FCAG: Academics

FCAG Testimony

FCAG provides the testimony to the school board on topics of interest.

Testimony to School Board, May 2017

Thank you for allowing me to provide testimony.

I am the mother to four children attending FCPS: two in elementary school and two in high school. I am a past president of the Fairfax County Association for the Gifted, a community volunteer organization that believes all children deserve to learn in the classroom. Lastly I am a professor at George Mason University, where I teach mathematics to many students, including pre-service teachers.

I am here tonight because of the published recommendations for 2017-2018 budget. First I want to thank you and FCPS staff for diligently preserving programs. We are so happy to see that FCPS will continue to fund Language Immersion schools, the Strings and band programs starting in 4th and 5th grades, and that students will continue to have access to buses to Level IV Centers if they choose to attend them.

I am concerned, however about the proposal to increase the standard class size by .5 students per class.

At GMU, we also have budget constraints, and we also solve them by increasing class size. Most professional teachers know how to handle large classrooms; we learn these tricks by necessity. Let me share a few of the with you, to see if strike you as both familiar and a sources of complaints:
- Multiple choice tests. There's no time to review a students' work.
- Limited feedback on written assignments. Whether it's homework or essays, teachers can grade just a bit of what was turned in, or write "nice job" without thoroughly reading the work. There isn't the time to grade extensively when your classes are large.
- Teach to the common denominator. We don't have the flexibility to differentiate instruction when we have more than about 25 students.
- Arrange classroom activities so as to minimize the "multiplier effect." More people means more interactions and less control for the teacher. Kids start to fight, play, distract each other, joke around, or get off topic.
- Lecture at students rather than provide engaging activities. Most activities require physical space.
- Cancel elective or advanced coursework at the high school level. If Photography 2 or Latin 4 doesn't have enough students enrolling, principals will cancel them.

No one welcomes these compromises, and teachers with integrity invariably look for how they can have an impact. Our most talented teachers can and will leave FCPS to teach in neighboring districts or in private schools. That makes increased class sizes penny wise and pound foolish our students miss out on those of our teachers who leave the system, while the teachers who remain inevitably resort to time-saving techniques that cost our community with compromised instructional techniques.

The decisions made by the School Board often have a cumulative impact on our kids and our teachers. I recently met with a high school teacher who is leaving FCPS because she can't handle the grading workload that ensued when her school implemented a policy of test retakes. Her classes are all over 30 students. Our teachers are already at their limits, and most of our students are already in large classes. Please consider other options for the budget, such as a few unpaid holidays for our 12 month employees, or additional cuts to Central Administration. No one works harder than our teachers, and asking more of them will mean they are spread even thinner. I believe our kids will pay the price.

Thank you.

Rebecca Goldin, Fairfax County Association for the Gifted (FCAG)

Testimony to School Board, January 2017

Several FCAG members testified on behalf of issues of importance to gifted children in public schools and their families. We spoke to the imporantce of AAP Level IV program, including its busing, and how eliminating busing will (1) diminish the value of the program as students elect to go to their base school, and (2) hurt students with limited resources most, as their parents cannot afford the time, organization or financial impact to drive their children to school and pick them up when school has finished.

FCAG noted that the implementation of the Level IV curriculum is not uniform across the county, and that Local Level IV programming is not the same as the Center program.

Testifying FCAG members also noted the lack of representation of gifted children's interest on the Budget Task Force that devised recommendations to cut programs that overwhelmingly impact gifted children.

FCAG members also expressed the importance of maintaining 8th period at TJHSST. Any perceived savings by reducing 8th period will be quickly absorbed by increased busing costs in creating equitable busing options for students at TJ. Currently, TJ does not operate late buses. In addition 8th period is both academically meaningful, and also provides support for the local community through many STEM outreach projects.

Finally, testifying FCAG members expressed support for the language immersion programs, and opposition to a year-long delay in the strings program.

Testimony to Board of Supervisors, April 6, 2016

Good afternoon and thank you for listening to the many citizens of Northern Virginia and their budgetary concerns. My name is Rebecca Goldin, and I am the president of the Fairfax County Association for the Gifted. I am also a professor of mathematics at George Mason University and the mother of four children in Fairfax County Public Schools.

Fairfax County has served as a model across the country for excellence in education but we are risk of losing our position due to large class sizes, cuts in programs and services, and low teacher salary. At this juncture, funding is critical to maintain services and programs for the almost 200,000 kids who live in this County.

We request that you consider the financial needs of Fairfax County Public Schools as you set the upcoming real estate tax rate and the transfer amount. If taxes are raised to $1.13 per $100 assessed value of real estate, we will nonetheless have a shortfall in meeting the needs of the advertised budget. Estimates range from $22.7 million to $49.3 million in cuts that we will face if the $1.13 rate is approved.

Proposals to cut many favored programs that attract businesses to our area include degrading or effectively eliminating programs for gifted children, increasing classroom size, instituting fees for academic work, reducing music instruction, and eliminating language immersion programs. Other cuts will impact our sports programs, our after-school programs, and early education. The needs of a diversifying population in the County may be driving the need to cut these programs, but your decisions about revenue will impact most the programs that attract businesses to the County.

I'd like to share a story. My son Gabriel is a very serious fifth grade student, who loves to read and to learn. He wants to become a cardiologist, or a veterinarian, or perhaps a dolphin neonatologist. When I asked him the other day what he thinks of his math class, he explained that he isn't learning much. I asked him what he meant by that, and he explained that his teacher spends 20 minutes of math instruction time each day trying to get the kids to pay attention. It's a losing battle in a class of 30 kids.

Families that can afford private school are leaving public schools, and it is happening among our gifted population more than elsewhere. The costs are high for FCPS. These parents are no longer volunteering for the PTA, and their children are no longer contributing to the atmosphere of intellectual engagement and academic success. As we defund the legally "optional" parts of our educational programming, we risk creating a state like California, in which businesses are attracted for the good weather rather than the excellent schools. Unfortunately, our local climate doesn't quite compare.

As you are aware, our strong business community has played a vital role in providing revenues to the County, that have in turn helped to fund the schools. Attracting businesses to the area requires excellent schools. Business know what their highly skilled employee base want: public schools that challenge academically strong students, small classrooms, and great teachers.

The Board of Supervisors not only funds our schools, but also provides guidance to how the money should be spent. Virginia can continue to lead the nation on excellence in education if we fund our system. We ask that you fund the schools in the ways that are still possible, and in the meanwhile ask the School Board to
  1. Insist that FCPS provide smaller classrooms on an individual level as well as "on average. No matter how good our teachers are, too many kids means less instruction time. It's penny-wise and pound foolish to insist on large classrooms for kids not struggling with standardized exams.

  2. Insist that FCPS maintain educational programs that meet the needs of gifted and academically advanced kids. Every child deserves to learn, included gifted kids. Insist that the School Board fund serious gifted education programs for the small percentage of kids who need it, and offer funding to allow schools to offer advanced courses even when few kids are taking it.

  3. Attract businesses to Fairfax County through excellent educational offerings. Businesses want these services for their employees' children and know they can attract talent from a strong pool of Virginia-educated graduates.

The first step to provide FCPS with the needed funds. Thank you for your time and hard work.

FCAG Testimony to School Board members, FCPS Staff, and Dr. Garza, February 18. 2016

Dear School Board members, FCPS Staff, and Dr. Garza,

My name is Rebecca Goldin, and I am a professor of mathematics at George Mason University, the President of Fairfax County Association for the Gifted, and a mother to four children in Fairfax County Public Schools. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about Goal 1, Student Success, as outlined in the FCPS 2015-2020 Strategic Plan. Thank you also for your efforts to maintain excellent schools; my children are thriving thanks to the many committed teachers and educational leaders who have created what FCPS is today. I am here to discuss the relationship between AAP Level IV Centers and Goal 1, Student Success, in the Strategic Plan.

I was encouraged when I opened the document that this section of the strategic plan begins with a quote by Albert Einstein, "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." Following this quote is the FCPS statement for Student Success: "We commit to reach, challenge, and prepare every student for success in school and life."

Challenge is one of the core components of a good education. Joy is essential to meet the emotional needs of learners. While Goal 1 speaks to many types of learners, I am here to speak about highly gifted learners. The needs of highly gifted learners are significant, as this student population is often under-challenged in a traditional classroom and even advanced academic courses; these children need that challenge, as well as community, friends and joyful learning experiences, as do all children.

FCPS has historically offered this challenge and the corresponding peer group to the most academically and intellectually thirsty students in grades 3-8 through Level IV services, and specifically AAP Centers. We hope that funding continues for Centers as well as their related transportation, as proposed by Dr. Garza.

Centers rely on students' from several schools feeding into one school, where teachers can provide the challenge that highly gifted learners need in a classroom of kids with this same need. A critical mass of such students allows both economy of scale and community. Local level IV programs vary widely but do not generally offer the same concentration of highly gifted learners, community, or instructional level as Centers, evidenced by countless individual stories, teacher commentary, performance on challenging mathematics competitions, and research on gifted education. Local Level IV is not the same program as the Center program: it does not always meet the needs of the kids for whom Level IV was designed. As more Level IV locations are introduced, it becomes difficult or even impossible to maintain a community, or even a classroom, of highly gifted learners.

We hope that, if faced with incomplete funding for next year's budget, the School Board does not dismantle the Center program by limiting its busing. Eliminating busing for some students may produce a small savings, but FCPS will not meet its commitment to challenge every student, including the young Einsteins, in our broad FCPS community.

Thank you very much.



Please click here to download the testimony from speaker #4, Qingying (Ally) Lu



FCAG Testimony to State Delegates and State Senators, January 9, 2016

General Assembly Delegation Pre-2016 Session Public Hearing


Good afternoon and thank you for listening to citizens of Northern Virginia. My name is Rebecca Goldin, and I am the president of the Fairfax County Association for the Gifted. I am also a professor of mathematics at George Mason University and the mother of four children in Fairfax County Public Schools.

Fairfax County has served as a model across the country for excellence in education but we are risk of losing our position due to large class sizes, cuts in programs and services, and low teacher salary. At this juncture, funding is critical to maintain services and programs for the almost 200,000 kids who live in this County. We support Superintendent Garza's funding proposal for FCPS, increasing funding to for our schools. This funding is sorely needed.

We request that you appropriate funds to Fairfax County which will allow Virginia to continue to lead the nation on excellence in education. These include:

Increase funding to the Governors' schools across the state. Our Governor's school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology brings international recognition to the state, and its students will make substantial contributions to the world. Evidence for this quality can be found in many places. Just This week, for example, the Intel Science Competition, formerly the Westinghouse, announced the 300 semifinalists across the country, of which nine were public school students from VA. Eight of these nine students came from Thomas Jefferson.

Cap middle and high school science classes at 24 students, the maximum suggested by the American Chemistry Society and other national science organizations to reduce safety risks during science labs. Crowded labs are neither safe nor conducive to nurturing love of science. If Virginia wants to produce more scientists and engineers, our public schools need to offer more and better science labs that allow for more flexible learning.

Revise the state Standards of Quality to attract more businesses with highly-skilled workers to our state. Parents who are highly capable target neighborhoods for residence based on the quality of the schools. You can enhance quality by putting caps on middle school and high school class sizes as well as elementary school, and by ongoing funding for gifted education programs and TJ, smaller classroom sizes for elementary, middle and high school, and funds to offer advanced courses, even when few students sign up. Businesses want these services for their employees' children and know they can attract talent from a strong pool of Virginia-educated graduates.

Change the Local Composite Index formula so that FCPS gets its fair share of state K-12 appropriations. The existing LCI formula fails to take into account the high percentage of FCPS students who receive extra resources to learn English as their second language, as well as the growing percentage of severely disabled students. FCPS has almost 1000 trailers. Why can't the growth in student enrollment be a factor in the LCI, so that rapidly-growing school districts get more funds to pay for additions and new schools?

Allow Northern Virginia to tax itself and direct the funds locally. Increase the sales tax so that 1.5 percent is allocated directly to the school districts where the tax is paid. Give Fairfax County the authority to raise the hotel occupancy tax and the meals tax, and support increased local cigarette taxes proposed by Senate Bill 155 and its counterpart in the House of Delegates, directing funding to education.

Do not move up the calendar on the Virginia Retirement System contributions: it is a burden on an already burdened system.

Thank you for your time, and for all you to do to keep the state a place where people want to live.

Class Size Counts echoed many of our same sentiments. Learn more at classsizecounts.com



FCAG Testimony on CIP Delivered on 1/7/2015 to FCPS School Board

Here is a copy of the written FCAG testimony shared with the School Board regarding the 2016-2020 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). You can watch the video here. FCAG president Beverly Jurenko began speaking at about 8:30.

The second speaker was Latisha Elcock, Vice Chair for AAPAC (Advanced Academics Program Advisory Committee), who spoke in the place of AAPAC Chair Karen Corbett Sanders. Latisha did a great job in delivering comments on behalf of AAPAC, urging the School Board to slow down this vote until AAPAC can complete its joint work with FPAC (Facilities Planning Advisory Committee) to develop a "decision support matrix". This work will be presented in May 2015.

Most of the 28 or so speakers were from Stratford Landing. A few were from the Mason District. One made the wise comment that she was concerned by the growing view that AAP Centers can be used to address capacity issues.

Send Your Comments to the School Board!

If you would like to support our position by sending an email to the School Board to urge them to defer the CIP vote on January 21 until more work can be done and the community can be engaged, you can reach them here:
fairfaxcountyschoolboard@fcps.edu and Tammy Kaufax. Tammy Kaufax is the School Board Chair, so her email is listed separately as an addition to the group to ensure that the Chair receives your comments.

After the meeting Beverly spoke with some members of FPAC, who say they had not seen the CIP before it was published. They say that the reason they feel justified in suggesting that AAP students are moved to new schools is because the AAP group has become so large it outnumbers Gen Ed students in some Centers. This is one reason FCAG has requested a verification of AAP Level IV identification procedures to ensure that FCPS is not over-identifying. Once we confirm that identification procedures are appropriate, we should plan capacity to fit the AAP, not use the AAP kids as fillers for excess capacity, moving them around regardless of their academic, co-curricular, and social needs.

It seems there is a movement to put Local Level IV in every elementary school, challenging the need for Centers and perhaps ultimately eliminating them. Putting Local Level IV AAP in every elementary school solves capacity problems because you never have to guess how many kids will be arriving from multiple base schools at a Center. However, this conflicts with the reason Centers were established to begin with. Centers were put in place to aggregate, rather than isolate, gifted students from all backgrounds. You're not going to have critical mass (for example, three classrooms per grade of qualified Level IV kids) in all base schools without lowering eligibility standards.

If FCPS lowers eligibility to fill classrooms in Local Level IV schools, AAP classrooms will have greater variance in ability. Differentiation by teachers in classrooms seems to be the answer to addressing issues of greater mixed ability in AAP classrooms. However, there are limits on the degree to which teachers can differentiate and with our large class sizes much is lost. Even very capable teachers are stretched very thin when they have 31 kids per classroom of Level IV AAP. So having one-school AAP Centers is contrary to what the program is designed for, and not good for the kids.

That being said, Parents may have specific reasons for selecting a local program over a Center. When families decide not to send their children to a Center, Level IV curriculum is offered at the base school to those eligible kids. Other students selected by the school principal fill a class to group the top performing kids in the school. It's not the same experience as being in a Center, but it is better than not offering advanced curriculum at all.

FCAG testifies to the School Board on Proposed AAP Boundary Changes.

On November 10, 2014, Facilities and Transportation Services presented at a School Board Work Session a series of proposed reorganizations of school allocations to address capacity issues. Many of the items under consideration involve changes to student allocations for AAP centers and local programs. A full list of documents presented is found here. There are more than 10 pages of proposed changes towards the end of Attachment A.

The School Board will hold a public hearing on the Facilities Proposal on January 6. FCAG is the first speaker on the list at 6:00 pm that evening. The School Board will vote on this proposal on January 26. FCAG conducted a survey and will present FCAG members' opinions in its testimony. The testimony will be posted here soon.

FCAG testified for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors' Budget Hearing for FY 2015.

Fairfax County Public Schools has asked for an increase of $59.4 million, or 2.5% increase overall, in its budget of $2.5 billion over FY 2014, and has requested a $98 million increase in transfer from the county. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has offered a $34 million or 2% increase in funding, leaving a budget deficit for FCPS. On April 10, 2014, FCAG testified for full funding of the FCPS FY 2015 budget while advising that the Board of Supervisors step back from linking the proposed increase in property tax rates from $1.085 to $1.105 to our schools' needs. FCPS is receiving a disproportionate share of increased Fairfax County revenues as decisions may be being influenced by other priorities. These other needs, including pension funding needs, reserve requirements, transportation costs, and debt service, are very important to understand since they are also driving the need for greater tax revenues. It is important for citizens to be informed of the changing financial position of Fairfax County. Here is the testimony.

Exceptional Quantitative Skills

On September 12, 2013, FCAG as well as several members of FCAG testified to the School Board in support of proposed changes to Policy 3355. You can read that testimony here.

AAP Transparency

On July 25 2013, Beverly Jurenko, President of FCAG, testified to the School Board about the ballooning of the Advanced Academic Program and its centers. Included in her testimony is a plea for more transparency about the test scores and other data about FCPS student eligible for Level IV services in grade 3. Here is an attachment to that testimony (other data are included in the testimony).

Proposed Changes to FCPS AAP Programs

In Spring 2012, an FCPS staff task force was convened to consider changes to the elementary and middle school Advanced Academic (AA) Program.   Task Force documents provided to the School Board members included:

  • Level IV Task Force Recommendations (including cost data)
  • AAP Enrollment 2012-13 (including Feeder School Data by Grade Level)
  • FCPS Staff's Long Term Recommendation
  • Van Tassel-Baska Presentation
  • On December 8, FCPS staff posted revised AAP restructuring recommendations on the FCPS web site.

    On December 10, the School Board held a work session to consider whether to move forward with some or all of FCPS staff's proposed restructuring of the AAP elementary and middle school programs.  More details about the inital and revised staff proposals are described in the documents posted on the FCAG GT/AAP in FCPS page. 

    Attached are detailed notes from the December 10th work session on the AAP Program.

    Documents that FCPS staff provided to the School Board at the Dec. 10th Work Session:

  • AAP Expansion Plan
  • AAP Recommendations
  • Projected Enrollment of AAP Centers that are Overcrowded
  • Eligible and Enrolled in Level IV 2012-2013 by AAP Center and Feeder Schools
  • Analysis of Impact on School Capacity for Proposed Plan MS
  • Analysis of Impact on School Capacity for Proposed Plan ES
  • School Readiness Checklist
  • At the School Board meeting on December 20, the following revised documents were posted that would open 4 new elementary school AAP Centers at Lemon Road, Westbriar, Navy, and Silverbrook and 4 new middle school AAP Centers at Cooper, Herndon, South County, and Thoreau.

  • Revised Middle School Enrollment Projections (Updated 12/19/2012)
  • Revised AAP Center Proposal (Updated 12/18/2012)
  • The proposal will be discussed at a work session on January 14. At an evening meeting on January 24, the School Board will vote on one or more AAP-related motions.

    Scheduled School Board Meeting, January 24, 2013

    FCAG Testimony, Grace Becker

    Agenda

    Agenda Attachments:

     For more information and suggestions about how to effectively express your views about the FCPS staff's AAP proposals, please read this flyer.

    TJ Admissions Update

    November 12, 2012 Work Session Update

    On November 12, the School Board decided to ask the School Board's Governance Committee to draft changes to Policy 3355 that would increase the emphasis on academic ability and achievement in admitting students to TJ.  These changes to FCPS Policy 3355 will be brought to the School Board for a vote this winter or spring of 2013. 

    School Board members talked about putting greater emphasis on aptitude and achievement in the first paragraph of the policy and incorporating language the State uses about a Governor's School, which can be found on the FCAGhere.

    September 24, 2012 Work Session Update

    At the Sept. 24, 2012 work session, the School Board asked its Governance Committee to take a look at the current TJ policy 3355.3 to see if it needed to be changed in light of community concerns. The Governance Committee met on Oct. 1, 2012 and talked about the ambiguity of a few terms in the regulation and asked FCPS staff to provide working definitions of terms for the School Board by the Nov. 12, 2012 work session.  The definitions can be found here.