Advanced Learning Task Force Updates

(Editor's note: as with other discussions of Advanced Learning, I will monitor comments closely.  No attacks or name-calling; you can make a point without being unkind.)

The Advanced Learning Task Force Meeting will be meeting this week on Tues., May 7, 4 - 7 p.m. at JSCEE.

The particular Task Force seems to make headway on real change that I haven't seen from other committees.  (And unlike head of Student Services, Wyeth Jesse, I won't dismiss previous committees' work because "they didn't use a racial equity lens."  Speaking as a member of one of those committee/taskforces, we DID talk about racial equity but no, the district's "tool" for doing so did not exist then.  Very poor form for Jesse to minimize the long hours and work of the volunteers.  Again, this is why I think the district doesn't get more people to volunteer - their work is dismissed or shelved.)

Minutes from April meeting.  These minutes both pleased and disappointed me. 

One interesting question posed:

What is something that continues to stay with you from the Principal and Teacher panel that will be useful to keep in mind as we develop recommendations? 

These partial answers are where I am disappointed.  Because it shows that the district has empowered principals so much to go their own way.  But that autonomy has created a district of schools that run incredibly differently from each other so there is no district baseline for each school.

    • Ensuring equity in neighborhood high schools opportunities, wished the topic had been talked about in discussions, we need “that” before we can achieve anything here.
    • Appreciation for the principals and their passions for meeting the students there at their neighborhood schools, but some of the principals acknowledged that they do not really see the “outliers” or that they do not have any at their school. This is troubling because there is no doubt about the principals’ passion or abilities, but if “outliers” don’t exist in their frame of existence, how can they provide services for the outliers who go unseen with their needs unmet. These students have a very usual need, which is to have and interact with peers.
    • A principal stated that “MTSS only works when the funding is there” What is the funding situation, and what is the correlation between the funding and what is happening in the schools. The different philosophies between the principals based on the schools in which they work, and how those differences affect how they run their school, and how that affects the students who live in that area will be affected, as are the services and opportunities that are available and sought after. This is an equity problem because if all students cannot receive the same services, why recommend it?
    • What does it mean when we give principals the level of discretion that they have [to provide or to not provide AL/HC services at their school]?
    Fantastic questions and ones that should be directed to CAO DeBacker (and previously to Michael Tolley who was the Godfather of MTSS).

    Here's where I am pleased; these are the right questions about serving ALL students.
    • “Services are currently delivered comprehensively, including mathematics and ELA. Services should be delivered in single domain: mathematics, or ELA, or comprehensive.” Tara sked the group if they wanted to talk about a proposing that the service model should be eligibility based on mathematics, or ELA, or both. The taskforce broke into groups, based on the gradience of agreements, to show their perspective of their interpretation of the statement.
    • Need to understand and unpack the notion of dilution – what does [dilution] mean?
    • Is dilution about race, or is a coded language for the representation of [racial] segregation?
    • Single domain is already happening, not officially/formally; missed out on the concept of this being about basic education or even human decency, or providing an education to kids, meeting them where there is need.
    Oddly, the Taskforce is still considering Spectrum! What?! It's dead in the water so why it's somehow being brought back to life is a mystery to me.

    Really interesting questions in the minutes about the data they want to look at. See pages 3-4.

    Page 4 - Asking questions about what other districts are doing down to what they call their programs.

    I have long wondered why those who seem to loath the Highly Capable program - especially around the lack of diversity in it save Asian students. I found one answer at a Facebook page where the discussion was around how white parents want to save "their" program by getting a few students of color in it. 
    For me, the real issue is finding and serving as many students of color as possible with services that may expand their academic growth.  Silly me. 
    As well, there is the perennial thought that students should just stay in their neighborhood schools to get their needs met.  I've said over and over this would be fine but until the class sizes are smaller and teachers get PD on differentiation AND resources to support that, I support HCC for ALL students who would benefit from it.

    I'll be looking forward to this Taskforce's recommendations.  They are asking great questions and bringing forth good insights.


    Anonymous said…
    I would like to thank the TF members, who have taken an enormous part of their free time away from their families to devote to this process to benefit the entire district.

    When it was first constituted, the large percentage of TF members who didn't have a direct connection with AL at all concerned me, but by and large every member has shown a commitment to evidence-based solutions and have pushed back somewhat on the fixed ideas about AL that Kari has. Following the minutes of all the recent ALTF meetings, I think it's safe to say they are coalescing around some core ideas:

    - At least 2 AL service levels (AL/HC) with a possible 3rd for outliers and a 4th category for single domain learners (AL/HC/OL/SD)
    - Addressing need for SE support, access to peers, and awareness of learning differences
    - Awareness of what SE development and gifted characteristics look like in UR groups
    - Continuity and consistency of services from K through 12
    - Comparable service level options at all pathway schools, comparable options at neighborhood schools
    - Reduced freedom of principals to dictate service content and sequencing
    - PD for principals, counselors, teachers
    - Universal testing
    - In some cases, an ability to opt in to advanced coursework without formal testing and/or use of portfolios instead of testing

    Those ideas are all good.

    Ideas on 2E do not seem fleshed out yet, but once they get into identification deeper this spring I would expect consensus to emerge there too.

    They are requesting information and data about neighboring districts, which is good. Awareness of districts with successful diversity initiatives like Federal Way should be studied, but it's concerning they don't (seem to) be looking at NSD, which has gained national attention for its diversity initiatives.

    Overall, they are not serving as a rubber stamp and seem to be doing a solid investigation into very complex issues given what they are apparently coalescing around.

    Thank-you ALTF!
    Anonymous said…
    I have yet to read the full minutes, and while they may be asking some good questions, a few things really jumped out at me in your summary:

    ...but some of the principals acknowledged that they do not really see the “outliers” or that they do not have any at their school.

    I'm willing to bet that they DO have outliers at their school--they just don't SEE/RECOGNIZE them. How will they make sure that they do in the future, so they can equitably serve them?

    This is an equity problem because if all students cannot receive the same services, why recommend it?

    All students being able to receive the same services would be equality, not equity. It is actually IN-equity if students who need something different aren't able to receive it due to a misbelief that equity means equal. Equity is based on the idea that things are NOT equal, that one size does not fit all.

    Need to understand and unpack the notion of dilution – what does [dilution] mean? Is dilution about race, or is a coded language for the representation of [racial] segregation?

    Seriously? Any, ANY, reference I've seen "dilution" in HCC is about dilution of the rigor and challenge, and/or dilution of the level of academic giftedness/achievement of the eligible students, which in turn impacts the rigor/challenge. I'm appalled that they are suggesting it's about racial dilution. WTF? It's about concerns that as HCC has gotten larger, with no curriculum and no consistency of implementation, that the original APP "curriculum" has been lost and the level of challenge has been weakened. It's a completely logical concern. To take an extreme example, if you expand eligibility such that the top 50% performers qualify, the level of instruction is going to be closer to grade level, not significantly advanced. Another example would be Honors for All: if you drop honors level courses in favor of HFA, where all 100% qualify for the class, the level of instruction will be similarly low--otherwise it will be over the heads of many students. People are CLEARLY concerned with a weakening of the challenge due to an overall target population that is lower-performing. Do they seriously not know what people mean by dilution--and can they seriously only come up with two examples, both of which are similarly re: race? I'm appalled. Is race a factor in eligibility? Yes, but that's a whole separate issue to be resolved. To link that to dilution here demonstrates their lack of understanding and/or antipathy toward HC and AL services. Or they are trying to stir the pot. I can't believe this is in the minutes (but at least they recorded it if that's what they were discussing). Is there nobody on the TF willing and able to counter this biased perception? Disappointing.

    all types
    Anonymous said…
    My apologies to the ALTF members. After reading the minutes, it does indeed sound like they "get it" and are concerned with all students who need AL or HC services being identified, and having access to appropriate services. They do not seem to be advocating for a one-size-fits-all solution, and they do seem to understand that extreme outliers also need peers.

    It's great to see that, in the discussion of whether services should be based on ELA, math, or combined eligibility, most are concerned with the practical ramifications of such a decision prior to making such a decision. Yes, the target population and the service delivery methods are inherently linked, and you need to look at the ramifications of each approach before making such a decision. If single subject eligibility means inadequate services are delivered at each school, that's not a win, right?

    On the matter of "dilution" (horrible term), I also think they get it more than the summary suggests. Most of the bullet points were NOT about race, but rather re: instruction and ability levels. If you expand the pool of eligibles in a way that broadens the range of abilities, the instruction will be less appropriate for some--primarily those at the upper range--unless there are additional/different services targeted to that group of outliers. I love that they seem to recognize this (in a way we haven't seen within SPS for a while), but hope they find another term to use in reference to this concept of curriculum weakening or learning deceleration.

    RE: data analysis, great list of desired info. One additional piece of info I think they'd find useful would be to look at WHY parents opt in/out of HCC, by school--specifically, is this based on what services the school is/isn't providing, and/or what parents are/aren't providing outside of school (e.g., at home, via tutors, via enrichment classes, etc.). I have a feeling that many who opt out are doing so because they are meeting their students' needs themselves. If personal biases on the part of teachers and families influence opt out decisions, that would also be good to know.

    Thank you ALTF members for your efforts, and I'm sorry I jumped the gun with my concerns. They were taken out of context, and I'll try to be better next time!

    all types
    Anonymous said…
    Those are valid concerns, all types, but just keep in mind they are not a decision-making stage. They are still doing their ongoing examination. I see evidence that dilution was discussed intersecting with race as a good thing.

    There is a part of the dilution conversation that has to do with both racial and gender biases. Whenever we look at measuring achievement in any form, we run into racial and gender bias concerns, so that has to be unpacked to see what's really going on. It's good for the ALTF to be looking at the intersectionality with race (that is the whole reason this new TF was constituted). Any time achievement is used as a way of identifying or serving students for AL, race plays a role because the U.S. has race-correlated achievement gaps everywhere. The ALTF should work to understand why this, is and if possible identify ways to solve that problem.

    At the same time, the ALTF does not seem as concerned with gender bias, and maybe it should be. SPS has fewer girls being referred for AL, and it identifies fewer girls for AL, than boys. Fewer girls are also moved to HCC schools.

    SPS requires a very high IQ on private appeals. Because statistically boys are far more likely than girls to fall in the extreme outlier ranges both above and below median, the appeals rules have a gender bias against girls (among others).

    A lot of test vendors claim their tests have lower, minimal, or no race or gender bias. But we know from real-world use that those claims are false. SPS should be working with test vendors to solve these problems, looking at different tests or combinations of tests, and demand free retesting or reimbursement for testing results that show a bias the vendor has falsely claimed should not occur.

    If you consider the four levels the ALTF seems to be looking at (AL/HC/OL/SD), they are obviously also looking at ways to be inclusive while safeguarding rigor/challenge. I see that as good. But I wouldn't paint what they're doing as out of touch. Rather, I see them doing a real deep-dive into aspects that have not been considered in depth before. We should welcome that.

    Also, race (and gender) have to be unpacked at every stage, otherwise the recommendations of the ALTF will be ignored. We need to give them space to do that work thoroughly.

    Thank-you ALTF!
    Thank you ALTF, I agree, a big thanks to those on that taskforce. But I will also gently point out that almost nowhere else will this work be daylighted AND offered up for discussion.

    All Types, I think your phrasing on this may have come out wrong:

    "Is race a factor in eligibility? Yes, but that's a whole separate issue to be resolved."

    No, it's not a factor in being eligible. It's a factor in understanding the system, taking the test that is skewed to white kids, etc.

    And thank you for rereading and offering good comments. I appreciate that in a world where everyone skims and reads bites of articles.

    Yes, sometimes HCC/Spectrum classes can be skewed in one gender direction or another in a way that would never be tolerated in any other class. Worth considering.
    Anonymous said…
    Yes, that probably came out wrong. "Is race a factor in eligibility? Yes, but that's a whole separate issue to be resolved" was intended to mean that, when we look at current eligibility data, there are disparities by race. That's an issue to be dealt with via the eligibility, testing, referral, etc. criteria.

    Anon @ 1:18, I fully agree that race and gender are important issues for them to address, but I still don't see how doing so as an intersection with "dilution" makes sense. What is dilution? What is being diluted? The ALTF members seem to have all different takes on that, so it doesn't seem to mean anything in this case. It seems like it could have racial undertones even when not at all intended, so it seems best to avoid. I'd like to see them use words and phrases that more clearly convey what they are actually talking about, so that everyone is on the same general page. But yes, by all means keep talking about race, and gender, learning disabilities, and other disparities as they related to AL, HC, and HCC.

    all types
    Anonymous said…
    I hope the ALTF will look at the recentish change in the teacher training and experience requirements for teaching HCC. There are now no requirements to earn the "gifted specialist" category other than being assigned an HCC section and completing the year. Absolutely no other pertinent qualification such as prior experience in a cohort themselves, specialized schooling, or specialized experience. Previously a teacher had to go to specialized non-conforming schools such as The Evergreen State College that had a high degree of freedom for students. Teachers also had to have some level of college level content training such as AP accreditation.

    We had pipelines where some candidates to teach HCC would be given SPECTRUM sections to teach and additional training over the summer at an AP Institute so they could really hone their skills and content knowledge but with the abolition of SPECTRUM there is no possibility of that.

    Ideally staff should also be positive about giftedness rather than dismissive or hostile. That's on the principals though when they assign sections and can be easily fixed with a simple teacher survey.

    I wholeheartedly agree that there should be a school site coordinator just like with AP/IB coordinators at the HS level. This person would also train staff and be a resource for staff when they need help. That person would have to be non-evaluative. I've got trainings all ready to go and they're about three hours for the intro so if people want 'em I'm happy to give the training and to answer questions.

    Mr. Theo Moriarty
    Thank you, Theo, for those insider insights.
    Anonymous said…
    Hi All Types,

    Sometimes dilution is used as code to mean not only dilution of course content but dilution of whiteness in a program. At other times, when there is talk of making demographics in a gifted program match real-world demographics, individuals may complain about "lowering standards" or "weakening the program and rigor" to get more POC into the program. This of course is absurd, since IQ and gifted occur at the same rate in all humans regardless of race, but nonetheless dilution as a term sometimes comes loaded with that implication and baggage. That is just a part of the word dilution now, and it has to be worked through openly to move ahead. That's just one place where the intersectionality applies, but I'm missing others, I'm sure.

    Thank-you ALTF
    Anonymous said…
    Any time access to a gifted program is based on balancing demographics rather than test scores standards are lowered.

    Anonymous said…
    @ Honesty, or, how about we tweak your words:

    Any time access to a gifted program is based on test scores that are influenced by demographic differences such as culture, language, parent education and income, standards are effectively raised for the non-dominant group and lowered for the dominant group.

    All types
    Anonymous said…
    The conversation about Spectrum was based on learning why it failed, even though it still exists on paper.

    Learning curve
    Anonymous said…
    @All types "Any time access to a gifted program is based on test scores that are influenced by demographic differences such as culture, language, parent education and income, standards are effectively raised for the non-dominant group and lowered for the dominant group."

    Regardless, it also one size does not fit all.However gifted children come from all races, genders and classes so the gifted program needs to evolve to serve those students. Maybe we instead serve the top 2% from all races and incomes in a gifted program. However, for those students who also need access to advanced curriculum (not all are HC) separate that from a gifted program. They should all have access.

    Outsider said…
    Does anyone but me notice the air of unreality that surrounds this whole thing? They talk about offering at least two levels of AL services, after SPS just spent years stamping out Spectrum. Do they honestly think that process could possibly be reversed? A clue about reality is the ticket to be taken seriously, and it looks like no one on this task force has a ticket.

    Neighborhood elementary schools in Seattle don't offer AL services, and never will, because they don't want to. PD has nothing to do with it, nor policy. Most teachers and principals are ideologically opposed to AL services, and there are powerful competing priorities. It will not happen, ever. I say this based on years of lived experience, and without the smallest doubt. AL happens in a cohort setting or it doesn't happen. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wasting your time.

    Is this task force even real? Or is it just a sideshow to distract parents, leading to nothing, only to be followed by the next task force in 2023, while in the background what little remains of AL is steadily chipped away?
    Anonymous said…

    The ALTF is not responsible for actually implementing changes; all they are doing is looking at what an equitable advanced learning program should/could be and making evidence-based recommendations to that end. They do seem to be interested in reinstating aspects of the program we had 5+ years ago.

    Your observations about the hostility of principals are correct. The ALTF can't really do much about that other than recommend PD for them and recommending consistent offerings at all schools of the same time. In other words, principals shouldn't have the kind of freedom on advanced learning that they do now because it increases rather than reduces equitable offerings. I'm confident that will be in their final recommendations.

    But they have not been given police powers, and Kari Hanson and Wyeth Jesse and the superintendent can just ignore everything they recommend if they wish, which is what the district has always done with these task force recommendations in the past. This time, I think they simply have to act but need "cover" to act from the recommendations of the ALTF. They could make needed changes today, but they won't because they don't have "cover."

    The Task Force is not an enforcement body. The responsibility for actual change falls to staff, as always.

    Anonymous said…
    @PL, I agree--one size does not fit all. However, setting quotas and enrolling the top 2% from each racial and income group doesn't solve the problem either, unless we also modify the services. The services need to fit the student. If the top 2% of one group is performing at 2 years above grade level but the top 2% from another group is performing at 0-1 years above grade level, obviously they need something different--at least initially. The latter group is likely comprised of equally fast learners, so with intensive services for some period of time they should be able to ultimately get up to the same level of their HC peers. But they probably won't be there initially. Even the maker of the CogAT, who is often cited as supporting this use of group-specific or "local norms" acknowledges that the services that need to provided when using local norms vs universal norms are different. Local norms identify students who may all be of the same overall high capacity, but who are not at the same actual performance level in the meantime. An equity-based approach would say that you then give that "identified as HC but not performing as HC" group additional services to help raise them to the expected performance level. (Note: A similar equity argument would apply to 2e students as well.)

    Access to advanced curricula should be the reality for all who need and are ready for them. Access to advanced curricula, however, is not a substitute for quality gifted education. We need both (and are sadly lacking in both). If the recommendations of the ALTF do address the varied levels and configurations of giftedness and achievement and their corresponding needs, I hope the district listens for once. But like the others, I'm not holding my breath.

    all types

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