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IQ-Only Standard for Gifted Programs Sparks Debate in Ga.

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For years, some educators in Georgia have been working to change the way that schools select students for gifted-education programs. But now, just when state officials seemed poised to take definite action, the effort has become bogged down by confusion over how giftedness should be measured and what a new state law demands.

Currently, Georgia students are deemed eligible for gifted programs solely on the basis of their scores on IQ tests--a strategy that only a handful of states still rely on, said Peter D. Rosenstein, the executive director of the Washington-based National Association for Gifted Children. Critics of the IQ-only standard say it eliminates students who are intellectually gifted but don't test well on the measure, as well as those who may be gifted in specific areas.

And federal civil-rights investigators say the standard may violate federal anti-discrimination law because the state's reliance on IQ scores seems to contribute to a racial skewing of the enrollment of gifted programs.

Statewide, more than 90 percent of the roughly 52,000 gifted students are white, while blacks make up fewer than 10 percent. But blacks constitute 38 percent of the state's overall K-12 enrollment, said Barbra R. Shannon, the lead attorney for the Atlanta office of the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights.

The office may launch a full-scale investigation of the program if the state does not abandon its IQ-only approach, she said.

The state has begun changes to the standards to include measurement of such factors as creativity, motivation, and academic performance. But there have been so many versions of the changes and so many roadblocks along the way that most officials say they don't know where the debate will lead.

Multiple Measures Urged

In May, Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda C. Schrenko forwarded to the state school board recommendations from a task force on gifted education that call for the state to move toward using multiple criteria to label children gifted. Ms. Schrenko endorsed the plan.

In August, the state board hosted a public forum because the plan had provoked so much debate among parents and educators. Some at the forum said they wanted to maintain the IQ-only standard because adding the other measures would water down the rigor of the program and make it too broad. Others argued that the current policy is too restrictive, but that the schools need time to make the move toward other standards.

Legal Questions Remain

Last month, the board was poised to approve a plan under which schools could follow the IQ-only standard or the multiple standards--measuring IQ, a~chiev~~ement, creativity, and motivation--for this school year and then phase in multiple standards for everyone next fall

But then Ms. Schrenko, in what some observers called an 11th-hour move, said such a change would violate a 1994 state law allowing schools to choose one policy or the other indefinitely. The board then agreed to a plan along those lines and published it for public comment.

Last week, Ms. Schrenko, a Republican who was elected to her first term last November, said she did not know about the law until just before the board's September meeting. However, she now says she misread the law. And the law's author agrees.

What the law means, said Rep. Charlie Smith Jr., a Democrat, is that schools must admit to their gifted programs any student who meets the IQ standard alone as well as those who meet a number of other standards, which differ somewhat from those the state board is now considering.

Ms. Schrenko said she backs Mr. Smith's interpretation and plans to ask the board next month to approve a plan that would require schools to continue to admit students under the IQ-only standard or if they met three of four other standards.

But it is unclear if the other standards in the newest proposal match those contained in the law. January is the earliest any change could be in effect, Ms. Schrenko said.

Meanwhile, the state board has asked the attorney general to rule on what the law requires. What exactly will happen next month, both Ms. Schrenko and the state board Chairman Richard C. Owens said, is unclear. What is certain Mr. Owens said, is that the board is divided about what changes to make or whether to make any changes at all.

Groups such as the Georgia Association for Gifted Children, which supports using multiple measures, remain concerned about how schools will carry out the proposed changes and how much money will be available to support more children identified as gifted.

Bette-Lou Brown, the group's president, worries that children admitted to gifted programs by just IQ score will be viewed as " 'really gifted,' whereas the others came in through the back door."

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