What are ALO? What is Spectrum? What is HCC?

Advanced Learning Opportunities have never been very well defined.
The discontinuation of self-contained Spectrum classes at all elementary schools and some middle schools has muddled that program's definition.

Now, with the "de-tracking" and the introduction of "Honors for All" in 9th grade ELA and Social Studies at Garfield, questions are arising about the definition of Highly Capable Services and the Highly Capable Cohort.

So let's explore how these programs and services are defined by Board Policy and Superintendent Procedures and compare that language with the actual situations we find in schools.
Board policy, 2190, Highly Capable Services & Advanced Learning Programs, requires the superintendent to provide "instructional programs and services for students identified as Highly Capable" and to provide "appropriate instructional programs and services for" Advanced Learners. This is the policy that creates ALO, Spectrum, and HCC.

HC program and services defined
The policy sets these requirements for HC services and the HCC program:
  • equitable access to academically challenging and appropriate programs and services for all Highly Capable students and Advanced Learners
  • create pathways to sites with adequate cohorts of Highly Capable students in order to provide
    • peer learning
    • social/emotional opportunities
    • teachers with experience and/or professional development on the academic and social/emotional needs of these students
    • appropriate curriculum
    • appropriately differentiated instruction
    • deeper learning opportunities, and
    • accelerated pacing
  • once services are started, provide a continuum of services to the student, from grades K-12
Equitable access is provided to HC students because they may all enroll at the HCC sites - none are turned away for capacity reasons and transportation is provided for those outside the walk zone. The sites all maintain adequate cohorts for peer learning.

It's less clear that the HCC sites feature trained or experienced teachers. Washington State doesn't offer an endorsement for gifted education and the District does not require any professional development for teachers assigned an HCC class. That said, the District does offer the training and there is pretty good participation. This only becomes a problem when principals move teachers around.

The appropriate curriculum, appropriately differentiated instruction, and accelerated pacing are not in evidence.

There is, in fact, no HC curriculum, so the "appropriate curriculum" requirement is not met. The District sometimes claims that the HC curriculum is the regular curriculum two grade levels advanced. The discussion of whether or not that's appropriate is a discussion for another time, but it basically makes HCC a grade-skipping program with a cohort.

There is no evidence of differentiated instruction, so it could be happening a little, a lot, or not at all. The teachers know what is happening in their classrooms, but no one knows what is happening across the program and no one is making any assessment of differentiated instruction.

The meaning of "accelerated pacing" is unclear. Does the "two years ahead" myth fulfill this? Is this a reference to compacted curriculum? Or does this mean that the pace of the instruction should be faster and therefore the cohort should start out two years ahead of their grade level peers but get further ahead as the grades advance?

I'm not sure how the district could document the presence of "deeper learning opportunities". This term not only suffers from vagueness, but any suggestion that the learning opportunities available to HC students are "deeper" than those available to students in general education classes would incite complaints of a pitchforks and torches nature.

The students remain in the program unless they elect to leave it, fail to request it at Open Enrollment, or are counselled out of it, so the continuum of service is provided.

While it is difficult or impossible to determine whether these requirements are met in HCC, it is absolutely impossible to determine whether these requirements are met by individual schools trying to provide HC Services to individual students. Since no one is checking to see if they are, it will remain an unsolvable mystery. The schools can claim that they are and no one can credibly dispute it. So long as the burden of proof falls on anyone denying the presence of services, putting them in the position of having to prove a negative, the District's baseless presumption of the presence of services will remain intact.

Advanced Learning programs and services defined

The policy sets these requirements for Advanced Learning programs and services:
  • equitable access to academically challenging and appropriate programs and services for all Highly Capable students and Advanced Learners
  • Advanced Learning instructional programs must include
    • differentiation
    • content acceleration, and
    • deeper learning opportunities
There is, in fact, no equitable access to Advanced Learning programs. The District is in clear violation of this policy requirement. Students are routinely denied access to Spectrum programs because the schools in which the programs are sited are full. The District does not set-aside seats in the schools for Spectrum (despite commitments that they would when the New Student Assignment Plan was written). There is no assurance of advanced learning opportunities for Advanced Learners in their neighborhood schools.

As with HCC, there is no evidence of the presence of any of the requisite features of Advanced Learning programs.

There is no evidence of differentiation. For all of the same reasons that there is no evidence of differentiated instruction for HCC. It could be happening a little, a lot, or not at all. The teachers know what is happening in their classrooms, but no one knows what is happening across the program, including the District Advanced Learning staff, and no one is making any assessment of differentiated instruction.

Content acceleration is not in evidence. The District has not identified any content for Advanced Learners. There are no self-contained Spectrum classes in any elementary schools anywhere in the District, so Spectrum students are getting grade-level content in a general education classroom along with their grade-level peers. Some elementary schools offer "walk to math" which can allow accelerated math instruction. Other elementary schools do not. There is no evidence at all of accelerated content in any other discipline. In the middle schools the situation is essentially the same - while some students may be in accelerated math classes, there are no accelerated science classes for Spectrum students and the few schools that have self-contained Spectrum ELA and Social Studies classes do not have an accelerated curriculum for those students.

As with HCC, there is no proof of the presence of "deeper learning opportunities". This term not only suffers from vagueness, but it would be difficult to provide those deeper learning opportunities to Advanced Learners in general education classes. Deeper than what? Deeper than the learning opportunities offered other students? What would the teachers do? Whisper provocative questions to the Spectrum-eligible students so the other students couldn't hear?

Other Policy Requirements
The Board Policy 2190 makes few other requirements.

The annual HC grant application to the OSPI is supposed to include a description of the services offered and a service evaluation. Here is a link to the most recent grant application.

The description of the services offered consists of some checkboxes on pages 9-11.

The "service evaluation" appears on pages 13-15 and consists mainly of checkboxes. The application requires the District to collect data that measures the efficacy of the district's HC program administration and operation and to perform an evaluation that measures how well the program met its goals, the academic achievement of the HC students, and how well the program addressed the needs and capabilities of the HC students. OSPI may be satisfied with this data collection, but any reasonable person would find it utterly useless. Let's remember that even if the data were collected, no actual service evaluation is ever completed. A stack of raw data does not constitute an evaluation.

Superintendent's Procedure
The policy allows the Superintendent to develop procedures which, among other things, describe the programs and services available to students identified as Highly Capable as well as to those identified as Advanced Learners. But the Superintendent's Procedures, 2190SP, does not, in fact, describe programs and services.

The procedure describes HCC as:
available to all students identified as Highly Capable in grades K-8. This self-contained, K-8 program provides a rigorous curriculum in language arts, social studies, mathematics, and science. The curriculum is presented at an accelerated learning pace and/or advanced level of complexity and depth, requiring students to perform significantly above grade level.
Most interesting thing about this is how the program is described as a K-8 program, not continuing into high school (although oddly including kindergarten). HCC students may choose to enroll in an accelerated AP pathway at Garfield or an accelerated IB pathway at Ingraham, but these are clearly not part of HCC, which is described as a program that runs through grade 8.

The procedure does not describe Advanced Learning programs or services. Not at all.

In short, there are no meaningful definitions of any of these programs, certainly not any enforceable ones. Although the policy suggests that the programs do certain things or have certain features, the policy is universally ignored and completely unenforced. The requirement of equitable access is openly and routinely violated. Any student advocate who sought to make a complaint about the failure of a school to provide differentiation, content acceleration, and deeper learning opportunities in Spectrum or an ALO as required by the policy would have a hard time proving it and receive no remedy if they did.

The District, I suppose, would respond that schools are able to deliver on the promises of the policy - differentiation, content acceleration, and deeper learning opportunities - when they wave the MTSS magic wand. That's the District's plan for how Advanced Learners will get everything they need in the general education classroom. It's a beautiful dream, but one that remains unsupported by any real data. And how is that MTSS implementation going? It was supposed to be district-wide by the 2014-2015 school year (see Superintendent's Procedure 2163) Isn't the District about to enter year five of the three-year process with only four more years to go? Or are there six more years to go now? Where are the Tier 2 advanced supports and interventions? Nowhere. Isn't the District still working on getting Tier 1 implemented? And where is there any official notice that MTSS is Spectrum and ALO now?

A draft revision of the Superintendent's Procedure for Highly Capable Services & Advanced Learning that was presented to the Board's Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee on June 13, 2016. In it, the District will start claiming that they are providing advanced learning services through MTSS. So we need to take a look at the MTSS Policy, 2163, Supports & Interventions.

There's no mention of providing advanced learning with MTSS in that policy. It says that the purpose of MTSS is "to identify students who are at risk of academic or behavioral problems" not students who need advanced curricula. While there are proposed changes to this policy being discussed, the changes do not include references to services for advanced learners.

And the Superintendent's Procedure for the policy is about under-performing students. One line in the procedure - one line - applies to advanced learners. It says "Students falling above district developed benchmarks will receive enhancement opportunities." That's it. There's not another reference to enhancement or students working beyond Standards. "Enhancement opportunities" certainly does not equate to differentiation, content acceleration, and deeper learning opportunities. The policy and the procedure are essentially silent on the matter and MTSS, as implemented by Seattle Public Schools, has nothing for advanced learners. The District needs to stop pretending that it does.

The Board policy does say this:
The district shall inform parents/guardians regarding the use of scientific, research-based interventions, including: a) the state’s policies regarding the amount and nature of student’s performance data collected and the general education services provided; b) strategies used to increase the student’s rate of learning; c) and the parents/guardians’ right to request a special education evaluation.
Have any Spectrum or ALO families received this notification? I doubt it. If anyone tells you that your child is getting advanced learning services through MTSS, you need to read policy 2163 to them and tell them that you're supposed to get a meeting and you're supposed to be told what strategies they are using. I guess they are also supposed to advise you of your right to request a special education evaluation, but I don't know if you would want to exercise that right.

It looks like you're also supposed to get a progress report every eight weeks. Good luck with that.


Anonymous said…
In addition to district policy and procedures, there's state law:

RCW 28A.185.020 The legislature finds that, for highly capable students, access to accelerated learning and enhanced instruction is access to a basic education.

Anonymous said…
That is pretty much close to nothing. State law also does not define it. And, provides no mechanism for anybody else to define it. And no mechanism to prove you didn't get it. And, no mechanism for due process. So. Go ahead and sue.

critical reader
Anonymous said…
@ critical reader,

"Acceleration" isn't all that vague. It generally refers to (1) grade-based acceleration, e.g., grade skipping, grade telescoping, and early college admission; or (2) subject-based acceleration, e.g., AP/IB, independent study, online study, dual enrollment, mentorship, and curriculum compacting.

So which is Garfield claiming to provide for 9th grade HC students?
Another Name said…
For years, Charlie and Melissa have been calling into question issues surrounding Advanced Learning and they were correct in doing so. Clearly, for years, we've watched a constant attempt to standardize education.

What is missing from de-tracking? Making sure the needs of advanced students are being met.

It is worth noting that Garfield's PTSA works to provide funding for vulnerable students. Claudia Rowe forgot to mention this little fact.

To those that think it is a good idea to call individuals that care about advanced learners- "white liberal racists"- strong work. These are the same people that worked against the corporate model of education reform- which included tests that disadvantage low income and ELL students. These are the same people that work to raise funds for all students. You are only helping the mayor and his agenda which includes charter schools and mayoral control of public education. Strong work.
drd said…
Look carefully at the iGrants document. Part C1 - Evaluation (page 13/20)

Variety of Services [x] Identified HC students may choose a self-contained program or remain at their school and receive appropriate acceleration and/or enrichment.

The proposed changes to ThM classes would render this checkbox invalid, because south end students would no longer be able to choose a self-contained program.
Anonymous said…
It is hard to define what HCC is, but easier to define what it is not. It's not more or better. The pitchforks are already out there because of this mistaken belief. That grant application gives a framework for what HCC can potentially be, but it leaves a lot open to interpretation.

Related to the idea of an every 8-week progress report, it says this in the SP:
"Individual student education plans for highly capable students are reviewed annually as a part of a school's parent/teacher conference at elementary and middle schools." Do any Seattle middle schools have parent/teacher conferences?

One more other question: Are HC services required at option schools? Or is delivery at the neighborhood school all that is required?

more questions
NE Dad said…
One way to think about Spectrum, ALO and HCC is that there are the following three parts: (1) Assessment; (2) Program Assignment; (3) Delivery.

(1) Assessment: The results of Assessment can be thought of as similar to the "achievement level" designation that the district provides based on SBAC Scores. Assessment is provided by Advanced Learning, is well defined, and is generally consistent across the district. There are currently three levels: (a) Highly Capable, (b) Advanced Learning, and (c) Non-Advanced Learner.

(2) Program Placement: Program Placement for Highly Capable (HCC) is still meaningful because for k-8 it means eligible students have a choice of selecting a "self-contained" option. For HS is provides an option for Garfield. Program placement for Spectrum and ALO is school dependent and inconsistent across the district. In some schools, it may be a gatekeeper for example for walk-to-math, but that is completely up to each school. The one thing that Spectrum did get our child last year was busing that we wouldn't have otherwise qualified for.

(3) Delivery: Delivery including curriculum is 100% school dependent for ALO and Spectrum. Our child's Spectrum report card does not indicate 1 grade up for any subject. Advanced Learning has zero authority over what is taught. For HCC our student's report cards indicate 2 grades up for Reading and Math. I understand this to mean that a "3" for a second grader means "meeting performance expectations at this time" based on 4th grade standards for Reading and Math. I know for math at Cascadia our child has consistently used a math book that was two years up. I also know that the curriculum for "Family Planning" is at grade level. Other sections on the report card such as those for Writing and Language do not indicate 2 grades up.

Our experience at Cascadia is that the instruction is appropriately challenging and they further differentiate, even though it may not be well defined across the district. For example, it is my understanding that they separate students into different math classes based on a beginning of year assessment although I'm not sure if that's based on a school-wide policy or is something the grade level teaching team decides on. I also know that in our child's class last year there were three different spelling groups based on ability. As an example, our child was given "choreography" as a third-grade spelling word; elsewhere I've seen that word on a grade 7-8 spelling list. As another example, several of the student's in our child's third-grade class this year read "The Hobbit" which has a Lexile of 1000 and is considered at the 6th to 8th-grade level.
Anonymous said…
What do people mean when they say "accelerated learning"? I have heard lots of people say things like "two grades ahead", but if a hypothetical student is reading at, say, third grade level in first grade, and learns at an accelerated pace, then by the time the student is in fifth grade I would think he should be well beyond a seventh grade level. The terminology is confusing.

Charlie Mas said…
Irene, the terminology is intentionally confusing. District officials change the lexicon and definitions regularly. What does "content" mean? How is it different from "Standards" or "curriculum"? What's a service and what's a program? The District staff intentionally scramble their words and their meaning so they can suggest that student family members are stupid or inexpert. They will not settle on a set definition for any of these words.

I remember, vividly, a District official stating plainly that there are no Special Education programs, and then immediately going on to talk about Special Education programs.

Demand clear definitions at the start of any conversation with them.
Outsider said…
I think a DWD named Lewis had this figured out a long time ago:

"When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master— that's all."

Charlie, you can't make bureaucrats do what they don't want to do by insisting on the meaning of words. If they wanted to serve advanced learners, they would, and it would actually be better not to have rigid standards, curricula, etc. If they don't want to serve advanced learners, words can't make them.
Charlie Mas said…
Outsider, the value of having defined terms, set Standards, or written curricula is not to make anyone do anything, but to have a basis for holding them accountable when they don't.

Right now if a family complains that their child, enrolled in Spectrum/ALO, isn't getting any advanced instruction or differentiation, the school or the teacher only has to say "Did too!". The debate instantly devolves into a pointless schoolyard-style exchange of "Did Not!" "Did Too!" "Did Not!" "Did Too!".

If there were defined expectations for Spectrum/ALO then the family could show that the instruction was not geared to the Standards or aligned with the curriculum and the school officials would have to show that it was. There would be an objective basis for a determination and therefore a basis for a complaint. Whether any remedy would be applied is a secondary issue. One battle at a time. We cannot begin to ask for remedies until we have proven our case.

That is the sole value of a defined set of Standards or a written curriculum. And yet, it is enough.
Anonymous said…
And the district's policy on AL / HCC admissions deserves its own write up as well.
Discrimination based on housing status? Based on duration of time lived there? Based on Location in the district? Check, Check, check.
And lord-forbid you don't sign up for the AL test on time...

e.g. if a child who has HCC-type special needs and has lived locally but was enrolled in a parochial or private school for most of the year wants to get into HCC come June, then 'too bad'. They cycle that child to wait for 12 to 16 months, under current posted policy. That child not only doesn't get what they need, they languish and boredom of a too-sharp mind can easily become behaviour problems... Isn't this fully in violation of the OSPI policy/state law??

However, if you are a family who moved from California in November or even up until May, no problem; please cut to the front of the line: here's a special summer testing time for you so that you can start with the other HCC kids this September.

Seems a superb example of how to not be equitable .


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