Wyoming gifted student programs lack consistency, accountability

2013-10-07T06:00:00Z 2014-04-29T20:13:10Z Wyoming gifted student programs lack consistency, accountabilityBy LEAH TODD Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online
October 07, 2013 6:00 am  • 

Other than self-reported surveys from school districts once a year, the Wyoming Department of Education has no way of knowing whether the $2.6 million it spends annually on gifted and talented education is used to educate kids with special talents.

Ten of the state’s 48 school districts don’t even have a gifted education program, according to the most recent data from the department. However, these districts each still receive the roughly $29.19 per student in state funds earmarked for gifted education. The money is applied to the districts’ general funds with the suggestion it be used to fulfill the agency’s statutory requirement to provide programs and services for gifted and talented students beyond the regular school program.

The state doesn’t define what a gifted or talented child is, or suggest how these children be identified, Wyoming Department of Education educational consultant Brian Aragon said. As a result, he said, the definition and identification process varies greatly from district to district.

”It’s not up to us to decide for the districts how they identify a gifted and talented student,” Aragon said. “Every district in the state does it differently.”

Some districts use a standardized test, he said, often admitting students who score well above average. Others use a cognitive abilities assessment. Some create a referral form for parents or teachers, or a survey for students.

The state’s job is to make sure the district has a process to identify gifted children in its care, Aragon said, not to dictate the process.

Standardized testing

John and Joy Lewis knew their daughter had eye troubles, but did not anticipate a low score on a test would exclude her from the gifted program.

The Teton County School District second-grader was gifted by all other measures, they said. Standardized test scores in the top five percentile and outstanding teacher reviews suggested their daughter should have no trouble scoring high enough on the the Cognitive Abilities Test, or CogAT, to qualify for the district’s gifted program.

On test day, though, their daughter’s teacher noticed something was wrong.

“Her teacher noticed trouble with her eyes,” Joy Lewis said.

The teacher saw their daughter staring at the test page as if over-thinking the problems, and shared the observation after Lewis inquired about her daughter's test scores, which were too low to admit her into the program, Lewis said. 

Despite debate about whether board policy would allow it, the Teton County School District ultimately offered the Lewis's daughter a retest on a different version of the CoGAT. Even without the eye problem resolved, she made it into the program on a second try.

A question remained for the Lewises: Does relying on a standardized test to determine a child’s giftedness depict the most accurate picture of who should receive extra services and who shouldn’t? A test, they said, shouldn’t be used to keep children out.

”I’m concerned that the system is missing children that should be identified for additional services,” Joy Lewis said.

State statute has little to say about the matter.

Insufficient statute?

The one statute regarding gifted and talented education in Wyoming says such students have “outstanding abilities,” are “capable of high performance,” and have abilities, talent and potential that require different programs and services beyond what’s normally offered in schools “in order to realize their contribution to self and society.”

That, Aragon, the educational consultant, said, is not a definition.

”Basically what that’s saying is it’s left up to the district as to how they decipher gifted and talented,” he said.

Without a definition of a gifted child, guidance for how to best identify and serve those children, and some oversight to ensure state funds are going toward gifted education, the inconsistencies among districts will continue, Natrona County School District Gifted and Talented Coordinator Wendolyn McGregor said.

“There’s nothing in state statute that suggests a best practicing on identifying,” McGregor said. “There’s no criteria of what’s gifted.”

McGregor and a gifted-education colleague from Campbell County, Anna Kluver, partnered to launch a nonprofit resource group for parents and educators to advocate gifted education in Wyoming. They named the group the Wyoming Association for Gifted Children, which held its first meeting in August.

“We felt there were too many gifted children that weren’t being identified for whatever reason,” McGregor said. “We wanted to not only bring consistency to the state on what identified gifted children were, we wanted to create something that was for gifted children.”

Smaller districts, Kluver said, may have fewer qualified individuals to support the needs of gifted students. Parents interested in relocating have called her, she said, to get their kids the services they need. Many gifted children are at risk emotionally and are prone to losing interest in school if lessons become too dull, Kluver said.

“As I see it, the goal [of the organization] is to connect parents and educators and administrators, and get them talking to each other,” Kluver said. “Because, especially in Wyoming, we are very isolated — in our smaller districts, especially.”

Wyoming Association for Gifted Children members haven’t talked about whether state policy is sufficient to ensure that gifted and talented funding goes where it should, or the specifics of whether an IQ test or a teacher referral should be more important in deciding which children are gifted, McGregor said. The group is focused on getting the organization off the ground, she said. Meanwhile, it is preparing for the first Wyoming-based gifted and talented education conference in Cody this month.

It soon may advocate for policy, though, regarding resource allocation and other actions that will benefit gifted children, according to a draft of the group’s bylaws.

Some states, for instance, have laws requiring separate funds for gifted and talented programs, ensuring the money is spent specifically on gifted children, Aragon said.

“But our state doesn’t have that,” he said.

Reach county reporter Leah Todd at 307-266-0592 or Follow her on Twitter @leahktodd.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. COShea
    Report Abuse
    COShea - October 07, 2013 1:38 pm
    It's not just the gifted kids that are suffering from "the testing" discrepancies in Wyoming and in my case Teton County.

    When my daughter (who has petite mal seizures and is on a 504) was in fifth grade and there was no longer an aide in the classroom, it became evident by the first parent teacher meeting that she was struggling badly in math.Her teacher recommended we test her for Special Ed......two months later after multiple attempts to get her tested, and meetings with the Principle and Superintendent we finally had a meeting with the "Team".I was told in that meeting by the principle that "she was too bright to be in special ed and she wouldn't qualify", "that being in Special Ed was a stigma and did I want that for my daughter", was informed that "testing her did not fit into their budget." Her classroom teacher stated repeatedly that she could not help my daughter as she had 17 other kids to take care of as well. She was told she could get some "tools".

    I had a kid that was falling apart in the classroom, coming up with an array of ailments to avoid going to school and some of the precious other little girls in the class calling her "dumb".

    My kids was being "left behind", their budget was none of my concern and when my child is 25 she is not going to remember or even care that she was in special ed. I literally had to demand that she be tested. I also had to stress to the principle that she was not listening to her staff. I was not giving in and they finally agreed to test her and given my two month attempt to get this far I stated that I wanted her tested within a two week period, that I would check in everyday to make sure this was being accomplished and that at the end of the two weeks I wanted to know two things. If she "failed": to get into special ed, what was going to be done about the situation and that the solution would be implemented the next day, and if she did qualify for special ed, what was going to be done and that it would be implemented the next day. I was concerned that the testing period would be dragged out and the decision on what to do would be stalled.

    She was placed in Special Ed in the January of 5th grade. She was taken back to the beginning of the math curriculum with an amazing special ed teacher, three kids in the class. She thrived. She was happy, she was proud of her progress, her success and her accomplishments. In the October of 6th grade she was named student of the month in math. I cried. She did the eye rolling thing but you could see how proud she was. In the middle of seventh grade she informed me she was struggling in math and coincidentally i was called in for a meeting.

    My daughter was also in the meeting with the team. She was asked if she knew why we were meeting. She told them "cause I am struggling in math". They all looked rather confused and her teacher pulled out her grades. You are getting A's and B+'s in your tests she informed her, that is not struggling. My daughters response was priceless and completely threw me under the bus. A "B"is not good enough, my mom says so. We clarified that it was not good enough if she had not put in the effort ...........

    We were having the meeting because they were kicking her out of Special Ed! My daughter had grown from a miserable student who hated school to a confident, proud, young lady who is focused and committed to getting good grades and working hard. My mother ( a teacher for over 30 years) says nothing begets success like success.The glow coming from her was totally visible.

    The system works when the three parties work together in unison. The parent/advocate, the teachers and the student. I have nothing but high praise for the teaching staff in Teton County that have taught my kids. I have little to no respect for the administration that I dealt with and the fight I had to go through to get my child the help she needed.How many other kids are being overlooked because their parents are "stalled or bullied" by the administration. It is such a shame.
  2. wyomom
    Report Abuse
    wyomom - October 07, 2013 11:20 am
    As a parent of two gifted and talented kids, now grown, I can tell you what a constant battle it is . Many administrators simply do not want to recognize gt kids or programs because they think it "leaves out" the rest of the kids who are in the middle. They are fine with the other end of the spectrum, Special Education. I have heard that identifying gifted and talented kids is somehow "elitist". I have heard arguments that if a program is not available for each and every student then it should not be allowed. I advocated for my kids and for gifted and talented programs throughout their school years and beyond. I did everything I could outside of school to enrich and encourage them. They are now wonderful adults, but if I had left it to the schools, who knows? Parental involvement is key to raising kids anyway but it really is essential when you are raising a gifted kid. I think with "No Child Left Behind" we entered a time of cookie cutter educational policies and a general dumbing down of our populace. Intelligence and talent is not always supported and many times is considered threatening (you think you are better than me ?). We need to educate well and we need to encourage them to learn and never stop learning and growing. This world desperately needs them.
  3. J Lewis
    Report Abuse
    J Lewis - October 07, 2013 10:44 am
    This article is a good start. Some background:

    "After some debate about policy...."

    Actually, a three month fight ensued (prompting this article) and then our daughter was re-tested - which was not needed. We were requested to sign a consent form - we refused - stating our child could be denied access to the program based on one CogAT test and no re-test would be granted within a calendar year. According to Teton County School Board members, policy is being changed.

    Policy can be changed with the swipe of a pen. Culture is a different story.

    No program is perfect and no filtering process is perfect. However, "best practice", as stated by all testing literature and professionals, is to rely on multiple inputs (and not one cut-off test) to measure each child for a Gifted/Talented Program.

    Our administrators convinced the CoGAT publisher, Riverside Publishing, to send them an e-mail describing Teton County School District use of CogAT as follows:
    "...the CogAT test is being used appropriately as part of your screening program. In addition to looking at achievement scores through the MAP test and scores on the SCAT test, I find it encouraging that the district looks not only at the composite score on the CogAT but also at the scores on the individual test batteries to determine eligibility..." Riverside satisfied the client - the district. But who is the real client? The taxpayer is the client.

    We know the above quote misrepresents fact and implies the TCSD uses the CogAT appropriately. In fact, TCSD does not. The CoGAT publishers specifically state that the CoGAT should not be used as a single metric for entry into any gifted and talented program. They basically not exclude students based on one test score. This is exactly what the TCSD does. It uses CoGAT as a single metric cut-off. TCSD does not use the SCAT test results or any other measures for entry. While MAP and recommendations are used for "screening", only the CoGAT is used for "entry" (or to keep children out). This is a direct violation of the rules of the CogAT.

    Our daughter scored in the "gifted" category on the SCAT, gaining her entry to the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. TCSD refused to consider that metric. We asked the district to speak with our daughter's 2nd grade teachers, who specifically told us she needs to continue getting the extra programming she had been receiving - not at our request - throughout second grade. They refused. We asked that her 99th percentile MAP scores be used for entry. They refused. We asked if we could have our daughter tested by an outside expert. They refused and stated an outside expert can be bought.

    Gifted and Talented programs require leaders who are given the training, time and resources to identify, accurately, students. Our experience, and that of many folks we know in Teton County, suggests the metric being used is limited at best. When we pointed this out, repeatedly, in meetings with Superintendent Pam Shea, we were met with an attitude that reflects a remarkable unwillingness to use accepted "best practices" not to mention common sense.

    Change of policy is one thing. Change in culture is another. Until both occur in our district, false negatives AND false positives will be the norm. We would like the culture in the TCSD to be one of reason, honesty and transparency. When we shared the facts with all the appropriate administrators, to the very top, it was like trying to explain the laws of gravity to a ham sandwich.

    Is there a single test to determine which educators are gifted/talented?

    John Lewis
    Dr. Joy Lewis
  4. J Lewis
    Report Abuse
    J Lewis - October 07, 2013 10:09 am
    "John and Joy Lewis didn't know their daughter was experiencing eye problems". =
    Our daughter had already been to the eye doctor well before taking the CogAT test. We, and others involved, had no concerns about her qualifications for any gifted and talented program and we therefore had no reason to think those managing the program would use one metric - exclusively - (CoGAT) to reject her from the program - which they then did for three months.

    "Standardized test scores in the top five percentile" = incorrect
    Correction: Our daughter tested in the top 1% (MAP test given by the local district).
    John B. Lewis
    Dr. Joy H. Lewis
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