A Gulf Highlighted by 'Gifted and Talented' Test Results

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Montgomery County public school system's Department of Shared Accountability has released results from the second-grade global screening process, which took place last spring. Global Screening is the yearly process for identifying students who are considered "gifted and talented."

The process has been an issue in the school system in part because of the gap between the number of Hispanic and African American students who are identified as gifted and talented compared with the number of white and Asian students who are similarly identified.

The school system has long argued that a student doesn't have to be identified as gifted and talented to be given a top-tier education, but activists worry that students who don't have the label are somehow getting less.

Members of the Equity in Education Coalition have long argued that the school system would be better off doing away with the gifted and talented label and simply offering all students a similar accelerated program. But supporters of gifted and talented education say that though all students should be offered a challenging curriculum, some students might need more challenge than others.

Of the second-graders identified as gifted and talented on the test, the number of African American students increased slightly from the previous year -- from 12.3 percent in 2005 to 13.1 percent this year. The number of Hispanic students also increased slightly, from 10.6 percent to 11.4 percent.

There was also a slight increase in the number of Asians, from 21.3 percent in 2005 to 21.5 percent in 2006. The percentage of whites identified as gifted and talented dropped slightly. In 2005, there were 55.2 percent of those tested, this year they were 54.1 percent.

Among children eligible for free and reduced-price meals (known most commonly by the designation FARMS) the percentages also grew from 13 in 2005 to 14.4 in 2006. The number of limited-English-speaking students identified during the testing also rose from 5.3 to 5.6.

Yet, even though several groups are showing gains, there are still significant gaps. And educators in Montgomery and elsewhere continue to look for the key to closing the gap.

Concluded the report: "Efforts to develop a countywide primary talent development model to reveal, nurture, develop and document student strengths prior to the global screening of grade 2 students will help reduce disproportional identification and align the screening process with other system effort to eliminate the achievement gap."

Security Task Force Formed

On the heels of recent school shootings in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) announced earlier this month members of a special Task Force on School Safety to study how schools can better protect students in the event of emergencies such as natural disasters. The task force was created through legislation sponsored by state Sen. Roy Dyson, (D-St. Mary's).

There are some familiar names in the 19-member group, which includes teachers, parents and school board members. Montgomery School Board member Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase); Michael G. Caruso, assistant superintendent for secondary schools and government relations for the Archdiocese of Washington; and Del. Nancy J. King will serve on the task force. Two students, Corinne Ung from Howard County and Jilian Shpuntoff from Anne Arundel County, have also been invited to share their thoughts.

Recommendations from the task force are slated to be completed by Dec. 1, 2007.

Spending on Students

Because it's budget-planning time for the Montgomery County Public School system, it's a good opportunity to look at how taxpayer dollars are being spent.

A few weeks ago, we detailed how much money the system spends on school security and safety initiatives, this week we'll take a look at another budget item -- how much the school system is spending per student this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The school system will spend approximately $11,851 per kindergarten student, $12,752 per elementary student and $12,457 per secondary student (middle and high school students). The total average cost per student K-12 is about $12,457. The total average cost per student in 2007 is about $865 more than it was the previous school year.

For those who are interested in getting more information, copies of the fiscal 2007 operating budget are available online by checking the Department of Management, Budget and Planning's Web site at http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/budget or by stopping by the school system's central office, 850 Hungerford Dr. in Rockville. There are two versions -- the standard budget and an abbreviated version.

Superintendent Jerry D. Weast is slated to unveil his budget recommendations for fiscal 2008 on Dec. 13.

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