is the Maryland regulation that governs gifted and talented education across the state of Maryland. It currently is being considered for some proposed revisions. Comments on the draft were due to Susan Spinnato, Director of Instructional Programs, at MSDE by January 22, 2019. For context, here you can find the current version of COMAR 13A.04.07 and here you can find the proposed revisions.
Our advocacy group, the Baltimore County Public Schools Citizens Advisory Committee for Gifted and Talented Education, strongly supports the direction of the proposed revisions. Here is our response.
To: Susan C. Spinnato, Director of Instructional Programs, Maryland State Department of Education
From: Baltimore County Public Schools Citizens Advisory Committee for Gifted and Talented Education
Date: January 21, 2019
Comments on the Draft Regulations for COMAR 13.A.04.07
The Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Citizens Advisory Committee for Gifted and Talented Education (GT CAC) is a parent and community group that advocates for and supports gifted and talented educational efforts in the county’s public schools. We partner with BCPS to facilitate positive change in the delivery of GT services and in the achievement of students who receive these services through the Office of Advanced Academics. We appreciate the opportunity to review and make comments on the proposed regulations as well as the time and effort that have gone into these proposed regulation changes.
We echo the sentiments of Dennis Jutras, co-chair of the Maryland Gifted and Talented Advisory Council, who presented comments to the MSDE board on December 4th, 2018, stating how thrilled they were to see “the inclusion of universal screening (.02C), sustained identification beyond the targeted universal screening grade (.02D), state accountability of district plans for identification (.02F), the supplying of a vetted list of approved programs and services by the state (.03A) and the subtle yet powerful shift throughout the regulation from ‘shall consider’ to ‘shall’, as each of these changes reflect a staunch commitment to the accountability and reliability on behalf of a state for its students.”
We also speak from the experience of having just gone through an extended effort on the revision to Baltimore County policy and rule on gifted and talented identification, programs, and services (Policy and Rule 6401) and recognize how important the guiding COMAR regulations are for accountability and reliability at the local school district level. The BCPS GT CAC is committed to ensuring that the needs of the diverse gifted and talented learners in Baltimore County, as well as throughout the rest of the state, are met consistently, universally, and through the entire span of a school career by a well-framed state regulation.
With that in mind, here are our comments and proposed revisions (in red font/underlined text):
- Section .02C: The identification process will use universal screening and multiple indicators of potential, aptitude, ability, and achievement from an annually reviewed Maryland State Department of Education approved list of assessments and checklists. All universal screening and assessment results shall be documented in writing and kept as student educational records.
The proposed language regarding the identification process changes from using multiple indicators of “potential, aptitude, and achievement” to “potential, ability, and achievement”. Potential is measurable by IQ tests, achievement is measurable by standardized tests in different content areas, and ability is measurable by off-level achievement tests, such as when the ACT or SAT tests are used with 7th graders or by the STB and SCAT assessments that talent searches tend to use. By removing aptitude as a category, this would reduce the candidate pool and the list of usable tools. How would ability be measured? Is that not synonymous with potential? We recommend retaining aptitude as one of the indicators for the identification process.
Adding the last proposed sentence would help ensure accountability and compliance at the local school level.
- Section .02D: A universal screening process shall be used to identify at least 10 percent of students in each school as early as possible but no later than Grade 3. Additional identification shall occur at the 3-5 and 6-9 grade bands for participation in the programs and services described in Regulation .03 of this chapter.
We strongly support the underlying precept of this section; there are gifted learners in every school district and in every school and it is imperative that students of color, students of poverty, students who are native speakers of a language other than English, and students who are twice-exceptional who have been under-identified and underserved for far too long, become recognized and supported. We do wonder what is meant by “no later than Grade 3”. Does this mean the beginning of Grade 3 or by the end of Grade 3? We also strongly support the additional identification bands to help ensure no child is left unidentified.
We are divided as to whether or not the 10 percent of identified students should be done at the school level or at the district level and we see and understand arguments on both sides of this issue.
We also understand that should the paradigm shift to the use of local norms, this will be a heavy lift for LEA’s and will require a lot of education and communication throughout the state and within school communities and with stakeholders. Such a large-scale change will need to be appropriately supported by the state.
- Section .02E (2): Develop equitable policies for identification and a process for appeals including deadlines for all parties and appeal decision criteria that are clearly stated in writing, made public, and consistently implemented systemwide.
Requiring deadlines and appeal decision criteria provides support for parents that is currently lacking. Appeals deadlines are often in place for parents, but not necessarily for local school districts, who may not have a requirement to respond to an appeal within a particular time frame. This can string out appeals processes for months and possibly even years, all to the detriment of the child.
- Section .02E (3): Annually review the effectiveness of its identification process to ensure alignment with current evidence-based practices.
This allows for both MSDE and local school districts to review identification processes annually and to continually update systems given new research and also implement the latest best practices.
- Section .03C (1): Provide a continuum of appropriately differentiated curriculum and evidence-based academic programs and services with adequate instructional time in grades PreK-12 during the regular school day for identified gifted and talented students.
It is not unusual to hear from parents that their child is not receiving adequate instructional time. The math acceleration program in Baltimore County (“Head and Shoulders”) provides advanced math learners instructional time with a teacher just once per week for around 60 minutes. Devices delivering personalized learning to students who have finished work early can mean students have less instructional time with teachers.
This also begs the question as to what happens to the PreK-2 child who has not yet been identified until potentially grade 3 (02.D). As per item .02E (1), the PreK-2 child may have had evidence of their advanced learning behaviors documented but may not have yet been formally identified. We hear regularly from the parents of Pre-K-2 students who believe that their child’s academic needs are not being met.
- Section .06 A&B: [Local] Beginning September 1, 2019, local school systems shall [in accordance with Education Article, §5-401(c), Annotated Code of Maryland, report in their Bridge to Excellence Master Plans] report their identification process, continuum of programs and services, and data-informed goals, targets, strategies, [objectives,] and [strategies regarding the performance of gifted and talented students along with] timelines [for implementation and methods for measuring progress] regarding the performance of gifted and talented students in their consolidated local Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. B. Beginning September 1, 2019, the Maryland State Department of Education shall: (1) Facilitate a peer-review of local school systems’ gifted and talented identification, programs, and services every 3 years; and (2) Submit an annual report on the status and progress of gifted and talented students in Maryland to the State Board of Education.
We are very pleased to see the stronger language regarding monitoring and reporting requirements. We do know that previous iterations of reports (as in the Bridge to Excellence plans) have historically not been a great source of data. It is unclear to us what exactly would be reported via the ESSA plan and how transparent that would be to stakeholders. We believe there needs to be some structure to the report so that issues are clear. What stakeholders want to know are things like how healthy the GT program is in a particular school district, how does it look on a disaggregated basis at a school-by-school level, and how much growth are GT kids really experiencing? Where is a particular GT program excelling and where does it need improvement?
Thank you very much for the opportunity to share with you our thoughts on the proposed revision to COMAR 13A.04.07. Overall, we find the revision to be a really good thing, but even stronger with our proposed changes.
The Baltimore County Public Schools Citizens Advisory Committee for Gifted and Talented Education