Update on APS “Reorganization” of Gifted Education: A 5.24.17 Memo

Prologue: The “Revised MEMO” below is from Albuquerque Public Schools’ Associate Superintendent Lucinda Sanchez in response to recent inquiries as to how Gifted Education in The District may be “reorganized” due to both budget cutbacks and perceived best practices going forward. 

In an email reply to my inquiries on the subject, Ms. Sanchez passes along to, quote, “please know the draft memo sent to you is just that, a draft that has never been presented to the Board or community.” A previous iteration of the memo below was sent out on 5.23.17. 

I wrote a little something on the situation a few days back, and will be injecting more commentary, as a former teacher of the Gifted, in coming days, after having the chance to clarify and better understand some of the wording in the memo below. Far more important than any observations I might make, Better Burque very much welcomes input on the memo specifically, and Gifted Education in general, from current/past teachers of the Gifted and parents/students. 

What do you think? Where does it all go from here? Where should it all go from here?

In the meantime, here is a .pdf version of that memo dated 5.24.17: CONCERNS REGARDING REORGANIZATION OF GIFTED EDUCATION, and below that memo copy/pasted into the WordPress format…

sanchez memo header


RE: Concerns Regarding Reorganization of Gifted Education
FROM: APS Special Education Department
Date: 24 May 2017
The reorganization of gifted education in Albuquerque Public Schools reflects a commitment to serving gifted students according to individualized needs in their own communities and to ensuring equity of access to gifted education services regardless of where students live in the City. To do this, the District is committed to using research-based practices for gifted students at all APS schools through an inclusive model for gifted education that provides opportunities to learn with a mixed group of peers including, but not limited to, peers of equal ability.
This memo addresses concerns recently raised by the Albuquerque Public Schools Gifted Advisory Committee (GAC) and other parents of gifted students in APS regarding the reorganization of gifted education in APS.
I. No child will see a change in services or screening opportunities through the $1.044 million budget savings in gifted education. The budget savings does not involve cutting transportation for gifted students, eliminating gifted courses, or a reduction in screening for potentially gifted students.

The budget savings approved by the Board of Education of Albuquerque Public Schools (the “Board”) on 22 May 2017 does not arise from cutting transportation for gifted education students or eliminating gifted education courses. When meeting with parents, APS Special Education Department representatives have explained that the budget savings are a result of taking teachers out of the classroom.
The bulk of the $1.044 million in budget savings arises from shifting district level gifted resource teachers back into the classroom as itinerant teachers for B-Level gifted students, students who spend 50% or less of their day receiving gifted services. These itinerant teachers will be assigned to schools where there has been approximately half of a caseload of B-Level gifted students in need of service. It is anticipated a single itinerant teacher will serve such students in at least two schools and, thus, the teachers who were previously teaching approximately half of a caseload at only one school will now be freed up to take on full caseloads elsewhere. In this way, APS is utilizing all of its wonderful teachers in the most efficient manner. This is particularly important for schools that previously had no gifted education teacher at all. By moving gifted education resource teachers back into the classroom, we are serving more gifted students more efficiently.
Previously, the district level resource teachers were spending their time predominantly screening students, and doing so through the alternative assessment method of evaluating students for giftedness. Going forward, APS will assess students using the standard/traditional assessment method, a more holistic approach to evaluating children. This method allows each school site to screen children on an “as needed” basis through the same SAT process used to evaluate students for suspected disabilities. By moving away from screening windows conducted at the district level, students will not have to wait for specific screening dates to be considered for potential gifted eligibility.
II. High school gifted classes are not part of the reorganization of gifted services at APS: parent concerns about the same arise from a “Draft Revised Gifted Proposal” never presented to the Board.

Through the GAC’s letter to the Board on 19 May 2017, and additional correspondence to District personnel and/or members of the Board, parents have raised concerns about the elimination of high school gifted classes with fewer than ten students as described in a document called “Draft Revised Gifted Proposal” for reorganizing gifted education in APS. This draft was only one of a number of proposals considered by the APS Special Education Department in response to a request by Superintendent Reedy to evaluate different levels of budget cuts the District might be required to make in light of the current state budgetary crisis. This Draft Revised Gifted Proposal was never presented to the Superintendent or the Board for approval. The actual proposal for budget savings was presented to the Board on 16 May 2017 and became part of the budget approved by the Board on 22 May 2017.
The reorganization of gifted education in APS does not presently include a plan to eliminate high school gifted classes.
III. APS must be fiscally responsible even if the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) does not require APS to make budget adjustments.

As the Board explained in the 22 May 2017 Board meeting, taking a deep look at district expenditures, including longstanding practices, is required not only to be fiscally responsible but to improve outcomes for children. In light of the current budgetary crisis in New Mexico, all APS Departments analyzed the use of operational dollars. The Special Education Department was no different. It, too, analyzed its use of resources and realized that through the appropriate reorganization of gifted services, the District could reallocate a bit more than $1 million of operational dollars with no change in services to children. By undertaking this process, the APS Special Education Department also identified other practices in gifted education that may be inefficient or could be changed to improve equity in access to services across the District.
Whether specifically required by the PED or not, APS representatives must act as good stewards of public dollars.

IV. APS is committed to providing gifted education that meets individual needs regardless of the fact that gifted students are not entitled to the same procedural safeguards as are students with disabilities.

The APS Special Education Department expects neighborhood schools, IEP teams and teachers to provide gifted education to their gifted students. Notwithstanding, gifted students are not entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), as that term is defined in the federal statute, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA mandates procedures and standards for providing FAPE to students with disabilities. Districts are not required to provide FAPE to gifted students under federal or state law. The PED’s Technical Assistance Manual for Gifted Education specifically instructs that “since giftedness is not a disability category recognized under the IDEA, the federal term FAPE does not apply to students who are gifted in New Mexico.” See PED’s Gifted Education in New Mexico Technical Assistance Manual, at p. 24. Nor are gifted students entitled to FAPE under New Mexico regulations. NMAC (FAPE) and NMAC (regulations for gifted education) clarify that the term FAPE only applies to students with disabilities – not to the gifted.
Moreover, the New Mexico Administrative Code is unclear about how – or whether – the Least Restrict Environment (LRE) analysis can be undertaken for gifted students. Even if LRE applies to gifted students, and even if LRE may require students receive some gifted education services “outside the regular classroom for at least part of the day,” “[t]his does not mean that all gifted education services are delivered outside the general education classroom. Other placement options may be appropriate. For example, students who are gifted may have accommodations or be participating in an enhancement of the fifth grade curriculum or they may be proceeding through the general ed curriculum at a different level. (Example, may be working on skills in the eighth grade curriculum).” Frequently Asked Questions, New Mexico Public Education Department Strategic Initiatives Division, November, 2011, at p. 4 (emphasis added). “No single program fully addresses all the psychological and emotional needs of students.” PED’s Gifted Education in New Mexico Technical Assistance Manual, at p.73. Therefore, even if LRE does apply to gifted students in New Mexico, assumptions that LRE looks the same for all gifted students or for subgroups of the gifted is unsupported.
APS will provide services to gifted students on an individualized basis pursuant to New Mexico law.

V. Under reorganization of gifted education in APS, neighborhood schools will provide B-Level and C-Level services; therefore, transportation to non-neighborhood schools is unnecessary for students to access gifted education.

Under the reorganization of gifted education in APS, neighborhood schools will serve all levels of gifted students; thus, transporting students to non-neighborhood schools is unnecessary. Some parents believe only certain APS schools are capable of serving highly-gifted students and, therefore, they also believe APS must transport highly-gifted students to those certain schools. A teacher who is endorsed to teach gifted students has the ability to teach gifted students of any level of giftedness. This is one of the objectives of assigning the District’s resource teachers to serve as itinerant teachers: APS is working to ensure every school provides a continuum of gifted services to their own neighborhood children.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, APS Special Education has instructed principals that students currently attending non-neighborhood elementary schools for gifted services may remain there under a “grandfather clause” as long as the parents of such students provide transportation. These students may remain at those non-neighborhood schools for the duration of their tenure in elementary school.
Associated with this issue is the position of the APS Special Education Department that, under the New Mexico Administrative Code, gifted only students are not entitled to related services, including transportation. The NMAC defines a gifted child as a school-aged person meeting eligibility criteria for whom an IEP team determines special education services are required to meet the child’s educational needs: this definition does not include a person needing related services. NMAC (definition of “gifted child”). Conversely, the NMAC defines a child with a disability as a child who meets all requirements of 34 C.F.R. 300.8 and among other criteria needs related services. Transportation is a related service. Therefore, it is APS’s understanding that eliminating transportation from IEPs of gifted students is not a violation of the right to receive gifted education under state law.
As an aside, eliminating transportation from the IEPs of gifted students was not part of the $1.044 million budget savings approved by the Board of Education on 22 May 2017 even if such change in practice ultimately results in a cost-savings to the District.

VI. Under reorganization of gifted education, APS will provide services on an individualized basis rather than through one-size-fits-all programming.

Gifted education teachers are capable of differentiating specialized instruction to meet individual needs of students. One concern raised by parents is a belief that gifted students cannot be served in a general education setting and must only be educated with peers of equal ability. Some parents also believe the District must segregate these gifted students either in their own neighborhood school or in District level classrooms. The New Mexico Administrative Code contains no such mandate. In fact, the NMAC allows school districts to provide gifted programming to regular education students, meaning a district can provide gifted instruction in a regular education setting. NMAC While the PED’s Technical Assistance Manual does provide that gifted students “to the maximum extent appropriate” should be educated with “peers of equal ability,” those words do not mean students receiving gifted services must be taught in a segregated setting with only peers of equal ability. PED’s Gifted Education in New Mexico Technical Assistance Manual, at p.73.
In fact, the PED’s Manual explains that “cluster grouping” in the general education setting is a research-based best practice that offers a way for schools to provide gifted services in the regular education classroom. Under that model, there are a number of gifted peers of equal ability who are in classes with students of mixed ability. PED’s Gifted Education in New Mexico Technical Assistance Manual, at p.87. “Instructional practices for students who are gifted indicate that a greater emphasis needs to be placed on involvement with the general education curriculum, while using an increased emphasis on collaborative teaching models.” PED’s Gifted Education Technical Assistance Manual, at p.91.
Under reorganization, APS will provide students of all abilities opportunities to learn together not only for academic reasons but also for growth of the whole child. For students who require extensive-level gifted services, the APS Special Education Department envisions these students may be segregated with peers of equal ability for part of the day either within their regular education classroom or in a separate gifted education classroom, but the APS Special Education Department does not endorse segregating these students more than is necessary to meet individual needs.

VII. Parents are concerned about APS reorganizing middle school gifted classes in 2018-19 to eliminate offerings in science and social studies.

First, gifted science and social studies courses will continue to be offered at APS middle schools in the 2017-18 school year. No final decisions have been made about the 2018-19 school year.
It is the opinion of the APS Special Education Department that segregated gifted education courses in science and/or social studies are not required to meet the needs of gifted students in middle school. The APS Special Education Department is still examining this issue. In the event APS Special Education Department leadership discontinues offering segregated gifted science and social studies courses, enrichment for gifted students in these courses may be offered as electives whereby gifted education teachers collaborate with regular education teachers to differentiate for gifted education in the regular education classroom. This consideration aligns with PED’s guidance on research-based education. “Greater emphasis is being placed on facilitating differentiation in the regular education classroom for students who are gifted.” PED’s Gifted Education Technical Assistance Manual, at page 91.

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