Some of Halton District School Board’s (HDSB) most vulnerable children may have to wait a whole lot longer for their much needed testing.
Superintendent of Special Education, David Boag is presenting facts and figures at this week’s HDSB council meeting that show an excessive backlog in educational assessment testing.
HDSB trustees last fall voted to implement the Gifted Primary program. This new program guaranteed 600 children in SK testing. Does this new program allow them to jump the queue in front of some of our community’s most academically challenged children needing the same resources?
Critics charged that the most vulnerable who may not ever be able to get caught up were once again not considered. Instead, many charged, the trustees voted to protect the ‘best and brightest’ not serving the needs of all children.
Most Vulnerable Students Waiting for Psychoeducational Assessment (as of January 15)
- Over 700 children are waiting for assessment*
- Average wait time is 15 months to 2 years
- Reasonable expected wait time is 6 months or less
*Note: The 700 does not include those being screened for the new Gifted program.
Do the Gifted Primary Students Get to Jump the Queue
So who were eligible for this new program and does their testing impact others and allow them to jump the queue in front of some of those forced to patiently wait even if their needs were more serious and academically threatening? With no new additional staff added, how can the same staff be expected to perform these assessments while not impacting others waiting on the list?
Time sensitive testing includes the Gifted Primary program approved last fall as well as 2 other groups of assessments. Numbers for this testing are:
- 140 students- Grade 4 Gifted Assessment
- 360 students – Primary Gifted Assessment
- 45 to 50 students – Primary Language Class Assessments
How Fast can Backlog be Cleared and Issues
- 500 assessments can be done per year
- 250 can be thus completed by June
- 450 – 600 new referrals are typically added per year
Because of the additional referrals each year, it is not clear how long the wait list will be at the end of June.
Considerations to Help Reduce the Wait List
- Offer staff additional work over March Break and the summer.
- Contract out assessment work to a local agency to address the students who have been on the wait list for the longest time. A reasonable estimate of the cost to contract out assessments is $1500 per assessment. To decrease the list by even 200 students would cost approximately $300,000.
Psychology staffing was increased by two FTE over the course of last year. Although one position was filled, the second position was not filled and an additional staff leave of absence has meant two positions have remained unfilled for all of the fall semester. One position was recently filled but ensuring that the board have a full complement of Psychology staff will continue to be a challenge moving forward. This concern is felt by many school boards as there is a shortage of qualified candidates looking for employment within education. With one position unfilled moving into semester two of the current school year, unspent salary dollars could be redirected to support contracted assessment work.
Many have criticized the board for passing the new Primary Gifted program. How could they have added more children to the wait list without providing additional staffing many are stating?
Will this new board of trustees vote to allow all children equal access to educational assessment testing. It only takes one trustee to have the courage to put this program on ‘hold’ until the backlog is dealt with so that all children requiring testing are treated equally.
The stats are disturbing but not news to many advocates who say they believe it is time for the Ministry of Education to take back program decisions at the local board level but instead make it provincial based.
Critics have been crying foul for years as the HDSB voted or allowed a segregated method of delivering French Immersion programming. Now, many residents state they believe the segregation continues as the new Primary Gifted program allows a new group of children to be segregated while at the same time self contained classrooms for special education seem to be shrinking and everyone else is forced to follow an inclusive model of education delivery.
Parents have often stressed the ‘inclusive model’ used for the majority in mandated programming is having serious affects both for mainstream children as well as the most vulnerable who can be forced into a typical classroom setting. So why is segregation the method of choice often voted on only for what many in our community refer to as the ‘best and brightest’?
Principals voiced their concern about losing more capable students who contribute to a positive learning environment in the classroom and its potential impact on the learning environment. With concerns raised by the very people managing the day-to-day operations of a school, why is the HDSB not listening as it continues to implement segregation for select groups of children?
Issues surrounding the Gifted Primary program approval consisted of:
- Pilot project for which this program was based was approximately 2 months old. It was noted to not implement the Gifted Primary program based on such a short pilot period but HDSB approved the program anyways.
- Gifted Primary program testing does not include other learning issues that can exist for these children. Does half testing serve this group of children? Is it a responsible approach?
- Is SK testing far too early to conduct such wide spread testing? Many special education experts will not test children for special education issues until they have had more years in school and/or are older.
- $800,000 approximate full implementation costs for this program are not specifically funded by the Ministry. Many are asking where are the funds coming from and what other program or group of children will suffer with the introduction of this program.
- Principals voiced their concern about losing more capable students who contribute to a positive learning environment in the classroom and its potential impact on the learning environment so why was this concern ignored.
What are many advocates for fair education for all children recommending
- Suspend the Gifted Primary program that was passed based on a pilot project.
- Ministry of Education take back the power to implement programs making the decision provincial based not local school board based. This would allow a consistent approach to programming across the province.
No one is saying that Gifted testing is not required. What is disturbing to many is that only a select group seem to be picked for what appears to be preferential treatment, timing or how they are educated.
“What makes your child any more special or deserving than mine”, asks a parent.
In a civilized society that has taxpayer funded education, we should not even have to ask such a question.
To a Minister who should be safeguarding our education system and providing policies and procedures to ensure fair and just education, we should not have to ask such a question.
Whether you as a parent want the best for your child…remember…your child will socialize, be employed and maybe marry the very child that may be disadvantaged by educational policy and delivery.
Do you think any of our children will thank any of us for tolerating such a system?
Will the new trustees make a decision to recommend overturning the decision to progress with the full implementation of the primary gifted program until a solid plan and proof of reduction of the wait times exists?
Let us know what you think.