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.”