Pennsylvania Seeks Broader Approach in Deciding Who Qualifies as ‘Gifted’

By Christina A. Samuels — June 17, 2008 4 min read
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Pennsylvania is in the process of adopting new state regulations that could eventually expand services for gifted students to many who might have been missed under more traditional methods of evaluation.

The state currently designates as “gifted” a student with an IQ-test score of at least 130 who also meets other criteria as established by a school district, such as teacher recommendations or classroom performance.

Although the existing regulations make it clear that IQ tests are not the only criterion a district must use, many districts have interpreted the 130 IQ score as a baseline requirement, regardless of what additional criteria a student met, said advocates for gifted students in the state.

The proposed regulations would change the language to make clear that either multiple criteria or a 130 score on an IQ test can be used to identify children as gifted, making it clear that an IQ test is no longer required for identification.

“It’s a slight, one-word difference, but the ramifications are significant,” said David Simpson, a middle school teacher for the gifted and the legislative liaison for the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education, or PAGE.

The identification criteria also spell out that “deficits in memory or processing speed, as indicated by testing,” cannot be the only way a child is excluded from gifted services. Such a change would mean the possibility of identifying children who are gifted and also in need of special education services.

Jane Clarenbach, the director of public education for the Washington-based National Association for Gifted Children, said the changes reflect the state’s positive shift toward the more generally accepted practice in the gifted education community. Leaders in gifted education have been moving away from a single measure of giftedness, she said.

However, she added, the use of “multiple measures” does have some detractors because of the element of subjectivity in the approach.

“That’s why everyone clings to those test numbers,” Ms. Clarenbach said. “The more subjective a policy gets, the more difficult it is to implement at the district level.”

Review Under Way

Proposed Guidelines for Identifying Gifted Children

• Students in Pennsylvania identified as gifted would include those who score at least 130 on an IQ test or who meet other “educational criteria that strongly indicate gifted ability,” such as demonstrated achievement, expertise in one or more academic areas, or teacher judgment.

• Students would not be barred from gifted programs solely because of deficits in memory or processing speed.

• Potential gifted students would have to be evaluated no more than 60 calendar days after the parent gives consent for testing.

• School district gifted programs would undergo a mandated monitoring cycle.

• The maximum number of students on a gifted teacher’s caseload would be reduced from 75 to 65 by 2010.

• Parents would have a chance to file a complaint if their child was not receiving gifted services.

SOURCE: Pennsylvania Department of Education

The changes now working their way through the regulatory process were approved 9-0 by the state board of education on March 20. They now face routine reviews by the governor’s office, the state regulatory-review committee, and legislative committees.

Michael Race, the deputy press secretary for the state department of education, said that no timeline is attached to the process, so the department does not know when the regulations may go into effect.

The state school board has had discussions on changes to its gifted education policies since 2006. Pennsylvania undertook the revision at the same time that it was re-evaluating its special education policies after the 2004 reauthorization of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the release of accompanying regulations from the U.S. Department of Education.

The proposed regulations now say that the state education department will create a monitoring process to ensure that states are providing appropriate education to gifted students. The audit process will also include a way for parents to file complaints if they believe their child’s educational needs are not being met.

The current regulations allow parents to file for a due-process hearing against districts, but such a process is expensive and adversarial, the group also said in its statement.

The proposed regulations say that districts are required to evaluate potentially gifted students in 60 calendar days, as opposed to 60 school days, speeding up the evaluation process, Mr. Race said.

Pennsylvanians for the Education of Gifted Students, another advocacy group, supported such a change in a written statement to the state board.

The regulations also reduce the number of students that can be taught by one full-time teacher of the gifted, to 65 from 75. That change will go into effect by 2010 if the regulations are adopted.

Some Uncertainty

Despite the several proposed changes, advocates are unsure how much gifted education will change in the state. Though Pennsylvania mandates gifted education, it is up to individual school districts to find a way to pay for it. This approach differs from special education for students with disabilities, a mandate from the federal government that comes with additional federal and state funding.

Mr. Simpson said that students who are gifted are sometimes shortchanged in subtle ways. For instance, he said, sometimes teachers for the gifted are asked to split their time between advanced students and those who are struggling.

“The overall time that is being spent with specifically gifted students is being diminished,” he said.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act prompts districts to devote resources and energy to children who are hovering just under proficiency on state standardized tests, said Judith Mosse, the first vice president of PAGE.

“Changes have to start at the federal level,” she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 18, 2008 edition of Education Week as Pennsylvania Seeks Broader Approach in Deciding Who Qualifies as ‘Gifted’

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