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Consultants critical of program for gifted


Baltimore County schools' gifted-and-talented program is characterized by "flux, confusion and dissimilarity," and needs a major restructuring, says a team of independent consultants in a report released yesterday.

Too many students are in the program for it to be truly considered a "gifted" group, and the quality of teachers and instruction varies greatly among schools, they said in a summary presented to the school board last night.

The highly critical report is the latest flash point in a controversy that has simmered for at least three years, since Superintendent Stuart Berger announced he would review the oft-heralded program with an eye toward making it "more inclusive" and, thus, less elite. In one of the first skirmishes, Dr. Berger told a crowd of about 1,200 -- many angry -- parents in November 1992 that he supported GT programs but was intent on scrutinizing them.

Since then, parents, teachers and administrators have continued to study the programs as they changed and grew. The new report evolved from their work. Though the report praised the administrators in charge of the GT program and applauded the guidelines for selecting students, it was largely critical of the program, which has nearly doubled its enrollment in the past four years.

"We saw no evidence of a single philosophy or set of goals governing the education of gifted learners in this district. There is no agreed-upon definition of gifted among staff or across schools," said the report compiled by four faculty members from the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. They studied the program over the first five months of 1995.

"It's too early to have a comprehensive response to the full report," said Regina Schwab, coordinator of the schools' Office of Gifted and Talented, declining to respond to specific findings. "There will be some substantive response and we will use the report to move the program forward."

The evaluation team, led by Professor Carolyn M. Callahan, surveyed students, parents, teachers and principals from elementary, middle and high schools. Team members also visited one elementary, middle and high school in each of the school system's five areas to observe classes and talk with students, teachers, guidance counselors, principals and parents.

Commissioned to assess the GT program and suggest improvements, the team said inconsistencies and inadequacies arose mainly because principals have gained more power to run their schools. The report recommends that school administrators not have "complete freedom" to identify students, select teachers and supervise the instruction for the GT program, as they have since the spring of 1993.

"The system of site-based management does not work with gifted and talented program in this system," said the summary of the more than 200-page report.

It suggests a central authority, much like that governing special education programs.

It also calls for a revision of identification procedures and the adoption of several "model programs" from which schools can choose.

The report, however, does not recommend "going back to the old way of doing things," as some GT proponents have advocated.

The program has about 2,000 more students this year than last, Ms. Schwab said.

Once admitted only by standardized test scores, county students now are judged on numerous "indicators of giftedness" including tests, teacher recommendations and student interest.

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