Schools Make Changes in Testing for Gifted Students

Parents no longer can pay for testing in one district, while another district never offered it. Yet another tests all third-graders.

Parents in Capistrano Unified School District will no longer be able to pay to find out if their children are eligible for the gifted student program this year.

Meanwhile a nearby school district never offered the for-fee testing, and another top district in Orange County tests every student for free.

Each year, teachers in Capo single out students in third-seventh grades who they may believe may fall into the 95th percentile on a special test, called the Otis-Lennon School Abilities Test.

Students who are labeled as gifted are eligible for the district’s Gifted and Talented Education programming, or GATE, and are often placed in accelerated classes and/or subjects, according to the CUSD website.

Prior to this year, parents who believed their children could meet the standard even though their teachers did not send an invitation to test could pay to take the test as well. In 2008, the cost was $65. Last year, it was $100, according to emails from the schools.

In September 2010, the Southern California chapter of the ACLU sued the state and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for allowing school districts to charge students various fees for both school and after-school activities, the so-called “pay to play” policy.

The resulting settlement requires school districts to find a way to make all educational activities free for all schoolchildren.

Earlier this year, legislation passed in Sacramento that made the changes law, and so Capo can no longer offer the for-fee testing, according to the district website

Various Capo schools throughout the district were advertising the for-fee testing as recently as this month. The schools then sent out “recall” notices starting the week of Nov. 13.

District officials could not be reached for comment.

Over at Saddleback Valley Unified, the fee-based testing was never offered. Last year, teachers recommended 1,800 students for GATE testing, said Tammy Blakely, assistant to the superintendent.

However, there is still a way for parents to pursue GATE designation, even if the teachers did not recommend it for their children, Blakely said.

“Parents may have their student tested by a licensed clinical or educational psychologist at their own expense if their student was not referred for GATE testing,” she said. “Results of the GATE testing would need to be forwarded to the GATE office to be considered for GATE identification.”

Los Alamitos Unified takes yet another approach. That district tests every third-grader for free, said Tina Dingillo, executive assistant to the superintendent.

“Each school holds a GATE meeting usually at the beginning of the school year and usually at back-to-school night to explain the GATE program and the GATE identification process,” Dingillo said.

Testing for the school districts usually takes place early in the second semester. Invitations to Capo students get put in the mail in December.

John Crandall and Martin Henderson contributed to this report.


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