Sunday, December 13, 2015

Asking about Advanced Learning and Highly Capable Issues

Update: another parent wrote AL and asked this question about taking the SBAC or MAP as a requirement:

"And what if a parent has opted their students out of those tests?"

I believe that this year only, we will offer achievement testing to students who do not have district administered achievement scores but have CogAT scores in the qualifying range. It is my understanding that in the future, opting out of district achievement testing may constitute opting out of Advanced Learning.

My take?

They are clearly just vamping answers until whatever rewrite of AL occurs. That they even say that opting out may mean opting out of AL shows you their mindset.

I think that may even be illegal for them to do this especially for HCC who are legally entitled to services. When that time comes, a call from a really good legal firm might change their minds. 

A good lawyer could prove that neither the SBAC nor MAP are made to test giftedness and that all the district is doing is attempting to punish parents (and their kids) for not taking a test.  

end of update

Based on reader comments (as well as more than a few e-mails), I queried the district about several Advanced Learning issues.  Here are the replies(italics are SPS.)
Thanks for reaching out to us about Advanced Learning. Some of these questions/statements are answered on our Advanced Learning pages, but for convenience sake, Stephen Martin has answered most of them below.

1. It is too difficult to understand the programs (especially Spectrum and how it is presented differently at nearly every single school in the district depending on principal).

Advanced Learner/Spectrum students are served according to the CSIP developed at each school. Some schools also have published ALO plans. The district embraces site-based decision making in meeting the needs of Advanced Learner/Spectrum students. Most schools have adopted the practice of grouping advanced students within general education classrooms rather than placing them in self-contained classrooms. This is consistent with existing policy and procedures. The AL office is committed to supporting schools in meeting the needs of their advanced students.

My reply to this answer: Site-based decision-making, as it seems to currently play out, sounds a lot like principals (and sometimes teachers as well) make the decisions.  I have not heard of one Spectrum site where parents were asked what they want as part of any process.

I can understand doing this for ALOs because there is a wide variation of what a school could offer for more rigor.  However, Spectrum is technically a program and there should be some consistency in what is done.  Since there isn't, except for test scores, I have no idea how the district can make any concrete determinations about what is working for gifted learners in meeting their needs.

I have seen this attitude on the part of the district for years and I still don't get it.

2. It’s too difficult to access the testing, especially when the district makes errors in notification about times for testing.

For details about recent scheduling delays, please see our Testing page: http://www.seattleschools.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=627&pageId=14582 . All students who were referred by the October 8 deadline will be tested, and we have added testing dates and offer a makeup day to accommodate any families with conflicts.

3. Do students -either coming in the program and continuing in the program - have to take either/both SBAC and Amplify tests? Also, if either test is a requirement to enter/remain in AL, could you please provide documentation on how either test has been developed to test for giftedness. Meaning, if the test is a gatekeeper to enter/remain in an AL program, was it developed for that purpose?

We have always used district and state achievement testing (WASL, MSP, MAP, SBA) to satisfy the achievement eligibility criterion. We do not use Amplify data. Once identified as eligible for either Advanced Learner/Spectrum or Highly Capable services, no further assessment is required. Eligibility continues while enrolled in SPS.

My reply: So to be clear, your child has to have taken a test - district or state - to apply to be in the program.  (I'd have to ask how this works for kindergarteners who clearly haven't taken anything.)

BUT, once you are in, you don't have to take any kind of state or district test to remain in so opt-out all you want.  

You'll note that my question about how any of these tests have the ability to test for giftedness was not answered.  I also note that it was stated that they had used MAP but are not going to use Amplify.

4. I also want to point out two large issues that I hear about at the blog over and over. One is a long-term issue that I have heard about for a decade or more. Namely, that schools in the south-end do NOT offer information to parents about the programs/testing, either at all or not in a timely fashion. I realize that this is not your area to control but rather that of Teaching & Learning and the Ex Directors.

All schools K-8 are provided with a flyer in eight languages that is required to be sent home in first-day packets. Additionally we provide language for school bulletins and newsletters throughout September. SPS Communications notifies all media outlets and pushes out social media reminders.

All that is great but what is the follow-up from the district when, over the years, there has been a constant complaint from south-end parents that no one in their school even told them about the program? 

5. Another item is recent and that is the issue of parents in the program receiving information on testing/other issues about OTHER people's children enrolled in the program. This is a huge student data privacy issue and whether it is software-based or human-based, it needs to be controlled. Could you explain why this is happening?

No personal student data is contained in testing appointments. There have been very few misdirected appointments, and these have been immediately corrected upon notification. We have been sending out about 500 appointments manually each week since October. A modern automated system is in development and will be implemented as soon as possible.

I have to smile - SPS is going to get a "modern, automated system?"  It never ceases to astonish me that the district says they are getting a new "system" from levy after levy and yet it never ends.

6. Lastly, if there are big changes coming to the program, could parents be allowed to know this sooner rather than later? Because it feels to many parents that the program, overall, is in flux and they feel uneasy about that.

Proposed changes to Superintendent Procedure 2190SP have been on our website since early November. We anticipate that these will be discussed in February at the C&I Policy Committee meeting and offered for community comment thereafter. If approved, we anticipate they would be implemented in 2016-17.


Anonymous said...

Regarding 5: I received a testing notification for someone else's child (twice) It had the student's name and Student ID number on it. Does that not count as personal information?


Northend said...

Seems like the Spectrum/walk to math program is being phased out at Wedgwood elementary. This is despite their CSIP for 2015-2017 which clearly states that this is how they support advanced learners.

Lynn said...

Northend - is this what you're referring to? http://wedgwoodes.seattleschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_12723/File/About%20Us/Wedgwood%20Principal%20Chat%20Dic%203-2015.pdf

I can't believe how messed up administration of Spectrum is. First it was self-contained, then it was faux cluster grouping, now it's nothing.

Anonymous said...

What's the point of a school even having a spectrum designation now? Why not just kill the program entirely and make every school an ALO? Are there even any spectrum schools left that have more than just walk to math? (I'm not minimizing the importance of walk to math, but of course non-spectrum schools can have walk to math as well.)

Parent of 2HC

Lynn said...

This isn't just an advanced learning issue. Just last month staff wanted to remove all detail from the assignment plan because it can be easily found on the respective departmental web pages. This is how that would have turned out. C&I or AL decided to remove the "one year ahead" definition for Spectrum from the website, Wedgwood staff saw this change and decided to discontinue the only service they provided that could be monitored by a parent. There was no notice to Spectrum parents district-wide that this change in the program had been made. Imagine looking at the website one day and finding that your child's middle school pathway has changed.

On the topic of the CSIPs and the data they provide on services for advanced learners and highly capable students, I suggest reading Madison Middle Schools CSIP. Madison will be an option highly capable site next year so I've been eagerly waiting to hear their plan for these students. Will they have blended HC/AL classes? Have they made plans to ensure appropriate math and science courses can be offered? See page 19 of the CSIP: http://www.seattleschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/Migration/Students/madison.pdf

Northend said...

Yes Lynn, they are working on a plan but it sounded like there would be a rolling out of walk to math as the current students age out of the school.
Whether the new plan will be in place before open enrollment is the big question.

Anonymous said...

Lynn - Thank you.

"Strategies for Advanced Learning Opportunity
Instructional Focus:
Teachers will create highly motivating classroom using Ginsberg's Motivational Framework.
We will implement a building-wide student management plan and communicate it to
staff, students and parents.

Progress Monitoring:
Teachers will implement strategies and observe in small groups to reflect on the
success of culturally responsive lessons.
We will teach the Bulldog Bark (Madison's code of conduct)build positive relationships and monitor student behavior.
We will contine student intervention programs and host events to feature student
work and presentations.
Professional Development for Advanced Learning Opportunity (Unspecified)

Family Engagement:
Targeted academic support for students who have not yet met standard.
Multiple intervention deliver academic interventions to students not yet meeting
The wellness center addresses non-academic barriers to learning through primary
health and mental health care.
Community Partners for Advanced Learning Opportunity (Unspecified)"

- Seriously?

Anonymous said...

I know the people in Advanced Learning are hard-working and well-intentioned but my sense is that they've been told by higher powers to focus on HCC. In effect Spectrum and ALO are legacy programs predating the neighborhood assignment plan that are really no longer the domain of Advanced Learning beyond testing and Spectrum/ALO testing is in a sense just a by-product of HCC testing.

What I would recommend is that if enough parents care about Spectrum and ALO across the district and not just in their own school, that we should ask the board to constitute a Spectrum/ALO Advisory Committee (aka task force) with a mandate to document where we are at and how we got here, to look at best practices from other districts, to survey parents, and to make recommendations for policy changes.

I think an advisory committee has precedence in the district and that that it’s probably the best way to organize parents into a single voice. I realize there are many negatives to the approach. For example, it could take a year to get the board to take action on forming a committee. And then the committee could take another year to meet and formulate recommendations. And the board might ignore the recommendations or the administration my hijack the committee. But I don’t see a better option.

Would anyone else support advocating for a taskforce / advisory committee? Would anyone be interested in meeting to discuss a possible mandate? Would people be willing to go to their school communities to ask parents write to the board in support of such an effort?

Spectrum/ALO Advocate

Charlie Mas said...

"Advanced Learner/Spectrum students are served according to the CSIP developed at each school."

And what if it's not? The bulk of Spectrum schools have not described their program or service for advanced learners in their CSIP. It is disingenuous for Mr. Martin to offer this as a response when he knows (or should know) that the solution he offers is absent.

Middle Schools:
Aki Kurose - program described as "Extended learning opportunities to accelerate math and reading skills." That's the complete description.
Denny - Absolutely silent on advanced learning. Not a single reference anywhere in the document.
Eckstein - Absolutely silent on advanced learning. Not a single reference anywhere in the document.
Hamilton - There's a section for it, but it is completely blank.
Madison - There are some good bits here, but it is certainly not complete.
McClure - No coherent description of a plan, but some notes about MTSS and professional development.
Mercer - No mention whatsoever. NONE.
Washington - The only reference to Spectrum is to say that they eliminated it: "We combined our Spectrum and Scholars program in ELA in order to raise expectations and increase achievement and are working collaboratively at grade levels on common curriculum, common interim and summative assessments."
Whitman - The whole program description consists of clustering in ELA class with an "H" designation.

uxolo said...

@ Spectrum/ALO Advocate, if you want to read some history, see this site:

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

I hope Hamilton follows Washington in eliminating the Spectrum program. This will cut down on splitting the school into 3 distinct groups of students. Social Studies should be taught at a high level for all students, and they already put them in the appropriate upper math if they qualify. It just puts labels on kids and creates unnecessary separation.


Anonymous said...

@ Spectrum/ALO advocate - I think a Spectrum task force is a good solution. Let's get it started!

Isn't the real issue behind all of this is that the general ed classroom is SO inadequate in the first place?

3 of my 5 friends from (public) elementary school went on to ivy league schools. 2 came from divorced families, most of us were middle/lower-middle class and the school was more like a one-room school house with lots of grade mixing and plenty of recess..

Spectrum, more so than HCC, seems to be the dominant force (even if it's "dead") in demanding rigor and quality. It might not be the Spectrum program, per se, but why is a quality education so difficult in Seattle?

SW Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

Spectrum/ALO Advocate, your first paragraph is right on the money. I suspect that whatever is coming (per Mr. Martin's words about next fall), the district is content to coast until then. I mean, reading Charlie's perusing of the CSIPs for middle schools indicates that the principals there don't fear/care about these programs.

I deleted a comment that was off-topic and had rambling innuendo. Please stay on topic and if you want to complain about a situation, you'll have to be less vague.

Helen, kids give labels with or without any kind of program. Separation in school would happen even without Spectrum.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Spectrum/ALO Advocate, I left off a big no to your idea of a taskforce/committee. Why? Because we've already done that...twice.

Mr. Martin knows what needs to be done but the senior management doesn't care. I doubt anyone listens to Martin except when they want him to check in. Of all the times, I've heard him speak, I've never heard anyone ask him, "What do you think about the status of this program and what could be done to make it better?"

While the APP community is fairly well-united, Spectrum never has been (and Charlie and I and others tried.) Of course, when Spectrum truly goes away and is replaced by whatever ALOs are (different from every school so good luck with whatever your principal thinks up), it will be too late to advocate.

But yet another committee? No thanks.

Anonymous said...

@ Helen, a high level for all kids? What's high for one kid may be low for another, so how do you reconcile those?


Anonymous said...

I don't think Spectrum as a program/label can be justified at schools where it contains 50% of the kids. It's not like the identification system is perfect, and there ends up being no big difference academically between the kids that are in the program and the kids that aren't. It's a continuum and to draw the line at 87 makes no sense to me. I do have a Spectrum-eligible kid but there are many kids at our ALO school, with the label or not, who need more challenge, rigor, and a better curriculum. If the curriculum was better, it would be easy to scale to the individual, and we wouldn't need the crutch of Spectrum. For example, Math in Focus very easily works with walk to math, and also contains extra challenge and reteaching materials for every single topic! That stuff isn't even used at our school. Which, by the way, has supposedly one of the better documented ALO plans.


Melissa Westbrook said...

There's a school where Spectrum is 50% of the kids? I have never heard that before; what school is it?

Lynn said...


In 2013/14 (the only year for which I've seen data) in these schools more than 40% of the 5th graders were Spectrum or APP qualified and receiving services:

Bryant 42 of 88
West Woodland 40 of 95
View Ridge 44 of 98
Whittier 28 of 51

Melissa Westbrook said...

That's not half the school. That's not even half the fifth grade.

Anonymous said...

Bryant in the upper grades is approaching 50%. If you count those who have left for other self-contained programs, it is definitely above 50% who qualify for some form of advanced learning. To have families quibbling over whether they are labeled Spectrum/AL or not, and thinking that they'll get something more if they are, obscures the problem of teaching to a floor of standards.


Momma Snark said...

We were told at the beginning of the school year that more than 1/3 of the students at McClure Middle School had been identified as qualifying for Spectrum. Not 50%, I realize, but still seems like a high number to me.

Anonymous said...

Momma Snark-

One of the criticisms of spectrum is that many education experts don't consider the 87% percentile to be "gifted," but rather "bright." When you get to the 98th % and above, you find that those kids learn differently and do need an advanced, compacted curriculum and one with more breadth.

Many kids are bored in the gen ed classrooms because the chosen curricula are so lacking. The district could be doing so much better if they would use good curricula and quit fiddling with it. They are so tempted by the shiny new curricula that they are constantly changing things.


Anonymous said...

Is the assumption that if you have a high percentage of kids at your school who are AL-qualified, then ALL the kids in the school must be above grade level and/or in need of more advanced work?

Is the assumption that the level of instruction and rigor in gen ed are too low, and that a "Spectrum-level" curriculum would be a better fit for ALL gen ed kids? If that's right level for kids of average cognitive ability, is it also the right level for those who are very bright?

Is the assumption that it's somehow easier to provide differentiation to those below, at and above grade level if you have a larger percentage of students above grade level? Don't you still have to split your time between a lot of different levels?

Why does the exact percentage of AL kids in a school matter so much?


Anonymous said...

Yes, they need a really good consistent math curriculum for all students. They put in Scope and Sequence instead of Math in Focus to sneak in more test prep. Higher grades are scrambling for better math. My neighbor said McClure used something online for her middle school child which just confused her so they bolted for a private school.

When will SPS realize that its curricula choices are simply not good enough?

Momma Snark said...

Squirrel, I am very familiar with gifted education and the needs of highly advanced students. I do not consider my own child highly-advanced.

DisAPPointed, I am simply surprised that so many students at some schools are testing at or above (at least in one academic category) the 87th percentile on the district tests. Either the tests are faulty or there is some other reason that so many students in one place would qualify for AL, right? Just seems a little Lake Wobegon to me.

For the record, my Spectrum-qualified kid, who does not receive instruction in any specific "Spectrum" class (because they don't exist at McClure) seems to be appropriately challenged at this point. I'm not in the classroom so I don't know how well the teachers' approaches to differentiation are going, but so far I am pleased with what I have seen. I haven't heard anything about online curriculum.

Anonymous said...

Disappointed, my point is: why would you have a program for which the dividing line is 87%, and what does that specialized program really get you when it comprises 40% of the school? At that level of kids participating (and I'm not saying that is bad!), isn't it time to instead consider policies that would benefit the ENTIRE school? I'm only talking about the things that have historically been done to support Spectrum, like walk to math. My main point is that you don't need a program like Spectrum to be using walk to math type programs. I'm not saying to use the same level of work for everyone. I just don't find the Spectrum label to be functionally necessary or useful.

Lynn said...

I don't see why you need cognitive testing for Spectrum at all. Children performing above grade level should be given more work at the level they're ready for.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think nearly everything here is probably true and you're probably right.

I am aware of some new things coming (I mean from Martin's answers, clearly, there are changes coming) and when I have more clarity I'll let you know.

My belief is that parents and school communities should be involved in these discussions long before plans start being made. I think that because if the district chose to teach higher/deeper to everyone, it would probably benefit more kids AND the cost would be no greater. (If that's what parents want.)

Anonymous said...

From my experience with Spectrum at a high FRL school, the situation for Spectrum-level learning is much different than at a school where 40% of the students qualify for Spectrum or APP. At a high FRL school, there are many kids who arrive at school performing well below grade level and many who are qualified for ELL services. Teachers in those classes are already differentiating between students at grade level, students below grade level, students who have a hard time understanding the language, and students who have disabilities or other special needs. It's unrealistic to ask them to also differentiate effectively for students well above grade level.

When students primarily come from high-income, well-educated families, and many qualify for advanced learning programs, the general ed classes can and should be much more rigorous. Spectrum classes are less important in those schools.


Anonymous said...

It is probably illegal to keep separating Spectrum students from the gen. ed.
population since, as you stated, the other classes have disproportionally more students with needs, including disabilities. Students with IEPs have to be educated with their peers, not warehoused into highly impacted classrooms.

Spectrum students have no legal standing. The law for students with IEPs
is for students to be educated with their peers. Blended kindergartens
hit such a legal hurdle several years ago because warehousing students
with IEPs in one classroom is simply not legal.

There certainly are students with IEPs in Spectrum, but nothing like in
the general ed. population.

--about time

Anonymous said...

Bryant has no programs for kids with disabilities (or virtually any kids with disabilities for that matter thanks to district/school turfing), but View Ridge does. When 40% +/- of the school is in separate classes because they are in Spectrum, the classes that are "gen ed" are disproportionately high in kids with IEPs. That actually violates the law since kids with IEPs are entitled to education in their LRE. Of course, Seattle fails at that all over the city already, but overloading kids with IEPs with a stripped down gened and exceeding ~13% kid with IEPs in a class, unless it is a very rare self contained class is not legal.

It doesn't surprise me that those schools are very heavily weighted towards spectrum/advanced learning. They're generally low FRL schools in affluent areas...those kids are (generally) well prepared coming in which create all sorts of advantages on early assessment and cognitive testing.

North Seattle

Anonymous said...

Mamma Snark, there is nothing wrong with the tests. Bryant simply *is* Lake Woebegon. If you pull up the neighborhood demographics you have over 50% of households with annual income over 100K. (Average for the state is about 15%.) And over 50% of individuals have graduate degrees. (Average for the state is about 15%.) If anything the number of Spectrum eligible kids at Bryant is artificially low because it doesn't include neighborhood kids at Cascadia or in private school.

NE Mom

Charlie Mas said...

Let's acknowledge some facts.
1. Self-contained Spectrum can't work because it creates illegal concentration of students with IEPs in the non-Spectrum classes. I think it is time for us all to accept this and move on. Self-contained Spectrum cannot continue - for no other reason than this. Honestly, HCC is stepping in the same direction. That cohort either needs to have a school building of its own or be divided further to avoid this problem. Since Spectrum creates this problem at a significant number of schools, then it is best to hold it true at all schools because Spectrum is a district program that should have consistency from school to school.

2. Spectrum should have consistency from school to school. It is long past time for the District to define Spectrum or Spectrum/ALO. Not just in its mission or population served, but in its curriculum and delivery method. Providing some students with a deeper, broader, faster, farther curriculum in a general education classroom is enough of a challenge that the district and the schools need to describe how they will accomplish it. It is not enough for them to simply say that they will.

It was asked why it is important or necessary to even have this label. It facilitates accountability. If a family is told that their child is in Spectrum, then the family can look for or ask about the presence of Spectrum features in their child's curriculum. In the absence of a label and a defined curriculum, the family doesn't know what their child is supposed to be getting and they don't know if their child is getting it. I hear stories from folks who had said that their bright child was well-served at their neighborhood school, with or without Spectrum or ALO, only to find that the child is well behind their Spectrum peers when they reach middle school. I think people put some pretty low ceilings on these kids and they don't really know what the children are capable of doing. What words are on a second-grader's vocabulary test? What words are on a Spectrum second-grader's vocabulary test? There should be a difference.

3. Spectrum/ALO needs to address an equity problem. It's is long past time for us all to stop denying this. The easiest, cheapest, and best way to fix the equity problem would be to allow students and families to self-select for entry into the program. This self-selection can and should come with clear exit criteria.

Despite these facts, we have schools where Spectrum classes are creating inappropriate concentrations of students with IEPs in the general education classrooms. We have no clear answer to the what or how of Spectrum/ALO, and we have a persistent equity failure. It is long past time for Mr. Martin, working with Ms. Heath and Mr. Tolley, to fix these problems.

Anonymous said...

Okay, time for a potentially-silly question: in the Dark Ages when I was in school, there were standard classes, honors classes, gifted classes, and differentiation/classes for kids who struggled. Within the district, all the honors classes had roughly the same curriculum, though specifics may vary my teacher, and the same with all standard classes, etc. I'm thinking of middle and high schools here, of course. Anyway, is there a reason this doesn't happen anymore? Why is it so hard to serve that bright/Spectrum/honors group? Why is it so hard to have a curriculum across schools? Why does SPS appear to constantly try to reinvent the wheel instead of identifying successful school districts of a similar size?

-New Mom

Outsider said...

It looks like this thread found its way to the truth of the matter, which is that AL programs are weak and inconsistent because SPS wants it that way because consistently educating bright children to their full potential would be illegal.

A high level policy decision has been made to sacrifice most of the potential of bright and motivated kids in public schools, but it's OK. If we need smart and well-educated people in the future, we can get them from China or India. Our kids are better used as disposable fodder for social engineering schemes.

It's also OK because the rich aren't much affected. If you can afford a very expensive neighborhood or town, or private school, which means you are already rich, your child has a chance to be educated to full potential. AL promotes social mobility for the working and middle classes, so screw that.

No policy that is both politically correct and aligned with the interests of the rich will ever change. The only way out would be to dissolve the public schools and convert to a pure voucher system.

Anonymous said...

@ new mom: because tracking

in theory kids could move back and forth between honors and not, but in reality it doesn't happen. blame the bureaucracy of managing classroom spaces and teacher schedules and parent demands and kid needs. celebrate the desire by education policy makers and managers a generation later than yours to eliminate economic class and race as educational destiny. bottom line is tracking results from the old system and tracking is no longer acceptable in education and equity circles.

it is true: advanced learning in seattle will remain an afterthought for the foreseeable years because the federal state and local decisionmakers are all far more concerned about bringing kids up from the bottom than further boosting kids at the top. this is no secret. educators and politicians are very up front about it.

argue rant cry stomp away as a parent of an advanced learning student. it won't change the system an iota. with limited resources i can't argue the validity of this priority and i wouldn't try in any case. pointless. seattle will do exactly as much as the law mandates it must for advanced learners and not a smidgen more.

do i expect the high school level advanced learning pathway to become moot in the next 3 years? yes. see above. kids will go to their home high schools and take ap classes there.

al realist

Anonymous said...

Charlie, then what would you suggest for high-achieving students in high-FRL schools? This is an honest question, because I respect all the research you do on SPS.
It's one thing to not have Spectrum at a high-achieving, high-income school, where most kids are above grade level and almost any kid with academic problems will get out-of-school tutoring at home or paid by parents. It's another thing entirely at schools with large numbers of kids performing below grade level, whether that be because of not speaking English fluently, not having many books or other enrichment at home or other reasons.
In those high-FRL schools, which often have few PTSA resources, how can a teacher actually differentiate to all the kids in her classroom? Won't high-achieving kids just get ignored?
From my experience, my kids have gotten ignored in general ed classrooms, and consistently given work that they have already mastered. It's painful for a parent to realize that their child has spent most of the year bored and not learning anything. It's even worse when your child starts developing behavioral and social problems related to being so bored at school. That's why parents are desperate for APP and Spectrum classes. And parents who don't know how to advocate for their children should have these opportunities available to their children as well.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for finally acknowledging that about Spectrum, Charlie. It's been brought up many times before and you refuted it.

Outsider, states are now finally acknowledging that educating highly capable children is a legal right, and these students are now granted legal protection. In fact, they are guaranteed a continuum of services, BY LAW, that they didn't have in the past. That includes self-contained, when appropriate, and includes regualar monitoring for placement.

The laws in states, in fact, are actually starting to protect highly capable learners,
moving in the opposite direction from which you dread.

What, by law, needss to change (and will) in Seattle is: 1. All highly capable children must be identified and served to reflect the district's demographics. 2. There must be a continuum of services, and not just a self-contained program (like in elementary) for HC identified. 3. The students must be regularly monitored for appropriate placement, which may include getting more services all the way through being exited from the program.

Spectrum students are not highly capable students by SPS' definition, and are therefore general education students.

Progressive districts, including in the south, changed their policies to do the right thing on the own because it's fair and follows best practices. Too bad it took state law for SPS.

--about time

Anonymous said...


You might want the district to re-look at strictly neighborhood schools. They also should open more option schools and make them district wide.

Research is clear about the negative effects of having highly impacted numbers of FRL
students in a building.

Gerrymandering boundaries and having open option schools is what most progressive districts do in order to promote fairness.

--about time

Anonymous said...

"Research is clear about the negative effects of having highly impacted numbers of FRL
students in a building."

But SPS gets that sweet, sweet Title I money for those schools over >40% FRL



Anonymous said...

@ Momof2. Get out of your neighborhood school and head for a K8. Many have more challenging levels of learning than the assignment schools. Even those without a higher bar seem to have a more reasonable ration of poverty to nonpoverty kids. The fact is this tends to offer better results for most students.


Helen said...

If you want to see the equity problem, all you have to do is show up at the ALO testing sites. There you can see that there are hardly any African-American students taking the test. The district wrings its hands over this, and yet nothing changes.


Anonymous said...

@about time (or @enough already?), the district quietly counseled out students from APP before changes to state law. It is true that once a student qualifies for HCC in SPS, they no longer need to retest if they remain with the district. It didn't used to be. Isn't that a good change? It saves district resources and unnecessary testing.

@about time also suggested, Gerrymandering boundaries and having open option schools is what most progressive districts do in order to promote fairness.

Placement of HCC at JAMS? Garfield? IBX at Ingraham? APP at Thurgood Marshall? The APP/HCC cohort has historically had a low FRL rate compared to the district average. The district has done its fair share of manipulating the demographic balance of schools through the placement of APP/HCC students.

@al realist said, "do i expect the high school level advanced learning pathway to become moot in the next 3 years? yes. see above. kids will go to their home high schools and take ap classes there."
Well, except there is little room at schools like Ballard and Roosevelt for students to return to their neighborhood school.

another realist

Melissa Westbrook said...

New Mom,also "Honors" is a bit of a dirty word.

There's this mindset that it's fine if a child has talent in music or athletics but tell someone your child is smart and you are in trouble. I have no idea why this is because when I was growing up being smart was a good thing. Apparently, if you think your kid is smart, then, to others, that means you think their kid is dumb. (Which is not true.)

I forgot I have these other interesting e-mails on AL. Here they come.

TechyMom said...

I have said this many times, but maybe now it fits the circumstances better: We need to look at grade-skipping for elementary kids who are working 1-2 years ahead. It's cost-neutral and can be implemented in any school. It could even be automatic (with opt-out) for kids who score well above proficient levels for the next grade.

I would then make HCC based purely on potential, a lot smaller, and more geared to quirky outliers and 2E.

Lynn said...

While grade skipping can work for some children, there are disadvantages to it. A gifted student learns at a faster than typical pace - so a one year acceleration might work for awhile, but often another is required. I believe most parents would prefer to have their children graduate at 17 or 18 rather than 15 or 16. The advantage of a district as large as Seattle is that we can group children with students their own age to receive accelerated instruction without setting them up to graduate early.

Anonymous said...

Or sending 9-year-olds to middle school.


Anonymous said...

Grade skipping is what districts do when they can't have services like HCC. It's more of a last resort option. While a child may be academically ahead, they may be right at age level, or below, when it comes to other skills (handwriting comes to mind). They may not have the maturity to cover content meant for older students. The APP program used to stress that they provided academic challenge that was still developmentally appropriate.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the earlier responses. Regarding skipping grades, I witnessed a bit of that growing up. Even if one can handle the work, there's a fair bit of social messiness when you hit the hormonal years and people start dating. A 12-year-old and a 14-year-old are on pretty different pages there.

-New Mom

Charlie Mas said...

This is the central question: if we're not going to have self-contained Spectrum classes - and we aren't - then how do these children get served? Or don't they?

Historically the answer was to promise, in marketing materials and official reports, that the teachers will differentiate instruction in the general education classroom. But in the real world the teachers do little or no differentiation. That's simply unacceptable.

Currently the answer is to promise that MTSS will somehow magically translate into differentiated instruction. This is not in evidence. First of all, the District timeline for MTSS implementation is in year five of a three-year plan with about six years to go. We're all supposed to accept the total absence of service while they figure it out. It's unclear how, even three years from now, MTSS will perform this trick. There has never been a coherent explanation of how, exactly, MTSS allows a teacher to provide and manage differentiation when they have never had the time, energy, or resources to do so in the past. And, with MTSS, teachers will actually have to spend a significant part of their time analyzing data. So rather than providing teachers with more time, MTSS will take time away from teachers. We're all supposed to believe that MTSS is some kind of magic wand that you wave over the classroom to provide differentiated instruction, but we're never told how that will happen or what the teachers will do differently.

We need a new answer.

First the District needs to define Spectrum/ALO. They need to state a coherent mission for the program. They need to identify the students it will serve. They need to write a curriculum for it. They need to set a limited menu of delivery methods. It's just shameful that this work has not been done. It has been promised, repeatedly, for years.

Second, the District needs to confirm that the schools are actually doing it right. They need to confirm that the schools are identifying the students, teaching them the curriculum, and using an approved delivery method. It's just shameful that this work hasn't been done.

Then the District needs to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs. You know, as Board Policy requires. It's shameful that this work hasn't been done.

Given that none of this work has been done, it kinda makes you wonder what the manager of Advanced Learning does. What is taking up 40 hours a week that is more urgent and more important than this? What does it mean to manage advanced learning if you aren't doing these basic tasks? The fact is that all of the focus in Advanced Learning is on testing kids for eligibility and worrying about how disproportionate the outcomes are. The quickest, cheapest, and best way to scrape that off the manager's plate is to allow families to self-select.

Providing some students with a deeper, broader, faster, farther curriculum in a general education classroom is enough of a challenge that the district and the schools need to describe how they will accomplish it.

It is not enough for them to simply say that they will.

The answer will not be the same in every school. We need a set of delivery method options. What works in a school in which 17 of 30 classroom students are in the program will not necessarily work in a school in which only 4 of 30 classroom students are in the program. I don't know what the solution will be for each school. That's up to the district and the school communities to determine for themselves. But doing nothing is not acceptable.

Anonymous said...

You nailed it, they need site-based decision making. Somebody has to make the call and that's the principal. They should listen to all parties, staff,parents, maybe students, get some sunshine on the issue and then make the call.

Maybe more explicit info a school's website would help, too.


Lynn said...

Site-based decision making is not equitable when families can't choose their school. Assignment based on address must be accompanied by a standard curriculum and service delivery method. There should be a limited number of allowable delivery methods and the method used in each school should be determined based on the number of children working above grade level in each grade.

Anonymous said...

Isn't site based decision making what contributed to the demise of Spectrum in the first place (with HCC not far behind?)?

Anonymous said...

Ben must be new. Who in the district listens to the parents?

I agree that the principal deciding AL delivery models is a terrible idea. Many principals and teachers don't "believe" there is a need to any type of AL. While there are still people in education thnk that there are children who don't deserve to be educated, we need strict, top-down rules so that all kids can get served.


Anonymous said...

As Charlie pointed out, how can the same program design work for all schools?
Self-contained Spectrum doesn't work because you can end up with waitlists. Schools with grades of 50% Spectrum run into the concentration of IEP kids under self-contained.

Clustering is pretty flexible and walk-to's can be great, but a school with not enough kids who are able to fill a year ahead math class are going to need something different, so site based makes a lot of sense.

Yes, there should be guidelines and yes, schools need to held accountable for keeping advanced kids on track and improving, as they should be for every single kid.

But each school is different and delivery needs to flexible.

I think self-contained classrooms at a neighborhood school are horrible for kid's self-image, in or out of the program. Granted, it's hard to have multiple vocab lists in a classroom, but I've seen it done well. Self-contained does give kids a more competitive environment and a place to shine without fear of being a show-off, but a good teacher can provide kids challenging work in a blended class and the social benefits of learning how to deal with other students of different abilities is immeasurable.

I think many parents get too obsessed with academics and forget about socialization. Kids need enough work to keep them busy and develop intellectual skills. Someone posted an article, here it is:


showing that too great an emphasis on academics at an early age does substantial harm to student's future intellectual life.

The district needs to be equitable to all students, regardless of ability. They should all reach as much of their potential as possible.


Anonymous said...

...showing that too great an emphasis on academics at an early age does substantial harm to student's future intellectual life.

Really? Substantial harm?

If you read the linked article (and its comments), it seems to be promoting unschooling. Sure, unschooling proponents think structured academics are bad. It's hard to take the article seriously when it offers evidence from a 1930's experiment and the Sudbury School in MA. Placing value on academics (the primary purpose of school) does not necessarily mean socialization gets forgotten or ignored.


Anonymous said...

Sheesh, I was also taken aback by the stuff about unschooling, I'd never heard of that and it is pretty radical. The author references another article he wrote:


which addresses early academics vs. play more directly with studies out of Germany in the 70's and a good study from the U.S. published in 1967 regarding the effects of early academics on later success among poor children. Pretty shocking stuff.
Kids who were fed academics rather than play in pre-school and kindergarten were substantially more likely to have behavioral problems later in life, including problems with criminal justice.

It cites studies showing kids taught to read and do math early lose interest later in life, they don't have the context to incorporate reading and number sense into their lives yet and they never find the spark that kids who develop their social skills first do.

You can poo-poo the research, but I think we've all seen kids who were reading strong in K or were studied up in numbers in pre-school, start to fade by 4th or 5th grade and lose interest in academics and display social difficulties.

When I read stories about parents in NYC schools cramming their kids with test prep to get them into the Gifted and Talented schools, it makes me shudder for the children and I hope we aren't fostering the same kind of race to achieve what is ultimately counter-productive.

I know there's been chatter about CoGAT prep for kinders to get them into HCC, but at what cost? These kids are going to pay a heavy price for it later.


Anonymous said...

I keep seeing discussions (juliette etc.) about parents who prep their kids to get into HCC. I agree that that's a bad thing and can lead to burn-out for the children as well as inappropriate placement into HCC. I don't doubt that that happens with some children.

But most of the kids in HCC are self-motivated learners who needed very little pushing from their parents - especially in preschool and early elementary. For example my son was constantly asking about how words were spelled before he could read - at age 4. He asked many, many questions about the concept of infinity at age 5. He was very interested in the number of atoms in a molecule - at age 6. He read children's encyclopedias back-to-back in early elementary. When a 2nd grade teacher discussed energy in his Spectrum class, he wanted to talk about nuclear fusion vs. fission.

And my son is not the prodigy that some of his HCC classmates are - like the 1st grader who loved reading the Census book for all the numerical facts in it. That boy taught himself high school math in early middle school, since he could only take Algebra 1 in 6th grade in the HCC program. He's now starting at the UW in 8th grade.

There are lots of kids in the HCC program precisely because they are outliers in a neighborhood school - the kids who want to talk about complex math, science or literature in early elementary, but can't find any friends who want to do that. There are many stories of parents who were heartbroken to see their kids flounder at their neighborhood school with no friends and totally bored. Then going to the HCC program, their child found friends who appreciated similar (quirky) interests, found teachers who understood them and taught them at their level, and were finally looking forward to going to school.


Anonymous said...

juliette, you make some interesting leaps there.

The articles you linked to are focused on the difference between "academic" (direct instruction) vs. play-based preschools and kindergarten. This is NOT the same thing as HCC/Spectrum vs. gen ed. For one, the academic approaches between the various programs aren't that different. And second, these programs don't affect pre-K and K level students.

Your overall point seems to be that parents should chill out, and not worry so much about getting their children into advanced academic programs--just let them play, so they can develop their social skills! That doesn't make sense in the context of SPS. Gen Ed programs are not any more play-based than HCC or Spectrum, so kids in either have opportunities to develop their social skills. Highly gifted kids placed in gen en environments, however, don't often get all those nifty social development opportunities you might expect. Sure, they might learn to "deal with other students of different abilities," but they are a lot less likely to develop good friendships with them, or to be understood by them. Highly gifted kids are often the outcasts, not able to relate to their age peers. Gifted programming gives them access to intellectual peers, and helps them avoid those socialization problems you fear. Extracurricular activities, and just living in the world, ensures exposure to more typically developing peers as well. They are not in danger of thinking everyone is as smart as they are, believe me. They are very aware that they are different.

Even if there were data showing that kids who participate in HCC/Spectrum have more social development problems than those in gen ed, it would be a huge leap to assume that HCC or Spectrum self-contained classrooms cause those outcomes. A more likely explanation would be that kids who enter advanced learning programs have a higher prevalence of Asperger's, since the prevalence of giftedness is higher in the Asperger's population than the general population.

But your suggestion that kids in gifted programs are socially doomed? Talk about a leap! While I'm not a fan of test prep for gifted program entrance exams (although in some cases it might make sense), doing a bit of test prep is a far cry from putting a kid through two years of academics-focused pre-K and K instead of play-based--which is what the study looked at. I doubt a little test prep is going to do anyone irreparable harm, and since the test results don't have any impact on whether they end up in a play-based or an academic program in the future, that "heavy price" you worry about will likely not come to pass. Or at least not for AL kids more than anyone else in SPS. Phew.

Now none of this is to say that I oppose play-based preschool. I think it's great, and can be very intellectually stimulating and educational. I agree with the article that focusing on academics before kids are intellectually ready probably doesn't make a lot of sense. But in the context of gifted ed, this ignores the fact that many of these kids ARE intellectually ready at a very early age. They can have very deep, complex and intuitive understanding of topics of interest to them, and can be driven by an intense desire to know more about them. In fact, that's one of the common characteristics of gifted kids! Which is all to say, it's not about pushing them to learn--it's more about allowing them that opportunity. You're completely misapplying the research here, apparently to fit your own biases.


Jet City mom said...

Momof2, a good grade school friend of my daughters was in the Eep program when Lakeside wasnt meeting her needs, she went on to double major at UW in Physics & Astronomy with minor in Russian.
However we decided to keep our daughter in a private school that wasnt necessarily for highly gifted kids, it worked out fine.
Im wondering about the tests the district uses to identify children as highly capable. I do not believe they were designed for that purpose. While my daughter was tested as being in the 0.03 % of the population using intelligence testing administered by Nancy Robinson, she did not qualify for any enrichment education in Seattle public schools using their chosen methods.
Makes me wonder about all the other kids who are highly capable but stuck in classrooms where they are not challenged.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you P=H for the thoughtful reply.

I think the problem is parents who study up their own kids to get them into the HCC.

The district does them a disservice by allowing such a large program that appears to offer benefits to any kid who can make the cut. If you read anything about NYC's G&T program, it's appalling what parents do to get their kids in, believing it's a ticket to success. It starts with intense academics in preschool and through middle school aiming for a high enough score on the SHSAT to gain entry into the city's gifted high schools. This academic work is done either at home or at special private academies and summer camps.

I would love to see a small program full of naturally high IQ kids, but our HCC is looking more and more like the one in NYC.

Here's a story about prepping 4 year olds and some sample test prep,



Lynn said...

I think the craziness of NYC preschool test prep can be traced to the limited number of seats available in their gifted programs. If a child isn't identified and placed for kindergarten, they are out of luck for the rest of elementary school. Fortunately, our district guarantees placement for every child identified by the seventh grade.

Do you teach highly capable children or are your own children receiving services? I ask because I don't believe your vision of math and reading drills and CogAT test prep classes for preschoolers is at all realistic in this area. Who would bother? The program isn't some super-enriched private-school-like program that every kid would benefit from.

Anonymous said...

@juliette, this ain't NYC. I think your perception of how much test prep there is here is way off. Like Lynn said, the payoff for all that work isn't very big. And with multiple opportunities to test in along the way, it's not high stakes. When it comes to adequately serving our kids, test prep is very low on the list of concerns.


Anonymous said...

There are and will be outliers tested into HCC. This is true in any G&T programs. You'll find them in Bellevue PRISM too and in the best private schools. There's a handful of 6-7th graders able to take college calculus. Some of them are lucky and have supportive parents and educators who will find ways for them to take college level classes at local 4 yr uni while still in MS/HS or get into programs like EEP. There's a limit to what traditional K-12 school can accommodate. Most of the kids in these G&T programs aren't like that. Within HCC now, there's such a wide range, perhaps too wide. In the gen ed, you also have kids who are stand outs, but only in one domain. By MS, at least with math, they might get a stab at more advanced classes if they meet the achievement criteria (some though won't because they are asynchronous and already on a far different tracking trajectory with school counselors).

As for Julliette's postings, Seattle isn't like NYC, Silicon Valley, or DC area in the G &T race, but it's showing gains. It's really not a G&T race, but a get into top-tier college race which starts awfully early these days. There's fear driving this engine.

another parent

Jet City mom said...

I wouldnt call it fear, but a mentality that drives some towards status objects.
It's not really about the education for those folks when you get to post high school, but towards the perception that you must have a brand that will impress the relatives in Dubuque or Shanghai.
Then they get bent out of shape because the most competitive schools only offer need based aid, and THEY determine need.

Charlie Mas said...

I have no doubt that there are some families that want their child to be in HCC so reasons other than academics, but the bulk of HCC families that I have known are only motivated by their child's best interest. Nearly every HCC family I have met has said that they wished that their child's academic needs could have been met in their neighborhood school - using those very words. That would have been their first choice over HCC. They are not looking for a brand but to keep their child happy and motivated in school.

We can talk about the others, the few, but let's never think that they are representative of the group.

Allen jeley said...

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