Gifted Rules Vary By Region

BROOKSVILLE – As officials at the Hernando County School District publicize free screening sessions to identify more local children for the county’s new gifted center, at least one parent is crying foul.

With her 11-year-old daughter accepted to the district’s centralized gifted center – set to open this fall at Explorer K-8 off Northcliffe Boulevard – Spring Hill resident Colleen Tracy is now in a tough position.

Her younger daughter, a 10-year-old whose teacher initially recommended gifted testing based on high academic performance, missed the IQ cutoff for the program by one point.

Since Tracy wanted her children to attend the same school, she inquired about the government’s adequate yearly progress (AYP) choice program, which gives parents at Title I schools that have not met AYP for two years – such as Spring Hill Elementary – the option of choosing to send their children to a different school.

But she has now learned that her daughter’s high score on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is too high to get her accepted to the school through the choice program, which offers first priority to students who performed poorly on the test.

“First, they’re telling us she can’t go to Explorer because she’s not intelligent enough, but yet she’s too intelligent for the choice program,” Tracy said. “It’s a crying shame. I can understand if the program was full, but they’re looking for more students for this gifted program – and she only missed the (cutoff) by one point.”

A larger issue is that her child would actually be considered gifted in many other counties in Florida, due to differences in minimum IQ score required by each district’s “Plan B,” or a socioeconomic policy meant to assist members of various subgroups.

While an average IQ is thought to be in the range of 85 to 115, a student is defined as “gifted” across the state if he or she scores at least two standard deviations above the mean IQ score of 130 (minus the standard “error of measurement” of three points) and meets at least one characteristic of a gifted student on the state’s standard scale or checklist.

In Hernando County, a student can qualify for Plan B if they have a mean IQ score of 120 and are a member of an underrepresented group – such as a low socioeconomic level or if English is not their first language.

Tracy’s daughter scored a 119, meaning she would have been considered gifted in Florida counties such as Hillsborough, Pasco, Miami-Dade and Broward, where the minimum IQ score for Plan B is 115, in addition to other district-directed characteristics.

She also would have made the cut in Alachua County, where the IQ cutoff for Plan B is 118. More than 14 percent of the district’s children have been identified as gifted.

“I don’t understand how kids in one county can be accepted if they have a score of 115, but kids in another county won’t be accepted unless they have a 130,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s the same testing and the same state.”

Local officials acknowledged that plans vary by counties, but said their hands are tied.

Cathy Dofka, the district’s director of Exceptional Student Education, explained that all districts’ Plan Bs were developed by each district more than a decade ago, based on counties’ socioeconomic conditions and approved by the state.

“We have to go by guidelines that were developed before I ever became director,” she said. “The state can come up with different criteria, but so far, they have not given us any direction to change our Plan Bs.”

There are even larger discrepancies between states, with some states not even requiring IQ score as an identifying factor. While Florida has kept its standard high by labeling its program as “gifted,” other states have a program known as “gifted and talented,” in which teacher recommendation – not IQ – is the determining factor.

Alabama is one such state, where nearly 23 percent of its students were identified as “gifted and talented” in 2004-05. Current data was not available at press time.

However, while initial identifying requirements may vary by region, any student who has been tested in a previous school district and considered gifted (or gifted and talented) is automatically eligible for Hernando’s gifted services. Those moving to the area do not have to meet local standards to be accepted to the program.

Students receiving gifted services bring in $2,100 in additional state funding per child for the district.

Some children who have been enrolled in the gifted program at other district schools have opted not to transfer to the new center, while others are undecided. The new center is their only option for continuing to receive gifted services.

Tracy said her youngest daughter’s teacher at Spring Hill Elementary – who initially recommended having her tested – is transferring to Explorer as a gifted teacher in the fall and believes her daughter is capable of handling the higher-order curriculum.

“Her teacher keeps saying, ‘Let me give her a try,'” Tracy said.

However, unless the 120 standard is changed, local officials said they do not have the power to make exceptions to the rule.

“As much as I’d like to help her, I’m not allowed to take a sibling,” said Explorer’s principal, Dominick Ferello. “(However), I know there’s been some talk locally about trying to get the standard changed.”

Last year, the district reported 2.5 percent of its 22,708 students as gifted. The current state average is 4.9.

Now, hundreds of children who scored high marks on standardized tests have been screened for the new gifted program, with two free screening sessions set to take place Tuesday and Wednesday for local parents who want their children screened.

Ferello said the school could actually face overcrowding issues in coming years.

Explorer, built for 2,100 students, is already at more than 1,760 students with growing enrollment for both the gifted program and general education classes. New students include those moving to the area from other states and those leaving local private schools to attend the new school, Ferello said.

“I’m thrilled that the gifted center is here,” he said. “But if we get more gifted students and need to go beyond the rooms designated for the program, we’ll have to go back to the school board and figure out what to do.”

Friday, there were about 215 students enrolled in the school’s gifted program. Ferello predicted that there may be at least 275 by the time school starts.

Though some parents have questioned the methodology used to determine the school’s zoning – in which some families who live near Explorer are zoned for other nearby schools – officials say boundaries were drawn according to the areas near the school that are most heavily-populated with children.

Reporter Linnea Brown can be reached at 352-544-5289 or [email protected]

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