Parents upset over a new student self-evaluation form used to help identify gifted students are demanding that the Salt Lake Board of Education order an independent review of the questionnaire.
"We are concerned about its inherent bias against modest kids and those with poor family backgrounds. We question the validation of the test for this purpose," Clara Michael told the board Tuesday night.Grace Forsythe, a parent who identified herself as a mental-health professional, said she, too, questioned whether the biographical assessment form, called Student Talent and Risk (STAR), discriminates against children who "are not boastful or who are too self-critical, not from homes with economic means or come from single-parent homes or homes where both parents work."
STAR was given to any sixth-grader seeking placement in the full-time, districtwide program for gifted seventh- and eighth-graders located at West High School. The district also offers advanced classes for gifted students at its five intermediate schools.
STAR provides 150 multiple-choice questions used to assess academic performance, creativity, artistic potential, leadership, emotional maturity, educational orientation and situations that may put the student "at risk." District officials said they don't use all questions in identifying gifted students.
Forsythe objected to such questions as those asking the number of books in a student's home, the number of civic and professional organizations to which the parents belong, the number of days absent without asking for an explanation, the number of private lessons taken by the student, the way a student spends money in comparison to his peers.
But Nano Podolsky, coordinator for the district's gifted program, called Extended Learning Program, said the new form was used as a way to open up the selection process for the gifted program.
Last year, minority representatives complained to the board that ELP discriminated against minorities, with few minority parents and their children knowing of its availability or participating.
In the past, Podolsky said, placement in the ELP program was based largely on standardized test scores and teacher recommendations. That selection method seemed weighted heavily to verbal students, she said.
With the inclusion of the biographical inventory STAR, which has been used successfully by Jordan and Davis school districts for years, "for the first time it allows students some input (into the selection process). . . . It has given us a wealth of very useful information," Podolsky said.
She said all sixth-graders were invited to take STAR and 939, or almost half of the district's sixth grade, complied. Notices were sent home in several languages.
Eventually, 174 applied for West's intermediate ELP program, and 71 were accepted.
Superintendent John W. Bennion reported parents have been invited to meet with the developers of STAR, which has been used nationwide for 30 years. He also said it's too early to make a final judgment on its use yet.