Report on gifted program lacking

Schools officials say $175,000 study offers little specific advice

Anne Arundel

July 30, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County schools officials called a consultant's $175,000 study of the gifted and talented program inconclusive but said it provided leads on revamping a program many parents say is inadequate.

The 30-page report -- which consultant KPMG spent more than a year preparing -- offers few specific suggestions for improving the county's programs for gifted students. Officials said they would need more expert guidance before determining how to proceed.

"It does give us areas to improve, but they're not the specifics you would have hoped for and I would have hoped for," said Assistant Superintendent Nancy Mann.

Added Superintendent Eric J. Smith, "I generally like to see some pretty specific recommendations coming back when you hire a consultant."

Smith, wrapping up his first month as superintendent, said he will use the report along with other information to develop a plan for improving education for gifted students. The first piece of the plan could be presented to the school board by January.

Smith said he will consider hiring more gifted and talented resource teachers, creating magnet elementary and middle schools for gifted children, and introducing the pre-International Baccalaureate program in elementary and middle schools. The International Baccalaureate program is a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum for gifted high school students.

"I think we ought to be discussing magnet programs," Smith said. "There needs to be a significant, robust program for gifted students at the elementary level."

Laura Price, the KPMG consultant who wrote the report, did not return a phone call seeking comment yesterday.

The report offered these recommendations:

Develop a "needs assessment process" for the gifted program to determine whether it's serving students well.

Develop a "systematic methodology" to identify gifted students.

Develop a "defensible resource acquisition plan" to identify the staffing and resources needed to run the program.

Conduct an annual evaluation of the program.

Expand staff development to provide more hands-on, in-classroom teacher training.

Solicit feedback from parents.

Parents of Anne Arundel gifted students said they hope yesterday's release of the report will spur the school system to action. They say the system's gifted programs in elementary and middle schools are virtually nonexistent, forcing them to pay for private programs to meet their children's needs.

While the school system identifies gifted students early on, using test scores and teacher observations, they are not placed in separate classes. Instead, teachers are encouraged to offer "extension projects" that give gifted children extra work beyond what the rest of the class is doing. Some teachers do this; others don't.

"Some schools were doing wonderful things and other schools were doing nothing," said Debra Curro, executive director of the Gifted and Talented Association of Anne Arundel County, an advocacy group. Curro said she paid thousands of dollars for her eighth-grade son to enroll in an advanced math program at the Johns Hopkins University.

"There's no real challenge and there's no gifted program in middle school," she said. "What the county has on paper, in theory, is not actually happening in the classroom."

When Smith was asked yesterday if the school system had gotten its money's worth with the KPMG report, he said: "We will. It might not be in this document, but by the time it's over we will."

The system will bring in more consultants on a short-term basis, but it won't pay them anywhere near what KPMG was paid, he said. The system will not, he said, work with KPMG on this issue again.

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