The developer of a profile to identify gifted students in Salt Lake School District defended the test at a meeting Monday, but many parents continued to be critical of the instrument.
The STAR (Student Talent and Risk) profile was administered for the first time this year. The district changed its selection process for gifted and talented students after concerns expressed last year, including suggestions that the process may have discriminated against minority students.Considerable discussion and work went into the change, said Gene Sysak, supervisor of educational support services. The district hired a consultant, James Curry of the University of Southern Maine, to analyze the old system and help strengthen Extended Learning Programs at middle school level.
Curry did not, however, specifically recommend the STAR profile that is now being challenged by parents.
The profile is given 40 percent of the weight in determining a child's placement in a gifted program, Sysak said, and reduces other factors that had previously been used such as nationally normed test scores and teacher recommendations.
The objective of the 150 questions in the profile is to assess academic ability, creativity, artistic potential, leadership, emotional maturity and educational orientation. Some of the questions are designed to identify factors that could put the child at risk educationally.
Parents have complained to the Salt Lake Board of Education that the test discriminates against students who are modest about their abilities or those with poor family circumstances. Sysak told the Deseret News, however, that data indicate the program changes have been beneficial toward eliminating biases against minority and poor children, even though more progress is needed.
Robert Ellison, director of the Institute for Behavioral Research in Creativity, which developed the STAR profile, said the company based the profile evaluation on many years of research. He said the biographical inventory had not been evaluated in the Salt Lake District, because it has to be used before the results can be analyzed.
"We need to have an operational program in effect for the district and students before we can evaluate it," said Ellison.
Some in the audience also questioned the use of a test developed by the institute, which also was hired by the district to evaluate its programs for gifted and talented students.
The profile was recommended to Salt Lake by educators in Davis and Jordan districts who have used it for some time, said Sysak.
Presentations by Ellison and district personnel were constantly interrupted by sometimes belligerent parents who questioned the validity of the profile. They were concerned with questions regarding a child's race and whether the child had ever been offered drugs.
Those particular questions, Ellison said, are not used to identify exceptional children but are useful for his company's research on conditions that put a student at risk.
Dr. John Michael, Salt Lake physician, presented a list of questions regarding the STAR profile, including how questions are scored and whether there is evidence that the test actually measures the targeted variables in sixth-graders.
The profile is part of a set of criteria that guide recommendations for student placement in ELP programs.
The Salt Lake Board of Education is expected to discuss the issue during a board meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m.