Expert explains ‘favorable’ impression of U46 gifted programming
By Emily McFarlan firstname.lastname@example.org June 14, 2012 10:38AM
Updated: July 15, 2012 3:27PM
CHICAGO — An education expert Wednesday praised a key Elgin School District U46 program for gifted minority students as the trial continued in the federal discrimination lawsuit against the district.
“As I understand from your testimony, you are very favorably impressed with the SET SWAS (Spanish English Transition School Within A School) program,” Judge Robert W. Gettleman said.
That’s true, replied Carolyn Callahan, a professor at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education.
In fact, Callahan said, she couldn’t think of anything she specifically would change about the program for gifted Spanish-speaking students in U46.
“I would say it’s a program that serves a very important function in helping students transition,” she said. “I’d like to see more students served by it.”
That program is at the center of the claim the second-largest school district in Illinois did not offer students who were black and Hispanic access to its gifted and academy programs.
The lawsuit against U46 also claims the district discriminated against minority students in its 2004 school boundary plan by placing them in overcrowded schools, and that it did not offer appropriate help to English Language Learner students.
Gettleman is deciding that suit in a bench trial.
He questioned Callahan, an expert witness for U46 on gifted education, as she concluded her testimony Wednesday, clarifying how elementary students were identified for gifted programming. Plaintiffs’ attorney Stewart Weltman had characterized that identification as based on a single measure — a cutoff score on one standardized test.
But Callahan said test scores were just one way students were identified for gifted programming. The district reviewed the top 20 percent of students who scored anywhere from the 89th to 92nd percentile on standardized tests, she said. It also looked at growth patterns in those scores and asked teachers, principals and parents to make recommendations.
Weltman had pointed to enrollment numbers that showed 130 Hispanic students in elementary gifted programming, and 129 in SET SWAS in the 2006-07 school year. There were 131 in SET SWAS in 2007-08 and 133 in 2008-09, he said.
He questioned whether the number of Hispanic students in the English-only School Within A School program wasn’t so low that the expert would conclude “the processes are broke.”
Jim Feuerborn, who has held several positions in U46 and has worked as a consultant since he retired in 2005, also concluded his testimony Wednesday about the district’s use of mobile classrooms, which plaintiffs have characterized as “inferior” and used at primarily minority schools. The Kane County Regional Office of Education inspected mobiles each year, Feuerborn said, and it never declared one “not viable.”
“They’re good educational facilities. They make good classrooms,” he said.
The trial has been off and on since March 2011 and is set to wrap up after two more dates in August. The lawsuit originally was filed by nine Hispanic students and their parents in February 2005.