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posted: 3/15/2012 6:19 PM

Gifted education specialists testify in support of U-46 processes

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When selecting students for the gifted programs in Elgin Area School District U-46, the current coordinator for the district's gifted bilingual program and her predecessor said the district used measurements of achievement and IQ tests, as well as other measures, to cast a wide net and capture as many potentially gifted students as possible.

Testimony given Thursday of Rachael Jackson, the district's bilingual gifted specialist, and Cathleen Hughes, who was the district's gifted program coordinator from October 2007 to June 2009, was counter to allegations made by families who filed a bias lawsuit against the district in 2006 claiming, in part, that the district discriminated against Hispanic and black students by not providing access to the gifted programs when it redrew boundary maps in 2004.

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The trial is examining programs up to the 2008-2009 school year.

Jackson said the district would begin identifying students for the district's gifted program for Spanish speakers in elementary school, known as a Spanish English Transition School Within a School, in the second grade. In the third grade, students would complete assessments that the district used to identify gifted students. In addition, Jackson said, recommendations came from across the board.

"Anybody and everybody could tell me they know a gifted child and I would say let me test them," Jackson said. "Some students self-nominated."

The gifted program for Spanish-speaking students was meant to prepare students for the general education gifted program at the middle school level. Although students were separated from their native English-speaking peers, Jackson said they were integrated into the general education population for classes like art, music and physical education.

Jackson said there was a reason the gifted program for former English Language Learners is separate from the general gifted program.

"The core classes are so advanced, the curriculum is compacted and goes a lot faster than the general class," Jackson said. "They skip things and do in-depth projects and things that in a regular classroom never happen."

Furthermore, Hughes backed up the district's use of an achievement assessment as the first level of identifying gifted students. A gifted education expert on Wednesday called the district's process unreasonable because it required students to score in the 92nd percentile of kids nationally in order to qualify for further testing. But Hughes argued that characterization was not accurate.

Hughes said the 92nd percentile represented about 20 percent of third-grade students who were then given a cognitive test.

"We felt that cast a wide net," Hughes said.

The district also took teachers' recommendations and parent nominations into consideration.

Stewart Weltman, an attorney for the families, said the number of students who moved from the elementary gifted program for Spanish-speaking students to the middle school general education gifted program dropped by 15 percent. In addition, in 2007-2008, there were no black students in the district's three elementary gifted programs in the fifth grade and no Hispanic or black students in the district's gifted academy at Elgin High School.

Weltman asked Hughes if the data were a source of concern, and Hughes said there was a number of reasons why students or parents decided not to continue on.

The trial will now break until April 23.

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