Will ALP Get Redefined?
The Board of Education will be voting at the its April 26 meeting at Riverside School on the recommendations regarding the Step II ALP review presented earlier this month.
Among the items to be voted on are:
- A definition of gifted and talented
- The identification criteria for ALP students
- A change to the timing of the OLSAT testing
- Expansion and changes to Grade 2 ALP
Led by ALP Facilitator Bonnie O’Regan and Assistant Superintendent Stacey Gross, the recommendations come after a program evaluation which spanned several years. Started in March 2010 under then coordinator Pat Stafford, it continued under Riverside Elementary School Principal and interim ALP coordinator John Grasso and was then picked up by O’Regan in September 2011. O’Regan led a segment of the review in January 2012 which compared Greenwich’s program with standards published by the National Association for Gifted Children.
How do you define gifted and talented?
A fundamental issue to be resolved is the determination of the definition of gifted and talented. The recommendation before the board is to update the district’s definition of gifted and talented to include the following phrase from the more recent definition used in the 1993 report titled National Excellence and Developing Talent report:
“gifted and talented,” when used with respect to students, children or youth, are students, children or youth, who give evidence of high performance capability when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities. (Proposed draft to GPS Board Policy E-001, District Procedure E-001.13 – Advanced Learning Program K-12)
Board member Adriana Ospina applauded the re-definition; “a comparison should be apples to apples and oranges to oranges and the way that I see an advanced learning program is how you identify potential - I think this is reality.”
Should Identification Criteria be ‘Building Blind’?
With a proposal to identify 10-15% in every building for the ALP program, O’Regan was asked what the minimum and maximum should look like in ALP classes. “I am not necessarily looking at a minimum but actually how many students really need differentiation beyond what a classroom teacher could reasonably expect to deliver,” she said. She later clarified that “in actuality when we do sit down at the individual buildings, we do look at much more than test scores - it is hard to boil down a student to a test score – there is more to a child than what is on paper. Sometimes the test scores don’t tell us the whole story.”
At least one board member raised the issue about what was the appropriate ALP population percentage per building and what a shift to 10-15% at every building would mean. Calling it “a substantial policy about the direction of ALP” Peter Sherr observed that “we are opening the debate” about a program that is supposed to be ability based and building blind. “Regardless of the building, if you are a child that has this ability, we are delivering services to you that are appropriate to you because you have this capability.”
Sherr believes that a shift to identifying a percentage of students by building rather than district-wide would mean “changing the longstanding practice and policy” of the district.
O’Regan explained however that “it is bringing to the forefront what has been an underlying issue for a number of years.”
Calling a spade a spade
Sherr stated that “if we are going to take a certain percentage of children at some level of capability building by building, then we are going to transform the program into one which provides accelerated learning to a percentage of students in that building and its population.” In other words, “creating a high-end track.”
However, given the differences that exist across the district, O’Regan said, “frankly in the mode of transparency, this already does happen. Some schools are very number driven and others have been more lenient in looking at other factors. This (new approach) brings it out in the open so it is fair for everyone.”
Board Chairman Leslie Moriarty quickly confirmed O’Regan’s forthrightness. “What is being recommended here is closer to what has been happening in practice for a number of years … and in practical reality it only affects a few buildings” since many already identify 10-15% of its population as qualifying for ALP, Moriarty said.
Changes to Grade 2 – Once you are in, you are in
One area which highlighted the need for streamlining was the repetitive nature of the identification process. Currently students are tested at the end of 1st grade for placement in the ALP program in 2nd grade and then they are then rescreened at the end of 2nd grade for inclusion in the grades 3 to 5 program. Under the recommendation once a student is identified in the fall of 2nd grade, they will remain in the program through 5th grade.
OLSAT Move to 2nd Grade
Another of the review’s recommendation was to move the administration of the OLSAT standardized test from grade 3 back to the fall of grade 2. The OLSAT is a primary measure utilized to identify potential students for the program. This OLSAT shift would actually affect all 2nd and 3rd grade students in GPS. In moving the administration of the OLSAT to the fall of grade 2, there would be an increase in instructional time in the 3rd grade.
The district in general would benefit with district level information about all students as well as information supporting placement decisions for ALP in a more “time efficient and cost effective” manner.
The idea would be to push in ALP support during the grade 2 first trimester while OLSAT test results are calculated. The ALP and classroom teacher would work collaboratively together while gathering observational information on the students. The pull-out ALP program for 2nd grade would then occur during the last 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
Advanced Learning at the Secondary Level
“ALP has parent representation and involvement in grades 2-8, but what happens to the high achieving students once they enter GHS?” Former ALP Coordinator and current board member Barbara O’Neill asked about the possibility of extending involvement into the high school.
In response to the question raised by O’Neill and expressed by parents, Gross explained that there was a secondary school meeting held with ALP reps and PTA presidents in which communication and other involvement strategies were discussed.
Ospina commented that the 8th graders who are essentially two years ahead of other students are faced with a non-ALP option at GHS aside from the honors track and AP. However, she noted that the ALP students, many of whom have been in the program since 2nd grade, are often the fastest learners but then end up in the same math class as sophomores and juniors who may not be as motivated as they are.
Gross explained that the discussion on the issue started for the first time this year with Headmaster Chris Winters, the ALP facilitator and other stakeholders. “I have not heard as much as math but language arts and world themes.” The conversations on the issue however have only just started.
The impact of these discussions however, was clarified by interim Superintendent Roger Lulow who said “we have had discussions about the language arts and the high school has proposed a set of criteria so that as youngsters come out of the 8th grade and move into the high school there can be alternate kinds of placements for those students - that will be in place for the fall.” There was also a suggestion made that the new Integrated Science course which debuted at GHS this year, be moved from 9th to 8th grade, which will be a future discussion to be had by the board.
Basis for change
Lulow said that for him there are two factors that he has heard that lend themselves to the need for a further discussion as identified through the ALP review:
- Whatever the cut off score is for entrance, there are kids close to that who could benefit from an ALP type class;
- We have teachers who are underutilized in some buildings which is the basis for the recommended use of teachers in a more efficient manner where there are small numbers being served.
The formation of targeted board goals, which actually was first discussed early last month during the board’s retreat, is in the process of being defined.
Moriarty started by stating that the context for this conversation was the strategic planning cycle used by the District, which aims to develop a 3 year District Improvement Plan but which in actually is now in its 4th year due to the extended leadership turnover.
In order to assist with its planning, the board formally approved the formation of the new Ad Hoc Committee for Strategic Planning, Budgeting and Control early last month. The committee’s charge is to develop and propose improvements which will lead to significantly improved student outcomes through the strengthening of the focus and execution ability of the existing Planning, Budgeting and Management Information processes of the Greenwich Public Schools.
The committee is being chaired by new board member Peter von Braun with Jennifer Dayton and Peter Sherr serving as committee members. The trio will develop recommendations on improvements to the existing systems including, but not limited to, specific proposals for the operating budget. The committee is expected to present its plan at the June 7 work session so that they may be adopted in time for the 2012-2013 school year.
It will meet this Tuesday evening (April 17) in the Board Room of the Havemeyer Building to discuss improvements in the strategic process and set the agenda for possible next steps in developing improvements in the budgeting and control systems.
Using the data
Moriarty stated that “Our vision … is that we want a district that has alignment between our vision, actions, our budgeting cycles and that all of the players within system are working in the same direction towards same goal.”
The analysis documents presented to the board at the April 4th work session were prepared as background data to assist the board in determining its goal.
The data shows Greenwich’s results at the proficient and mastery levels versus Benchmark Districts on the Connecticut Mastery Test in mathematics, reading and writing. While Greenwich is part of DRG B comparison group, DRG A, a higher performing demographic group comprised of some of the wealthier communities in Connecticut was also used as well as Farmington, which is another high performing DRG B District.
The shortfall in scores versus the DRG B average is in the 2-4% range in all categories except for the mastery level in 6th to 8th grade writing which has over a 6% difference. The differences were even more pronounced versus Farmington and DRG A.
Gains for all
While much could be gained by raising those achieving below proficient, Moriarty stated that it is “incumbent upon the Board to deliver the message that this may be a targeted goal but the expectation is to improve achievement for all kids in all grades.”
As for specifics, for board member Ospina, “reading is key – you need it for math, science, everything.” Stating, as an example, that our 3rd-graders begin at a level lower, “the younger you start, the better chance” for future success therefore she suggested that there perhaps be a specific reading goal measured by the 3rd grade test. Ospina said that she feels this would be a good signal to the administration that they must focus on K-2 instruction.
Another board member, Nancy Kail, asked if goals are set for students performing below proficient, then “what happens to people at proficient and above?” In response, Moriarty said that if we set goals to address lower performing kids, then the question is “if the district implements these strategies across all abilities are we then improving the performance of all kids?”
The board went “on record” stating that to everyone “in the community” that “we love to hear what the priorities are; what do you think should be our goals?” Submission from anyone and everyone are due into the Board by Tuesday, April 17.