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Fulton County Schools to review ‘gifted’ program disparities

Recent study shows greater enrollment in North Fulton

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ATLANTA, Ga. — Fulton County Schools officials are implementing strategies to increase the number of students involved in the district’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) program and to address lopsided numbers based on regions.

“We really want to look at how TAG placement looks throughout the district,” said Clara O’Rourke, coordinator of governance and strategy. “Is the screening reliable and consistent for identifying and placing our students?”

The Talented and Gifted program provides eligible students with specialized curriculum opportunities.

A recent study showed students in the North Fulton region are participating in the TAG program at much higher levels than their peers in the Central and South Fulton regions. Additionally, students who are White, Asian and Pacific Islander are significantly more represented in the TAG programs than students who are Black or Hispanic.

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Approximately 30 percent of students in the zones 5, 6 and 7 (North Fulton) are involved in their school’s TAG program. In zone 4 (Sandy Springs) the percentage drops to about 16 percent. In zones 1, 2 and 3 (South Fulton) the TAG participation rate averages 7 percent.

“We are also seeing an underrepresentation of English learners, [economically disadvantaged] students, and students with disabilities,” O’Rourke said.

TAG screening is currently underway in the district, with student eligibility completed in December. A second screening will take place in January and February with eligibility determined within six weeks of testing.

About 16 percent of students in the Fulton County School System are in the TAG program. This is well above the national average of six percent, and exceeds the state rate of 12 percent, said O’Rourke.

However, expanding the opportunities provided in the TAG program leads to other positive outcomes for students.

“Overall, our gifted and talented students are outperforming our non-gifted students on critical exams [Milestones and Advanced Placement],” O’Rourke said. “And TAG placement is a statistically signification predictor of graduation, regardless of race.”

School Board member Katie Reeves, who represents Alpharetta and Milton, noted that while TAG is still relevant, the district is doing a good job of providing other opportunities for students outside of the TAG program.

“TAG doesn’t necessarily have the same cachet that it once did in Fulton County because we have a robust Continuous Achievement program,” Reeves said. “I don’t want people to think TAG is the holy grail that one must attain.”

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Continuous Achievement allows students to advance to higher level classes, especially in middle and high school, at their ability levels. In the past, courses such as advanced math and language arts were only available to TAG students.

While TAG is still very relevant in elementary school, Reeves noted very few students are in the TAG curriculum in high school since taking Advanced Placement and honors courses achieve better outcomes.

TAG protocols fall under the Georgia Department of Education’s “Gifted Education Program” which has a set of rules in place for school districts to qualify for funding. Last year, Fulton County Schools dedicated about $31 million to the TAG program, much of which came from state allocations.

Under the provisions developed by the Georgia Board of Education, gifted is defined as a “high degree of intellectual and/or creative ability, exhibits an exceptionally high degree of motivation, excels in specific academic fields, and who needs special instruction and special ancillary services to achieve at levels commensurate with his or her ability.”

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How districts identify students who meet these qualification is left to the discretion of local school systems since each district has unique needs. School systems that have charter status, like Fulton County Schools, have even more leeway in establishing guardrails for their TAG program.

Moving forward, the district is looking at implementing the following strategies to encourage more TAG identification and raising participation and retention in the program among under-represented students.

• Further study the barriers to referral and eligibility that keep prospective students from interest in TAG

• Create better data collection for screening prospective students

• Develop “second look” measures for testing, and establishing a TAG Advocacy Council in each school

• Targeting support in the TAG classrooms for under-represented students and through summer enrichment programs

The selection process for Talented and Gifted (TAG)

In the Fulton School System, all students are screened for TAG placement. Students are assessed through a number of tests which fall into four main categories: mental ability, achievement, creativity and motivation.

Screening is conducted through three methods:

I. Automatic Referral — At the beginning of the school year, TAG teachers review existing test scores from the student record. Students who score at specified levels on a norm-referenced test (i.e. iRead assessment, Georgia Milestones, etc.) are referred for further assessment to determine eligibility for gifted services.

II. Classroom Screening — Local schools select a period of 10 consecutive school days in January or February to review all students in their school (K-11). Classroom teachers use the Characteristics Instrument for Screening Students (CISS) to identify students with superior abilities in five or more of the following areas: motivation, interests, communications skills, problem-solving abilities, memory, inquiry, insight, reasoning, creativity, and humor. Parents may request to view their child’s screening results

III. Reported Referral — All student referrals from staff or teachers are first reviewed by the school’s Eligibility Team to consider if existing information warrants a formal testing for eligibility.

Candy Waylock is an award winning education reporter who has covered all things education for Appen Media over the past 20 years. She is an Alpharetta resident.

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