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updated: 4/24/2012 11:48 PM

Gifted education expert testifies for U-46 in bias trial

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An expert in gifted education testified Tuesday in the bias case against Elgin Area School District U-46 that the district's bilingual gifted program enabled students with limited English proficiency to take on complex content and learn at a higher level.

The suit filed by a handful of families in 2005 claims boundary changes approved the previous year discriminated against Hispanic and black students by sending them to older, overcrowded schools and denying them access to gifted programs and academies.

Carolyn Callahan, a professor at the University of Virginia, rejected the testimony of two gifted education experts for the plaintiffs who earlier in the trial testified that the separate gifted programs for native English speakers and those who were learning English were discriminatory.

The district offers gifted programs known as a School Within a School for native English speaking students and another Spanish English Transition School Within a School for students who gained proficiency in English.

"It is an exemplary opportunity for students," Callahan said. "Students who have recently exited from ELL would not have the language fluency needed in a traditional gifted program."

Callahan's testimony refuted that of Alba Ortiz and Donna Ford, two witnesses for the plaintiffs who denounced the district's gifted programs. Ortiz, the director of bilingual education at the University of Texas at Austin, described the programs as "institutionalized discrimination," while Ford, a professor at Vanderbilt University, said minority groups were severely underrepresented in the district's gifted programs and academies.

Callahan said she did not find the words or implications of "discrimination" or "underrepresentation" in a 2006 audit of the district's gifted programs completed by Lorraine Plum, a consultant to the Kane County Board of Education and the Illinois State Board of Education.

In addition, Callahan said the district had provided the appropriate training for teachers to identify gifted students, used various forms of outreach to notify parents and community members about opportunities for students, and used testing instruments that were valid and unbiased.

"Overall, very specific steps were taken by the district to ensure gifted programs and academies met standards," Callahan said, including in the literature of the National Council for Children.

The trial continues Wednesday.

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