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Advisory committee says PPS is out of compliance with state law

COURTESY PHOTO - Portland Public Schools Talented and Gifted Advisory Committee Vice-Chair Nicole Iroz-Elardo

A district parent advisory group is mounting a campaign to convince Portland Public Schools that it is out of compliance with state laws by providing, it says, little to no Talented and Gifted services. A group spokesperson says several parents are exploring their legal options.

The volley reignites a battle that led the Oregon Department of Education to find in 2011 that PPS was in violation of TAG requirements and to put them on a corrective action plan.

Nicole Iroz-Elardo is assistant chair of the Talented and Gifted Advisory Committee (TAGAC). Iroz-Elardo argues that PPS is neither meeting the letter of the law nor the intent.

“That’s not happening right now in PPS. Not even close,” she says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were formal complaints this spring on any number of the issues listed.”

The TAGAC’s letter to Superintendent Carole Smith and the school board lists seven ways in which they feel the district is out of compliance. The complaints include lack of transparency, lack of parental involvement, out-of-date TAG plans, inconsistency, lack of equity, and failure to notify parents of the complaint procedure.

“There’s a general consensus that TAG services are nonexistent in PPS,” Iroz-Elardo says. She cites a 2012 parent survey from TAGAC in which four-fifths of parents said they felt the district did not offer adequate services to their TAG children. Those who did were in the ACCESS Academy Alternative Program. The first-to-eighth-grade school has grown from 218 students in 2013 to 305 students this year, but TAGAC chair Scholle McFarland says it still has a waiting list of 170 students who meet the qualifications.

TAG is defined as students who test in the 97th percentile of a nationally standardized test. Students can qualify for universal acceleration or subject-by-subject acceleration.

ACCESS Academy is for students in the 99th percentile who also have a demonstrated need for an alternative program, such as social/emotional factors or achievement in their school setting.

Talented and Gifted program director Andrew Johnson tells the Tribune the district is in compliance with state law and has rolled out a number of programs since 2011. These include:

  • A “scholar’s program” at several elementary schools.
  • A district-wide TAG plan and a TAG Facilitator Guide and trainings for school facilitators. This year, each building began work on updating its TAG plan.
  • Planning district-wide events and opportunities, such as the Oregon Spellers statewide spelling bee, as well as supporting current options such as the debate clubs, science fairs, Odyssey of the Mind and Battle of the Books.
  • But Iroz-Elardo argues that rather than pull-out tutoring, the district wants instruction to be differentiated in the classroom by the general education teacher.

    “It sounds great, but that requires a lot of professional development to teachers and it isn’t actually occurring,” she says.

    Johnson said in an email that he appreciates the advocacy of the committee but that the district is building a strong program.

    “This has been an engaged and committed group of parents,” Johnson said. “In the last year, PPS has made a number of important strides for our TAG students and is still working in collaboration with TAGAC to accelerate that work.”

    The disagreement now turns to the Oregon Department of Education, where the district is expected to submit a Division 22 Assurance of Compliance by Feb. 15. The document certifies that the district is in compliance with a range of state mandates, including TAG services. It is on the agenda for the Tuesday, Jan. 26 school board meeting. (UPDATE 1/26/16: The Division 22 compliance statement has been removed from the agenda.)

    “I do think there is a perception at Blanchard (Education Service Center) and across the city that TAG kids will be fine no matter what,” Iroz-Elardo says. But she says that’s a dangerous philosophy. “Nothing to say of not reaching their potential — the boredom and the issues that come with not being engaged in school, it does lead to drop outs and it does lead to behaviors.”

    Shasta Kearns Moore
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