The great GATE debate that has been flaring up at Santa Barbara School Board meetings since early February came to a conclusion this week. With designs on making the Gifted and Talented Education classes in grades 7 through 12 more accessible to a broader, more ethnic and socioeconomic range of students, the board voted 4-1 on Tuesday night to terminate the GATE label, replace it with the “Honors” title, and change the criteria used to enroll high-performing students into the program.

After nearly four hours of discussion and more than two dozen public speakers — who ranged from strongly opposed to the change to whole-heartedly in support of it — the board majority adopted a slightly modified version of the new “Honors” program created by Associate Superintendent Robin Sawaske. Under its terms, 7th grade students — who previously gained access into GATE courses via a standardized test — will now be able to get into “Honors” classes (which Sawaske and several school principals have promised will be based on and have the same academic rigor as the their GATE predecessors) in a number of ways: the old test, a teacher recommendation form, an advanced-level score on the California Standards test, or an “above grade-level” score on an assessment test.

For grades 8 through 12, an “A” grade must be achieved in a prerequisite course, or the student must pull a “B” or “C” in the prerequisite class and also have a teacher recommendation. Other changes approved this week include a requirement that all teachers for these new “Honors” classes be trained in the particulars of educating advanced learners, that the program be evaluated by an outside agency for its effectiveness, that extracurricular enrichment activities continue, and that any “Honors” students who gets a grade of “C” or lower at the end of a semester be called in for a parent-and-teacher conference.


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