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updated: 3/14/2012 6:32 AM

Torres on stand for U-46 in bias suit

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Elgin Area School District U-46 Superintendent Jose Torres was the first witness for the school district during the bias lawsuit that has been in federal court for almost six years.

Torres' testimony Tuesday focused on the district's gifted programs, which an expert witness for the families who filed suit in 2006 characterized as "severely underrepresented" a day earlier, as well as the standards for non-English speaking students to move from English Language Learners classrooms to the general education classroom.

Last October, former bilingual educators claimed the district's forced students out of the ELL program based on time in the program. The district denied the claims.

The district, Torres said, refined its exit criteria for students in the 2008-2009 school year because teacher referrals were given more weight than scores on a standardized achievement test.

"We wanted a more robust criteria," Torres said.

Changes at the state level had also created inconsistencies. Torres said there was evidence that students who met the criteria for testing out of the program were not performing in the general education classroom. Meanwhile, other students who did not perform well enough on the standardized test displayed abilities to integrate with general education peers.

The district's approach that used teacher referrals and two sets of test scores provided multiple measures to make better decisions, Torres said.

"We felt like we needed to triangulate the data," Torres said.

Torres also testified that he did not recall receiving any complaints from parents of black or Hispanic students regarding the district's gifted and academy programs or the district's use of mobile classrooms during his first year in the position.

When Stewart Weltman, attorney for the families, asked if the number of students in gifted programs in the district concerned him, Torres said it did, but added not all of the numbers were bad.

"I would love all of my students to be gifted and have opportunities in gifted programs," Torres said. "Anything less than 100 percent would be room for growth for me."

In 2006, 14 families filed suit claiming the district's 2005 boundary changes discriminated against black and Hispanic students by placing them in older and more crowded schools.

Torres is expected to continue testifying Wednesday as the school district continues its case.

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