The Madison Metropolitan School District is under scrutiny after a group of parents filed a complaint saying West High School is in violation of state law by not allowing students access to gifted and talented programs.
The spokesperson for the initiative, Lorie Raihala, said the complaint is a result of the district’s continued “blatant defiance of state law,” which states all students must have access to gifted and talented programming.
The statute also states each school must have a means for identifying gifted students.
“The main thing is, we want a system in place to cultivate the potential of all students, regardless of privilege or connection,” Raihala said. “Students should have access to a learning environment that challenges and supports them.”
According to Raihala, current programming allows for freshmen to skip ninth grade English but offers no advanced curriculum in English or social studies until eleventh grade, when a handful of Advanced Placement courses are available.
Raihala added that even these higher-level courses are often hard to get into for students due to offering a small number of sections.
The complaint necessitates a formal investigation of the Madison Metropolitan School Districts’ gifted and talented programming by the Department of Public Instruction.
University of Wisconsin professor of education Julie F. Mead said MMSD might have enough breathing room in the state statute to counter the parents’ claims.
“Though the law states that each school must allow students access to a gifted and talented program, it gives a lot of latitude to the schools to define what that is,” Professor Julie F. Mead said.
Mead also said DPI will investigate whether requirements for serving students are met as far as identifying and providing programming to gifted students.
Should deficiencies be found, West will have to submit a plan to correct these areas, Mead said.
Raihala, working with a core of parents, said this battle has not been short-lived. A group of parents submitted a petition for West to comply with state law in August 2009 and again in April 2010.
“We decided that we must step outside the district in order to compel the district to stop ignoring the law,” Raihala said.
According to Raihala, West’s current system provides little support for gifted students, and placement in advanced classes is simply the luck of the draw.
She also said the parents believe the situation has affected the emotional welfare of students who feel as if they’re in constant conflict with administration and are asking for something that’s wrong as opposed to required by law.
Raihala said she recognizes many graduates could be better equipped for the transition to college in the wake of more advanced programming.
Mead said state law allows for grants to fund programming if circumstances do not allow students to receive the necessary evaluation and placement.
Raihala also cited a 2009 exit survey of families leaving the district, in which a of lack gifted and talented programs was found to be a leading factor.
MMSD was not available for comment as of press time.