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PROBLEMS IN PICKING GIFTED KIDS?

A parent blasted the selection process for Salt Lake City School District's seventh-grade gifted and talented program, calling it "deceptive, illegal and invalid."

"The district has flagrantly violated the law, and students have been hurt as a result. Tonight I appeal to this board to rectify both the selection process and harm suffered by innocent children," Dr. John P. Burke told the Salt Lake City Board of Education.Burke took issue with a biographical survey called the STAR profile, one of three factors considered in placing students in the district's "Extended Learning Program." Burke, a professor of internal medicine in the University of Utah School of Medicine, contends the STAR profile is a "psychological examination disguised as a innocuous survey."

Sally Lafferty, who heads the extended learning programs, responded, "We're trying to ascertain that ourselves. It's listed as a biographical inventory. That's what we've represented it to be."

Nearly 600 students, including Burke's daughter, recently completed the survey in the Salt Lake District. "In this case, parents were never informed of the test's true nature and purpose. And parents were never told that a private entity would have access to all the information gathered during the selection process. There is no question the district broke the law," Burke said, referring to the Utah Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The act was passed by the Utah Legislature in 1994 and amended a year later. It requires notice and parental permission if students undergo psychological testing or are required to take a survey for evaluation purposes.

Lafferty said parents give their consent for their child to take the STAR profile, which is described in ELP orientation meetings with parents.

Burke said the STAR profile may discriminate against minorities, girls and children of less affluent backgrounds. Children are asked how many books they have in their homes, how children feel about themselves and whether they have trouble sleeping at night, he said.

Lafferty said use of the STAR profile has helped enrollment of minority students in gifted and talented more in line with the district's demographics. About a third of the district's students are ethnic minorities.

The survey, she said, helps determine educational orientation, creativity, emotional maturity and academic performance.

"Otherwise, we know the SAT (Stanford Achievement Test) is culturally biased. It's largely a white program. This tool has enabled us to find the other children and bring them into the program," she said.

Burke's daughter was not selected for ELP, which he admits was initially disturbing to the family. "After this, we're very comfortable that our child is not in this program."

Acceptance in the district's extended learning program also hinges on SAT scores and teacher recommendations.

School board president Mary Jo Rasmussen said Burke had met with Superintendent Darline Robles, who was looking into his concerns. Neither Robles nor the school board responded to the specific allegations Tuesday.

Burke has requested a review of services, which Robles said is under way.

Board vice president Roger Thompson, who is an attorney, said he is especially concerned about the legal concerns Burke has raised and asked the administration to respond quickly.