The State Comptroller finds that Georgia’s educational programs for gifted students need improvement

Georgia’s gifted student program has problems with oversized class sizes, teacher training and student selection, according to a new report from the state’s Audit Office.

In the 2020-2021 school year, approximately 199,000 Georgia students were classified as gifted, representing approximately 12% of the state’s 1.7 million student body. The state Department of Education says these students “require special instruction and/or additional services to reach a level appropriate to their ability.”

To ensure they receive this instruction, the state spends between 30% and 68% more on each gifted student, based on Georgia’s formula for quality basic education for spending per student. This makes the gifted program the largest non-general education program that is funded according to the formula.

Class sizes and teaching methods

The gifted class is based on a 12-student-to-teacher ratio, but the examiners found that more than 77% of gifted classes statewide had more than 12 students, and gifted classes had an average of 23 students per teacher. That means the state pays a higher rate for gifted students but may not achieve the intended benefits of more individualized instruction for gifted students, the auditors found.

Talented coordinators explained to examiners that a lack of resources can lead to larger classes.

The examiners found that this problem was exacerbated in larger school systems — Georgia’s 36 school systems with more than 10,000 students had an average of 23 gifted students per teacher, while 11 systems with fewer than 1,000 students had an average of 12 students per teacher.

The reviewers recommended that the General Assembly consider optimizing funding for gifted students when discussing an amendment to the QBE, and that the state Department of Education should regularly review class sizes for gifted students.

The Department of Energy agreed with these findings, but added, “Georgia is a local control state that allows school districts to choose which gifted service delivery models will best serve students at different grade levels.” For all QBE- Categories, school districts receive funding based on a formula, but enjoy flexibility under state law.”

The DOE also noted that the 1:12 ratio is the formula for funding, not a limit, and that local counties may waive class sizes under state law.

However, the auditors found that different teaching methods can mean that gifted students do not receive individual attention.

The DOE allows for eight models of gifted education, including resource classes where students are withdrawn from class one day a week to transfer to a course that can only include gifted students. Seventy percent of gifted Georgia elementary school students have at least one remedial class.

Other methods include clustering, in which six to eight gifted students are placed in an otherwise general education classroom under the direction of a gifted teacher who provides different lesson plans for both groups, and collaborative instruction, which is similar to clustering, However, the classroom is led by a non-capable teacher who is assisted in lesson planning by a qualified teacher.

Nationally, 40% of gifted elementary school students were enrolled in a clustered class and 12% shared at least one co-teaching class.

The National Association for Gifted Children says that gifted students should receive differentiated instruction — instruction that gives them opportunities to be challenged and expand their abilities — and that general education offers the differentiated instruction provided through models such as resource instruction , should not replace.

“However, cluster and collaborative models are at greater risk of lacking differentiation because students may have a wide range of skills in the same classroom,” the examiners noted.

The Department of Education disagreed with the audit’s recommendations to review class data and work with districts to ensure differentiation, noting that “Georgia is a local control state that allows school districts to choose which model(s). ) for the delivery of gifted services best serve the students in the region.” different grade levels.”

teacher training

The Department of Education requires gifted classes to be led by teachers who hold locally gifted certificates, certificates that typically require nine to 12 hours of college credit, which equates to about 200 hours of coursework, which can be expensive and time-consuming for working teachers .

The courses and fieldwork are designed to enable teachers to nurture students’ talents and provide them with appropriately challenging work. However, the auditors found that 7,500 of 76,000 gifted classes in the 2020-2021 school year were taught by teachers without endorsement.

The examiners found that rural counties were more likely to have a higher proportion of teachers without endorsement, but there were other outliers, including a suburban system that had 805 classes, half of all gifted classes, by teachers without Proof of ability were taught a confirmation. In only 34 systems, or about 20%, were all gifted classes taught by a recognized teacher.

That means the state may have overpaid as much as $9.7 million for gifted classes without a certified gifted teacher, examiners estimated.

The auditors also found that about 3,800 students, about 2% of children in gifted classes, were not deemed eligible for the program and that the state may have paid an additional $3.6 million for gifted classes for ineligible students.

Partially agreeing with the examiners’ recommendations for dealing with these discrepancies, the education department said new guidelines are already in place starting this school year. However, she noted that most of the data was collected at a time when the pandemic was peaking, limiting the data’s ability to generate recommendations.

Selection and teaching of students

The auditors also found fault with the schools’ student selection procedures.

One issue they identified was that the DOE does not require all students to be screened for gifted status, which they felt could result in students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, being left out.

Students may be referred by teachers, advisors, or others with knowledge of their academic ability, or they may be automatically referred if they score well on standardized tests. Recommended students are reviewed by a panel and if approved, subject to parental approval, may be enrolled.

However, the researchers found that eligibility declines as poverty increases, and Asian and white students are overrepresented in gifted programs compared to other races both in Georgia and nationally. The researchers found that while most school systems offer universal screening, it is not required like other states.

The National Association for Gifted Children recommends universal screening and measures such as training for general education teachers to identify gifted students early and to provide parents with information in multiple languages.

The Department of Education partially agreed with the auditors’ recommendations, saying it would be willing to incorporate universal screening guidelines into its best practices if they were “incorporated into state law and provided additional earmarked government funding.”