Friday, February 12 , 2016, 1:35 pm | Fair 72º

Santa Barbara District Discusses GATE Testing Changes to Help Disadvantaged Students

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

The Santa Barbara Unified School District has been testing students by recommendation to identify Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) students in the past, but leaders want to change that to help underrepresented groups be included in the program.

In a presentation to the Board of Education this week, Emilio Handall, assistant superintendent of elementary education, said that only 2 percent of elementary English learners, 5 percent of Hispanic students and 5 percent of socio-economically disadvantaged students are GATE identified.

There are GATE programs at every school site, but the elementary GATE magnet program is at Washington Elementary, where an entire classroom is filled with GATE-qualified students.

Typically, parents or teachers recommend that a student be tested for GATE — the district doesn’t do blanket testing, as the Carpinteria Unified School District does for all second-graders, said Harriet Whaley, SBUSD’s GATE identification coordinator. The administration proposes testing all second-graders next year.

Students get recognized or identified using criteria, or a parent can push to have a student assessed, and the district is not seeing that happen with some historically-disadvantaged subgroups, she said. The district tested 279 Latino students in 2012 — the most to date — but only qualified 35 for GATE.

“Even though the district tested almost 100 more Latino students last year, we only qualified three more for GATE — that’s a big problem,” Whaley said.

Furthermore, Latino students had the lowest qualifying rate in 2012. Only 10 percent of Latino students — English-only and English learner students — who were tested qualified, while 14 percent of English learners and 24 percent of non-Latino students qualified.

The Santa Barbara district uses the CogAT — Cognitive Abilities Test — and Whaley concluded that is the best tool to identify English-learner GATE students. However, studies have shown a consistent difference between scores of English learners and non-EL students.

“A study of 2,000 English learner students in Texas concluded the average difference between EL and non-EL students was twice as large on the CogAT verbal section (16.6 points) as on the CogAT nonverbal battery (8.3 points),” Whaley said in her presentation.

If 2012, GATE scores were adjusted for the differences seen in the Texas study, and 64 Santa Barbara Unified Latino students would have qualified instead of 35, Whaley said. The district is going to retroactively qualify those 29 students.

GATE program regulations aim to find students from different linguistic, cultural and economic backgrounds, so the administration recommended that the district alter how it identifies GATE English learner candidates based on the Texas study and criteria, and start testing all second-graders starting next year. 

While Tuesday’s presentation talked about the GATE program status quo, Superintendent Dave Cash said he believes the administration will be coming forward with “some more substantive things” in the future.

To give the board a different perspective, Teresa Koontz, a SBUSD GATE coordinator for the elementary schools and a tester at Carpinteria Unified, explained how things are done at the neighboring district. She said Carpinteria tests all second-graders with the Ravens test, which is nonverbal and takes 45 minutes, instead of the four-hour test SBUSD uses.

Carpinteria also considers California Standards Test scores and teacher recommendations to see if students could work at the level of the program, she said. She collaborates with school districts in Santa Maria and Oxnard, too, and all districts are struggling to identify English learners and compare notes, she noted.

Board member Kate Parker asked the district to think about support for families and students as more English learners and Hispanic students are tested for the program.

Board members also asked about test preparations by parents who want their children to be admitted to GATE.

“I know members of the community are preparing for taking this test, some are paying to get help — that in and of itself creates inequity,” board member Monique Limon said. “How much GATE-ness does it really test if someone has the means to prepare for this test?”

In response, Cash said: “That’s a good question, and I think that it goes to a key question — whether or not the GATE program is for gifted and talented students or something else.”

Whaley said tutoring was a real problem in the district in the past few years. Students would remark that they “remember this problem” while taking the test — but not as much lately.

“The protocol for the test requires a signature from parents saying they haven’t prepped their student to take the test,” Whaley said, “and I can tell you from the number qualifying, it was an issue several years ago.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

» on 01.25.13 @ 01:17 PM

The basic premise of this issue cannot be that all children are gifted.  They aren’t.  But political correctness now suggests that because certain groups are underrepresented, the system is broken.  I’m not even certain I know what that means.  A child is either gifted, or not.

Are there other factors that influence the discussion?  Certainly.  But these socio-economic issues don’t necessarily create any problems, though they may exacerbate them.  In my mind it does bring other perspectives to bear.

First, what are we talking about here?  EL vs. non-EL categories?  That is simply codeword for English-speaking or non-English-speaking children.  Why not say that?  It’s like the big white elephant in the room that nobody wants to address.

Second, why is it that there are those that believe the only way to fix the system is to weaken it?  Lower the bar so far that it truly breaks the system.  Like it or not, there are cultural differences in families from other countries.  If they come to the U.S. and they don’t assimilate, they are still cuturally bound to their home country.

Which brings me to my final point.  If you truly want to fix what is perceived as an education gap, you must, I repeat, must start with the parents.  Numerous studies have shown that the formative years (0-5) are the most important in a child’s life.  Since the education system doesn’t get ahold of them until the end of this period, why is so much effort being placed trying to compensate?

The real solution to this problem is two-fold:  make English the official language of this country; and obligate new immigrants to learn English to gain citizenship.  That way, children raised in this country aren’t handicapped by attitudes and cultures that hamper their ability to take advantage of opportunities presented in our school systems.

I understand that I probably stepped over some line in the sand, but it doesn’t change the truth.  The system is bound to fail if we continue to introduce artificialities into it.  Fix the problem at the source.

As an aside to the above, why don’t schools just present high-quality education to all students and let them fall where they will?  I think creating equity in the education process through presentation is a better solution.  Kids are smart and will adapt.  Let them.

» on 01.25.13 @ 04:56 PM

solcaljay I agree with you 100 per cent.

As a side note, I live in SanDiego, and there was a report on the news about 2 months ago, that said over 50% of the Hispanic kids in SD County will not graduate from HighSchool.
It is estimated there are over 300,000 illegals living in SanDiego County. They keep lowering the bar in the schools here….and it’s hurting everyone.

» on 01.25.13 @ 05:46 PM

I find it interesting that the first two posters didn’t mention the fact that parents are tutoring their 2nd graders in “GATE test prep.”  Even though those same parents (of 2nd graders no less) are signing a form saying that they did NOT do test prep.

Give me a break!  This is not an immigration or Spanish speaking issue….this is an issue of over-entitled pushy white middle-upper class parents who are gaming the system.

» on 01.25.13 @ 08:56 PM

Cultural and socioeconomic differences seemed to restrict some anglo teachers’ ability to identify exceptionally bright Latino kids from my experience as a parent volunteer in classrooms 5-10 years ago. I never saw intentional bias, but I think it’s a valid issue.

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