Friday, November 28, 2008

Hot topic: Middle school GATE programs

An SF K Files visitor suggested the following topic:

"I just started touring middle schools and would love to get peoples thoughts and experienced based opinions on: GATE tracked classes (where GATE kids are separated from general ed kids, like at Aptos) vs. Integrated classes (where GATE kids are in the same class as everyone else but get differentiated curriculum, like at James Lick).
What are the pros and cons? Do separate classes result in deeper learning? How does each model potentially impact the student? etc?"


  1. I attended a PPS-GATE meeting at 555 Franklin last Spring, where attendees were given a booklet outlining the GATE programs at the various MSs and HSs in the SFUSD. It would be most helpful if PPS would make this guide available online,

  2. I'm a parent of a GATE student who is at Aptos and doing very well. I guess I would say that she is enjoying the large group of academic peers and has been especially more challenged in math by kids who are more advanced than she--she has been pushed to focus more on that subject.

    On the other hand, we know families of GATE kids at James Lick who are very happy too, and who love the social scene there, and who are certainly challenged by the task of doing academic work in two languages. Many Lick kids go on to Lowell and SOTA each year. I know the teachers there have done some collective teacher development work on how do differentiated education, and how to offer extensions to the GATE kids. The fact the 826 Valencia is now on site seems like a great opportunity for the kids who love to write.

    It was a tough call for us when we applied, between those two schools, and while Aptos has worked out well on both social and academic fronts, I still think JL would have offered some real strengths too. A little like comparing apples and oranges when you factor in the immersion program. Tough decision.

    I'm not sure I answered your question, and it is a good one. I would say, do make an effort to talk with current GATE parents at schools with different approaches, and ask what the kids are actually doing in class, and if/how their needs are being met.

  3. My kids really thrived too in Aptos' honors classes, but that's not to say that's the only route. It would be useful to hear from parents at James Lick or other middle schools that don't have separate classes.

    By the way, at my kids' high school, it really doesn't work the same way. Students may request honors or AP classes as they choose, and the decision is made (by the department head) independent of whether the student is GATE-identified or not.

  4. Wow, I've been waiting for this topic. I really would like this discussion not to turn into invective or to bashing specific school. (That is, I really need to make public middle school work, I'm being laid off in January!) I have been told that there are basically three different schools at every SF middle school. There are the GATE program classes (generally very good, motivated students), there are the general ed classes (which are pretty abysmal with less motivated students), and then there are the day program classes for kids with serious special ed needs (also pretty good). My take on this is having your kid be GATE-identified is really important in terms of getting them tracked into the classes with the better performing students. So getting your kid GATE-identified in elementary school is REALLY important. I've also been told that elementary schools have varying levels of GATE-identification. Some elementaries have 60-plus % of the kids GATE-identified; some have only 20%. I have been trying with my school to get my kid GATE-identified, but they seem to focus on STAR results only. However, a careful reading of the criteria for GATE-identification show that it is NOT designed to be only for kids who test well. You need to have four of six points to get GATE-identified. One point for parent recommendation, one for teacher recommendation, one if the kid is "special circumstances" (which includes special ed), two for test score and grade point minimums, and one for "creativity, leadership, etc." criteria. The way I read those criteria, a kid with my mild special ed issues who is making great strides and, say, is a great dancer can get into GATE (assuming the parent and teacher also recommend). Again, my interpretation, one which my school is not exactly embracing. Am I wrong about (1) the need to have your kid GATE-identified to have a good experience in middle school; and (2) the seeming elasticity of the GATE identification factors?

  5. I've heard from someone recently that middle schools (or maybe it's just Aptos) may be moving towards letting anyone who wants to be in GATE/honors classes take them and moving away from it only being for kids IDd in elementary. This would be a positive step forward.

    Personally, I've found the GATE ID a bit bogus (and both my kids have been identified) and felt that the energy spent on identifying kids would be better spent on investing in differentiated learning prof. development for teachers. At my kids elementary I felt the teachers do a great job of this - especially in the upper grades. Both my kids - each of whom have very different type of learning styles - were challenged according to their individual styles and needs.

    My oldest started at Aptos this year and is currently in the honors program. Last year, I believed that Lick would have been a better academic fit for him ( a larger percentage of creative, enthusiastic staff; more resources from the QEIA grant, smaller school, etc.) but he really wanted to go to Aptos with a large group of his friends.

    Just as when you have a preschooler you should consult with your preschool director about your child's needs and school fit, so should you do the same for your 4th or 5th grader. Hopefully your teachers know and visit middle schools to be informed.

    I asked my son's 5th grade teacher (who knew him well) what she thought and she really felt he would thrive in the bigger pond of Aptos. I wasn't so sure, but I now see she was right.

    In the end, I must say that it is yet another example of how one (me) must let go of who your kids have been to see what they are becoming and the adults they eventually will be.

    He is doing GREAT at Aptos -and actually is doing better in school than he's ever done before.

    He's made lots of new, great friends and loves all the activities (stage crew, orchestra, sports teams, afterschool Y program, etc.) He's been very happy with his teachers - all of them.

    They overenrolled the 6th grade this year and the first 6 weeks he was in a General Ed class. He was crazy about his teachers and the kids were great. I was particularly impressed when I went on a field trip with them and felt that the kids were better behaved than on any elementary field trip I'd been on in 6 years!

    When they opened up another honors classroom he moved over - he really didn't want to as he liked his teachers and his classmates - but the teachers thought he should. We just opened up his report card and the second six weeks in honors classes he did better than he did the first grading period in general ed. Personally, I think it's because more was expected of him and he had a teacher pushing him.

    Which leads to my biggest concern with separate GATE/Gen Ed classes. I feel that the expectations are different - but not in a good way. I think that the expectations are lower in the GE classes, which leads to many of the kids doing less than they would otherwise. I feel that what they are expecting of honors they should be doing for all. My own son does much better with a tough teacher with a high bar - as do most kids.

    My concern is this: I think separate GATE classes in middle school, with the uneven identification in elementary, isn't serving all kids well and leads to tracking. I don't think that it serves the GATE kids better necessarily - they could do as well with talented teachers doing better differentiated curriculum. I especially am concerned that Gen Ed kids are not getting what they need and that some teachers just expect less - leading to lesser academic outcomes.

    We still have a way to go - only the 2nd grading period of 6th grade. But all the kids I know at the various public middle schools are generally all very happy and doing well at their respective schools. I am certain my son would have done well at either Lick, Aptos or Hoover (the only schools we considered given proximity of our home.)

    Also, middle school is currently a focus for the new SFUSD administration (it should be) much as elementary was 6-7 years ago. We saw huge gains and improvements in elementary schools across the district during this time. I'm expecting similar focus -and results -in middle schools in the coming years.

  6. 11:16. what excellent food for thought. it's good for those of us with younger kids to hear from parents of older ones. what you say excites me, especially in the context of the proposal you referred to (which, if i remember correctly, is garcia's proposal to make GATE classes accessible to all who want to be in them -- if you know details, pls clarify). i'm sure such a proposal will have its detractors. for me, your story mitigates concerns that being more inclusive would somehow lower the bar.

    it reminds me of what paul revere's principal, dr. tagamori, said when we toured: that they'd considered spending more time on strengthening struggling 6-8 students' remedial math skills, but scrapped that idea in favor of adding *advanced* math -- and the kids rose to the challenge.

    i was in the first generation of GATE students in california back in the 70s. i am still friends with my childhood posse, only one of whom besides me was ID-ed as such. i can tell you without question that the ID was needlessly narrow and pretty bogus (reflecting the kid's socioeconomic status and parental assertiveness, more than anything else). there was a strong sense of other kids having "missed the boat," as they never again had access to the kind of coursework the GATE kids ended up doing. (i'm thinking of one friend in particular who was smart as a whip, whose parents were not educated, and was not in GATE but who later did the bootstraps thing herself, got her BA with honors, and is now earning her master's while she raises two kids alone).

    anyway, i was always left with a sense that tracking in this manner leaves a fair slice of kids who would benefit in the dust.

  7. A note about Aptos' GATE classes, since my experience with them started several years before 11:16's: In past years, Aptos GATE coordinator Russell Addiego was open to (in fact, pro-active about) identifying "high-potential" students who weren't technically GATE-ID'd and encouraging them to be placed in the honors classes. By contrast, at Hoover, only GATE-ID'd kids were in honors classes, and at Giannini, not even all GATE-ID'd kids were in honors classes.

    The chance to get kids who were academic achievers but not GATE-ID'd into honors classes was what helped propel some (sometimes wary) families into formerly scorned Aptos in our day. In fact, I think that had a lot to do with sparking its newfound popularity.

    As noted, though, I'm not closed to the notion that mixed classes are fine too. In general I actually think tracking meets the needs of all students better. U.S. public school bashers are forever pointing out the supposed superiority of other nations' school systems, and while some of the bashers' claims are just plain false, I think the tracking that happens almost everywhere else IS something that helps school systems work better. But I definitely see the point that many kids will reach higher if they're not tracked into a certain level of expectation.

    Oh, also, kids in the era when Aptos was encouraging non-GATE students to move into honors classes had been GATE-ID'd under a much more rigid system -- one single test (the Naglieri) that focused largely on mathematical/spatial ability. The current anything-goes ID system was a pendulum-swing response to that.

  8. My daughter is in sixth grade at James Lick. We liked the comparatively small size, and the community feel of the school. My daughter is a good student, and would have done well in the honors classes at the bigger middle schools. However, her teachers seem to be providing differentiation -- or at least she is being challenged appropriately.

    There are two core math/science and language arts/history periods each day. On Thursdays and Fridays they divide the kids up for math by mastery of that unit's material. So they assess every six weeks or so. They use that time to challenge the kids who have already "gotten it," and help those kids who haven't yet. I like that it's not a year long assignment, but is totally determined by the child's mastery of the subject matter. Some kids are uneven, and may be a whiz at decimals and fractions, but be totally clueless on surface area of various shapes.

    This type of differentiation may be harder to provide for language arts/history classes, but not impossible. I like the concept that it's not your innate "GATE-ness" that allows you access to challenging material, but your willingness to work, and mastery of the subject matter. I like the message that working hard in school pays off, but that you have to keep at it, not just rest on your excellent test scores from second grade.

    Anyway, this type of differentiation is working for my daughter. I would also have been quite happy with the other geographic possibiities, Aptos or Hoover as well, particularly if I had a musical kid. Both those schools have top notch music programs.


  9. As the parent of a GATE-identified 4th grader, I am disappointed with Garcia's proposal that Kim mentioned. As it is, the SFUSD GATE office consists of one person, who also oversees summer school and remedial education. One of her mandates is to provide tutoring for disadvantaged GATE students. (You need 4 points to qualify for GATE. By SFUSD's interpretation, you get a point for being disadvantaged, so you do not actually have to have high test scores as well if your parent and teacher recommend you and your grades are ok.) GATE is clearly not a priority for this social-justice obsessed administration. Thank goodness Sanchez is off the BOE and Lopez was narrowly defeated, or GATE would likely be eliminated entirely.

  10. In general I actually think tracking meets the needs of all students better.

    Sounds creepily like racial profiling....

  11. Well, that's the Green/"Progressive" view -- tracking, honors classes etc., and Lowell and SOTA are racist. The counterview is that our schools should strive to meet the needs of all students.

  12. fed up: thanks for the input. i didn't realize that you already got an entry point for being disadvantaged. hmm. is this policy working? does it get more disadvantaged students IN? MORE food for thought...quite in keeping with thanksgiving and my tendency to "overachieve" (in the eating department at least)....i happen to share your view -- and it seems, caroline's -- about the green/prog agenda. good goals, bad solutions (since when is closing the achievement gap a zero-sum game, where someone else has to lose for another student to benefit????). although i remain concerned about kids without parental advocates getting a fair crack at GATE, i would hate to see it get scrapped or starved because the ideologues in charge of these things see it as a program serving only middle-class students (who, obviously, are left with ONLY parental advocacy and good classroom teaching -- powerful though they may be -- as their supports in the current system, as everything else is directed at other need-groups).

    i still think lance tagamori's approach is instructive: throw additional challenge at kids and offer a hand to hold when and if they need it. don't. lower. the. bar.

    (listen to this shite! leave it to SFUSD and SF's wackamole BOE to turn me into a -- gasp -- goddamn republican. almost.)

  13. Watching the Greens/Progressives on the micro level (school board) didn't turn me into a Republican, but certainly makes me think seriously about voting for anything the Bay Guardian recommends!

  14. FYI - Russell Addiego is no longer the GATE coordinator at Aptos. Teachers chose another teacher I believe it's Ms. Ruskin.

  15. GATE is clearly not a priority for this social-justice obsessed administration.
    But they have to have a program in order to get federal funds, so they do the minimum. Problem is, seems everyone thinks their kid is GATE. The definition is really way too loose (and I have two supposedly "GATE IDd" kids! The District GATE Coord is totally overextened (it's one of three things she manages including summer school and adult education for the entire SFUSD.) However, I hardly see her as being entrepreneurial in her role over any of these programs.

    Carlos Garcia does spend more time talking about the social justice agenda, but he also has been very emphatic (Tony Smith, too) that our high performers aren't performing as high as they should, either. Both want all students rising to a higher level of achievement.

    Thank goodness Sanchez is off the BOE and Lopez was narrowly defeated, or GATE would likely be eliminated entirely.
    I always found Sanchez' idea that we should eliminate GATE with the assumption it was only white and asian kids in it racist in itself - doesnt' he believe there are Latino and African American kids in the program - or should be - as well?

    The issue with SFUSD on all these areas: they need to enter the 21st Century and use best practices used by other urban districts. There are plenty that are shining a light and getting some great change a foot - Boston, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Austin and even Houston. SFUSD under our new leadership is trying to get there as well.


    The above is the link from the docs presented at the PPS/GATE presentation that happened earlier in 2008.

  17. 8:48, I believe you are correct that the GATE coordinator at Aptos is no longer Mr. Addiego, but I think it's Ms. K now (science/math 6th grade honors).

  18. I followed the link from one of the comments above to the GATE description on the sfusd website. Hmmm . . . seems like it has recently changed from when I looked at it last in September. And become even less clear than it already was. The page that listed the "points" for GATE admittance have disappeared. There are references to taking the Naglieri test -- I take it this is something that a third grader wanna be GATE-identified kid has to take if his/her test scores are too low? But there are warnings about how the test is not going to be given to all third graders? Anyone out there care to explain this process to us all? In particular, anyone out there familiar with how to push GATE-identification if your school's principal is of the view that test scores are the sole criteria for GATE-identification?

  19. A decision was made a few years back not to administer the Naglieri to all district 3rd graders as a money-savings measure. Parents can still request it if they feel their child should be in GATE despite his/her STAR test scores.

  20. I think it's up to individual schools. Our elementary identified a bunch of kids who were close to identification, but just missed it, or had already gotten the necessary scores (don't know why they gave it to them) or whose parents requested it.

    I think of the 15 or so kids who took it, only 2 got the necessary score for GATE identification. It is a completely nonverbal test, so heavily favors kids with strong visual-spatial skills. Kids whose gifts are more verbal may not fare so well, so it's good it's not the only means of GATE identification used anymore.

  21. I just wanted to add my opinion that the whole GATE thing is the SFUSD is kind of ridiculous and it makes me sad that parents get so anxious about it. I have two "GATE" kids, and other than getting money for the district it doesn't mean much. Honestly, its never made any difference in my kids', or any of the kids I know, lives. I think most middle schools allow kids into honors classes if they are high performers regardless of whether they are GATE identified. By high school, GATE identification does not do anything for you. After 5th grade and middle school placement I don't think any families give any thought to whether their kids are GATE or not. If it makes any difference anywhere, I haven't seen it. I'm curious about whether other parents have different experiences. For us, it was so silly to stress about it because I cannot recall a single time any extra service was provided because of GATE status. I think that's how it should be because the whole idea of being "gifted" is so Darwinian and backwards. But I have to say I think some sort of honors track is necessary because kids just perform on vastly different levels. Even its possible to "differentiate" in one class, isn't that kind of insulting to the classmates who are treated second-class in the same classroom?

  22. To 5:23 pm -- I hear you -- others here have suggested GATE is not a necessary requirement to get into honors classes in middle school. But I've also heard from people who describe the middle schools as split between the GATE programs (generally pretty good with highly motivated kids) and the non-GATE programs (generally not good with less motivated kids). I've been told that, unless my kid is GATE-identified, he'll be put in with the less motivated kids. What I'm hearing sounds much more complicated. Sounds like middle schools in SF do have separate honors programs, but GATE-identification is not a necessary (or even helpful?) ingredient for getting your child into an honors program. Do people feel that I've described middle schools accurately or does GATE-identification still play a large role in tracking in middle schools? In other words, should I just give up on getting my kid GATE-identified?

  23. GATE identification matters more for honors placement in some middle schools than others. It's one of those things you have to ask on tours.

  24. Here's what I posted earlier about the middle schools my family compared when we were first looking:

    **In past years, Aptos GATE coordinator Russell Addiego was open to (in fact, pro-active about) identifying "high-potential" students who weren't technically GATE-ID'd and encouraging them to be placed in the honors classes. By contrast, at Hoover, only GATE-ID'd kids were in honors classes, and at Giannini, not even all GATE-ID'd kids were in honors classes.**

    This is what we learned in our research on the three middle schools closest to us at that time. Our friends' kids' experiences bore out what we had learned. This was happening when my kids were in middle school, spanning 2002-2008, so things may have changed. (Ms. Kudritzski is now GATE coordinator at Aptos, and I don't know if that policy has changed.)

    GATE identification was still helpful at Aptos because parents didn't have to break a sweat to get their kids into honors classes. They needed to work with the GATE coordinator to get their kids ID'd as high-potential.

    This was more of an issue at the time when the Naglieri test was the only means of GATE identification, because it's such a one-dimensional test. A very bright verbal kid whose spatial abilities weren't as strong was quite likely not to be GATE-identified.

    The view that regular ed classes are poor doesn't reflect my friends' experiences overall.

    There was one cool benefit for Aptos 8th-graders in Russell Addiego's honors language arts/social studies classes: He bases part of the class on getting low-cost tix to five ACT plays during the school year, and the field trips are a memorable part of those kids' 8th-grade year. They study the plays first and base work on them afterward. My understanding is that the school has expanded this program to include regular-ed classes this year.

  25. I have heard of non-GATE kids being in honors classes at Giannini and I know non-GATE kids who are in honors classes at Hoover. I don't know what you've heard, but sometimes in SFUSD how it works is different than what they say.

    I agree though that the GATE id removes doubt from the process (though apparently not at Giannini...) but most parents I know at all three schools (Aptos, Giannini, and Hoover) have gotten their kids in the honors track when they wanted to.

  26. My daughter's closest friend who went to Giannini was GATE-ID'd but not placed in honors classes in 6th grade, and her parents were pissed. (I'm actually not sure if she moved into honors classes later on -- she's now at Lowell and doing great, so it's water under the bridge.)

    But anyway, the point that GATE identification removes the doubt from the process is well put. It's all changed again in high school, so that's a whole 'nother story. AT that point GATE ID seems truly irrelevant.

  27. Just to relieve some anxiety for parents here: Superintendent Garcia wants to move towards anyone who wants to be in honors classes in middle school can be as long as they keep up.

    As a parent of two GATE kids, one of whom is in Aptos honors classes, I applaud this!

    As someone stated here, if you or your kid really wants to be in honors classes a Aptos, they seem pretty willing and flexible to allow it. No one wants kids tracked or in classes that are not challenging them.

    (Note: this is new information to me as of this week so I was happy to hear all this.)

  28. Will the district increase its academic support (aka tutoring) for less prepared students who request placement in honors classes?

  29. if a student needs tutoring to keep up in an honors class they should not be in it. why is it ok to give additional resources to kids who are struggling but not ok to give additonal challenge to kids who need that?

    as far as preparation goes, they are all being given the same curriculum in the public schools, so going into middle school they should have had the same preparation. some kids just need more challenge than others and that should be ok.

  30. i'm an eighth grader at hoover middle school who's been identified as GATE. truth be told, i'm not sure if being GATE automatically determines that you're in honors classes. though i've been in honors all three years, i do know a girl who isn't in GATE, yet she's in honors.

    i think being in honors classes really depends on teacher recommendations and STAR test scores. for example, if you transfer in from a private school, you'll probably be placed in the regular classes because the school has no way to find out whether you're honors-material or not. once your teachers realize your potential and test scores, you'll probably be placed in honors classes next year. you can also take it up with your counselor for a schedule change, i guess.

    honors classes make a difference because the students in there are motivated to learn. they want to succeed. i'm not saying that people in regular classes don't want to learn (there's nothing wrong with being in a regular class) but teachers expect higher-quality work from honors students. they expect you to not cheat on tests, work hard, be prepared, be responsible, etc. i know that there are a lot of disruptions in regular classes and many people cheat on tests and such...

    in addition, here at hoover, we take a placement test to determine our eighth grade math class. the three math classes are algebra readiness, algebra I and algebra II.

  31. ^^Thanks!!