The Prince George's school administrator who oversees a program for gifted students told a U.S. judge today that few black students are in the program because the school system did not know how to recognize talented black students.
Louise Weynant, coordinator of instructional programs for the schools, testified that not until four years after the Talented and Gifted Program (TAG) began in 1973 did the schools begin to work with experts to find ways to recognize a greater number of talented blacks.
She noted that a pilot program to identify gifted blacks began in some kindergarten classes last fall. Judge Frank A. Kaufman pointed out that this effort began shortly after the NAACP asked the court to re-open its 1972 school desegregation suit against the county.
That case, now in its second week, adds discrimination in the TAG program to charges that the county schools continue to be racially segregated.
School officials spent much of yesterday explaining why so few blacks were in gifted programs.
In 1980, for example, when blacks made up 49.9 percent of the county enrollment, they were only 12.7 percent of students in the special classes for gifted students, the schools said.
The judge was told that students are chosen for the TAG program by teacher evaluations and standard tests. Kaufman pressed Weynant to explain the imbalance in the program's makeup.
"Was the need to achieve desegregation in the program and the need to make sure there was no discrimination kept in mind day in and day out?" asked Kaufman, noting that planning for the program began in the summer of his original desegregation order.
"I would say yes, sir," Weynant responded.
Weynant testified that the TAG program, which began in nine predominantly white schools in 1973 before it expanded throughout the system in 1980, used a test that was found to be culturally biased as a part of its admissions process. The test was discontinued in 1978 and replaced by another in 1980.
Weynant said it was hoped that children who were "different from the norm," who were not identified by tests and other measures, would be referred for consideration under a "special exception clause" by observant teachers. Students so referred would be judged by the schools' TAG advisory committee, which approves all TAG students.
Weynant, under questioning from Kaufman, stressed that "different from the norm" does not necessarily mean black.
"The role of race plays an important part but not the only part in the role of the TAG advisory committee," Weynant said.
Weynant said that the new program, STEP (Strategies for Targeting Early Potential), planned since 1979 but begun last fall, would increase the number of minorities in TAG by focusing on personality and leadership qualities.
"There were probably many black students in Prince George's County at the time that had problems with paper and pencil tests and with language," Weynant said. "It's not that they weren't talented and gifted but they had a more difficult time displaying it," she added.
STEP began in nine predominantly black elementary schools. This year's kindergarten classes will be observed for two years by teachers. Based on these observations, some black and disadvantaged students will be recommended to each school's TAG advisory committee.
Kaufman asked Weynant if such an effort could have been made earlier. "Was there any attempt made on a student-by-student basis to go over classroom records to identify blacks who would have benefitted from these programs?" the judge asked.
"No," Weynant responded.