Following up on a complaint filed in April, parents and students asked the Portland Public Schools board of directors Wednesday to increase services for students identified as talented and gifted.
The district has reported being out-of-compliance when it comes to meeting the needs of 7,752 students who qualify for these services.
District leaders have a three-year plan to improve, using professional development, expanded curriculum and better identification for underserved students. But the families want to see the district put money and resources into helping talented and gifted students now.
In a unanimous vote, the board decided not to change the existing plan or its timing.
Parent Megan Robertson said she wasn’t surprised. She wants the district’s leaders to support staff who serve these students.
“We do these things because we want to push along the conversation,” Robertson said. “I think to some extent that did happen.”
Robertson said she and other families were happy to hear that some members of the board agreed with them.
“Seems to me there are some things that could be done in the short term that wouldn’t require an infusion of a significant amount of new money,” said school board member Rita Moore.
Moore also pointed out that the district could improve by centralizing the Talented and Gifted program better. With more resources and support from district leaders, staff could make sure all schools provide TAG services.
“In order to have a culture change … it has to come from the top,” said Robertson.
PPS has provided talented and gifted training opportunities for teachers. And a $25,000 donation to the district specifically for talented and gifted education will offer eight professional development opportunities for up to 200 teachers at Title I schools this year.
But with a $1,185,000 budget, staffers say change can only be incremental.
According to the Oregon Department of Education, PPS is one of eight districts that have reported being out-of-compliance when it comes to talented and gifted education.
To change that, PPS staff said they’d have to make sure classroom teachers have proper training and educational materials. They would also want to make sure TAG students have the opportunity for individualized plans.
But the problem with moving forward on a TAG improvement plan is a problem school districts run into frequently – not having enough money to go around.
At Wednesday’s meeting, board members also talked about goals for the year. They want to see higher proficiency in third grade reading and fifth grade math. Looking at specific student groups, the achievement gaps are wide.
According to baseline student data from 2018, 19% of black students are proficient when it comes to third grade reading compared to 74% of white students. It’s 34% for Latino students.
In fifth grade math, 17% of students classified English Language Learners are proficient. Of all white students at that level, 61% are proficient.
Speaking to the families that showed up in support of greater TAG services, board member Scott Bailey told the families they weren’t alone.
“If you’ve seen what we were talking about in terms of our goal setting and where we are now, this is the challenge for the district across the board with every student,” Bailey said.
With all the need for resources in the district, board member Andrew Scott asked district leaders and community members to make sure giving resources to one group doesn’t mean taking them away from another.
“A question that the board needs to answer … is where do those resources come from?” Scott said. “One of the things we need to make sure that they don’t do? Do harm to other students in the district that we’re also failing.”
Parent Robertson said there is overlap between students classified as talented and gifted and students in other groups.
“The error in thinking in that viewpoint is that this concept of intersectionality,” Robertson said. “TAG students are not only TAG students.”
Board member Julia Brim-Edwards pointed out that even within the district’s current advanced courses, there are gaps in service. She pointed out differences in advanced placement classes, International Baccalaureate and dual credit programs from school to school.
“While we have a variation at all schools, it’s not the same and it's not equitably accessible,” Brim-Edwards said.
Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said the board will have tough decisions when the spring budget process rolls around.
“We’re also stretching the organizational capacity to cover work across a lot of different fronts,” Guerrero said.
The parents who filed the complaint about TAG programming have appealed to the Oregon Department of Education, requesting an investigation into PPS’ services. ODE said it will either accept or deny the appeal within 14 days of receiving it.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct a quote from PPS school board member Rita Moore. She said changes could be made to TAG services that "wouldn't require an infusion of a significant amount of new money."