FAQs About Your Child's Right to Gifted Education in Pennsylvania
1. What are gifted educational services?
Under Pennsylvania law, “gifted education” means: “Specially designed instruction to meet the needs of a gifted student that is: (i) Conducted in an instructional setting; (ii) Provided in an instructional or skill area; (iii) Provided at no cost to the parents; (iv) Provided under the authority of a school district, directly, by referral or by contract; (v) Provided by an agency; (vi) Individualized to meet the educational needs of the student; (vii) Reasonably calculated to yield meaningful educational benefit and student progress; (viii) Provided in conformity with a GIEP.”
Simply put, gifted education is individualized instruction provided, for free, to qualified students in school in accordance with an agreement between the Parents and the District called a Gifted Individualized Education Plan (GIEP).
2. Who is legally entitled to gifted educational services?
To be eligible for gifted education in Pennsylvania, a student must be deemed “Mentally gifted” as defined by Pennsylvania’s gifted education regulations. Under those regulations, “mentally gifted” means, “Outstanding intellectual and creative ability the development of which requires specially designed programs or support services, or both, not ordinarily provided in the regular education program.”
Note that there are TWO parts to this definition. The first is that the student has exceptional ability, and the second is that the student needs special instruction and services beyond what is offered in the regular curriculum/standards in order to develop those abilities. In other words, it’s not enough for the student to be “smart enough.” The student also has to need special instruction in school beyond what is otherwise offered in order to develop his/her special skills.
3. My District says that only students with an IQ of 130 are eligible for gifted services. Is that legal?
No. Whether you are in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, your District may NOT rely on any single factor, especially IQ, to determine whether your child is mentally gifted.
In fact, this practice is expressly prohibited under the regulations governing gifted education. See 22 Pa. Code 16.22(g)(3)(v) (explaining “Tests and similar evaluation materials used in the determination of giftedness shall be . . . selected and administered to assess specific areas of educational need and ability and not merely a single general IQ.”) (emphasis added).
Thus, although the District is permitted to use valid IQ tests as part of the screening process, an absolute “cut off” is prohibited.
4. Can a student be gifted if he/she has an IEP?
Yes. This is actually fairly common. Students can be gifted AND have an IEP. Sometimes this is referred to as “dual-eligibility” or being “twice exceptional.”
5. What should I do if I think my child is gifted and I want her to be in her school’s gifted program?
In Pennsylvania, parents who suspect that their child is gifted may request a gifted multidisciplinary evaluation of their child at any time, with a limit of one request per school term. The request must be in writing. In addition, you must sign a “permission to evaluate” form and return it to the school. This form should be readily available at your child’s school. If it’s not, it must be provided to you within 10 calendar days if you request one.
6. What factors must my school consider in determining whether my child is gifted?
Many factors must be considered. In Pennsylvania, eligibility for gifted services is determined based on a “Gifted multidisciplinary evaluation.” This evaluation, which is conducted by the school’s Gifted Multidisciplinary Team (“GMDT”) must be sufficient in scope and depth to investigate information relevant to the student’s suspected giftedness, including academic functioning, learning strengths and educational needs. This process MUST include information from the parents or others who interact with the student on a regular basis, and may include information from the student if appropriate.
The key here is that the Team must base its decision on a wide variety of factors, from many sources, and must not rely too heavily on any one source of information (e.g., a single test score).
7. It seems that every student in the gifted program in my child’s school is getting the same services. Is that legal?
No. Gifted students are legally entitled to individualized gifted services. One-size-fits-all programs are by definition not permitted under Pennsylvania law. Your child’s individualized services should be determined by his/her GIEP team, which includes you and should be stated clearly in his Gifted Individualized Education Plan (GIEP). Trust your instinct. The program should not feel “generic” or “cookie-cutter.”
8. My child’s school is telling me that they do not offer gifted services in the high school because the school offers AP and other advanced classes that can meet the needs of all gifted students. Can they do that?
No. Your District cannot categorically eliminate all gifted services in one of its schools. If your child has outstanding intellectual or creative abilities that cannot be developed through the courses of instruction offered generally by her school, including AP/honors/advanced classes, she is entitled to individualized gifted services.
9. Why can’t I find anything about the rights of gifted students in the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA)?
Because it’s not in there! There is presently no right to gifted education under federal law. Your child’s right to gifted education comes entirely from Pennsylvania (state) law. The rules related to these rights can be found in Chapter 16 of Pennsylvania’s Education Code (http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/022/chapter16/chap16toc.html
10. What can I do if my child is found ineligible for gifted services and I disagree?
In Pennsylvania, if you disagree with the District’s determination you can request mediation or file a complaint for an impartial Due Process hearing. You can also take these steps if your child is deemed eligible, but you disagree with the District’s determination of the type or level of gifted services offered or provided.
Before you take either of these steps, we strongly encourage you to contact us.
NOTE: The gifted regulations do not include any “statute of limitations” for claims made against Districts for failure to provide appropriate gifted services. However, courts in this jurisdiction frequently impose a ONE YEAR statute of limitations on these claims. This means that you must bring your claim within ONE YEAR of when you knew or should have known that your District violated the gifted regulations. This statute of limitations is SHORTER than the one used in special education cases under IDEA. This can be very confusing and problematic for families, especially those whose children have both a GIEP and an IEP. This is one of many reasons why we urge you to contact us immediately if you have concerns about your child’s gifted education rights.
11. Where can I learn more about the rights of gifted students?
The Pennsylvania Association of Gifted Students (PAGE) is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to helping gifted learners, parents and educators. http://www.giftedpage.org/