OAAE letter to the State Board of Education re: Gifted Standards

OAAE Letter to SBE re Gifted Standards Nov 2 2015

November 2, 2015

Thomas W. Gunlock
President
State Board of Education
25 South Front Street
Columbus, OH 43215
Tom.Gunlock@education.ohio.gov

Dear President Gunlock:

The Ohio Alliance for Arts Education (OAAE) appreciates the opportunity to comment about the proposed 9/15/15 draft of Operating Standards for Identifying and Serving Gifted Students – Ohio Administrative Code Rule 3301-51-15, which is being revised under the five-year review rule process.

OAAE represents more than twenty arts and arts education organizations and over 8000 arts educators in Ohio. OAAE members include the Ohio Music Education Association, the Ohio Art Education Association, OhioDance, and the Ohio Educational Theatre Association/Ohio Thespian Society. The OAAE is also affiliated with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Alliance for Arts Education Network, based in Washington, D.C.

The OAAE works to ensure that all Ohio students are prepared with the knowledge and skills to pursue careers in the arts; higher education in the arts; and participate in the arts throughout their lives. To achieve these goals the OAAE advocates for all students to study the fine arts, including dance, drama/theater, media arts, music, and visual art in school; study at least one art form in depth; and graduate with at least one high school credit in the arts.

OAAE members are interested in the quality of the Ohio Administrative Code rules adopted by the State Board to implement ORC 3324 regarding gifted education, because many are involved in identifying and serving students who are gifted in the arts.  These are students who exhibit a superior ability in the visual or performing arts when compared to children of similar age, and have demonstrated a sufficient level of performance on a checklist approved by the ODE.

We respectfully make the following recommendations about the draft Rule 3301-51-15:

  • Identification of Students: Restore the definitions in current Rule 3301-51-15 (A) including the definition of “gifted” and “visual and performing arts,” and specific language about the identification of students in the current rule (C).

The proposed draft rule (9/15/15 version) for gifted education streamlines the standards by eliminating duplicate language from the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) and clarifications of the law, but as a result the proposed rule is rather vague. According to our members, who work with districts and teachers to identify and serve gifted students, there is a lot of variability among school districts regarding the identification of students who are gifted. The provisions removed from this section provided school districts, parents, and the public with examples of best practices that increased understanding and transparency about the identification process. The lack of detail and examples in the draft rule could increase the potential for misinterpretations of laws and rules. Local school districts need more detail about implementing the laws to ensure equitable ID measures across the state.

On a positive note, the proposed standards expand whole-grade testing for identifying gifted students, including students with disabilities, students who are learning English, or students who are a minority or disadvantaged.

  • Gifted Services and Personnel:  Restore the criteria for quality of services for gifted students in the current rule (D), including types of gifted service options, caseload limits, minimum staffing, minutes of instruction, instructional settings, qualifications of service providers (E), responsibilities of an intervention specialist and coordinator, and guidance services. 

 The proposed rule focuses on providing school districts with more flexibility rather than setting high quality standards to improve the quality of gifted services and the achievement of students who are gifted.  Many of the provisions removed from these sections clarified the law by providing examples of best practices to create the optimal conditions for serving gifted students, including social and emotional supports.

It has also come to our attention that in some school districts principals and other administrators have been assigned to coordinate gifted services, adding to their responsibilities, and raising questions about their capacity to adequately support gifted education programs and students in addition to meeting all of their other duties.

  • Accountability and Funding: Restore language in the current rule parts (F) and (G) that requires ODE audits of school district gifted programs; allows the ODE to remove state funding for gifted education from school districts that do not comply with the standards; and allows ODE to remediate and reconstitute gifted services in districts that are chronically failing gifted students.

 The proposed draft rule sends the wrong message to school districts by remaining silent on audits and compliance with standards.  School districts are required by law to identify students who are gifted, and comply with the gifted rules, which have the force of law. The “removed” language requiring ODE audits aligned completely with the intent of the law, and reinforced identifying gifted students as a district priority.

The removed language, which allowed the ODE to remove funding and reconstitute gifted services in school districts not complying with standards, protected students from failing gifted education programs.

The proposed rule should also include specific parameters for school districts when they spend state funds for gifted education programs, and require school districts to collect and report data on specific input measures to determine the effect on gifted services. 

Several sections of the ORC, including sections 3301.07, 3317.022, 3317.051, and 3317.40 specify parameters and accountability provisions for funds allocated to support education programs, including gifted education programs. The rule should include language that reinforces these transparency provisions and requires that state funds allocated to school districts for gifted identification and services support those efforts.

The rule should also support efforts to improve gifted services and increase student achievement by requiring school districts to report data on certain input measures to assess their effect on gifted outcomes.

The OAAE also supports the publication of an annual report about the status of gifted education, with specific information about the number of students identified and served in the visual and performing arts in Ohio’s schools.

  • General Comment: The OAAE urges the State Board of Education to adopt “rules” that meet the definition of “standard” and establish a level of quality for identifying and serving gifted students, rather than vague guidelines that are open to interpretation and could increase variability in the quality of gifted education programs among school districts statewide.

The proposed 9/15/15 draft rule for gifted education programs includes general statements that could lead to misinterpretations of the law, resulting in the identification of fewer students as gifted, a lower quality of gifted services, unqualified service providers, and less accountability for compliance with laws and rules and for the $68 million allocated by the state to support gifted education. Ambiguous rules could decrease student access to quality gifted services and, most sadly, decrease opportunities for students to achieve their full potential.

School administrators, members of boards of education, teachers, parents, students, and the general public rely on the State Board of Education to adopt clear, concise, and comprehensive rules that further clarify the law and support the full intent of the law.

The OAAE looks forward to the next draft Rule 3301-51-15 as this process continues, and looks forward to working with the State Board to complete this task.

Sincerely,

Tim Katz
Executive Director
Ohio Alliance for Arts Education

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About OAAE

Since our founding in 1974, by Dr. Dick Shoup and Jerry Tollifson, our mission has always been to ensure the arts are an integral part of the education of every Ohioan. Working at the local, state, and federal levels through the efforts of a highly qualified and elected Board of Directors, our members, and a professional staff we have four primary areas of focus: building collaborations, professional development, advocacy, and capacity building. The OAAE is funded in part for its day-to-day operation by the Ohio Arts Council. This support makes it possible for the OAAE to operate its office in Columbus and to work statewide to ensure the arts are an integral part of the education of every Ohioan. Support for arts education projects comes from the Ohio Arts Council, Ohio Music Education Association, Ohio Art Education Association, Ohio Educational Theatre Association, VSA Ohio, and OhioDance. The Community Arts Education programs of Central Ohio are financially assisted by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners and the Greater Columbus Arts Council. We gratefully acknowledge and appreciate the financial support received from each of these outstanding agencies and organizations.
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