When Decisions Matter.

On the Same Page … with a New NORA

In December 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) issued a new Notice of Recommended Assignment (NORA) form for districts to complete relative to Chapter 16 Gifted Education requirements. Some elements of the NORA were changed in response to a series of compliance monitoring reports finding that districts were failing to identify and define the actual supports the districts would provide to students eligible for gifted support.

In particular, the new NORA requires districts to consider the types of gifted support students need, if any, and identify the data that necessitates the particular type of gifted support. The options for gifted support on the new NORA are: enrichment, acceleration, and a combination of enrichment and acceleration. NOTE: by indicating that the student requires gifted support, the district is not indicating that the student will not get general education support as well. Gifted students will continue to receive general education support; the “General Education” checkbox is to be used if the student is not eligible for any gifted support at all.

How does a district determine whether to provide acceleration, enrichment, or a combination thereof? More importantly, how does the district communicate this to Parents so that the Team reviewing the data and completing the NORA is operating from the same definitions? PDE’s Gifted Guidelines of 2014 offer these definitions:

  • Acceleration, in which instruction is matched to the competence level of student. Access to higher level learning activities and skill development than typically provided in regular education to students of the same age. The pacing, complexity and depth of planned coursework are modified as indicated by individual needs.
  • Enrichment, in which opportunities for the investigation of appropriate materials are given. In-depth learning experiences that provide interaction with new ideas, skills and topics that enhance the curriculum. These experiences are based upon individual student strengths, interests and needs.
  • Individualization, in which instruction is matched specifically to the student’s achievement, abilities, and interests. Content and pacing of instruction geared toward the student’s strengths, abilities, needs and goals.

Additionally, Chapter Three (3) of PDE’s Gifted Program Guidelines lists twenty-one (21) ways of providing specially designed instruction as a means of gifted support.

Among other strategies, acceleration can be: planned course compacting/telescoping, subject acceleration, specially designed instruction, credit by examination or performance, interdisciplinary planned courses, distance learning courses, higher education level courses, independent or self-directed study. [PDE’s Gifted Program Guidelines, Glossary].

Enrichment can be, aside from other interventions: Curriculum compacting; Combined/Multi-grade Classroom; Orbital Studies; Tiered Lesson Implementation; Differentiation; Possibly Advancing a Student by a Level or Course. [National Association for Gifted Children].

Assuring that the entire team, Parents included, reviewing a Gifted Written Report (GWR) and/or a Gifted Individualized Education Plan (GIEP) is operating under the same terminology is extraordinarily important. While having a policy or procedure to explain acceleration versus enrichment is not required, it is advisable. If such a policy or procedure exists, the district can then provide a copy of the same to Parents at meetings, assuring a common understanding. The definitions provided above will assist the district in crafting a policy that abides by PDE Gifted Program guidelines, thus adhering to PDE audit requirements. However, little guidance has been provided by hearing officers, best summarized below by Hearing Officer Lochinger below:

Unfortunately, neither “enrichment” nor “acceleration” is defined by Chapter 16. However, The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (“PDE’s”) “Gifted Education Guidelines” dated May 2014 provide more detail. While I understand that these are simply guidelines and do not carry the full force and effect of law, I do find the Guidelines helpful in situations such as this case where the regulations are not as complete as one may like. Under Chapter 3 of those Guidelines, there are fully twenty-one (21) forms of acceleration listed.

Palisades School District, ODR No. 16091/14-15 AS (Lochinger, April, 23, 2015).

The purpose behind the new NORA is to push districts to identify and list the specific type of gifted supports and tie those to data. Thus, determining the correct gifted support for each student is a highly individualized, data-based exercise. The needs of one student may require support in one way; while very similar needs of another student may require support that looks much different. Districts must provide the data used to come to their decision for gifted support (or lack of support) by considering the student’s current level of instruction versus the student’s current level of functioning in relation to the standards. The level of the intensity of the support (acceleration, enrichment, or a combination of both) is dependent upon how much of a gap there is between the type of instruction they are receiving and where they are functioning. Realize too, the GIEP team must consider the types of support that were rejected using data to support the same.

Considerations:

  • While districts must be sure to connect the data to the suggested supports, they need not include the minute details of the specially designed instruction (SDI) or how the academic goals will be met — that is for the GIEP.
  • If the enrichment necessary to support the student is already occurring within the general education setting, the student need not qualify for gifted support. In terms of gifted support, the SDI offered to the student must go beyond what is available in the general education setting.
  • If it is determined at any point that an already identified student needs different types of gifted support than those already listed in the NORA (i.e. currently receiving only acceleration in math but it is deemed necessary that student needs acceleration and enrichment), a new NORA must be issued. And remember, tie the data to those needs.

Finally, Parents have ten (10) calendar days to respond to a NORA sent by mail or five (5) days to respond to a NORA presented in person at the conclusion of a GIEP conference. If the Parent receives the notice in person and approves the recommended assignment within five (5) calendar days, the district may not implement the GIEP for at least five (5) calendar days to give the Parent the opportunity to notify the district of a decision to revoke the previous approval of the recommended assignment.

As always, our School Law Group is available to address any questions or concerns you have related to this matter. We can assist in drafting or reviewing a policy or procedure you may want to implement to address common terminology related to gifted support.

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