This comes on the heels of having a small discussion with Dr. Enfield about Spectrum and then a longer meeting with Dr. Vaughn (the head of Advanced Learning) and Roger Daniels, consulting teacher. These were good conversations and I did feel like they were listening. But I don't think they really care that the program makes sense to parents.
I asked Dr. Enfield about the issues around the changes made at Spectrum programs at Wedgwood and Lawton AFTER open enrollment had ended. (Noel Treat was at this meeting and listened quite attentively - poor guy, I don't think Susan and I gave him much of a chance to speak.) I told them that it seemed like a bait-and-switch and unless there is an emergency, no program should change after Open Enrollment and that information needed to come down from the top of the district.
They seemed to agree that it wasn't right but neither one of them really knew why it happened. I told them my background with Spectrum and my belief that Advance Learning never had a champion in any upper level administration and so as long as it existed, that was good enough for leadership.
I also asked them how, with multiple versions of Spectrum, they could know what is really working. These children generally all do fine on the MAP and HPSE so how did they know the various programs were all working? They said they could see that as a problem. I went back to my old (and probably tired) line that parents should not have to be detectives to understand any program in this district and that includes Advanced Learning. I also pointed out that there was not an ALO at every school as promised (more on that later) and since we had gone to neighborhood schools, it was the responsibility of every school to have additional rigor for any child, IDed by the district or not, who wanted it.
That was my meeting with Dr. Enfield and Deputy Superintendent Treat (I feel like he needs a badge or wear a cowboy hat.)
So onto my meeting with Dr. Vaughn and Roger Daniels. Let me say upfront, I have known Dr. Vaughn off and on for years through his work in SPS. (He left for several years to work at UW and then came back.) I respect both these men and they were very generous in their time with me.
On the issue of the different Spectrums, their answer was that it is really about how many kids sign up. What is interesting is there are problems in both directions. Meaning, too many kids and not all of them can be in Spectrum OR not enough kids to make a class. They claim this is the issue at Lawton - not enough kids - and thus the split classes. (There was a little disagreement between them over who made the decision but it came out that staff and the principal made the decision.)
What's interesting is that when Lawton got Spectrum many years ago, apparently Hay was worried about losing students to that program and started the earliest ALO which they called Pathways. Apparently Hay was able to keep many of their students and so Lawton's program struggled with numbers.
They also say that the numbers do not reflect any real change to support the idea that unhappy Spectrum parents are sending their students to APP. (I didn't ask them for the numbers but I'd like to see them. Because if that is true, then MAP is finding a LOT of new APP students. They also say they think a lot of private school students came in the system but I hear that the private schools are still full. It's hard to know what to think without the data.)
They also said, to my disbelief, that the Spectrum first grades at Whittier and Lafayette were never full. I politely said that my son's first-grade class was when he was at Whittier and they said that the class was not totally Spectrum. All I can say is that means my principal at the time lied to us and I know him and do not believe this is the case. I don't understand how the two schools that have self-contained Spectrum classes do not have full Spectrum-identified classes in first grade.
It didn't seem to matter to them that the program is not easy to understand and could cause concern to parents over the issue of how it is presented at their school versus how another school presents it.
On the issue of the Spectrum Advisory committee, well, again, I'm confused. Roger said they are working on it but had nothing specific to say. I can't find it right now but I'm sure I saw a district notice that there IS going to be a revamped committee. Of course the issue is that what will all these parents talk about with Spectrum being presented differently at every school? Hard to find common ground.
We did talk about appeals and they said that there is no way they would accept any appeal that looks fudged. Meaning, the counselors/psychologists that give these tests are professionals who would not fudge a test just so someone's kid could get into Spectrum or APP. I back them up on this statement. (They did say they occasionally got a parent who privately tested, still didn't get the scores required but still wanted their kid in the program.)
They did let me know that Ingraham's APP program, while not at the numbers they had hoped (it's at 47), still is enough for a strong program.
Then we moved onto ALOs. Now, I'll have to go back to my files but I'm pretty sure when ALOs came into being, the idea was for EVERY school that wasn't APP or Spectrum to have one (or be able to show their rigor was so high, they didn't need one). Roger and Dr. Vaughn said that was never the case and so that's why not all schools have one (even as we have gone to a neighborhood plan which would seem to insist for this kind of proof of rigor).
I did point out that many schools put down a lot of different things as evidence of an ALO (plus enrichment activities). I asked if the district had a list of items schools picked from and they said no, they had to meet curriculum goals. I got to bring home an ALO report card (but it is being revamped) and there is a lot the teacher has to figure out to say if a student is meeting the goals. What is odd is that only district identified Spectrum or APP students can get the ALO report cards but not the regular student who might be participating.
I asked why some schools did not have an ALO. Their example was McGilvra which, apparently, has actively said no. They believe their overall program has enough rigor to work for all children (and it's full and popular so maybe so). I did not come away with the impression that they knew, for sure, what every school was doing to provide rigor and challenge to any student, identified by the district or not, who wanted to try it.
(I also quibble with the schools' explanations of their ALO programs which read like something from a teacher training handbook. Parents don't know all the words/phrases used to describe pedagogy so it comes off as something the school throws together for the district, not for parents.)
They did say that the district had committed some resources to help them to provide rigor to students working in the top 10% academically of Level One schools. These are students who are the most unlikely to be tested and yet, as we all know, bright and gifted students are everywhere. This is great news because those students chosen (I assume by identification by teachers) will hopefully be working at a higher level and be better prepared for more challenging classes in middle school.
They did mention the PRISM program over at the Bellevue district. It is quite the contrast with the SPS Advanced Learning page which is long and quite detailed but STILL doesn't come clean about how Spectrum gets presented. They also don't mention that the ALOs are not available at every school. The PRISM program looks to be quite easy to understand. They also just have one parent group which I think would be better than two. If there was one parent group, well, there is strength in numbers and they could always have sub-committees for the different programs. Just a thought.
So why am I giving up? Because it has been years and years of asking and pointing out the obvious issues in the Advanced Learning program. Clearly, it doesn't matter to the district that:
- it is a very complex program to understand and why is that? Why do parents have to be detectives to understand a program?
- the amount of variance from school to school is astonishing for Spectrum/ALOs
- not everyone who qualifies gets into a program
- they really don't know what works well because of the myriad of programs
- the programs go thru periods of major upheaval and parents with students in the programs never know when this is coming and have to scramble to keep up
But if anyone says the schools have no control, well, this is one area where they do. Principals and staff at schools get to make these decisions (well, maybe not for APP) and parents are just bystanders.
What is sad is that most of the parents with students in these programs are just grateful for something and so don't advocate for a more coherent program that might better serve even more students. And I understand that because making a better program that serves more students is the district's job.
We hardly ever hear about ALOs; I'd love to hear from parents about what their school does and how well it works and the participation.