Saturday, March 8, 2014

Kids are more than just test scores

Credit to Mary Murphy for prompting an apparent change in our district’s practices on admitting kids to “gifted and talented” programs. Parents at some schools had been told that their kids’ admission to a gifted and talented class depended entirely on one or two standardized test scores—even if those tests had nothing to do with the subject matter of the class. Mary pointed out that state law puts several requirements on how schools admit kids to gifted and talented classes, including:
  • Schools must base their admission decisions “on a comprehensive appraisal of the student.”
  • Schools must consider both subjective and objective factors.
  • Schools must consider multiple criteria, “with no single criteria [sic] eliminating a student from participation.”
  • Schools must consider data “with direct relevance to program goals, objectives and activities.”
  • If there are more openings than applicants, the school must select students “according to the extent to which they can benefit from the program.”
The district now appears to be bringing its practices into compliance with the state requirements. (See the superintendent’s responses after the jump.) State law or no state law, it would be hard to defend restricting gifted and talented classes solely to kids who score high on standardized tests.

Interestingly, judging from the superintendent’s email, the district appears to consider grades and grade point average to be “subjective” criteria—which implies that it considers standardized test scores to be the only objective measure of a student’s performance. This seems clearly wrong. The whole point of requiring “subjective” criteria is to ensure that the school engages in “comprehensive appraisal of the student,” rather than reducing the student to a number. Moreover, it’s discouraging to think that the district would see teachers as incapable of objectively grading a student’s performance in a class.

Here are the questions I recently asked the superintendent, with his answers inserted in boldface:

I’m writing to ask about the district’s criteria for admitting kids to gifted and talented programs. I’ve been hearing different things second-hand from different parents about what they’ve been told—for example, about what it takes to qualify for 8th grade seminar in junior high. I know that the Iowa regulations require districts to use both objective and subjective criteria in admitting kids to gifted and talented programs. My questions are:

(1) Which offerings in the ICCSD qualify as “gifted and talented programs” that fall under that regulation?
  • Elementary ELP
  • Seventh grade Literacy 7E
  • Eighth grade Seminar
  • High School ELP Guidance and Counseling
(2) Specifically, does admission to 8th grade seminar fall under that regulation?


(3) In the programs and offerings that do fall under that regulation, what subjective criteria does the district use?
  • Elementary ELP - parent and teacher information about students’ academic performance as well as medical professional recommendations/diagnoses.
  • Seventh grade Literacy 7E will begin during the 2014-2015 school year; eligibility criteria are in development.
  • Eighth grade Seminar - medical professional recommendations/ diagnoses; we are reviewing subjective criteria to include GPA scores as well as teacher or parent information.
  • Senior high - medical professional recommendations/ diagnoses; GPA scores; we are reviewing subjective criteria to include teacher, student or parent information.



Mary Murphy said...

Thank you for following up on this Chris. So many students' standardized test scores do not reflect their abilities and potential for so many reasons, and standardized test scores don't address talents like visual arts at all. Using only a complete or composite Iowa Assessment score to identify students for participation in a gifted program would also result in underindentifying students who, for example, have talents in one area like math or language arts or may be learning English.

icl said...

When did they change the criteria for elementary ELP? When I go to the district website, it is the same chart they have been using for the past couple years that is based on the test scores.

Chris said...

Icl -- I don't know what the previous policies or practices were on ELP. The eligibility criteria here are almost entirely focused on test scores, though they do briefly mention "teacher input." The email from the superintendent that I quoted in the post was from February 20 of this year. I do get the sense they are reevaluating their practices as a result of having people point out the state regulation.

I believe the deadline for applying for ELP is March 14 -- or at least I think that's what it is at Hoover.

neanerbean said...

Maybe the district should have a distictwide IQ test. That way there is a level playing field. Test score, grades and teacher input are based on the classroom , it does not take into consideration learning challenges the the students have. A student could be gifted or a genius, but with learning challenges, it is not be reflected on their school performance or test scores.