Originally created 12/10/97

Gifted students may increase



AIKEN -- Proposed changes in the way children are picked for gifted and talented programs could translate into an increase of about 300 students in Aiken County schools.

But there has been no assurance that the changes, if approved, would bring new dollars. And the advantage of gifted programs -- fewer students and more individual attention -- may also be at risk because of the 10 percent increase countywide.

South Carolina school leaders, pressed by federal civil rights attorneys, are preparing major changes in the way students are chosen. The proposals, spelled out in documents submitted to the state Board of Education, would alter dramatically the formula and process that public schools use to decide who gets into popular accelerated programs.

Aiken County's version of the gifted and talented program is Students On Active Research. Of the 2,600 students in the program, only about 9 percent are black. About 2 percent are Asian-American or Hispanic.

The changes, which would require legislative approval, would place less weight on a child's IQ score and more on motivation, reasoning abilities and tests. Any new rules, however, may be controversial if they exclude students who otherwise might have been admitted to the programs.

"For too long, we have placed too much weight on standardized test scores and less weight on student performance," said Jana DeHart, a proponent of the new regulations. "(The proposals) would allow us to have broader identification methods for measuring students."

A cursory look at Aiken showed an increase of about 300 students who would be eligible for the program under the new rules. A breakdown of how many additional minority students would be eligible wasn't available.

The proposal submitted to the state board calls for a system where children will gain access to gifted programs if they excel in three of the four criteria: motivation, intellectual performance, reasoning abilities and academic achievement.

Federal and state officials hope the proposals will uncover gifted and high-achieving students, particularly minorities, who may be undiscovered with the current strong emphasis on IQ.

"Standardized testing eliminates the creative student, the motivated student or the student who suffers from test anxiety, and (the tests) are culturally biased," said Ms. DeHart, curriculum associate for Aiken's gifted program. "Why not do something to ensure that these students have an opportunity to get into gifted programs?"

Each year the school district receives $1.2 million to pay for its program, but officials fear that may not be enough if the proposal is passed. More personnel would be hired, which cuts into money for instruction.

An additional $125,000 would be needed to accommodate the proposed changes, said Frank Roberson, Aiken County's assistant superintendent for instructional services. The equivalent of three to four teaching slots would also be needed, he said.

There has been no indication that the proposed changes will bring new dollars, he said.