Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Seattle Schools' Advanced Learning Updates

Many updates on Advanced Learning via the Superintendent's Friday update (thanks to Mirmac 1 for finding this).  It is a litany of woes about many issues affecting AL (some of their own making and some the district.  One of them, lack of cooperation from schools, needs some attention from someone.)  Emphasis mine:

From Advanced Learning:

The most important update continues to be the changes that occurred in April 2013 to the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-170) regarding Highly Capable Learners. After speaking with OSPI and colleagues around the state, most districts are making adjustments to their Highly Capable programs in response to the changes. During this transition year, OSPI is providing some lee-way in their annual consolidated program review to allow the districts to adjust. 

The new WACs regarding Highly Capable Learners requires that changes be made to our current program delivery model. State law now requires additional services be offered and reported for Kindergarten students and grades 9-12. We had not historically provided services to Kindergarten students and our services for students in grades 9 12 had been limited to voluntary participation in AP or IB courses. 

We have two task forces concurrently running that will help Seattle Public Schools as we make changes to address the new WACs:
  1. 1)  A Highly Capable Learner Identification task force that will provide input into how Highly Capable Learners are identified and the systems and processes that would ideally be in place. 

  2. 2)  A Program and Services Delivery Model task force that will provide recommendations for serving the “Most Highly Capable” (state language) students known in Seattle as Accelerated Progress Program (APP). APP students may now participate in the Accelerated Progress Program, Spectrum program and Advanced Learning Opportunity (ALO) services. Changes or revisions to all three programs are possible.
We are nearing the end of the annual Advanced Learning Nomination process. This year we:
  • - Received 4,825 individual student nominations.
  • - Administered 4,008 cognitive achievement tests (CogAT 7 full battery).
  • - Are processing over 300 appeals to decisions made. 

     It was not an easy year for the Advanced Learning team during the nomination process. We encountered severe delays and missed our goal of having all families receive results one week prior to the beginning of Open Enrollment. The delays were due to:
  • - The decision to give all three batteries of the CogAT increased the testing time by one third, often requiring multiple visits to schools by testers.
  • - The shortage of testing spaces in schools has elongated the testing window. Some schools only allow our testers to come in one day a week. Some schools only have an undesirable space such as a cafeteria available. Saturday sessions are no longer enough to relieve the weekday testing constraints.
  • - A doubling of the number of accommodations (one-on one testing and extra time required by IEPs or 504 plans) over the past five years. This means a tester can test one child in perhaps 4 hours, instead of 20 children in 5 hours.
  • - Scoring issues with Riverside Publishing resulting in delayed and inaccurate test results. The resulting rechecking, rescanning, and rescoring by AL staff to insure accuracy has taken untold hours of additional time.
  • - Inaccurate address and birth date data received in the initial transition from eSIS to PowerSchool. 

    As of March 11th, we have 133 initial eligibility decision pending and are in close contact with Enrollment Services to keep them updated. We communicated with families several weeks ago encouraging them to participate in Open Enrollment and use the eligibility decision they thought their child was likely to receive when making school choice decisions. Families that received decisions with which they disagree still have the opportunity to appeal. We will continue to process appeals as quickly as possible to meet Enrollment Services tight timelines. 

    Historically speaking, the Advanced Learning nomination process timeframe was reduced by several weeks a few years ago when the Open Enrollment deadline was moved up to support district-wide budgeting. The challenges with Riverside Press and processing a larger number of applications made working in the shorter timeframe even more difficult. 

    In addition to the normal eligibility assessment cycle, Advanced Learning is now engaged in a new testing initiative in West Seattle to provide access to the new Fairmount Park APP option. Nominations are now being accepted, and the first testing is scheduled for March 29, 2014 at Alki Elementary School. We will be piloting the online version of the CogAT 7. 

    Eligibility testing information for access to the new Jane Addams Middle School APP option in the Northeast Region will be announced in May 2014.


Po3 said...

First off...wow! So many inaccuracies.

Second, 4,825 students tested? This number seems staggering to me and points to the districts inability to provide accelerated learning at all schools. ALO, I know first hand, is a JOKE Spectrum has all been dismantled.

SPS needs implement an accelerated learning program all schools and mandate that the schools follow the program.

Parents would be more willing to stay at their neighborhood school if their students needs could be met. It's so basic, why can't leadership see this?

Anonymous said...

And if you can believe this, we STILL have not received our letter. On 3/13 I reached out via phone and email and was responded to via email that a letter was mailed on 2/15, they would resend. That is still not here. I asked for an electronic copy... so far, no reply. Unacceptable.

APP wondering

Anonymous said...

I don't know if mandates from the district are usually positive things, but I agree neighborhood schools need to provide more for advanced students. I think schools used to want to keep their advanced students (not more than other ones, but just keep their community together, take pride in serving as many kids from the neighborhood as possible), and now they'd really rather see them go.

They even say no to really basic, easy to implement stuff now, like books at a more appropriate reading level, never mind walk to math or other groupings for kids who are ahead. Many of these neighborhood schools could serve many of the advanced learners who leave, but they absolutely refuse no matter what the parents do, so they sort of have to go. It's very frustrating and leads to all kinds of problems, but I think actually it stems from the same place as so many of our other issues- overcrowding. Overstuffed schools and large classes means schools are overburdened just trying to serve the middle 80%; anybody not in that box is out of luck.

So I'm not surprised so many people applied (that is for spectrum, too, though, so it's a fairly appropriate number given that. If a bit big, I think because of what I mentioned above.). I am a little surprised 20% of people who applied did not qualify for cogat testing. If that's true they already had their map scores and should have known whether their kid qualified for further testing, of the district was clearer about this stuff.


Anonymous said...

Sleeper, you hit it.


Anonymous said...

If the district is willing to keep expanding self-contained, then schools will be more than willing to "encourage" that.

When you have class sizes like the ones in Seattle, any alleviated stressor is a breath of fresh air.

The tragedy, of course, is that that students become more separated--not only by neighborhood, but by means, parent involvement, and ultimately, race and class.

Of course, as I always say and mean, true giftedness (unlike preparation) is another category entirely with its own needs.

--enough already

p.s. I was thinking that we were due for an APP/Advanced Learning thread and its resulting high numbers of responses.

Anonymous said...


I (somewhat surprisingly, I'll admit, I never thought we would) found myself in the category of people appealing for my K kid - and that WAS after having MAP scores, etc. In our case, our K kid (who has an older APP sibling) had strong 99th percentile MAP scores, yet only scored low 90's on the CogAT - despite being an early/advanced reader & already doing walk to math in K. We opted for private testing, honestly more because of our skepticism over the District's testing this year, and ended up with private scores in the 99.9th percentile - after face-to-face testing with a psychologist using the WISC IV. That personal experience, coupled with the anecdotal things I am hearing from other parents/teachers, has really made me question the value of using the CogAT for 5-6 years old. I know that the WISC IV isn't a plausible option on a large scale, but I just can't help but wonder if there isn't a better way to screen those kids in the first place, before all the time spent giving the CogAT and then dealing with appeals from families like mine... I don't have any easy answers, but like many, I would love some sense of how many of the appeals are successful, and at least for K & 1st grade kids, what percentage overall get in on the CogAT, and what get in on appeal?

I'm grateful that my family could afford this option; can't imagine how frustrating it is for folks who make too much for FRL, but not enough to easily absorb that kind of additional expense just to secure services the District isn't successfully providing...

APP afterall

Anonymous said...

Sps is expanding at a breakneck pace as well; most of the expansion is just that, only watched closely, especially since it's in the lower grades, where the expansion is happening. Sps is separated by race and class with or without advanced learning. We have a neighborhood attendance system, and neighborhoods are de facto very segregated. And we also have nearly a third of our kids going to private schools. There are so many things we could and should do to solve that problem before we further eroded advanced learning options that the harping on here feels like people don't really want to solve the problem; they just want advanced learning to go away. One of which is, actually, to increase advanced learning options at neighborhood schools so that kids who are a little ahead but not app ahead don't have to leave the public system entirely to be served. Which they will if they are financially able, otherwise they will probably do things like apply in large numbers for advanced learning testing.

App, the part I was surprised about was the difference between applications and cogat administrations. Any kindergarten child whose parent applies will have the cogat administered. The only people, I think, who don't have it done is kids whose parents applied, but the child has not met the achievement cut off for further testing (lower than qualification- maybe 87th percentile? Something like that?). I am surprised that is a full 20% of applications. I don't know about appeal percentages.


Melissa Westbrook said...

"SPS is separated by race and class with or without advanced learning."

I think this is true as well but yes, APP tends to be more so.

Charlie has said he thinks they WILL expand to all schools but will it be any better? I'd have to see it (not just see a "plan" on paper) to believe it.

Anonymous said...

I don't think so. I think it will further splinter the meager peer group for the very advanced kids, which is who I think we should worry about the most. If accessibility is more important, real spectrum should come back. Maybe with a higher entry level bar if people think it's too low. I hear app is going to have an influx from Whittier this year since they are dismantling their program.

I would really really like to see advanced learning at neighborhood schools increase, but I just do not believe it will happen until schools are less crowded and class sizes go down. I don't see he path there, and think parent advocacy has been proven over and over to be unable to move things at a building level on this environment. Crowding alleviation is the better part of a decade out at least, maybe more, so I think we have to find ways to live with more self contained. Or as much as we had before- I think self contained has gone down, actually, since spectrum has been dismantled.


Po3 said...

What also amazes me is that they still have not replaced the AL director; yet they no problem assigning regional directors at breakneck speed.

Anonymous said...

OPSI has links to Highly Capable enrollment statewide (newest report is 2010-11), with categorical designations at each grade (male/female, FRL, etc.). I don't think the demographic distribution is unique to Seattle Schools.

See: "HCP Student Enrollment by Categorical, State Highly Capable Students Grant Funds"


It is clear from the numbers that several districts don't offer services at certain grades, so it will be interesting to see how other districts address the new mandate to serve students K-12.

a reader

Charlie Mas said...

There can be no doubt that SPS is torn between two strong desires.

Teaching and Learning wants to dismantle advanced learning. They always have and they still do. They have broken up Spectrum and APP is next. They finally have the power to do it and they don't want this opportunity to slip through their fingers.

However... they can't do it because there's no room at the schools. Operations is telling them that they can't sent the APP students back to their neighborhood schools. In fact, the Operations folks are asking them to pull more out.

Long time district watchers know that when Operations and Academics are in conflict, Operations always wins.

APP will survive solely because it helps capacity management. It helps by pulling students out of the northeast and because it creates a portable cohort who can be moved to wherever space is available.

If the District ever solves their capacity issues - which they certainly won't do for at least another ten to twelve years - then APP would be in real danger.

Spectrum was dismantled because it didn't pull kids out of overcrowded areas.

The District uses the myth of ALOs as cover while they dismantle Spectrum and refuse to serve students.

Families could advocate for improvements in ALOs, but winning those improvements could doom APP.

I'm waiting for someone on the Board to realize that all of the money from the state grant for highly capable services is getting sucked up with the testing, so the District would be better off, financially, by ending the program and just doing ALOs.

Charlie Mas said...

I wouldn't worry about the law. The OSPI doesn't enforce any WACs. Why would they enforce this one?

I fully expect districts all across the state to violate the rule without consequence.

Anonymous said...

Teaching and Learning wants to dismantle advanced learning. They always have and they still do. They have broken up Spectrum and APP is next. They finally have the power to do it and they don't want this opportunity to slip through their fingers.

That about sums it up.

-fellow cynic

n said...

This is a list of Spectrum schools listed on the SPS website. Is it still accurate? Does anyone know? Didn't Wedgewood change their model?

Arbor Heights Elementary
BF Day Elementary
Hawthorne Elementary
Lafayette Elementary
Lawton Elementary
Muir Elementary
View Ridge Elementary
Wedgwood Elementary
Whittier Elementary
Wing Luke Elementary

Spectrum K-8 Programs (Grades 1-8)

Broadview-Thomson K-8
Jane Addams K-8

My principal today said that Spectrum school were phasing out and that very few were left. I'm trying to find out if that is actually true.


Anonymous said...

Wedgwood and Jane Addams k-8 cluster (not in the Brulles/research based way, so no spectrum; it is just an even distribution of high to low achieving in each class), and I believe Whittier is moving to that next year. View ridge spectrum is only 3-5.you can still enroll in those spectrum programs, but from what I have heard at each of those schools there is zero difference between the program offered for spectrum and gen ed. Same class, same material, same pace.

I don't know about the others, but I think your principal is right.


Anonymous said...

Jane Addams k8 does not do an even distribution. Keeps advanced learners clustered up to 8 students, then for more than 8, does a split to a second classroom. This ensures 4-8 students minimum in any class that has advanced learners. There's also been an effort to keep the APP qualified students with academic peers, although APP and Spectrum designation is not required. The principal and teachers work on classroom assignments together and take into account aptitude, achievement and social-emotional needs, regardless of formal designation.

~ happy JAparent

Anonymous said...

Happy, that was not true in all grades this year or last. It may be at some grades (I know one in particular has gone very well), but I am positive about some of them-even distribution, app and spectrum split evenly. Which if you think about it makes sense- there are only 3 classes per grade, not hard to get to 12 identified or teacher recommended advanced learners. I have talked to several families leaving who were hoping for something different and are of course definitely sure of what was happening for their kid. They did more of what you are talking about before it was so full, though, and I hear it was great. And I am glad it is working for you, truly. It absolutely can be done if the building wants to, and I know deb does (to a point).


Anonymous said...

To clarify- I'm talking about elementary, especially lower aside from one grade- could be you mean middle school, and then I apologize. I don't know how they do it at all there, could be real clustering, no idea.


Anonymous said...

AL Task Force 2 charter:


It is specifically written to only be APP, not all of the AL programs.

And, there is no representation from any Spectrum or ALO parents on the TF. Only APP.


Melissa Westbrook said...

N, it appears that Spectrum is evolving into whatever principals want it to be until the district actually makes up its mind.

I know Whittier was scheduled to talk about last Monday. Any Whittier parents go to that meeting?

I am saddened but not surprised that the second AL taskforce will focus on APP. Bye, bye Spectrum.

Anonymous said...

...it appears that Spectrum is evolving into whatever principals want it to be until the district actually makes up its mind.

The same goes for APP. Delivery of APP services at the new Jane Addams middle school is a big mystery at this point. HIMS has already gone their own way. And Fairmount Park?

-wild west

Po3 said...

What had never made sense to me is why accelerated learning opportunities in K-8 are politically unpopular, yet in high school nobody blinks an eye when students "peel off" to advanced learning opportunities - AP, IB, UW credit courses and Running Start.

Why do schools have a problem with a group of 4th graders working a year or two ahead when there is no problem with 11th graders working towards an associate degree?

Why is high school academic acceleration a given and K-8 families have to fight for it?

Benjamin Leis said...


I think there are several factors at play.

1. If you accelerate there has to be a pathway all the way through. In other words those fourth graders will need an appropriate placing in MS and then HS. so it requires coordination across schools. Any acceleration in HS doesn't really have this issue.

2. Its easier to provide specialized instruction and tracking in the high schools which have many more students to create classes out of. At the lower grades you're more likely to end up with small sub classroom numbers of accelerated learners. Its always easier to track than to differentiate in the same classroom.

3. Conversely a student taking an honors class within a school where everyone goes to different classes all day long is more clearly still part of the community so you don't see as much us vs them dynamics that occur if you concentrate the accelerated learners in a single building in lower grades.

4. Finally entry to classes in later grades is somewhat more achievement gated and there is more tolerance for allowing students to enroll in a class that might challenge them rather than gate keeping on tests of potential like CoGat/IQ etc.

Anonymous said...

@ sleeper -
Thanks for the feedback. I'll investigate further. Maybe my daughter is in the grade where things have been more successful (mid-elementary). If I can help make it better for the other grades, too, I'd like to do so.

~Happy JAParent

Lynn said...


It's much easier for teachers and principals to keep elementary school students with one teacher for instruction in the four core subjects.

In middle school, students are already moving between classes, but it's still easier to randomly place 250 sixth graders into a general ed sixth grade language arts class than to determine what level each student should be assigned to, and to schedule classes so that each student can take LA/Social Studies/Math/Science at the appropriate level and still access their preferred elective.

There are middle schools (like Madison) that follow the "Turning Points" philosophy for middle schools created by the Center for Collaborative Education. This vision is focused on excellence and equity - and requires mixed-ability classes rather grouping for acceleration opportunities. I believe this was the reason Madison was the last middle school to offer a Spectrum program.

By the time kids are in high school, the classes taken affect college enrollment options. At that point, schools are generally willing to offer more rigorous classes.

Anonymous said...

So as the comments above seem to be in agreement, it's a lot easier to treat kids as if they all have the same abilities. Unfortunately, that's not the case, and abilities range widely. Do people really feel that it's ok for kids to spend their K-8 years miserable, bored stiff, and learning to hate school, just because it's easier for teachers and administrators and oh yeah, they'll have plenty of time for advancement when they get to high school?

Yes, it's hard work to serve the subset of kids who are particularly gifted. But that's no excuse not to do it well, and getting back to Po3's sentiment, I think there's a lot more going re: Seattle's odd attitude toward the academically gifted.


Lynn said...

On the topic of middle schools and acceleration, Madison's principal showed up at one of the Fairmount Park information meetings. He told us they don't know if they'll have APP at Madison, they're waiting for the district to tell them.

He also said "We're a Spectrum school now and we couldn't have both APP and Spectrum."

I think every APP and Spectrum parent in the room that night knows more about how Advanced Learning programs are supposed to work in middle school than he did.

Anonymous said...

Happy, it's the grade with about 10x the ahg kids as the others. :) if that's not you, the other ahg/ag kids in your grade have had a more mixed year and have not had as good of luck with the structure. I think I have spoken to about all of them at this point!

Melissa Westbrook said...

HIMS, you're right. Because "those" kids will be okay (apparently this is the urban myth about AL kids). There are a lot of teachers and administrators fooling themselves on this point (or believing they are doing "some"advanced work).

Well, Washington has both Spectrum and APP so that can be an excuse.