Gifted education in Pennsylvania is governed by Pennsylvania law under 22 Pa. Code §§16.1 – 16.65. The purpose of this law, “Chapter 16,” is to provide an education to each identified student that is based upon the unique needs of that student. The district is required to identify eligible students. This education can include acceleration and/or enrichment programs and services that are administered according to the student’s intellectual and academic needs and abilities. Chapter 16 also provides for procedural safeguards which allow parents to challenge the district’s identification of a child as gifted and challenge the appropriateness of the services being provided to gifted students.
Who is considered gifted under Chapter 16?
A gifted student under Chapter 16 is defined as “a student who is exceptional under section 1371 of the School Code (24 P. S. § 13-1371).” Who is considered a gifted student, a “student with exceptionalities,” cannot be determined by one single test or quantitative measure such as IQ. The school district must take into account many variables such as behavior, IQ, performance, interest of the child, and many other factors/tests in determining if a child is a gifted student. Because there is not a bright line rule that says “a gifted student must have an IQ of ‘X’” most due process challenges brought by parents are brought because of disagreements about identification of their child as gifted or not gifted. A review of recent hearing officer decisions can give a better overview of how a hearing officer determines if a child is gifted and how the gifted child should be educated.
Case study 1 “Child A” – Student was determined to be gifted at previous school outside the state after testing with an IQ of 132 and was enrolled in that district’s gifted program. After moving to Pennsylvania 5 years later and enrolling in the district’s gifted program the child was tested again – tests revealed IQ was now 108 and 104. The district subsequently decided they wanted to remove child from gifted program, and the parent challenged the district’s attempted removal from gifted program. The Hearing Officer overturned the decision of the district and decided that the child should be in gifted program despite average testing scores and admittedly strong evidence to remove the child from the gifted program. Evidence presented showed that the child was bored in the regular classroom, it was easy for the child to get As with little effort, and the child was much more engaged when challenged in the gifted program – the child testified that the gifted program was something that was important to her. The child actually received the same scores as most of the gifted students while in the district’s gifted program, and the gifted instructor spoke highly of the students ability to think critically and problem solve. Furthermore, the Hearing Officer concluded that the drop in scores and inconsistency of grades/effort could possibly be attributed to the frequent moving of the child and underlying emotional/behavioral problems that were never considered. In sum, there was strong evidence on both sides, parent and district, but the Hearing Officer decided that it was more appropriate to keep the child in the gifted program based on the child’s history being involved with gifted education and the previous determination that the child was in fact gifted with an IQ of 132 by a different district. The Hearing Officer did not find that this previous assessment of the child was erroneous.
Case study 2 “Child B” – Child B was homeschooled for the first two years of education. (pre-K/Kindergarten) The district determined that the child was in fact “gifted,” but ultimately placed the child in kindergarten classes with gifted services. The services involved pulling the student out of the classroom for special advanced instruction. The parent agreed that the child is gifted, but the parent felt that the child should be placed in 1st grade with different gifted services because the child had already went through kindergarten curriculum while home schooled, and the child performs better in a group setting – removing the child for gifted services was not benefiting the child. The district argued that the student was not emotionally or socially prepared for the first grade as the student had the maturity level of a typical kindergarten student. Ultimately, the Hearing Officer agreed with both arguments – the student could perform the first grade work at a high level, but the child was not socially ready for 1st grade. Essentially, the Hearing Officer had to weigh the potential for emotional growth vs the potential to progress at a higher academic curriculum. He believed that placing the child in kindergarten with gifted services that enhanced the advanced academic needs of the child was the best of both worlds and sided with the district. He also reiterated that the parents/gifted team could work together to make slight tweaks to the program in place if necessary and that the program will be altered as the child grows older. The parents had a great argument that the child was acting like a typical kindergartner because the child was exposed to kindergarten students and part of the child’s intelligence was being able to be a chameleon and blend into the environment. The argument followed that had the child been in the 1st grade, the child would have acted like typical 1st graders. The Hearing Officer acknowledged the argument, but was troubled that only the parents testified to this theory.
As seen in these two cases, gifted education cases are all extremely fact specific and often involve reasonable arguments for a Hearing Officer to decide in either direction. It is very difficult to determine exactly where a child should be placed and if a child should be considered gifted without knowing which statistics/arguments are considered most important to a hearing officer or district. Many times it may be best to contact a professional well versed in education law to help make these arguments for your child. If you would like a free consultation with a school lawyer in Pennsylvania or New Jersey call Montgomery Law today at 215-650-7563 or 856-282-5550.
… and of course, nothing in this article or website is to be taken as legal advice.