- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
A successful campaign to help fill Fairfax County's 'gifted and talented' classes with students from different races has left the schools with a shortage of room.
"It would be a whole lot easier if we weren't so overcrowded," said Nancy Sprague, the district's assistant superintendent for instruction. "Finding room for any kids is not easy these days."
The campaign was prompted by years of criticism that Fairfax's program for the highly academically gifted was filled primarily with white and wealthy students. Come September, there will be 168 percent more Hispanics, 41 percent more blacks and 53 percent more Asians in the elite program.
However, as many as 30 trailers will be moved to various campuses to handle the sharp increase in enrollment.
At Hunters Woods Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in Reston, the shortage of seats is so severe that in order to house the third-grade gifted students, officials are setting up an annex of five trailers at another school a half-mile away.
Altogether, 519 more students were invited to enroll in gifted centers for third through eighth grades than were invited last year. Some students will choose to stay at their neighborhood schools, but Fairfax will have to figure out how to transport and house the rest.
Administrators are scrambling to iron out countywide logistics. They said they had expected their new screening process to increase enrollment, but they were surprised at how much.
"We had no clue it was going to be to this degree," said Thomas Brady, assistant superintendent for facilities.
Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech and other school administrators changed the process in multiple ways to identify more qualified minority students and non-English speakers.
This year, in order to identify gifted children who do not speak English and poorer students who don't traditionally score as high on IQ tests, students were given an ability test that focused on problem solving, patterns and relationships.
In addition, the IQ test that is usually given in first grade to all gifted-program applicants was moved to second grade, to allow students another year of school before being tested.
Administrators allowed students to be considered if they were referred by their parents, even if their test scores didn't qualify them.
And private-school students who live in Fairfax County usually have waited until summer to be tested, but this time they were tested in the spring with every other child.
The result was an increase of nearly 1,000 children in the semifinalist pool, from 2,616 last year to 3,588 this year.
Officials said 563 of the additional students were there due to testing changes and 409 were from parent and private-school referrals.
Finalists were selected based on a packet of information including test scores, progress reports, other data from teachers and parents, and samples of the student's class work.
The expansion of the gifted centers has been the talk at play groups and community pools in Fairfax, where parents bemoan the crowding and wonder whether the program a hallmark of Fairfax public education can sustain its reputation for exceptionally high-quality schools when so many more children enroll.
But educators are adamant that the gifted program is as selective as ever.
About half the semifinalists were offered admission the same as last year, Miss Sprague said.
The IQ test cutoff score remained the same to ensure that standards would not be lowered, and a similarly high cutoff score was established for the problem-solving test.
And while the number of minority students grew from 32 percent to 36 percent, Miss Sprague said the district still hasn't met its goals: "We're not there yet."


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