Tuesday, October 21, 2014

School Board's Achievement Committee Holds Off Vote on Gifted Standards

The State Board of Education's Achievement Committee pushed back a vote on new operating standards for gifted education Monday over one member's objection, although committee Chairman C. Todd Jones said emergency consideration at next month's board meeting could keep the rules on schedule.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster), the House Finance and Appropriations Committee chairman, weighed in with concerns about a recent draft of changes, sending a letter to board members to reinforce the legislative intent behind gifted funding.

Staff from the Ohio Department of Education's Office of Exceptional Children said about 250 comments were submitted about the rules, many from parents. Sue Zake and Wendy Stoica, director and assistant director of the office, respectively, said local schools said they liked the flexibility enabled by changes to class size, caseload and instruction standards. Gifted advocacy organizations and others, however, cited concerns those changes could cut down on the scope and quality of services and allow teachers without proper training to instruct gifted students.

Committee member Ann Jacobs opposed Jones' move to delay the vote by a month, saying the latest draft of rules strikes an appropriate balance.

"I think it's a well-written, well-reasoned compromise," she said. "Nothing is perfect. Nothing is going to please everyone."

Jones said he wanted to try for greater consensus before moving on, noting questions he'd received about the latest draft over the weekend from board member Tess Elshoff, as well as his own desire to discuss the changes with staff and others.

Jones said he'd received a commitment from board President Debe Terhar to give the rules emergency consideration in November, meaning they can be passed by the committee and full board at the same meeting. Normal procedure calls for presenting committee recommendations at one meeting and voting on them then next.

The standards are up for their required five-year review, and failure to reauthorize or revise them in the near future could result in a bid to invalidate them from the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. The board has already received multiple extensions on the five-year review process.

State Superintendent Richard Ross weighed in during committee members' discussion to say the standards might not be as important in spurring changes as accountability measures for gifted education in the new A-F report cards for local schools.

"That's going to drive more response than we've had by dictating on inputs," Ross said.

But one vulnerability in holding schools accountable through the report cards is a small number of districts might avoid being graded by not identifying gifted students, Ross said.


Amstutz' letter, which is based on his review of a Sept. 5 draft of the rules, says he has "several concerns" that prompted him to send the letter "to clear up any misunderstanding with regard to the intent of the law as this rule moves forward."

"With respect to funding for gifted students, the General Assembly provided district funds for the identification of gifted students as well as gifted coordinators and gifted intervention specialists. It is the intent of the General Assembly that these funds will be used by districts specifically for the identification of gifted students and the employment or contracting of gifted coordinators and gifted intervention specialists. In addition to provisions dealing with funding, there are statutory provisions that requirement implementation of measures of satisfactory achievement and progress of each student subgroup," he wrote.

"I have received Chairman Amstutz' letter. I don't agree with his interpretation," Jones said during committee discussion, saying legal mandates don't necessarily need to be referenced again in the operating standards.

Monday's meeting included some contentious exchanges between Jones and Jacobs, who quickly objected to Jones' declaration of a lack of consensus before anyone else had spoken, and also pushed back on his assertion that he could block movement of proposals that the majority of the committee favored.

"I have no obligation to bring forward a regulation or any other motion for which the chair is diametrically opposed to the consensus of the committee," Jones said, noting the law does not require adoption of the operating standards.

Jacobs then questioned the purpose of having committee discussions at all if Jones was prepared to use his chairman's prerogative in that way.

"It seems like it's a bully pulpit for the chairman of the committee, and there's no democracy here," she said.

Story originally published in The Hannah Report on October 7, 2013.  Copyright 2013 Hannah News Service, Inc.


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