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Dallas Program for Gifted Students Thwarts Desegregation, Group Says

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A program for gifted students in Dallas is under attack for allegedly discriminating against minorities. Civil-rights advocates, including the president of the board of education and an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp), charge that the disproportionately high number of whites in the program for grades 4-6 thwarts a 1976 court-ordered desegregation plan.

"The whole so-called Talented and Gifted (tag) program is just a hare-brained scheme to separate the races after they've been bused to the same school," says Kathlyn Gilliam, president of the Board of Education of the Dallas Independent School District.

In response to a federal district court judge's request for a new desegregation plan, the school board is examining the tag issue as part of a larger plan due in October. Ms. Gilliam would not reveal any specifics of the plan under consideration.

Disproportionately More Whites

School administrators respond to the criticisms by saying that a district-wide look at the tag program in nearly 100 schools shows that it is the most racially balanced program for gifted children in the country.

To support their claim of racial bias, critics note that enrollment of whites averages 68 percent in the tag program in 27 schools involved in busing, although total white enrollment is only 4l percent in grades 4-6 in those schools.

And 29 percent of the whites in those grades are enrolled in the program, while only 7 percent of the blacks and 10 percent of the Hispanics are included in tag.

The critics also point out that the tag program, which offers an enriched curriculum,started in grades 4-6 in 1976, the same year that court-ordered busing began in those grades.

In addition, civil-rights advocates note that the 29-percent white enrollment in tag in the schools with busing is a far higher proportion than could be expected statistically. Mary Henri Fisher of the U.S. Office of the Gifted and Talented says that "giftedness" is randomly distributed in 3 to 5 percent of the population nationally.

Ernest Haywood, the naacp attorney handling the Dallas desegregation case, asks, "How can you justify 29 percent of the white students in tag? That's not a cream-of-the-crop program."

Administrators Defend Program

School officials concede that they have stretched the definition of gifted and talented, but they say the program offers benefits to bright students.

To qualify for the program, students must score above the 80th percentile in a national standardized achievement test. However, the program also makes exceptions for children who do poorly on the test but whose teachers believe they would benefit from being involved. Approximately 15 percent of students admitted into the program enter as a result of such teacher "advocacy."

Allen R. Sullivan, assistant superintendent for student support services, says in response to the charges, "I defy you to show me a gifted program anywhere in the country that has a higher proportion of minorities."

There are 4,347 students enrolled district-wide in the program, he notes, and 44 percent of them are minority students. About 54 percent of the district's 70,000 elementary-school students are members of minority groups.

Mr. Sullivan also says that the program benefits those children who were admittedwithout scoring above the 80th percentile in the standardized tests.

A recent study of students in the tag program who scored below the 25th percentile showed that most of them raised their scores to the 50th percentile or better following six months in the program.

In addition, Mr. Sullivan says that the curriculum developed for the program has been so successful that it has been requested by nearly 1,000 school districts around the country. "The impact has been so great that we need to use the curriculum for all the students in the district," he adds.

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