In November of 2017 several groups banded together to present comments to the legislature regarding the WAC revision of Section 412 of EHB 2242. That’s the section of the WAC that requires districts to prioritize identification of low-income students for participation in the Highly Capable (HC) Program.
The Washington State Association of Educators of Talented and Gifted (WAETAG) was involved in writing the letter. So was the Washington Coalition for Gifted Education, The Northwest Gifted Child Association, and the National Association for Gifted Children. But the letter didn’t just include voices from gifted-land. The Washington State PTA and the Washington Education Association added comments as well.
So what did we ask for? What was our wish list for the New Year?
Our number one, first priority, was universal screening.
Universal screening eliminates the reliance on nominations/referrals (which eliminates any potential of bias or problems of access skewing the identification process).
By the way, we also want people to stop using the term “nomination” for HC students. After all, a nomination sounds like you think people deserve something extraordinary—an award, an election. The correct term would be a “referral” for services, just like any other service a student might need. Districts could continue to collect referrals from parents, teachers, community members, and even students who self-referred, but that more subjective input would be used as supplemental data after the universal screening.
There were other items, including:
- Report card grades or teacher recommendations should not be used as “gatekeeper” screening devices. Use objective tools to screen. Subjective tools can be used for additional information, but nothing more.
- All screening needs to be done at the student’s home school, during normal school hours.
We also asked the legislators to clarify a couple of points. The phrase “multiple measures” means there are different ways to identify students, not that students need to score highly on every measure in order to qualify for services. The 5% funding formula is not a limit on enrollment. Districts are supposed to identify and serve all students who qualify for services, no matter what the percent.
There was a section in the letter on using local norms to identify HC students. You can read the Seattle Times article, “The Push to Find More Gifted Kids,” to see how Miami’s school district uses local norms.
Here are the things I loved about Miami’s success story (and the Florida law that drove it):
- They acknowledge that students who have less exposure to vocabulary, books, museums, and so on—or students who deal with Adverse Childhood Experiences Syndrome (ACES)—can score lower on IQ tests. They need a safe and rich environment to expand their potential.
- Those students who are brought into a HC class who scored lower and had fewer rich experiences or had more ACES—those kids will require tutoring in order to catch up. (That tutoring costs extra money.)
- Miami spent additional money in other ways too—more “psychologists, teachers, administrators and a battery of nonverbal intelligence tests for kids not yet fluent in English.”
- “Florida law mandates that all teachers of the gifted complete 300 hours of study on the temperament of highly intelligent kids, as well as the best ways to instruct, counsel and draw out their creativity.” That would be great if we had a similar requirement in Washington!
- They spent about $1850 more per gifted student beyond the cost of basic education.
What did they gain? Miami is a front-runner in finding and developing ELL gifted students. Their gifted program demographics closely reflect their overall district population percentages.
Here’s what I wasn’t so excited about:
“In Miami, middle-class and affluent kids need IQ scores of at least 130, while low-income children or those whose first language is not English can get in with scores 13 points lower—provided they rate highly in measures of creativity and academic achievement.” That 130 cut-off seems really dated and wrong to me. I don’t know anyone who uses a 130 test score as a cut-off anymore. (How last century!)
Here’s a simple solution for those of us in our state.
We are supposed to look at multiple measures. So you go into your Multidisciplinary Selection Committee. You have a spreadsheet with data, student numbers (not names) down the left and labeled columns along the top, for example: CogAT verbal, CogAT quantitative, CogAT nonverbal, verbal achievement, quantitative achievement, HOPE scale (read the instructions first!), and so on.
You should have other things easily available on file for supplemental information, like a parent referral form or a teacher referral form or report card grades.
Next add a couple of other columns to your spreadsheet:
- One should be for any demographic data you might have on each student.
- One should be for free/reduced lunch data. As long as you identify students by number instead of name, there is no problem with sharing that data for the team to use.
Now as you use multiple measures to identify students for HC services, consider demographic and F/R lunch data as measures so you can make your best effort to maintain diversity in your HC program.
Do you want to make sure you are being fair? When you think you are done, do a sort by each demographic group to see how they compare with each other. Then do a sort by F/R. How well do your results align with your over-all district demographics?
Over time, you should see a more balanced HC program!
And happy new year to all!