Spectrum is Dead. Now What?

Let us presume that Spectrum is dead. Nevermind if you think that's a good thing or a bad thing. Our views on that topic simply don't matter.

What does matter, however, are students working beyond Standards in need of an appropriate academic opportunity.

So let's hear the ideas for how to provide an appropriate academic opportunity for students working beyond Standards if ability grouping is off the menu.

A number of solutions have been proposed over the years: differentiated instruction, project-based learning, individualized instruction on computers, MTSS, parallel curricula, and grade skipping - just to name a few. Which of these work and can be reliably implemented? Let's hear your answers.

The only answers that are not allowed are ability grouping and doing nothing. The District and the majority of the schools - for whatever reason - are opposed to ability grouping so don't suggest that. Please don't pretend that the general education classroom reliably serves students working beyond Standards - we know that it does not. That suggestion would be tantamount to suggesting that we do nothing, and it is unconscionable to propose that some students simply go untaught, so don't suggest that either.

Plan A has been rejected. What is Plan B?


Lynn said…
I've got no ideas - just an article on Common Core and High-Achieving Students.

“We can guess what educators will do for gifted students in the future based on what they did in the past. That was minimal.”
Wait, a minute, no Walk to Math? No pull-outs at all? (Although, way back when, they did use pull-outs and parents and teachers complained but enough time goes by and people forget.)
I also had been saving this article but what the heck, here you go.

From Education Next, Can Gifted Education Survive the Common Core?

Miki said…
Ideally, I'd love to see differentiated instruction with compacting; I just don't know how feasible that is without more paid teacher planning time. In reality, I will be interested to see if some schools / principals start to return to the old school idea of grade acceleration -- there's good evidence that it can really benefit some kids in the long run and that it's possible to identify which kids would most likely benefit -- and it's close to free in terms of resources and additional teacher time to implement.
Lynn said…
Isn't grade acceleration the creation of a mixed-age ability grouped classroom? Are you thinking a complete skip or just having kids walk up to the appropriate grade level for each subject?

As s parent, I would not support it for my kids. I don't want them graduating and leaving home a year or two earlier than necessary.
Maggy said…
Spectrum isn't dead, just self-contained classrooms. Cluster-grouping is data-driven and in use at many schools. Do the best schools like TOPS have self-contained classrooms? McGilvra? North Beach?

They deliver well-prepared and challenged students through differentiation and in-classroom grouping. Walk-to's are indeed problematic and will give way to the cluster model which is much more compatible with inclusion.

It's hard to say there is nothing for gifted students when we have a robust and growing cohorted program, HCC.
Anonymous said…
The cluster grouping sps uses is not data driven, and in fact is considered worst practice. The "best" schools are not necessarily good for advanced students. I have seen 1 elementary teacher out of 15 my children have had successfully differentiate. That teacher was extraordinary, but we can't count on system wide extraordinary teachers (until we move to Lake Woebegone).

I think smaller class sizes is the low hanging fruit, poltucally if not fiscally, but I think without walk-tos we are just not going to teach moderately advanced students. And HCC will continue to grow.

Anonymous said…
Opt in enrichment classes open by lottery to K-2, 3-5, 6-8. Think of them as electives. Admission by teacher sign off, caregiver sign off, student sign off. Overenrollment settled by lottery. All initially eligible - SPED, ELL, Gen Ed., "Spectrum", HCC - BUT signed code of conduct includes baselines to stay in course: homework handed in on time, class participation, etc. Enrichment would not be the core subjects but extensions of them. Think: SciFi-Adventure from Asimov to Hogwarts. Or Geography and Sustainable Food. Or Build a Bridge. Or Math Puzzles. Or Bugs and Biology. You all get the idea. This is not difficult to do when a principal is willing and able (because not all SPS principals are as bright as one might wish) to build schedules covering the basics and the extras. All kids deserve the option of expanding their learning in K8. That SPS rations it is unconscionable. Let the HCC cohort stay together but add these offerings at the non-HCC schools and guess what. That HCC cohort won't be nearly so attractive an option.

gifted + talented
Anonymous said…
Please don't pretend that the general education classroom reliably serves students working beyond Standards - we know that it does not.

Please don't pretend that general education classrooms work reliable for anybody. The real hubris is Charlie Mas, and other gifted proponents. One group - "gifted students" should be served, and served better and more reliably than anybody else on the planet. This statement sums it up. We know it doesn't work for anybody else - but the only ones that matter are.... my kids.

Anonymous said…
I thought grades were supposed to be ability grouping. You know, so that a teacher didn't have to run from group to group giving 4 or 5 different math lessons every day. Having grades is about effiency. Are you saying the teachers should be teaching to chronology rather than academic need? Isn't that ageism?

As a child I dropped out of school early. My basic education was done, and sitting in a classroom sleeping wasn't exciting. I could think of a million other uses for my time- many of them not good. Luckily, a thoughtful adult told me to just start college, or who knows what might have happened. I guess I made my own grade skip. It shouldn't have to happen this way. Most universities won't accept students without a HS diploma now. Allowing grade skipping could solve some real problems for some advanced students.

West parent
Anonymous said…
My Southwest elementary principal is doing nothing about my 2nd grade Spectrum daughter and the school offers no ALO/Spectrum/HCC. (The nearby Spectrum program has a waitlist and she didn't get in). He said the "enrichment packet" she gets when she finishes her regular math assignment is sufficient. The answer was also "no" when I asked if she could walk-to-4th-grade-math in the 3rd grade. In addition to the brainstorming in this thread, what are the actual options available to Spectrum students? I am under the impression that "do nothing" is the standard at the moment. Are we brainstorming things we would like SPS to add? That seems unlikely?
Anonymous said…
Reader, how are general education classrooms not working for students working at about their grade level? I happen to know that many of the APP classrooms don't work for many HCC students either, but at least they are closer to their academic needs than not.

My son was a real troublemaker in his general ed kindergarten class, partly because he was so bored. Even in Spectrum classes, he caused trouble as soon as he was bored because he is both very verbal and very active. Then when he had a total breakdown after getting less than 100% on a spelling test, I knew I needed to move him to a class where he would no longer expect to get 100% with very little effort. Now, in his last year in middle school APP, he says that he hasn't been mentally challenged all year - and I'm sad again.

If your kids don't get any mental challenge, I'm truly sorry and I hope you can advocate for them. However, I also have the right to advocate for my children and expect a meaningful education. As part of getting that APP education, I've had to move my child across town and then they were moved by the school district both in 5th grade and 8th grades where the parents had to set up new PTSAs, new music programs, new sports programs, etc.
Anonymous said…
I'm going to need a little more evidence/argumentation that Spectrum is dead than just "let us presume." Clearly self-contained spectrum is going away based on the schools that have moved to a blended classroom model. Beyond that however, it a big jump of logic to declare the program is officially dead. Have you talked to anyone at JSIS, or investigated each school to see what practices they are implementing etc.? This feels more like click-bait than a reasoned discussion.


Anonymous said…

As far as I can tell, actual options would include: be in the 1% and buy a spot at a local gifted private school, or quit your job, home school using hired tutors, community colleges, textbooks, and documentaries on the web and a lot of field trips.

Or take a year sabbatical in a foreign country and do a language and culture immersion, letting math and English slide for a year. If you are in another country, you can't be expected to follow mandated school attendance laws.

Or move. Many other school districts (especially in other states) consider 1 year ahead gifted and have special programs.

Grade skip. Perhaps, talk to principals in other neighborhoods and ask if you could start your kid a grade ahead of where they are now, then move, and grade skip... If you just rented for a couple months, SPS may be inclined to allow your kid back in at the grade level she had been most recently, when you move back... If you move back.

A more local move may do the trick. I think east of Lake Washington they are not opposed to ability grouping, and classes may already be moving half a year ahead of where they are here. So, a Bellevue or Mecer Island school may be a better fit academically anyhow.

Maybe you could sue for a basic education, that's what the other SPED parents are trying.

Question is, what can you afford? SPS giving up on spectrum students means that only the 1% will ever be able to get a local tech job around here.

If you love Seattle you could just pour yourself a stiff drink and cry. Seattle has a long history of heavy drinking. Tell you kid it's only 10 more years, and that's shorter than many prison terms.
West parent
Anonymous said…
ShowMe - My SPS elem doesn't "believe" in Spectrum or HCC and therefore offers nothing. So it's dead in at least 1 school. And since we're stuck in our geo school (have tried repeatedly for option schools but waitlisted each time) there seems to be no way out.
Anonymous said…
Momof2, school is boring and unchallenging to almost all students. (because of standards focus to the exclusion of all else, mostly. And guess what? Those are boring.) Why are a few students (around 1/3 at high SES) schools so much more important than others? Why do you think your kid need not learn behavior management and impulse control? Another Gifted-Parent beef - "other kids" misbehave because they're too stupid.... but your kid misbehaves because he's too smart. How about let's teach him to behave, same as all other kids? If your kid is finished with middle school and can't figure out how to challenge himself - sounds like a parenting problem, and nothing that "sadness" will help.

Lynn said…

Why shouldn't we have a discussion about how to provide an appropriate academic opportunity for a few students? Maybe some of the ideas would be helpful for all students.

You're not modeling impulse control or appropriate behavior here yourself. You should not be so upset by a group of people trying to solve a problem that apparently does not affect you.
Anonymous said…

So, the kid may be a brat with behavior problems, but he should be taught he is not the smartest cookie in the can, not the most special little prince, by being challenged, failing, and looking up to his peers. He may need some parenting, maturity, and more academic challenge. Occasional failure is a part of basic education. It is needed for maturation, for all students. Yes, some kids misbehave when teaching is beyond their understanding and they're bored, and some kids when instruction is too redundant and their bored. And all people misbehave when they idolize themselves.

West parent
ShowMe, are you new? Because nearly every single elementary school has reported a change. Is the district going to admit Spectrum is being phased out? Of course not. But you're not going to find many that wouldn't say it's on the ropes.

Westparent, you need to dial back that name-calling. We do not allow name-calling of children and I don't like your characterizations that would be more applicable to parents than children.
Anonymous said…
Sorry, yes. I was a little offended by reader's portrayal of another parent's child. The implication that a child's occasional impulse control lapses are any reason to deny an education, made me a bit hot under the collar. I don't mean any comment to be aimed at any real child, nor do I know any child mentioned here. I do not believe smart kids should be able to challenge themselves. Smart kids are just kids, with all the interpersonal problems that any of us have. They are not magically omnipotent and know what they need to learn. They need to be taught, academically, and socially, just like any kid. That was my real point. Apologies, for going sideways. Apologies for all offense.
West parent
Anonymous said…
Spent a couple of years in Spectrum (grades 5, 7-8, and H.S. Honors/AP - not technically Spectrum, but...) in the 1990s.

Back then, our Spectrum school in the cluster was in the Rainier Valley. It was further away than the APP school (Madrona) but I believe I always tested about 1-2 percentiles below the APP cut off.

I know my gen ed elementary school teachers had a hard time keeping me engaged. What do you do if one or two students finishes every in class assignment substantially before the allotted time is up and now has nothing to do. I know one teacher, rather than provide "enrichment" would bribe me with prizes if I would sit still and be quiet and just read a book while the other students were still working.

My 4th grade teacher had taught in Spectrum at a previous school and provided a ton of outside of the box assignments and activities for all students. He was a rare teacher that could really push everyone along. He pushed my parents to finally send me to the Spectrum school for 5th grade because gen ed just wasn't going to work well for me.

A couple of things I remember about my 5th grade Spectrum class (it was a 4/5 split, btw) ... It was the first time I was not always the first one finished. It was the first time I really had to start doing homework and think about studying. It was the first time my previously underdeveloped study and organization habits were exposed.

Went back to gen ed for 6th grade (we had a planned move mid year to Ballard but couldn't get Whitman to start the year, and McClure at the time was not fit for anyone) as part of the first year of 6th grade at Blaine. Interesting to note the district reneged on their promise to make it a K-8, and did not roll up 7th-8th grades after the first 6th grade class, forcing everyone to transfer. Anyways, classes were easy but the teacher followed the curriculum to the letter, and methodically worked through all district material in a way very few had done. Because class was so structure, it wasn't as big of a deal that it wasn't as challenging as needed.

Back to Spectrum for 7th/8th. Middle school is tough and LA/SS block was very free form with regards to the curriculum. But, it was very challenging. On reflection, I believe the teachers covered the required curriculum so quickly that we were able to spend large amounts of time on projects, presentations, and research projects. It really was a great example of how a Spectrum like program can create a lot of a value added for students that would otherwise be unengaged by increasing the scope of materials and skills learned through additional assignments.

The Spectrum LA/SS block in Middle School set the stage for advanced work in high school. Looking back now, I cannot imagine being prepared for advanced high school coursework without what we did in M.S.

Anonymous said…
Lynn, nobody gets the perfect thing. That's the point. Let's put it more accurately at around 70%. There is a persistent group of parents who somehow think that public ed should be perfect for their kids alone. They should get the 110%, and let everyone else eat 50%. Working "beyond standard" isn't special, nor even interesting. Standards simply aren't interesting, and they are forever changing. The idea of "reliably working", as Charlie puts it, really just means "My kid getting an exclusive education. If I don't like it, I'll call it unreliable to make it sound scientific." Look at the whining. The poor parents "had to set up a music program, ahhhgain. Waaah!". Great music programs aren't a special right. Charlie doesn't even live here. And hasn't for a while. Why not whine about your new city's education. No doubt the issues are the same.

Anonymous said…
Our elementary school is gamely trying to figure out what Spectrum means, and have had a few meetings with parents to talk about it. In the complete vacuum that is the district with respect to program structure and even philosophy, it's still a homegrown solution. In our case, the principal sounds supportive of advanced learning. But your mileage (and school) may vary. This is why Spectrum as a real program implemented similarly everywhere and supported with resources is definitely dead.

- RoyGBiv
Anonymous said…
from the other spectrum thread this very good article on inclusion and gifted ed:


here's a sample of the article:

"Educators of the gifted often describe the anguish of children who continually have to wait for others to catch up, who are embarrassed by their own advanced achievement, or whose particular talents are not valued within the typical classroom. But it is a mistake to think of these problems as problems of gifted students. No children should have to put up with inflexibility, boring curriculums, lack of creativity, excessive regimentation, over-standardization, and limited conceptions of teaching and learning. Improvement in these areas within a context of coherent, structural reform, will result not only in greater acceptance and learning for gifted students but for all students."

the author, Mara Sapon-Shevi, is a professor of inclusive education at Syracuse and a critic of gifted ed with several books including, Playing Favorites: Gifted Education and the Disruption of Community,

Anonymous said…
Grade skipping maintains inclusive classes, maintains diversity, and costs nothing. It avoids anything separate that could be considered elitist. It does offer more appropriate academic challenge. Why don't we use it?
West parent
Anonymous said…
Why shouldn't we have a discussion about how to provide an appropriate academic opportunity for a few students?

Well duh Lynne. It's because public education isn't supposed to be about providing opportunity for a few students. It's supposed to be for everybody. Remember?

SusanH said…
Okay, back to possible ideas, assuming no ability grouping.

What about the new idea of flipping the class, having the lesson online for kids to watch at home at night, then use the class time to work on the problems and get one-on-one time with the teacher? I guess that's more of a high school situation, but it's an idea. If all kids watched the same lesson at night, it would allow them to go at their own pace, watch it more than once if needed, then meet the teacher the next day to practice. The children who quickly got the material could then work on more challenging problems during the class time. The teacher would get to spend the class period working one-on-one with the students.

Smaller class sizes would of course allow teachers to more easily handle multiple abilities in one classroom. I guess that's not on the table because of budget, but it would make a huge difference. And what about soliciting help from another adult (student teacher, parent, community volunteer) to help break the class into smaller groups for math practice, reading "book clubs", etc.

Could students self-select a challenge level within the class (A, B, C)? They'd all be covering the same basic material, but with differing levels of complexity. That would give the students something to strive for (moving from an A to a B level, for example), but it would be student-led, not determined by their MAP score. It would reward hard workers as much as the naturally gifted.

What I think does not work is simply giving the brighter kids MORE work of the same caliber. An extra 10-page homework packet does not feel like a reward, it feels like a punishment.

Anonymous said…
Grade skipping implies that advanced students academically are also advanced socially (no). And it denies a child a year(or more) of public education, which they are entitled to as much as anyone else.

Sped die, I am not sure if you are kidding, but obviously you must agree that different students need different things, and so here we are trying to talk about one of those groups (spectrum students). Some of them need more advanced work than others. I can't imagine anybody with special Ed experience would actually like to switch over to one size fits all education. I agave said before and would again- the special Ed world is paradise now compared to the way it was when my brother went through it in the 80's(not a high bar), largely as a result of more personalized education. Many more students could (and maybe should) benefit from that. Including the ones who exceed standards.

Anonymous said…
Speddie, "everybody" includes "the few." We do need to consider the needs of each individual student. We do the lowest and we should the highest.

Grade skipping - emotional considerations can sometimes prevent success. Not sure that's the answer.

Currently, SPS curricular expectations are becoming time-consumptive and are pushing out creative project-oriented opportunities. At least at my school teachers are feeling the negative pressure of "standing out" too much. We really are expected to be cookie cutter. At least that's the direction my principal is moving. Are we atypical?

Lynn said…
From the article: One of the essential features of an inclusive school is a cohesive sense of community, accepting of differences and responsive to individual needs. And it is this sense of community that is disrupted by the practice of pulling out gifted children for special services. This disruption takes several forms.
The message that “if you're different, then you have to leave” may seriously challenge children's sense of a secure place in the classroom.
Removing children who are publicly identified as different makes it more difficult to promote multicultural education and a positive response to differences.
Cohesive communities require open communication about differences. Not discussing differences openly—for example, why only some children have been selected for the gifted program—can create a climate of distrust and alienation (Sapon-Shevin 1994).
Children's coming and going from gifted classes can disrupt the classroom flow and make it difficult for teachers to establish a cohesive group.
Taking children away from the regular classroom to meet their special needs challenges teachers' sense of themselves as responsible for or capable of teaching toward diversity (Sapon-Shevin 1994).

This is all about how other students are affected by pull out programs for gifted students. Are we still discussing what to with advanced learners? Is this an effective argument against providing pull out services for advanced learners?

So now we've got no self-contained, no walk-to math and no pull out. The rest of the article is a description of schools that use cooperative learning, whole language, 'authentic assessment' and programs that promote peer tutoring and peer advocacy. I don't believe any of these practices (in a heterogenous classroom) have been shown to be effective for advanced students. I think the author has an ideal vision of how the world should work and it is totally unrelated to reality - particularly the reality of Seattle Public Schools where we have one teacher and nearly 30 students in a classroom.
WestParent, there are many reasons why grade skipping might not work. One, as we all know, school is not all about academics - there's a social and developmental component. Some kids are just not mature enough to go up a grade level. Two, we have a capacity management problem and suddenly, without Spectrum, a lot of kids' parents decide to have them skip a grade? Three, are teachers set up for multiple younger kids in their classrooms? You can see the difficulties.

Also, that "elitist" tag? Make sure you use it for athletics and music and so forth. Because those are exclusionary as well.
Anonymous said…
It seemed (the quote you chose) to be about acknowledging children's differences, including giftedness, as well as encouraging trust and cohesiveness and multiculturalism in the classroom and supporting "teachers' sense of themselves as responsible for or capable of teaching toward diversity".

lion queen
Anonymous said…
As has been said many times; music, sports, drama, ASB (dictatorship of the proletariat), cheer - all are contrary to the ideals of inclusion. Are you saying two wrongs make a right or that it's all OK?

veeery confused
Anonymous said…
I would imagine there are a number of successful models for educating diverse needs. One room schoolhouses have educated children successfully. But we have to commit fully to a model. If all abilities in one classroom, then the teacher should be equipped with adequate space, time, resources, class size. It doesn't work to use half of one model and half of another.
I think the underlying issue isn't exclusion but rather insufficient opportunities to excel. There are a few ways to excel in SPS but not nearly enough. Perhaps there should be more of everything - more advanced learning, more arts, more music, more drama, more math, more poetry. It seems like the trajectory is less of everything masquerading under the guise of "inclusion." No excellence is cheaper than many opportunities for excellence. The money trail speaks volumes here.
As for Spectrum, it's disappearance is indicative of the district's blindness to diverse learning needs. I hate to be so pessimistic, but honestly and truly, can anything be done? I don't see local schools or SPS responsive to parental concerns. There isn't any accountability. A parent should be able to walk into their local school and be assured that a reasonable amount of their child's educational needs are met. But without flexibility and maneuverability, that doesn't happen.
Anonymous said…
West parent - thank you for the clarification.

Northwesterner - thank you for telling your story about the benefits of Spectrum, especially in making you learn how to actually work hard and develop study habits.

I agree with Lynn that the article by Mara Sapon-Shevi is utterly utopian and not realistic, at least in SPS' large classes. In the 22 class years in SPS between my 2 children, we have had only one teacher that could pull off anything close to that level of differentiation. That 2nd grade teacher was a rock star - able to both pull up the kids who started the year below standard, teach at grade level, and challenge the students who needed work beyond the grade level. I think she was a prodigy - and a very hard-working teacher as well - and we can't expect all other teachers to work the same miracles.

For example, my son's kindergarten class had 26 students for one teacher, including 2 autistic-spectrum children, at least 5 English language learners (4-5 different languages), and quite a few students who started kindergarten not knowing their letters or numbers or even their colors. My son was already reading and could easily count to 100 and do some basic math before starting the year. The teacher did very little (if anything) in encouraging his reading or math because she was so busy helping the other kids to learn their letters and basic numbers in many creative ways. So yes, an active, talkative boy who is bored several hours a day, every day, can cause trouble in a large class. Besides that, he learned to dread going to school.

The next year he was placed in Spectrum and it was an amazing difference. The teacher challenged them in math, had them all reading books that challenged them and understood them. My son began to enjoy school again and the number of behavior problems plummeted.

I want every student to be challenged and encouraged in school - not just my kid. But I don't want my kid (or anybody else's) ignored in a large class because he already meets the standard and doesn't "need" to learn anything the whole year.

Anonymous said…
What Hamlin Robinson USED to do was have a common schedule among all classes -- and ALL kids walked somewhere to their major classes. The reason was that kids came into the school in all grades (usually second or third, but sometimes as late as 4th or 5th, with all sorts of dyslexia caused deficits. The DIFFERENCE between this and "walk to math" was that they were reevaluated every six weeks or so, and reshuffled, based on progress. So -- lots of mobility; no "shame" attached to being at any level -- because if it was really too easy for you, you were moving on soon anyway --. And, for kids who were "incented" to try to move up faster -- well, it was "have at it!" They were happy to accommodate.

Mind you, this was in the context of a school where the entire school was "therapeutic." ALL the kids there had struggled in whatever school they came from. Every kid in the school was well aware that 'society' thought there was something "wrong" with them. And the entire community was a huge believer in the ability of those kids to get the skills and help they needed and go back to "regular schools" -- if they wanted to. If not, they could stay until 8th grade, but few did.

So, a pox on the author above. If the entire school is the community (and classes are just little sub communities), you can move kids around in a whole host of ways without being disruptive. You just have to have the will and the attitude to make it happen.

The one thing I think does NOT work is solo grade skipping. I have NEVER known a child who did it who was happy. It is socially isolating, and the kids I know who did it HATED it. They were estranged from their classmates AND from the kids who were their own age. Maybe others have seen success with it. I have not.

Anonymous said…
And Charlie -- in contrast to what others have said, I for one am so happy that you continue to read and contribute to this blog -- and to care about Seattle's kids. I am REALLY glad you are still "here." And while I guess that is not universal -- I am sure I am far from alone.

Anonymous said…
yes I agree Jan. Thanks Charlie. And of course MW.

cmj said…
What about encouraging independent study? Sending kids off to the library to work through the advanced textbook or a computer course on their own? It's hardly ideal and doesn't work for all gifted kids, but it's better than making the kid sit in class bored out of his/her mind. I've known some parents whose children have done it in SPS as young as 7th grade.

- It doesn't work for all students, even gifted students. The student has to be highly motivated, so it wouldn't work for elementary school. It wouldn't work very well for middle school, either, though some students might be able to do it.
- Someone has to supervise the kids -- not to answer their questions -- but to make sure that they're not running around the halls.
- Minimal social interaction for students.
- Teacher still needs to approve the program and monitor progress.
- student gets very little help when they're having trouble -- little support for students with disabilities.

- Flexibility. Students can take whatever courses they like and progress as quickly as they can.
- The kids are teaching themselves: no one can whine about them "getting a private school education."
- depending on how it's done, it might mean less work for the teacher. If an independent study student is taking a test every two weeks to show that s/he's progressing, s/he's not turning in homework every day that the teacher has to grade.
Anonymous said…
Hamlin Robinson has very small class sizes as well. Not sure they can be considered at all analogous.

And as for the article, is that another of the pseudo-scientifically researched findings that we were alerted to several days ago in the article on grouping? Beware educational research . . .


Anonymous said…
@ Jan 11:46p
I attended public elementary school in Bellevue where they did the exact same thing. The school was broken up into clusters - every cluster had a K-1, 2-3, and 4-5. It was like four mini schools within the larger school. We were able to walk to other grade levels without physically leaving the cluster area and so always felt grounded in our grade level. We also were able to have cluster activities that included multiple ages together allowing for a choir, a drama team, etc. Mobility was accessible for all students and the teacher cohort was small enough they could actually work together to address student needs.
What options are available for parents of children who need something more than what is offered in general ed? I have a Spectrum daughter who is beyond bored in general ed yet not able to transfer to the Spectrum program. She is being tutored at home yet this is not inexpensive. I am trying to prevent her just-floating-thru skills from becoming too highly developed. I have not experienced SPS to be either free or appropriate. For the Spectrum kids, what is there? Are the kids "entitled" to any services? Seems to me like the schools can ignore Spectrum because they know the parents actually have no recourse?
TheGoodFight said…
When it comes to serving students with dyslexia, Hamlin Robinson is light years ahead of SPS.

I want people know it wasn't always that way.

Does anyone have a guess what organization is the LARGEST impediment to SPS serving students with dyslexia and was systematically responsible for the Annihilation the SPS dyslexia program?
Charlie Mas said…
Asking "How will we serve this group of students?" does not equal contempt for all other students. That's a baseless conclusion.

It doesn't matter who "this group of students" may be - students with disabilities, African-American boys, students who report sexual harassment, students who opt out of tests, English Language Learners, students working beyond Standards, or even the biggest cohort: general education students.

"How will we serve this group of students?" isn't a trivial question. It is the central question that teachers, schools, and districts should be asking themselves every day. All of modern pedagogy is an attempt to answer this question. Seattle Public Schools has advanced a number of answers to the question, some better than others. Their answer to how to serve students with disabilities has been found inadequate. Their answer to how to serve English Language Learners has been found non-compliant. They are between attempts to answer how to serve African-American boys - it looks like they expect MTSS to address it. This is the same solution they propose for general education students. They are working to implement it now, although they have had to extend their timetable. Likewise, they are in transition about how to serve students working beyond Standards. It is an appropriate and timely topic for discussion.

It's unclear to me why it is perfectly alright to discuss the best practices for addressing the academic needs of all of these other groups of students but elitist and selfish to discuss the needs of one of these groups.
Charlie Mas said…
I think we need to be clear that we would not even be discussing how to address the needs of these students if the District had not promised to provide a solution. If the District just came out and told families:
"We will teach to the Standards and provide the additional services required by law for students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and Highly Capable students. If the State Standards don't work for you or your child, for whatever reason, then you need to supplement. We don't promise anything beyond what the law requires."

But that's not what the District promises. The District promises this:
"We are focused on improving academic achievement for all students and committed to ensuring that all students graduate from high school prepared for college, careers, and life. We strive to provide excellent teachers in every classroom, set high expectations for every student, meet the needs of our diverse learners, and prepare our students to excel."

I have never asked the District to do anything they didn't willingly promise to do on their own.
Charlie Mas said…
Wow. Amid all of the clarifications I forgot to ask for this one:

What do you propose as a solution, Reader, to all of the problems you have referenced? If school is boring and the Standards and the general education classroom fails everyone, then what is the solution? Do you have a solution to offer?
TheGoodFight said…
All students are general education students. Until there is agreement around this nothing will improve for anyone.
2E parent said…
Spectrum has lots of 2E kids who don't meet the achievement part of the HCC requirements, but do have all the characteristics of giftedness that make GenEd a bad fit, plus the disability characteristics that make it a bad fit in a different way. There isn't enough room at TOPS for all of them (and they don't get a preference there). I am very concerned about how SPS will serve these kids. Will HCC accommodate them? Many GenEd teachers see these kids as average+lazy, or as SBAC 3s, and aren't able or willing to support them through their learning differences to meet their potential. Accommodating them in HCC would require it to be something other than 2 years ahead with lots of homework. Is there a plan to help these kids outside Spectrum?
Anonymous said…
get a dictionary C,
"focused on" and "strive" are hardly promises. It's SPS's "vision", an ideal, an aspiration, a goal- it's not a promise or guarantee.

pickle juice
TheGoodFight said…
Remember the old days when the kids who had the set of encyclopedias at home had an advantage? Those days are long gone. Seriously, there's very little holding students back these days when it comes to accessing information. There's really very little benefit it rouge memorization of facts when you can simply click a screen and there it is (add in your own boom). Reading, writing and mathematics should be taught to mastery, then we can start adding in the creativity part which is very important. Right brain and left brain both need to be engaged to teach the whole mind. You would think an institution like SPS with over 140 years of experience could handle the basics? Buying elementary curriculum ? ridiculous. Does ford by their cars from GM? SPS is a educational factory and should have been able over multiple generations to figure out how to teach the basics.

It should be a criminal offense to still be graduating students who can't read or write beyond a fifth grade level.
TheGoodFight said…
Just for the record, I have a 2E child, so I see both sides pressing against the middle.
Anonymous said…
I would argue that a diverse classroom already has children who are diverse socially and emotionally. Moving a few younger kids up is by definition increasing inclusiveness. If we promote kind and safe classrooms, it's not a big problem. It does steal a year of public education from kids who move up. And it does mean a change of classmates. And puts them at a size disadvantage for sports. I think it's a sacrifice some families would be willing to make. Check out the Hogies page on grade advancement. It works for some. I know it is the opposite of the red shirting trend a few years ago, and may seem off putting, partially because SPS doesn't do it, so we don't have personal experience with it.

A larger solution for the majority of advanced kids would be great too. I have found that private tutors are cheaper than private school BTW. They also allow more flexibility in learning. And I hate that so many families have to look at school as daycare rather than an educational opportunity for their kids.

West parent
TheGoodFight said…
We are along way from worrying about RED SHIRTING SPS students. FYI, most sports team placements are determined by age, not grade. There are thousands of student athletes playing up. These are usually the kids who live and breath the sport, attend camps ect. They simply play up and everyone is happy. This also works well for more mature students. I still don't understand how advancing a student causes them to "LOSE" a year...are you saying SPS kicks these students out? I don't think so.

I would recommend SPS/CC dual enrollment, it seems to be filling a need.
Anonymous said…
Yes. I assume SPS would kick them out after completion of the senior year even if they are 16 or 17 based on graduation requirements. Then they would need to move on with life.

I wish running start would enroll advanced freshman and sophomores. As things stand now a grade advancement would allow your child to access running start at the CC a year earlier.

West parent
Anonymous said…
Spectrum parents are not asking for the bestest and mostest for their child's education. They are simply asking that their children go to school each day, be challenged, and learn something new by the end of the year, just like any other child. What's the point of the whole identification process if they aren't actually going to provide appropriate services?

Isn't one of the major problems a general lack of academic rigor across the district? There are exceptions here and there, but if the general education program was stronger (better math materials, better science materials, history content that actually got taught, and something, anything other than Readers and Writers Workshop come middle school) would there be such resentment about having services for those students working above grade level? I think not.

A grade skip is last resort option when schools have no gifted programming. I can't believe it's being discussed as a solution. We supposedly have services for students working above grade level, the programming is simply inconsistent and there is little oversight from AL (or perhaps they lack the authority over schools and principals, even if they wanted to provide more oversight). AL spends a bulk of their time identifying students and then program implementation seems like an afterthought. Students should not have to resort to grade skipping, teaching themselves, or homeschooling. Other districts manage to provide services for advanced learners. It's not rocket science.

my 2cents
Anonymous said…
I sent my profoundly gifted kid through gen ed. The APP principal & teachers told us point blank, that they would not meet her needs & would not allow her to do different work in their classrooms. That was 1st grade. At least the local school was willing to try. Actually did pretty well in elementary, middle school mixed, high school was dismal. Also I don't think it is possible to have a classroom where there isn't some kid who usually finishes first, even in self-contained. So I don't see the point of that goal.

Things that worked. Independent learning, supervised by teacher like a specially designed reading list or research opportunities or different math packets. Walk to things, different classrooms used flexibly for special learning opportunities. Parallel learning where the class worked on the same subject with different source materials at different levels. Small groups working with tutors including local scientists & artists & writers who volunteered in the school. Projects that worked for mixed levels like writing an opera or designing a water system. Every fall the principal asked her teacher what they were planning for her as well as for the struggling students in their classes & how they would serve both. The key was that they didn't stop her from learning. If she wanted to pursue something or go further on something or change the parameters of the experience, they encouraged that & provided materials & mentoring as much as possible. Those opportunities were open to other students too, sometimes based on interest rather than academic level. Other teachers, librarian, even the tech support person were resources. So I guess flexibility, experienced teachers with file cabinets full of different materials just waiting to be pulled out & a willingness to have students working on different things in the classroom. Of course she was not challenged 100% but I did not expect that because in my mind she was learning other things besides academics or we would have just homeschooled.

In middle school there were 3-4 of the six subjects where they were willing to accommodate her in some way. Mostly mixing independent study with projects. In high school the huge workload especially in AP classes took away any free time for learning & offered very little learning in return. Standardized curriculum - that was the worst. Though she does not regret going to high school because she treasured the opportunities in music, sports, clubs, electives, friendships & some personal relationships with teachers.

-Thankfully finished
TheGoodFight said…
Universal Design for Learning, problems solved.
Anonymous said…
Different ways I saw differentiated math taught at Eckstein. One teacher had every student doing individually designed work. They all worked at their own pace, like Kumon or something. I saw 2 other teachers who had a small group of independent study kids (not all studying the same thing) in the back of the classroom & would circulate through that group during class & answer questions, keep them going on assignments, & provide tests at the end of units. I also saw a classroom where students were assessed at the beginning of each new skill & then assigned to different groups for different levels of work for that unit.

Linh-Co said…
@West parent,

IBX students at Ingraham can access Running Start in their sophomore year of high school.
Anonymous said…
I appreciate the comments above that provide concrete ideas about serving Spectrum level kids. I have a few comments based on experience.
First, a question about how to serve Spectrum and APP (HCC kids) should be divided into elementary and middle school discussions. They are different issues.
In elementary, the main job of teachers is getting students up to speed with their reading and math. For kids who come to either or both of those skills easily, school can be a trudge. The HCC program makes sense at this level within SPS. The goal IMHO should be deeper understanding of core subject matter. Just because advanced kids can read and do math doesn't mean they truly understand it. Reading a book and diving into its meaning are two different skills. You'd be surprised how many "APP" kids can't actually expound on theme, make connections, etc. Same with math. Being quick with math facts doesn't imply knowledge of application of these skills. These are natural fits for HCC and Spectrum students and should be offered in our advanced learning program. Yes, I do think Spectrum should be included in the HCC enrollment at the grade school level. If not that, then enrichment level offerings should be available at neighborhood schools. There is no excuse to have eager and capable learners treading water in the grade school years. Note, this does not in my mind mean they need an advanced subject matter curriculum. What does 'working 2 years ahead' in grade school mean anyhow? Who cares if you get Wash. state history in 1st instead of 3rd or nonfiction in 3rd not 5th? Go deep.

More in a second post.

APP mom
Anonymous said…
When I was in elementary school I had a teacher, Mrs. Baker, who gave the final test at the beginning of every unit in every subject. The goal was for students to see lots of improvement when they took the test again at the end of the unit. But for students who got 100% the first time, you didn't have to do the unit, instead she provided other work. Sometimes more advanced, sometimes more creative, sometimes independent work, sometimes a group project.

-HS Parent
Anonymous said…
I think the first thing that has to be done is to explain to teachers and principals that differentiation is a requirement and it is not something you can choose not to do if you don't "believe" in it.

Our child's kindergarten teacher told us that she couldn't differentiate because she didn't have the time to compile additional materials it would require. She said that so many kids were already behind in kindergarten, she didn't have time for my child who was reading and knew addition and subtraction. So, my kid got nothing. At least she told us not to expect anything, and I knew to teach at home. 1/12th of my child's school life was not going to waste.

I really can't believe that anyone thinks is ok for a kid to be in class not learning for an entire school year. Yes, my child learned how to sit in a circle without fidgeting and how to be quiet in line, but it didn't take my child a year to learn that. Educationally, my kid got nothing. I suppose it's "fair" for those who have a different definition of that word than I do.

Everyone can only go by their own experience, but I don't trust SPS to differentiate. The poster above is correct about APP - there is little differentiation there, but there used to more than there is now. The district as a whole is going to McDonald's style education, and that is going to benefit the very small number of kids who exactly fit into grade level expectations. I am really concerned that this new cookie cutter style is going to make an even larger number of kids bored at school due to the rigid grade level structure. I am not hopeful about the future of education.

-dog's dinner
Anonymous said…
I see middle school as a different animal. Having been through the middle school APP experience twice, I can say that today's flavor has only one descriptive word: subpar. Not only does the curriculum not offer richer deeper learning, it manages in Hamilton, Jane Addams and even to some extent the veteran Washington program to be subpar to the offerings in some other general education and alternative public schools. There is no benefit in fighting for advanced learning in SPS middle school because there is no benefit period. The cadence is a mess. The challenges are few. The system needs a complete reset. There are students coming out of Eckstein, TOPS, Salmon Bay, Catherine Blaine and other programs with a high school readiness that today's HCC programs do not offer. OK, some of Washington's program is still quite good, but it too has become uneven and if Spectrum is moved to a reopened Meany it is going to continue downhill too.

I believe at the middle school level that every middle and K8 school needs to provide services at the building itself. That is the starting point. Yes, HCC-identified students would get 'guaranteed' access to the most challenging classes, but these classes should also be open to Spectrum level kids and all others who would choose to participate. At smaller schools, where it was impossible to have a separate curriculum, the teachers would need to "teach up" and the school could provide support services to those needing them. Far better to have a high bar for all than a low bar for all. It is amazing how ALL kids can benefit from a challenging curriculum. Yes, this includes many of the special education students.

Requiring teachers to "teach up" in rigor is the starting point. But many need training. And they need support from specialists to reach middle school students who struggle. That's where SPS downtown and mentor teachers should be kicking in via training and staffing.

APP mom
CMJ, good point on individual learning via the computer. At least that option exists even if not all kids can be that motivated. (To note, in Florida I believe you have to take and pass at least computer-based class in high school to graduate. This is very much a direction that ed reform wants to take.)

SouthDad, I would say your conclusions are right about Spectrum. The fact that you can test into Spectrum and not get a seat should be the first clue. The district doesn't really fear Spectrum parents because there is no legal mandate for services. Now, of course, if every single Spectrum student didn't take the SBAC, then you'd have their attention.

"Seriously, there's very little holding students back these days when it comes to accessing information. Now you know someone could call you out for your privilege in that statement. There's a big difference between a student who has access to a computer at home versus school or library. It might be easier but there are still many families who do not have computers at home.

"Most sports team placements are determined by age, not grade". That's in camp, not on school teams. Most school team placements are by try-out. Not age or grade but ability.

Good Fight, please go back and read my reasoning on why a parent might not want a kid to skip a grade. It's not a simple thing.

2cents, yes, other districts DO have a range of programs for advanced learning. Anyone can Google this and see it but then, it wouldn't make for a great argument against what SPS does. I'm not wedded to Spectrum, I'm just trying to understand how academic needs are met for all kids.

"Small groups working with tutors including local scientists & artists & writers who volunteered in the school. Projects that worked for mixed levels like writing an opera or designing a water system.If she wanted to pursue something or go further on something or change the parameters of the experience, they encouraged that & provided materials & mentoring as much as possible. Those opportunities were open to other students too, sometimes based on interest rather than academic level. " I am dying to know what school this is.

Tutor, you are talking just crazy talk with your "ability grouping." If you do that in a class, why someone's feelings might get hurt (rather than being with other kids working at your level).

But, at the end of the day, we go in circles on this discussion because our district will not clearly articulate what they want to do to serve ALL kids who need more indepth/speeded up curriculum.
Anonymous said…
But, at the end of the day, we go in circles on this discussion because our district will not clearly articulate what they want to do to serve ALL kids who need more indepth/speeded up curriculum.

This, as does Charlie's original question, presumes the district actually wants to do something to serve these kids. I have not seen anything yet to convince me this the case. The district doesn't seem to care about meeting the needs of kids working a little beyond grade level, nor does it seem to care about meeting the needs of those capable of working several years above grade level. The focus seems to be on meeting the minimal requirements of the law--saying the right things in reports to OSPI, even if the contents of such reports don't accurately reflect reality.

When there's no "there" there even in HC services--which are required by law, and which serve a population that more clearly needs something different--are we really surprised that SPS refuses to appropriately serve "Spectrum" students?

Kris said…
Whatever the solution, I'd like to see it include twice-exceptional students, who may underperform and be bored. A self-contained Spectrum or APP classroom doesn't fix that. I'd prefer project-based learning and ability grouping, as well as opportunities for all students to have enrichment opportunities. I'd like to see Common Core be completely overhauled. Math standards could be used to decide which ability group to place students in--such that a child could be successful a year ahead of or below their grade, for instance. The way writing is taught is just FUBAR. Common Core completely misunderstands what kids need to be college ready and when.
Anonymous said…
I believe at the middle school level that every middle and K8 school needs to provide services at the building itself. That is the starting point. Yes, HCC-identified students would get 'guaranteed' access to the most challenging classes, but these classes should also be open to Spectrum level kids and all others who would choose to participate.

Yes! Yes! and Yes!

North of 85th
TheGoodFight said…
Getting tech into students hands is easy and cheap. There are numerous programs out there willing to help.
Josh Hayes said…

I would like to put in a vote against "flipping" classrooms -- the idea that the lesson should be done at home via the internet, and then "homework" done in class where the teacher essentially serves as the tutor to the class, is fraught with equity issues. These are not empty words: I have taught in schools here in SPS where substantial chunks of my classes had no computers at home, no internet, and would have had to go to the public library to do the internet portion of the work - and given the spotty hours (necessitated by budget restrictions) of our libraries, that's just not plausible.

In short, I think that as much as possible of the actual teaching and support needs to happen in the school itself, in the interest of providing equitable access.

I'd also caution non-teacher readers that the blithely tossed-off call for "differentiation" is much more difficult than you might imagine. A typical high school class load means constructing lessons for 150+ kids each and every day, and of course every teacher will hang opportunities for enrichment in each lesson, and every teacher will be aware of the sticking points where struggling students have difficulty, but it's unrealistic to expect teachers to differentiate to more than about three levels (not getting it, getting it okay, really getting it, for instance) at a time.

Disclaimers: I've only been teaching at the secondary level for two years (a decade in college, though). YMMV, lather rinse repeat, etc.
Anonymous said…
I believe at the middle school level that every middle and K8 school needs to provide services at the building itself. That is the starting point. Yes, HCC-identified students would get 'guaranteed' access to the most challenging classes, but these classes should also be open to Spectrum level kids and all others who would choose to participate.

Ok, but everything needs an upgrade first. What would currently be considered those "most challenging classes" are not challenging enough for most HCC students. Keep them as they are, and they can be the upgrade option for gen ed or Spectrum students who want more, or for HCC kids who find them to be working. (Because face it, the HCC level classes now--at least in middle school--are at about the level we'd expect gen ed classes to be in a high-performing district.) Then add in a new, more challenging level to actually meet the needs of HCC students, or perhaps students not id'd as HC but for whom they might be appropriate. Maybe they have to test in--not by cognitive scores, but a subject matter test that ensures they are ready for the next materials. THey should also require that kids perform well to stay in any class above grade level. If you can't maintain at least a B, you should drop down a level.

Eric said…
From the perspective of a long time Whittier parent who has had one kid in spectrum and one not, getting rid of spectrum would be excellent! Right now everyone competes for one of the slots and there are lots of hard feelings when people get in or don't. It's a huge hassle, and once in it's impossible to remove a kid, even if they can't keep up.

The fix is to do ability grouping with walk to read / walk to math. It's a better solution in every possible way- avoiding admittance issues, allowing for kids with different strengths, avoiding elitist segregation of kids, maintaining flexibility as kids and schools develop.
Lynn said…
Middle schools don't want to provide classes with varying levels of challenge. That's the problem we're trying to solve. Charlie's question is what schools can do within heterogenous classes.

I don't have an answer to that question - I don't think it can be done without significantly more resources. I know of one private school that does this well. There are less than 100 students in the entire school, so less than 20 per grade and each class has a teacher and a full time aide.

Given that schools don't seem at all interested in getting advice from parents, what can parents do to make the system work for them. Which option schools are good for advanced students? Should parents partially homeschool and hire tutors for group classes outside of school?

This is the reason many families choose private schools. Even in those that don't differentiate well, the floor is generally higher. This is also the reason that some charter schools in other cities (language immersion schools and those that provide a rigorous, accelerated curriculum to all) have long wait lists.
Anonymous said…
What I saw in inclusion classrooms at Eckstein. I spent time in various classrooms that included special ed, gen ed & AL. These classes had a gen ed teacher & a special ed teacher co-teaching, also there were often IA’s in the room & volunteers. Children worked on the same unit using individual rubrics. While learning about the constitution one child might have one of their goals be using 2 primary sources & another child might have a goal of using a writing conventions checklist. Each student knew their goals & expectations, they each had a written rubric for each assignment, so I could quickly see what they needed to do. It worked well for most students & the AL were in those classes because their parents opted them in. There was more individualized learning than in the spectrum classes.

Anonymous said…
I'm also a Whittier parent, and share the sentiments of Eric. Having a self-contained program with a set number of places causes tension to say the least, especially as so many more children qualify than get in. If your kid gets a place in 1st Grade, they are set. If not, they will typically linger on a wait list, and then lose the designation (although I see the school district as changed that now). Grouping by ability, honors classes, or walking to math etc. seems so logical to me (that's how it was done when I was a kid). Denying kids access to more advanced work just because they didn't win the golden ticket as a 6-year old seems flawed.

Crown Hiller.
Anonymous said…

An eyewitness! I was thinking there were different rubrics and my spouse thought it was the loco weed, but not having been in the classroom, nor even knowing parents were volunteering in classrooms at our MS,I couldn't be sure.

The inclusion classes are rigorous(child is HC), more individual attention, as you said. They are apparently cluster-grouped.

Josh's points point maybe to his school's lack of good grouping of students.

In the classic cluster-grouping model, there are 5 levels. In a MS or HS it's easy to pair that down to three levels per class as Josh said he could handle. They need not be adjacent levels, inclusion would dictate there be gaps, say 1, 3, 5, but it would require only three levels of differentiation.

I don't understand why people poo-poo the inclusion model when it works. HCC issues are a separate matter, it sounds like it's not rigorous enough for many. Maybe the district needs a faster track for a subset of HCC, or all of HCC.

Spectrum identifies kids with aptitude but is more and more saying that all kids are expected to work a grade above by the end of 8th grade. Not all kids will be there but
those that can't move into geometry or bio for 9th will be on track for plenty of AP classes in 11th and 12th, if they want. Having a solid upward trajectory of difficulty while maintaining a very good GPA will get them where they want.

To say things are broken is wrong. Not perfect but moving forward.

"Getting tech into students hands is easy and cheap. There are numerous programs out there willing to help."

Great, tell me all about them and I'll write a thread. I know there are many programs that can help at school but if there are ones for home use, I'd like to know more.

Eric, again, I'll just say they used to do pull-outs and then kids got upset that THEY didn't get to go, parents perceived those kids were getting something "better" and teachers didn't like the back and forth. Maybe it's being handled better this time around but, for whatever reason, they stopped doing pull-outs.

Crown Hiller, wait for high school. We can't have "honors" classes (you'd have to define them - do you mean separate high rigor classes or just AP?) because parents get upset. That's exactly what happened at Hale when my son was there.

Anonymous said…
Josh: thanks for the interesting perspective on "flipping." Based on what you have said, I can see why it might work better in college (or some high schools), but not as well in areas with a lot of economic diversity.

Re Hamlin Robinson: I know the school is small, but the concept -- of really throwing differentiation open to ALL students -- and keeping it loose enough that students can redistribute through the year as needed -- is key to avoiding having just two or three kids "leave" a "tight community" etc., etc., etc. It also begins to devolve "excellence" and "performance" back on each child -- where they can own wherever they are, and however fast they are going -- rather than having a set (often too low) group "norm" that kids are pegged against. It may be too high for some, and too low for others. And wherever you set it -- it is arbitrary. I realize all this cuts across standards based education -- but it is still the right thing to do, if we are serious about having ALL children learn, and caring about ALL kids' potential.

As for PP, who said "To say things are broken is wrong. Not perfect but moving forward." -- You are more optimistic than I am. While I hope/wish you are right -- I think not. When differentiated teaching is delivered randomly, badly, or not at all (where SSD is now), I DO think things are broken. But -- that is not to say that they cannot be fixed. Although parents are accustomed to being ignored, this will take a massive effort by parents demanding -- flat out demanding -- that all kids (theirs and others) be learning in school. And, it will mean that the parents of the "easiest" kids to serve -- the ones that the District might want to cherry pick -- be they gen ed or AL, need to lock arms with all the other parents and insist on effective education for all the other groups as well. (Otherwise, as some commenters here have demonstrated -- it turns into a parent game of "if I can't get what I want, you can't have anything either" -- and we have all seen how that works out for kids.

Thankfully finished best described it: " Every fall the principal asked her teacher what they were planning for her as well as for the struggling students in their classes & how they would serve both. The key was that they didn't stop her from learning. If she wanted to pursue something or go further on something or change the parameters of the experience, they encouraged that & provided materials & mentoring as much as possible. Those opportunities were open to other students too, sometimes based on interest rather than academic level. Other teachers, librarian, even the tech support person were resources."

It starts with the principals! And is delivered through the teachers. When parents demand principals and teachers who will do this -- it will happen.

Our current superintendent is not asking this of his principals, nor does it appear he is hiring principals in many cases with the talent and passion to do this work.

Only in the few option schools where the District is afraid to abandon the "community involvement" part of principal hiring is good leadership anything than a lucky chance. We can do this -- but it will take a massive parent push.


Anonymous said…
"Isn't one of the major problems a general lack of academic rigor across the district? There are exceptions here and there, but if the general education program was stronger (better math materials, better science materials, history content that actually got taught, and something, anything other than Readers and Writers Workshop come middle school) would there be such resentment about having services for those students working above grade level? I think not. " (from @my2cents)

The above quote resonates for me in terms of our experience in SPS. This, I think, is why parents are so crazy to get their kids designated something different from General Ed. For parents, it "feels" like Gen Ed is sub-par--and it often is sub-par. There is so much talk about making sure that the HCC kids get an education that fits their needs, yet the general ed kids are kind of treated as if they have no educational needs--they get what they get, which can be good but isn't always, and they have no recourse because there is no mandate to attend to their needs because their needs are not considered "special."

North End Parent

Anonymous said…
North End Parent said: "For parents, it "feels" like Gen Ed is sub-par--and it often is sub-par. There is so much talk about making sure that the HCC kids get an education that fits their needs, yet the general ed kids are kind of treated as if they have no educational needs--they get what they get, which can be good but isn't always, and they have no recourse because there is no mandate to attend to their needs because their needs are not considered "special.""

Well. You know, you can't be the first person to have said this before -- but it sure feels clearer when put as you did. I think for some parents at either of the margins (at least for me -- both ends) it is easy to somehow assume that stuff is rightly tailored for, and meeting the needs of, the kids in the middle (well, not entirely, far too many posts over the years re CMP, TERC, everyday math, bad writing instruction, etc.) -- but in a general sense.

I think many SPED parents and HCC parents KNOW the "gen ed" clothes don't fit their kid -- but (reasonably) assume they must fit SOMEONE -- and that the logical thought is to assume that gen ed "fits" most gen ed kids. What I am hearing you say is -- no -- the reason we want to leave for "better classes" WITH you is NOT because we think you are being snooty -- it's because what they are handing out in gen ed (with or without the change in percentage of ELL and Sped kids that comes when fewer AL kids are there) doesn't work for OUR kids either!

Plenty more work to do, I guess -- for ALL our kids. But thanks for the perspective!

kellie said…
One thing that could work and once upon a time, was part of the plan of migration to the NSAP was to provide Physical Science, Biology and Algebra II at ALL middle schools.

At that time, the plan was to give access to the advanced science classes to all students who qualified. That is something that could be provided at all middle school buildings.

Anonymous said…
@ kellie, my fear, however, is that that would result in more kids getting inferior instruction in science and math. They'd get it earlier, yes, but word on the street seems to be that the quality of these classes, when delivered in middle school, is lower than the "same" classes in high school. I imagine it's similar to what happens with the "Algebra 1 for all in 8th grade" approach--where what they really get is algebra "lite." Unless the quality of the courses is improved, it just means kids will learn less in those foundational classes.

Anonymous said…
This talk about gen Ed being sub par makes a case for grade skipping. If parents want deeper, more thoughtful teaching and assignments then the gen Ed classes would need to be improved for all students. We could all ask for real grammar curriculum together. We could all advocate for a clear, cohesive math curriculum in middle school. We could all advocate for interesting and foundational history lectures and readings together, as a community, even if some kids were younger than others.
West parent
Anonymous said…
To be clear, the criticism about the quality of the 'advanced' science and math classes taught in the HCC schools also applies to high school. This should not be a theoretical concern about offering more rigorous challenges to middle school gen ed. It should be a here and now concern of HCC parents.

High school teachers roll their eyes when most HCCers arrive "2 years ahead". It's not the fault of the kids, necessarily, but no. No the majority are not two years ahead. The "math and science lite" syndrome is real. Oh sure, many of the HCC kids on paper are qualified to start high school at higher level math and science, but the gaps are there. Gaps of content. Gaps of rigor. Gaps of study habits and notetaking and analysis. Honestly, all but the top of the top of the class HCC kids would benefit from taking the prescribed standard math and science progression in high school. The students who experience these classes in a high school setting are getting a benefit. And so, in an odd way, HCC middle school shortchanges its cohort. That is one of many reasons a middle school curriculum that stays "in sync" with the usual progression, but expands on that base, is a better method of offering HCC middle school curriculum than the two years ahead baloney.

H.S. knowledgable
Anonymous said…
inflated enrollment+lack of progress monitoring for placement+no continuum of services=

watered down program of students from similar demographics where those at the highest-end of achievement don't get the services they need

--enough already
Anonymous said…
...could not agree more on the HS lite classes that are offered in middle school. In our experience, the "advanced" classes are not taught at a level that would be expected for a high school level class. They are somehow getting less by accelerating, partially because the materials (Discovering Algebra, Discovering Geometry,...) are not covering nearly as much content as needed for the more advanced classes in high school, and in other classes, in part due to several middle school teachers having a no homework philosophy. Students are covering less content and not learning how to manage their time and juggle multiple assignments.

It reminds me of a story my child read in grade school - The Girl Who Could Fly. Children with exceptional abilities are sent to a special school for some top secret mission, but it turns out the school's mission is to remove their special talents. The school's acronym is I.N.S.A.N.E. (Institute of Normalcy, Stability, and NonExceptionality). I can't tell you how much my child identifies with this story.

-watered down
Anonymous said…
As to the nuts and bolts question from a parent above as to which public school programs are known by high school staffs for reliably turning out truly advanced (e.g. skipping high school subjects may not do them a disservice) middle school graduates, there are only two, and this is said with great caution for two reasons:

One, in any middle school exceptional students may exist. Exceptional students are not the same as exceptional programs. Further, exceptional students are not the same as A students. A student may meet a school's 'high' bar, but if that 'high' bar is low, then that A is not indicative of a thorough learning experience. Additionally, exceptional students are not limited to or even largely in the HCC programs. In summation, exceptional students should not be confused with exceptional programs, which is the basis of this comment.

Two, in schools with exceptional programs, only the top academic slice of students should be considered suitably prepared to skip high school subjects.

Those two public schools are Washington and TOPS. Both middle school programs have strong reputations for excellence with high school teachers. Mercer Middle School is also working toward a reputation for excellence.

No doubt this post will be controversial to parents following the discussion, but know that reputations can be built over time. Hazel Wolf and Salmon Bay are showing some signs of moving into this tier.

I imagine parents are wondering where are Jane Addams and Hamilton and Eckstein. Hamilton needs teacher and administrative stability. J.A. is new and early indications are that the program is not as rigorous as high school teachers expect for students claiming readiness for high school subject skipping. Eckstein's inclusion programs are well regarded.

I hope this post sheds some light on the high school teacher perspective and on areas in which parents might take action. The fact is that parents hold the only real impetus for demanding more rigor at the middle school level. This initiative will not come from within the paid staff of Seattle Public Schools for a variety of reasons that this blog's readers probably understand. Middle school students, by their nature, will not be a force for deeper across-the-board middle school academics. That leaves parents.

H.S. knowledgable
Anonymous said…
I'm sorry, one correction: That's the Washington HCC program, not the full Washington program.

H.S. knowledgable
Anonymous said…
Can anyone tell me how the Spectrum program at Broadview-Thomson is?

I tried to find out about their IGNITE program for girls (math/science career focus), and was told that no club was guaranteed to be functioning from year to year.

More Math Please
"Those two public schools are Washington and TOPS. Both middle school programs have strong reputations for excellence with high school teachers."

Interesting, I have not heard that before. Where did you get this information? PASS or SEA or where?
Anonymous said…
Thank you, @H.S. knowledgable. My child agrees that an A means nothing if there was no effort required. For all the talk about "grit" and "perseverance," we're not seeing the level of work needed to really stretch students. And for every parent that complains, there's a parent that is just fine with the light work load and easy A's. Unfortunately, I think concerned parents hold very, very little power when it comes to affecting any change.

-watered down
Anonymous said…
@ enough already, I'm not sure your "equation" is completely accurate.

It's unclear to what extent "inflated enrollment" is really a factor here, there IS progress monitoring (e.g., quarterly report cards), and a continuum of services is not completely absent (e.g., occasional in-class differentiation in gen ed; ALOs and walk-to's; what's left of Spectrum; and HCC--it's not exactly the Fairfax Co continuum you want, but it's a continuum).

You left out the KEY piece of the equation, however--an appropriate instructional component! Or more appropriately, the lack thereof. The poor (or nonexistent) curriculum for HCC, coupled with the lack of teacher certification in gifted ed, are to my mind the biggest contributors to the poor outcomes. The fact that kids start out "advanced" or "ahead" but then end up more "average" by the time they show up to high school is not necessarily because those kids shouldn't have been in the program in the first place or shouldn't have been maintained in it for so long--it's because the "service" provided doesn't really provide much of a service. In other words, yes, it's a watered down program--but that may not have anything to do with what seems to many to be over-enrollment or too open eligibility criteria. (After all, most would argue our gen ed program is too watered down, too, right? But surely that's not about over-enrollment--it's a curriculum and instruction issue.)

It seems that HCC, in it's current form, effectively slows the academic growth trajectory for participating kids. I agree 100% that those at the highest end of the achievement curve don't have their needs met--but I think a good portion of the others in the program are similarly ill-served (e.g., high school "lite" classes). It's probably a similar story in gen ed, and that's part of the reason for all the concern about the disappearance of Spectrum.

It's not the kids, it's the instruction. You can't expect good outcomes without a good "intervention."

Anonymous said…
I am not sure it really makes so much difference whether students do high school subjects in middle school or high school. I had one kid who started HS with AP Calc & one who started with Alg 2. What both of them got in high school was graphing calculator dependent, non-proof-based, discovery math. The math classes they had in high school (Pre-calc, AB/BC Calc & AP Statistics)were not deep & were not rigorous & did not prepare students for advanced math studies in college. They barely skimmed the surface. We had to keep teaching math at home through high school for both of them. So why hold off to get the rigor in HS when it isn't there either.

Lynn said…
HIMSmom - very well put.

As for math, I don't see how using the Discovering Geometry textbook for kids who take geometry in 10th grade is going to allow a more rigorous class than using the same textbook for gifted eighth graders. I really think the best intervention the parents of an advanced student can make is to arrange for them to receive math instruction outside of school in middle and high school.
Anonymous said…
Regarding the skipping grades thing: I think it's something that only a very few students would do well with, if only because of the social component. We are currently experiencing something similar to grade skipping: my kid is taking chemistry as a freshman in high school (it's their passion) as well as some other advanced classes. As it turns out, the chemistry class in particular has been a struggle primarily because it's full of seniors--who are all in a different place in their lives from our freshman. My kid feels left out and excluded (which makes some sense). In retrospect, we realize that it might have been better for our kid to hold off on taking chemistry until there were more peers involved. For our kid, there is a combined social as well as academic component to school--and the social component is not being addressed for them this year which has been miserable.

North End Parent
Anonymous said…
@ Melissa: SEA? PASS? Gawd no. High school professionals have opportunities formal, informal and social to speak with each other. This is the context to which I refer.

Again I am speaking of program reputation and referring only to the top tier of students within the programs. I am speaking about programs in which the baseline knowledge of these students is not only solid but is consistently demonstrable in verbal and written form at a freshman/sophomore general education high school level prior to entering high school. Beyond that, these kids are able to think creatively and apply one subject's knowledge to other academic areas and to real world applications. They are curious. They have well-developed note taking skills, classroom behavior skills, and time management skills. They are able to work adeptly independently as well as part of classroom groups consisting of students unlike themselves.

H.S. knowledgable
Anonymous said…
JAMS HCC = good administration, nice staff, mostly cordial families, pretty good extracurriculars, but no academic challenge by which our family means few projects, no homework, by the book math, language arts, social studies, science at a general education level, no evidence of critical thinking skill building.

Hallways less crowded than Eckstein and HIMS.

Sadly unimpressed
Anonymous said…
As a high school educator, I would say that HS Knowledgable's comments are popular among my colleagues, but that I have not found it to be the case with my particular students. In math in particular the students from alternative programs struggle more than Hamilton and Eckstein students. They are more often from families who are willing to help remediate their skills, but I am not as sure that speaks to the quality of program they experience in middle school.

Minority Report
Anonymous said…
Unfortunately I concur with the comments above. I know our north end comprehensive middle schools Whitman, JAMS, Eckstein and HIMS. None of them are schools in crisis. None of them are schools to be avoided. They all seem consistent in offering an average middle school experience. That is something much better than nothing. And some schools have bright spots. For instance, a couple of the educators who moved to JAMS from Eckstein are excellent. Eckstein has its music program. However, I have found no public school middle school offering north of the Ship Canal that has a dependably excellent-advanced program of which to boast. And social + emotional skill building? Forget it. I don't know why my fellow parents are satisfied. I think it's because overcrowding and enrollment has been the biggest concern for too long. Also, it might be a case of The Emperor Has No Clothes. I don't think that HCC families want to see the truth and I don't think given the way the district has treated the families that parents want to make waves. My 2 cents.

Anonymous said…
@Hmpf...ugh. We are just.trying.to.get.through.middle school, and you are suggesting it doesn't get much better in high school? Not even a little? Because I am one

-tired parent

(give me some hope, people)

Also, Hamilton is losing one of its better math teachers this year (retirement), so whether HIMS will continue to adequately prepare students in math is yet to be seen.
Anonymous said…
My answer to Charlie's original question, how to provide appropriate academic opportunity, would be to fix the district's hiring processes and professional development, so that the quality of the teaching corps improves. My students have bounced around among general education, Spectrum, and APP/HCC. In all of these they have experienced teaching ranging from shockingly dreadful to spectacularly wonderful. We need to hire more of the most excellent teachers, and we need to let our best teachers spend more time with their colleagues who would like to join the ranks of the best. Ultimately we ought to make the district into such a wonderful place to teach, that every time there is a job opening, we get our choice of the most excellent teachers available.

In my experience a great teacher can overcome lots of the shortcomings of any program or curriculum. And Spectrum in particular has never been a cohesive program, but has always been implemented according to the resources and abilities of the individual school administrators. Where it has worked well for some people, that has been because of the particular teachers and principals involved.

Maureen said…
My two (HCC identified at some points) kids went to TOPS four years apart and were well served. The older one was fortunate enough to be there when Algebra (and part of Geometry) was taught after school (for a fee) with a traditional text. He did about four hours of homework per week--with tons of practice factoring and manipulating equations. That class remediated his lackluster computation skills and created a strong foundation that supported him through Calc B/C at Roosevelt (he rode the last wave of traditional math in SPS.) He was also in the last class that was allowed to test out of 9th grade science at RHS. His TOPS experience made that possible.

The younger one is not math oriented, fortunately, because after school math was no longer offered her year (TOPS started teaching Algebra to all 8th graders using the Discovery text her last year there.) She was given the opportunity there to write and do art at a very high level and to get very fluent in Bio and Chemistry (and perhaps more importantly, to feel confident and accomplished in those subjects.) Ingraham let her skip freshman science based on a quick talk with the teacher and principal.

I'm happy to hear that H.S. knowledgeable thinks well of TOPS. I think it can be a great place for many kids and not just the "top tier." I really appreciated the diverse (in many way) community and the way they were able to support my kids' needs. I know there are people who do not feel their kids were supported there, but I do believe the Middle School teachers are fantastic for many types of kids, or were when we were there.

Personally, I think math at TOPS has been a weak point. Much as I like the MS Math teacher (and admire his work ethic and sincerity), I think his faith in the CMP and Discovery curricula is misplaced and hurts the kids whose parents don't remediate. (He knows my opinion and obviously disagrees!) The lack of alternatives has driven away some great families. I disagree with them too--it's much easier to remediate math at home than it is Language Arts, Science and the outstanding Social Justice program that my kids experienced.

I do wish someone would try and evaluate why TOPS works well. I think it has something to do with teachers being supported in working with kids as individuals. The size probably plays a role and the program may not be replicable. Of course it helps that families opt in. (I think the school that offered Opera, above, is probably Thornton Creek.)
Lynn said…
Here's the plan at Green Lake Elementary (from their Creative Approach School application):

Multiage classrooms are based upon a philosophical commitment to the holistic development of each individual student. Multiage philosophy tries to change the paradigm of teaching to the average student by purposely grouping different ages together. There is a conscious decision to remove grade level divisions both for the upper and lower ability students.
Anonymous said…
Green Lake's approach is surprisingly effective, I think, overall. It can, however, be a challenge for kids that are very easily distracted because of the larger/blended classrooms. What works well is that kids are grouped/re-grouped over the year based on abilities and in many activities essentially "walk" to them for differentiation. It's also a challenge for the teachers as they really need to collaborate, but when they do it well, it's impressive.

Unfortunately, despite the ability to support a broader range of abilities within the classes than a traditional structure, Green Lake still cannot adequately challenge - or consistently interest - kids that, in terms of testing numbers, are solidly or exceedingly qualified to participate in HCC (e.g., 99.9%+). Not that the caring and able teachers don't try, but there's only so much they are able to do. On the plus side, at least with larger, combined classes, there's more of a chance that there's at least one other child that's close in abilities to share the experience with.

There's a definite psychological and emotional plus for young gifted kids being in a single cohort - many of them get to feel "normal" and accepted, rather than standing out in one or more ways from their peers (not that the HCC program doesn't have kids with a variety of abilities within itself!). As nice and empowering as that bubble is when young, it's probably for the best that it's popped so that the kids can have the opportunity to work and be around kids that may not be as intellectually gifted, but have plenty of other things they may be gifted at.
Anonymous said…
I am not convinced that gifted students need to learn to work with children with a larger range of academic abilities to prepare them for the real world. They're not likely to attend college with students who are not academic high performers. They often choose careers that require a high level of intellectual ability.

Exposure to a wider group of people is valuable. It's just not as valuable as consistently experiencing academic challenge in school. Athletics and the arts are good arenas to learn to work with people whose academic talents differ from yours.

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