Portland Parents of Talented and Gifted Children
All three appeals in the Newberg, Columbia and Reynolds School
Districts were filed by single individuals whereas the Portland and Salem
appeals were filed by parents acting as a group. The group appeals were
more successful in getting the State to investigate the situation throughout
the school district and in considering a comprehensive set of problems with
the application of the TAG program. The individual complaints tended to
focus on just one or two issues and/or schools and the state limited its
investigation to those issues and schools.
This is not necessarily a bad thing if there are only
one or two areas of concern within a school district. However, a more
limited appeal creates the risk that additional issues will be raised one by
one over a long period of time; a process that may prove to be exhausting
and frustrating for all concerned.
One benefit that has come from the appeals process is
that the state is now willing to offer specific guidelines for an area left
unacceptably vague in the law: the issue of setting timelines for providing
services. It is clearly no longer acceptable to provide TAG services
starting in April. This should assist not only parents but school districts
that are interested in writing policies in compliance with the law.
The state has repeatedly insisted that it cannot tell
a school district HOW to implement the mandate. However, it is insisting
that all teachers with TAG students must in some way be trained. Every
order requires an "inservice," for coming into compliance.
It is my personal view that "inservices"--the chief
State remedy--are very unlikely to make any significant changes in the way
school districts provide services to students, particularly since there is
really no control over the extent or quality of the training provided. The
inservice may be extremely perfunctory and unhelpful, and if it occurs in an
atmosphere of ignorance and resentment, teachers are very unlikely even to
listen, much less to take the advice to heart. Also, the state accepts
videos as inservice training; these permit passive or inattentive audiences
that never become engaged in the subject.
For real improvements in actual teaching, teachers
should be trained before certification. In addition, they should choose to
be involved with gifted students, the students should be grouped together
where possible, the teachers should receive additional district support
services, and the teachers need written manuals and documents to use for
ongoing reference as they encounter new problems. Moreover, the district
needs to take an active role in ensuring that services are actually being
delivered in the classroom by requiring and reviewing written plans and
assessments, visiting schools, and monitoring teacher performance.
Districts should realize that if they rely on just
following the letter of the State requirements by providing perfunctory
in-services, they are unlikely to be delivering an adequate program, and the
result will be a high-stakes gamble to see whether there are additional
parent complaints and whether the state is willing to actually cut off
funding to non-compliant districts. Grouping students with trained teacher
is a very cost-effective way to provide a satisfactory level of services
without having to go back and train every single teacher in the district.
To ensure adequately trained teachers, a "gifted instruction" endorsement
would be extremely helpful statewide. If school districts grouped their
students in classes taught by trained teachers, this would also enable
teachers who do NOT wish to provide services to gifted students or who
believe that such services are not justified to "opt out" of the
Even when the teachers are trained, districts still
must ensure that students are individually assessed and provided with an
appropriate leval and rate of instruction. There are costs associated with
the assessment and planning process; I believe the state should do more to
assist school districts to meet these costs.