believe many Special Ed kids deserve very little. It's heartbreaking.)

Keep in mind, the district is already making moves towards resource redistribution.

But those big questions you ask (all of which come down to why is this important to society as a whole):

- well, if you are operating on "reaching every child", then you'd support something for AL kids (whether in a reg ed classroom or not)
- A mind is a terrible thing to waste. A lot of truly bright people never fulfill their promise because either no one recognizes it in time or supports it. And, that kind of promise needs to be encourage (and frankly,exploited). We need new ideas and high-level thinking and the more people at that level, the better.

So we can put everyone in the same classroom and teach to the middle. Our country and our society will not be the better for it.

That's my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I hate to keep using analogies, but the app kids who did just fine I their neighborhood schools meme is like one of the "quirky" probably Asperger's/something who "did just fine" without labels in a neighborhood school with very involved parents and hand picked teachers. It is great that they navigated the system so well, but not informative for how the entire system wide program should run for a typical child into that situation. So the only point I can think of is "so there is no need for this kind of thing."

Another parent- I believe the point of education is to teach children how to learn, and the general curriculum is designed to go at the pace most children develop and are ready for new material. We have very well thought out programs for struggling learners which we prioritize with dollars (which are not implemented well- if only the students in class saw better programs with the 3-5 dollars per student they are funded for each dollar a gen Ed student is funded, I think we would solve a lot of special Ed problems). We din't even have plans for most of the kids who finish standards early and are sitting, waiting. We don't even have plans to have plans. We know that learners near the top of the spectrum need fewer repetitions of a concept for mastery- about 2, vs a typical 7 which is what the general Ed curriculum is built around. So they will very often be years ahead. I don't think a child can learn how to learn if they are only presented with new material once every several years. Moving the curriculum ahead and speeding it up is actually a pretty natural fix, but that's mostly just APP.

I think there are a lot more standards to meet now than when most of the posters are posting about (especially their own childhoods- at that time the teacher would have just ignored struggling students as "lazy," so might have had time to work with advanced learners. I am sure you don't actually want to go back to those halcyon days). In class differentiation is just such a fragile flower- requires small class sizes, big enough cohort, interested and adept teacher. It has worked for us some of the time (most of my kids are not in APP), but it is definitely not a plan, and it hasn't always. We did get told two years in a row at a great school during fall conferences that they weren't planning to teach our kid anything that year; she'd met the standards. We have stayed, but, uhhhhhh.

Anonymous said...

-sleeper

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I mean, the program is autism program at Center school is "full", with nobody graduating, so no kids with autism are allowed to enroll mext uear. It is closed to ninth graders. So, there will be no ninth grade autism program at Center school. Oh darn. Can you imagine any other group simply being told there wasn't going to be a ninth grade this year? That's what I call inequitable. It's not that they can join and simply forgo service. Nobody is saying "sure go ahead but you might NOT get the absolute maximizing experience." Instead students just can't enroll period. Notice the SM4 waitlist on the district's site. If you're an SM4... you can't get around that with enrollment. In fact, enrollment doesn't even do your enrollment at all.

-sped parent

Happy said...

Maureen is exactly correct in that we don't need 30 children to make a cohort.

Multiple strategies, including mixed grades etc. help meet the needs of all children. There are also strategies that can be employed to insure children, students and parents know where all children are at all times. These strategies involve data- and it is not MAP related.

I will not even offer a clue to the school I am referring to due to the tone of this list serve.

I will also maintain that there IS professional development going on in relation to differentiated instruction. I also maintain that Melissa has been out of elementary education for over a decade and isn't aware of the work being done in the district.

That said, I can appreciate that there is more work to be done.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Happy, I am not an SPS parent anymore, that's true.

But that role was secondary to this work for a long time. Do you seriously think that all I base my knowledge on is my own experience? That's a funny thought given the hours and hours I spend on talking, interviewing and reading.

In fact, I JUST interviewed someone, from the district and in a position to know, who said no real or sustain PD has been made in differentiation for teachers. And given what parents here have said (the majority), I'll believe it.

You can negate my parent experience because I haven't been in the system for three years but that is nowhere near the sum of my experience.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Oh and Happy "tone of this list serv?" Then why are you here?

north seattle mom said...

The cohort of 11 has a few more magical properties than just a cohort. To have 11 kids move from elementary to high school together means so many things about stability, including access to a good elementary, middle and high school.

There are only a very few places in Seattle under the old choice plan that had such stability. It is completely reasonable that the folks that experienced all the up side of the choice system at the expense of those folks on the waiting list, have had the experience that the system works for advanced learners.

All systems work for somebody. And in this case, it is mostly likely that it worked for someone that got a great cohort and moved to Eckstein and Roosevelt, before those schools got crowded under the NSAP. As well as the benefit of nobody needed to leave the area because of the economy.

These are just not factors that either are or were available to anyone else. Sure if you could go through Bryant-Eckstein-Roosevelt in a way where you are both guaranteed to get in those schools AND you are guaranteed that other people can't get in, then sure, you have a completely viable access to advanced learning that is not tainted by the stigma of calling it advanced learning.

But those days are gone ...as the poster themselves even noted.

I am glad for the existence proof that you can do advanced learning without calling it advanced learning. Only in Seattle would you even need to create such a thing.

However, I live in Lake City. An area where most of my neighbors went to Shoreline because they couldn't get into Eckstein. So the trek from Lake City to Washington was not pleasant. But that was the ONLY path to advanced learning for my neighborhood. Unless of course, you went out of district to shoreline and then you could self-select honors.

I get so tired of hearing from all the "lucky" folks that got a good seat at Tops and how marvelous it is to have such differentiated instruction. Now all of those "magical schools" have the same issues that the rest of always had to deal with, unstable cohorts. John Rogers has always done amazing differentiated learning. However, there was never an opportunity for our students to move on to high school as a cohort.

Then when we finally have access to Eckstein, it is so over-crowded, it is just a shadow of the experience of that Maureen and high school parent so proudly describe.

uxolo said...

If we all talked to our principals, Ed Directors, the superintendent, and our School Board Directors, about RTI and MTSS instead of programs, they just might have to address what they say is in place right now. Our central district administrators say that SPS provides special education services by implementing an RTI service delivery model. We could then infer that the services or programs for highly capable would also be integrated into an RTI system. Why no talk of this?

A well-functioning district-wide implementation would also affect our discriminatory discipline practices. Students who are not challenged and sit bored in class, no matter what ethnicity or race, can make for a challenging classroom.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, my questions in the last paragraph were rhetorical questions. Why do states fund gifted ed and why did SPS set up a formal program for advanced learners? Obviously there is a societal value to do so and a need for one. SPS did set up the identification process for advanced learners and tier delivery model. Program can't stay static and changes are bound to happen with budget and growth. I give credit to SPS for continuing with AL and expanding APP. But there are times when changes do stump me like what is happening to Spectrum/ALO. I wish the district would make clear what the plans are for these programs. Do they want to continue them or not?

I do think running Spectrum and ALO programs may be more challenging and more work for AL dept. There's a need for better integration into all the traditional neighborhood schools. Is that the obstacle? Is the department overwhelmed and without any real oversight authority? If the solution is to say we'll make every school one that all parents want in. What does that mean? I'm a realist and I understand the balance of needs and the politics behind it. More than anything, I rather hear the truth from SPS right now.

another parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

North Seattle Mom, thank you for that perspective (given with sadness and not bitterness for what others have/had).

Sorry, Another Parent, I missed what you were trying to say. Yes, we all would like to know what the plan is for AL.

dw said...

another parent said: I give credit to SPS for continuing with AL and expanding APP.

I have to get up on my soapbox again. Please, everyone, stop talking about "expanding APP" like it's a good thing. Other than the relatively small changes due to overall district growth, the expansion of APP is NOT a good thing at all! Would you give credit to the district for expansion of their Special Ed population? No, of course not. Programs like this are for special needs populations whose needs just cannot be met in their neighborhood or regional buildings. APP's growth is a testament to the fact that Spectrum/ALO are dying, and the district is NOT meeting the needs of even moderately advanced learners in their local schools.

But there are times when changes do stump me like what is happening to Spectrum/ALO.

Death of Spectrum/ALO = APP expanding. They are flip sides of the same coin, and it's a disaster. There has not only been no administrative support for Spectum/ALO in recent years, but active hostility in the buildings that has been ignored by those downtown. Yes, this is in the scope of Bob Vaughan's office, and I feel the blame for the fall of Spectrum over the past 3-4 years falls squarely on his shoulders. I don't understand it at all.

Karesh said...

To dw's point,
Let's compare APP to Speced.
We want as much inclusion for Speced and would want the same for highly gifted, so if the kids are in a self contained program, the way to make it more inclusive is to have more kids, less in need of the self contined atmosphere, in it.
Now, ideally, if more kids could get served in their closest school, that would be better and more inclusive yet. Self contained should be used as the last option when kids just cannot get what they need at a regular school. Until parents feel that is the case, APPwill keep growing, but, as walk tos with ability grouping, and effective differentiation and real ALO programs start to show up, more and more kids will stay put, and prosper.
I predict stabilization of APP numbers next year and declining enrollment after that.
To Charlie's point that the answer to option schools is make more, I would disagree and say that improving quality and variety and choices within schools will take pressure of the option schools and make ample room for those who want that experience.

Anonymous said...

North Seattle mom,

You "get so tired of hearing from all the "lucky" folks that got a good seat at Tops and how marvelous it is to have such differentiated instruction....John Rogers has always done amazing differentiated learning."

Yeah, I get tired of hearing from the "lucky" folks too. Sounds like you lucked out at Rogers. My son didn't. He was basically shown the door and ended up in a self contained class at another school. So, from my experience, Rogers is a lot like most schools. Amazing things are done for SOME (OK, maybe most) students but definitely not all.

Former Rogers parent

Anonymous said...

This post may be without basis. My daughter was placed on the Spectrum waitlist at John Muir around this time of year two years ago for third grade, and she was already at that school and had been in the Spectrum classroom as a General Ed student the previous year. I was concerned, but the principal assured me this was just procedure, that no one who was Spectrum qualified would ever not sit in a Spectrum class. And she came rather quickly off the wait list.

-Muir mom

Wondering about Whittier Spectrum said...

I am interested in information on the Whittier Spectrum program. We are considering the program and would appreciate hearing from families with experiences pro and con. It has been a confusing process to get an accurate "read" of the program. The principal seems to feel it is elitist and is not a supporter of the program. The classroom teacher when asked, did not share anything of what happens in the class or program - very unforthcoming. The PTA has been very responsive and warm and gives glowing recommendations of the program. I would appreciate any comments or insights others may have.

Thank you.