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Chapter 6: Education

Encourage Increased Flexibility, Innovation, and Accountability in Gifted Education


Summary

Texas’ goal for a better-educated workforce requires all children, including those identified as gifted and talented, to have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Services to gifted children can be improved through increased school district accountability for gifted education; greater student access to Internet-based coursework delivered through the state’s college and university system; increased local flexibility in academic credit, funding, and grading for coursework offered over the Internet; and enhanced funding for recognized or exemplary gifted education programs.


Background

The Texas Education Code defines gifted and talented students as those who:

...perform at or show the potential for performing at a remarkably high level of accomplishment when compared to others of the same age, experience, or environment and who: (1) exhibit high performance capability in an intellectual, creative, or artistic area; (2) possess an unusual capacity for leadership; or (3) excel in a specific academic field.[1]

State law requires school districts to develop a process for identifying and serving gifted and talented students and to establish a gifted and talented program at every grade level.[2] In the 1998-99 school year, 330,113 Texas children were served in gifted education programs, about 8.4 percent of the total K-12 student population.[3]


State Funding for Gifted Education

School districts receive state funds for gifted education based on a funding weight of 12 percent of their basic allotment for regular education.[4] Thus, if a school district receives $3,000 in state funds for each student in regular education, it will receive an additional $360 (0.12 x $3,000) for each student identified as gifted. No more than 5 percent of a school district’s total student population may be funded from this allotment. If more than 5 percent of a school district’s students are served in gifted education programs, local dollars must be used for students who exceed the cap.

The Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented is the state’s advocacy organization for gifted students. Membership in this association includes more than 9,000 gifted education teachers, school administrators, and parents of gifted students.[5] Amanda Batson, the association’s executive director, reports that state funding for gifted education has remained stagnant for the past 10 years, and that federal funding for gifted education is practically nonexistent.[6]


School District Accountability for Gifted Education

The State Board of Education (SBOE) has developed a state plan for the education of gifted and talented students, available in English and Spanish, that outlines “acceptable,” “recognized,” and “exemplary” practices in the areas of assessment, program design, curriculum and instruction, professional development, and family-community involvement.

For example, in the area of assessment, the plan identifies an acceptable practice for student identification as: “data and procedures assure that all populations of the district have access to assessment and, if identified, services offered as part of the program for gifted students.” A recognized practice for student identification is described as: “gains have been made over the last two (2) years toward having the population of the gifted program reflect the population of the district.” An exemplary practice for student identification is described as: “The population of the gifted/talented program reflects the population of the total district or has for the past two of the past three years.”[7]

In Fall 2000, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) conducted a pilot test of a process for certifying gifted programs as recognized or exemplary.[8] As part of this pilot exercise, districts could nominate their gifted education programs as recognized or exemplary. TEA employees conducted site visits to verify and certify program quality; more detail on this effort is supplied below.

TEA also conducts District Effectiveness and Compliance (DEC) monitoring of school districts, primarily to determine their compliance with various state and federal program requirements. TEA has developed 20 indicators for DEC monitoring of gifted education, based on the SBOE’s acceptable practices as described in the state plan. For example, the first DEC monitoring indicator, GT 1, states: “There are written policies on student identification for gifted/talented (G/T) programs that have local board of trustees approval and are disseminated to all parents.”[9]

DEC monitoring of gifted education programs includes examinations of procedures for identifying, selecting, and placing gifted students; reviews of district policies and records of school board minutes concerning gifted/talented identification procedures; and evidence of parent involvement activities, such as parent letters, fliers, copies of informational literature disseminated to parents, student handbooks, newsletters, parent meeting agendas, and interviews with parents.[10]


Gifted Education Programs Exempted from State Oversight

Texas’ gifted education programs are not monitored adequately. State law exempts school districts from DEC monitoring of their gifted programs if the district has received an exemplary academic rating from TEA’s Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS). This rating requires the district to have a 90 percent or higher passing rate on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) tests, a 1 percent or lower dropout rate, and a 94 percent or higher attendance rate.[11]

In the 1999-2000 school year, districts that were rated academically exemplary or recognized (80 percent or higher passing rate on the TAAS, 3.5 percent or lower dropout rate, and 94 percent or higher attendance rate) received modified DEC visits that reviewed only bilingual and special education programs. These exemptions applied to 48.5 percent of all Texas school districts.[12] Thus half of the state’s school districts were automatically exempted from any review of their gifted and talented education programs.

In 2000-2001, TEA does not plan to conduct any DEC monitoring for school districts rated as exemplary or recognized. Thus, for a second year, half of the state’s gifted education programs will be exempt from state oversight. These school districts will go through TEA’s selection process for DEC visits in the 2001-2002 school year.[13] However, due to TEA’s ongoing transition to a new, risk-based monitoring system, DEC reviews of special program areas such as gifted and talented education will be implemented only on a partial basis in 2000-01.[14] “Partial implementation” is defined as the use of only a subset of risk indicators to be specified by TEA at its January 2001 Midwinter Conference.[15] For a third year, then, only a small subset of Texas’ gifted education programs will receive any sort of state oversight.

The state plan for gifted education was intended to increase school district accountability. However, the exemption of half of all gifted education programs from state oversight during 1999-2000 and 2000-01 clearly is inadequate to ensure true accountability. Moreover, it is not yet clear whether TEA’s risk-based monitoring system will provide for adequate statewide review of gifted education programs.


Gifted Education Pilot Program

The General Appropriations Act for the 2000-01 biennium states that:

It is the intent of the Legislature that the Texas Education Agency develop an assessment system and statewide standards for gifted and talented students at all grade levels. Out of the funds appropriated above in Strategy C.1.3., Improving Instruction—Operations, the Texas Education Agency shall expend $277,250 in each year of the 2000-01 biennium to begin development of such a system, and shall pilot high school exit-level standards for the performance of gifted and talented students in the areas of mathematics, science, social studies and language arts. School district participation in the project or in the use of the standards is not mandatory. The exit-level pilot shall be completed by August, 2001.[16]

As noted above, TEA conducted site visits for this pilot in Fall 2000 at school districts that nominated their gifted education programs for consideration as recognized or exemplary.

The consultants for this pilot program defined an assessment system for gifted education as one including guidelines for student project development, scoring guides, examples of various levels of performance, teacher training, and training for the panel members who would make the final decisions as to district ratings. This assessment system would be supported by adequate documentation of decisions made in the development of the system and by evidence of reliability and fairness.

The SBOE’s statewide standards for gifted and talented students were reflected in the scoring guide for this pilot project. These standards are based on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) tests in English, mathematics, social studies and science. The standards represent rigorous levels of knowledge and skill to be expected of students who receive gifted services.

Exit-level standards are statewide standards for gifted and talented students who are completing their K-12 education program. Typically, students demonstrating the levels of accomplishment represented by these standards are in the 11th or 12th grade.[17]

Crowley and La Porte ISDs both nominated their gifted education programs for review by TEA as part of the pilot.[18] Crowley ISD is located in Tarrant County, about 15 miles south of Fort Worth. Its gifted education program serves 445 students, or 5.4 percent of the district’s K-12 population.[19] Lee Ann Pyeatt, Crowley’s assistant superintendent for Secondary Education, reports that Crowley ISD’s emphasis on high-quality gifted education is reflected in the district’s staff training program. Every teacher in the district receives 30 hours of professional development training in gifted education.[20] One Crowley parent noted on an evaluation of the district’s program that it allowed her “jock” son to be part of the “smart kids” without feeling out of place. Her son is accepted for who he is—a smart jock. More importantly, seeing the strengths and gifts of others has helped him learn to accept and respect all of the children around him.[21]

La Porte ISD is located near Houston in Harris County. Its gifted education program serves 559 students, or 7.5 percent of the total K-12 population.[22] Sandra Warren, the district’s coordinator for gifted education, reports that the district has enlisted support from the entire community for the program. The gifted program has established performance standards for every grade level and serves students who are also disabled, economically disadvantaged, or limited in English proficiency. Elements of La Porte’s program include an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for each gifted student; participation by all district personnel—including the superintendent and business manager—in training on gifted education; and postsecondary coursework for gifted students at a local university, with tuition and books paid for by the district. The district also is investigating distance-learning opportunities from Stanford University for their gifted students.[23]


Online Gifted Education

Internet-based coursework for academic credit is a promising avenue for improving gifted programs. At present, several of the nation’s major universities, including Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Duke, and Northwestern offer distance learning courses for gifted K-12 students.[24] These programs provide expanded learning opportunities for gifted students, while allowing them to finish high school coursework more quickly.


Recommendations

  1. State law should be amended to require school districts to review their gifted and talented education programs annually and make the results available to parents and the area community, and to Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff members during District Effectiveness and Compliance monitoring visits.

The state plan for gifted education requires accountability for gifted education programs, yet TEA currently plans to exempt half of the state’s gifted education programs from any oversight for several years. State standards for gifted students should be enforced in all school districts, including those rated as exemplary or recognized in the Academic Excellence Indicator System.

  1. Advanced academic coursework, including courses required for high school graduation and college-level courses for academic credit, should be made more widely available to gifted K-12 students via the Internet.

An increased use of school district-university partnerships could expand the state’s current array of gifted education programs and services. Distance learning programs for gifted students offered by colleges and universities across the nation provide models for expanding such opportunities in Texas. These programs give gifted students access to high-quality course offerings from any location, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

TEA’s K-16 public education liaisons with the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University should provide statewide leadership for increasing the state’s number of school district-university partnerships.

  1. State law should be amended to ensure that school districts receive the equivalent of state average daily attendance (ADA) funding for gifted student participation in Internet-based courses conducted outside of regular school hours.

School districts should be compensated for gifted students who participate in Internet-based classes outside of the normal school day at a rate equivalent to the funding they would generate by attending traditional classes. TEA should be required to develop a distance learning funding formula, equivalent to ADA funding levels, for this purpose.

  1. State law should be amended to permit school districts to award students credit toward high school graduation for completing Internet-based courses, and to include these courses in their calculations of student grade-point averages.


Fiscal Impact

Increasing accountability for school district gifted education programs could be accomplished with existing school district and TEA resources for gifted education. Program reviews are an ongoing component of the DEC monitoring process, and districts could use funds allocated for gifted education programs to monitor their programs’ quality.

Increasing access to advanced coursework and postsecondary curriculum through partnerships between school districts and colleges and universities would require no additional funding.

Allowing school districts to receive the equivalent of ADA funding for gifted students participating in Internet-based courses outside of regular school hours would require TEA to develop a new funding formula for Internet-based courses, but could be accomplished with existing TEA resources.

Allowing school districts to award academic credit for Internet-based courses and to include these courses in calculations of student grade-point averages would not require any additional resources at the state or local levels.


[1] V.T.C.A., Education Code, §29.121.

[2] V.T.C.A., Education Code, §29.122.

[3] Texas Education Agency, “Pocket Edition 1998-99, Students,” (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/pocked/99/panel3.html). (Internet document.)

[4] V.T.C.Aw., Education Code, §42.156.

[5] Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented, “Fact Sheet” (http://www.txgifted.org/facts_pg1.htm). (Internet document.)

[6] Amanda Davis Batson, “Gifted Students in Texas Get Little Chance to Grow,” San Antonio Express News, July 24, 2000.

[7] Texas Education Agency, State Plan for the Education of Gifted/Talented Students, Austin, Texas, 1996, p. 4.

[8] Interview with Evelyn Hiatt, senior director, Division of Advanced Academic Services, Texas Education Agency, Austin, Texas, April 28, 2000.

[9] Texas Education Agency, District Effectiveness and Compliance Reference Guide, Part 1 for Gifted/Talented Education (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/gted/gtdec.htm). (Internet document.)

[10] Texas Education Agency, District Effectiveness and Compliance Reference Guide, Part 1 for Gifted/Talented Education.

[11] V.T.C.A., Education Code, §39.112.

[12] Texas Education Agency, “District Accountability Ratings for Texas Public School Districts, 1995 through 1999” (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/account/ratingsxyrs.html). (Internet document.)

[13] E-mail communication from Fran Latour, executive assistant, Office of Accountability and Accreditation, Texas Education Agency, May 1, 2000.

[14] Letter from Texas Education Agency to Texas school districts on the District Effectiveness and Compliance Program Analysis System (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/taa/acceval000512.html). (Internet document.)

[15] E-mail communication from Kay Thomas, executive assistant to the Deputy Commissioner, Texas Education Agency, July 17, 2000.

[16] Texas State Legislature, 76th General Session, 1999, House Bill 1, Article III, Education, Texas Education Agency, Rider 69.

[17] E-mail communication from Gean Wilkerson, administrative assistant, Office of Curriculum, Assessment, and Technology, Texas Education Agency, July 21, 2000.

[18] E-mail communication from Evelyn Hiatt, senior director, Division of Advanced Academic Services, Texas Education Agency, May 18, 2000.

[19] Texas Education Agency, “1998-99 Academic Excellence Indicator System District Reports” (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/aeis/99/district.srch.html). (Internet document.)

[20] Telephone interview with Lee Ann Pyeatt, assistant superintendent for Secondary Education, Crowley Independent School District, June 26, 2000.

[21] Fax communication from Lee Ann Pyeatt, assistant superintendent for Secondary Education, Crowley Independent School District, June 29, 2000.

[22] Texas Education Agency, “1998-99 Academic Excellence Indicator System District Reports.”

[23] Telephone interview with Sandra Warren, coordinator for Gifted Education, La Porte Independent School District, June 26, 2000.

[24] The Gifted Resources Home Page, “Gifted Resources Distance Learning” (http://www.eskimo.com/~user/zdist.html). (Internet document.)