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A Glimmer of Light in the Gifted Gloom

October 29, 2013

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a growing backlash against the value-added gifted sub-group data.  (“Superintendents to Parents: Who Are You Going to Believe, Me or Your Lying Data?”)  This week, I would like to do a short-follow up.  There are superintendents and others who would prefer to convince parents that they should disregard poor value-added scores for the gifted sub-group. But there are also superintendents who are taking note of the poor scores and responding in a way that is much more positive.  More importantly, there are a growing number of parents who are insisting that something must be change for gifted children in their districts. Within the last week, at least two parent groups have reached out to the Ohio Association for Gifted Children (OAGC) to get help in organizing or re-organizing parent affiliate groups. For those parents who are interested, the OAGC Parent Division will be hosting a meeting on Saturday, November 2, 2013. Please contact OAGC Parent Division Chair, Angela Grimm, at for more details.

In addition, I have heard from a few districts that are now forming study groups to determine how best to “fix” gifted within their districts. Most of these districts have greatly reduced gifted services over the past five years as a result of uncertain funding and non-existent state oversight.  In the urban areas, there seems to be a reawakening in several city districts, that can establish gifted community schools. One such school (an open enrollment school) has opened up in Sandusky this year, and several other urban districts are also making plans to open up gifted schools.

Finally, I am encouraged that several superintendents have stepped up to support OAGC’s position that before all regulations or “inputs” are eliminated from the gifted operating standards (currently under review by the State Board of Education), that the state needs to develop a better set of “outputs.” In addition, these superintendents believe it is reasonable that gifted funds be spent on gifted children in their districts. My thanks to these superintendents and others who are not shying away from their responsibility to gifted students within their districts.  For those who are not so responsible, we will need to rely on parents and policy makers to push hard against the movement to undercut accountability measures for gifted students in Ohio.  To keep up with current information on the gifted operating standard process, please visit .

Superintendents to Parents: Who Are You Going to Believe, Me or Your Lying Data?

October 8, 2013

At this week’s state board meeting achievement committee meeting in Ohio, we were treated to a rare appearance of the state superintendent. He shared how important the gifted value-added output has been and how so much “pro-active engagement” was now taking place to improve services for gifted students because of just this one little measure. His effusive praise was to support the gutting of all inputs in the Ohio gifted operating standards. As for those districts who are skirting the law or who are trying to game the system, well, that’s a concern that ODE will have to address. Of course, when that would be addressed is anyone’s guess.  I assume it will be after all the quality gifted input standards are removed and gifted services are more illusory than real.

I am truly glad that there are positive discussions taking place in some districts, but there are some ugly discussions taking place as well. Here are a few examples:

  •   In Westlake, which received a “D” in value-added for the gifted sub-group, not only has there been no pro-active engagement, there has been an active campaign to persuade the public that the value-added measure is flawed.  A flier  promoting the Westlake levy says this about the value-added grade for gifted, “While Westlake earned an overall grade of A for the improvement, the ratings for the sub-groups for Gifted, Students with Disabilities, and the lowest 20% scoring students were D’s. Considering our high achievement level (ex. Top 2% for Gifted) we believe that these ratings on the new Ohio legislative report card are not the most accurate way to inform of performance and we are not alone in this belief. There is considerably less room for improvement for high performing students.” In other words, the low-level OAAs are a good enough measure for our gifted kids, and parents should not worry that their gifted kids aren’t growing. Not exactly the productive conversation I envisioned after hearing the state superintendent’s comments
  •     In Dayton, where last year, one GIS was in place for a district with almost 14,000 students, the district superintendent responded in s similar manner with regard to the “D” grade on the gifted value-added subgroup. “I think everybody was kind of looking at gifted and scratching their heads.  If you’re going to report on achievement of a group, and the law says you identify only, literally, then we’ve got to step back. We have economically disadvantaged students, we have special needs students, we have gifted students. How do you establish your resources to meet the needs of those very different groups.  If you ask the majority of our parents, they’re going to say all of our children are gifted.”  Even though the state has provided a record amount of gifted resources to Dayton in this biennial budget, the superintendent has decided that the GIS will now be the gifted coordinator, and all services will now be in the regular classroom (i.e. non-existent). In other words, the pro-active engagement was to eliminate all gifted services.
  •  In a district that shall remain anonymous, the superintendent under fire for the “F” value-added growth measure asked his coordinator if perhaps fewer children could be identified by increasing the criteria so that the district’s ranking could improve. That would be illegal. But once the gifted coordinator is replaced by the janitor, which would be allowed under the draft gifted operating standards, I’m sure “fixing” the identification at this district will be no problem.
  • Another anonymous district decided that the way to deal with the low gifted value-added subgroup wasn’t to do a deep dive into the data to see how to improve services.  No, their response was to tell all of their gifted staff that they were going to be RIFed at the end of the year. Pro-active engagement, not so much.

While I welcome the development of higher-quality outputs, I know that there are always going to be superintendents who rather than do the right thing, are going to try to either explain the data away to the public or manipulate the way the district looks by suppressing identification or manipulating service statistics based on a service model that is basically no service at all. Outputs alone are insufficient accountability measures for any student population. For the gifted subgroup, they are particularly inappropriate as output measures are usually inadequate for this population.

The Free-For-All Funding Fallacy

September 15, 2013

This past week, Ohioans heard a similar theme expressed by the State Board of Education Achievement Committee Chair, the State Superintendent, and the education bureaucracy groups: The state should get out of the business of dictating how districts spend state funds. The state should simply send funds to the districts, step back, and let districts do their “good” work. The state should step away from micro-managing superintendents who know best how to educate children. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? But what happens when superintendents and treasurers (who increasingly seem to be calling the shots in districts) don’t know what they are doing with certain student subgroups? Or worse, what happens if they don’t have any problem reallocating funds for that subgroup for any other purpose with impunity?  Unfortunately, this is just what we have experienced in the last four or five years with gifted children in Ohio. Without any protection from the state; without proper monitoring; and without any accountability, gifted children have not fared well under the free-for-fall all funding system. Since 2009, the gifted funding mechanism could not have been more flexible. It has been as bendable as Gumby. While adults in the education system at both the state and local levels have enjoyed spending gifted funds as they see fit, the impact on gifted children, by any measure, has been severe.  While I can quote service declines (by over 30%) and gifted staff losses (by over 16%), for now, I’d like to focus exclusively on what has happened to gifted funding when districts were given maximum flexibility.

Ways Districts Have Spent Their Gifted Funds When Given Maximum Flexibility

Prior to 2009, districts received state funds for gifted identification and were required to account for the spending of those funds. They also received, upon request, limited funds that would support gifted coordinators and gifted intervention specialists. Those funds could not be used for anything else. From 2009 to the current budget year, districts that previously had received gifted unit funding and identification funding were allowed to spend those funds for unspecified gifted services under a maintenance of effort provision. Rather than actually spending gifted funding on gifted students, a good amount of this funding was diverted to other functions.

The most common ways to divert the funds was simply to implement a work-around sanctioned by the Ohio Department of Education. Funds previously spent of gifted professionals were now allowed to be spent on classroom teachers who had gifted students in their classroom. Each gifted student was provided a written education plan (WEP), but the classroom teachers, in many districts, had no background in gifted, no training, and provided no differentiation.  It is a form of service I like to call “lip service.” This is apparently very common practice across Ohio, and it continues today. As one former gifted professional stated, “[D]istricts are claiming service due to the fact that the kids are cluster grouped in regular classrooms and the teachers then differentiate for them…..WRONG! With all the pressure to get the bottom kids through the test – the gifted kids are getting nothing.  They are being served on paper only.” What is even more disturbing is that districts are supported by ODE in this deceptive practice.  “[T]here is a spreadsheet that ODE has you use that figures out the percentage of students in a class that are identified times the percentage of the instructional day for the teacher times their salary to arrive at a dollar figure for each teacher who has a cluster.” I wonder where the sheet is that shows that classroom teachers are differentiating, getting training, or have support from gifted staff? For the record, research shows that differentiation in the general education classroom for gifted students takes place only sporadically even when training is provided.

Another way to skirt the maintenance of effort was to “shift” funding to Advanced Placement training for teachers in AP classes that are open to all students and may or may not have any gifted students in the classroom.  Or they just wrote up a quick WEP for gifted student in AP class and diverted the funds to that teacher. This is a very common practice as indicated by this comment from an anonymous gifted professional whose dealings with ODE were less than ideal in terms of encouraging districts to meet the intent of the maintenance of effort law, “I was hoping they would suggest that the district return to the 3 full (gifted) positions…. Instead they provided suggestions on how the district could get around that by having me write WEPs for high school students in AP classes if in the area of identification or have me write WEPs for students taking PSEO classes in the area of identification.” It is a great out for the district treasurers and superintendents who gutted gifted elementary services and wanted to pretend they were still using the funds appropriately. But for the 120 or students in the elementary school who were to be supported by the gifted maintenance of effort funds, it represents a complete failure of leadership and fiduciary responsibility on the part of both district and state-wide education officials. While technically legal, it was not the intent of the law to merely provide the illusion of the same level of service when in fact services to elementary students were cut across the state.

While the above practices are most common, there were other diversions of gifted funding that are truly egregious. After a quick poll of individuals in districts who are aware of how these funds were spent, I have compiled a short, incomplete list of some of the more interesting ways that districts with maximum flexibility have spent their gifted funds. I saved my favorite for last:

 1.       EMIS coordination – Rationale: Some students are gifted; therefore any data entry should count as some data entry was for students who were gifted.

2.       General Office Supplies – Rationale: Some of the supplies could potentially be used on gifted students.

3.       Grant coordinators – Rationale: Some of those funds generated from grants might be used in classrooms where there are gifted students.

4.       Filing cabinets – Rationale: Some files held information on students who were gifted.

5.       Gifted testing – This is usually legitimate, but gifted funds were also supposedly spent in districts where there was no evidence of gifted identification. A review of an ODE audit showed a district with EMIS records where 0 students were screened, assessed or identified in any category or grade level.  Despite the clear neglect of the identification law, ODE did not propose any audit findings. ODE staff indicated the district was in compliance because they had a gifted identification plan on file, and ODE takes it on faith that is implemented even when presented with evidence that it is not.

6.        “Computer Assisted Programs” – (e.g. Study Island, an OAA test prep program)

7.       Video Cameras for Visual Performing Arts (VPA) identification – even though the district does not identify any students in VPA and doesn’t have a process for doing so.

8.       New computer for the superintendent. The gifted coordinator was given the superintendent’s old computer, which subsequently crashed losing all gifted student data in the process….

9.       Regular classroom teacher on leave of absence who happened to have a gifted license. The teacher was fired before returning to the classroom.

10.   Gifted coordination services from a gifted coordinator who was deceased.

The result of giving districts gifted funding to districts with almost no strings has been an unmitigated disaster for gifted children. The less than stellar results of the gifted value-added subgroup substantiate the fact that free-for-all funding is poor public policy.  State Board of Education members should fulfill their constitutional role to ensure that the state system of public education extends to all children including those who are gifted. The new draft operating standards as currently written will only exacerbate the problems we have already seen with flexible gifted spending at the district level. The new standards will make the problem worse as the definition of service will become so meaningless that anything will count. This will give districts a PR boost for perpetuating the fantasy that they are doing something more for gifted students when in fact they are doing nothing at all.

ODE is taking comments on the new gifted operating standards through the end of business on September 20th. Write ODE at and tell them you want spending and service accountability and true standards for the identification and service of gifted children. Specifically, tell them to reinstate minimum contact service time, staff ratios, and staff qualifications. For more information about the new draft standards, please go to .

Stupid, Stubborn Facts

January 18, 2013

Of late, for whatever reason, several political pundits have focused on Ronald Reagan’s famous gaffe at the 1988 convention in New Orleans. While attempting to offer the John Adams aphorism “Facts are stubborn things,” Reagan twisted the quote a bit and turned it into “Facts are stupid things.” If you are old enough to remember the incident, you will recall that Reagan was widely ridiculed for the goof-up. I’ve been giving both of these quotes a good deal of thought lately. I think, actually, that Reagan may have been on to something.

Facts can indeed be very stupid things. Facts, in and of themselves, are just pieces of data. Without perspective and analysis, facts can be manipulated this way and that to tell whatever story the storyteller wishes to tell. Unfortunately, once the story is told, it is almost impossible to provide a different, more correct interpretation of the facts embedded within that narrative.

This is the case, I believe, in a recent report sponsored by the Ohio Business Roundtable, the Ohio Department of Education, and the Ohio State University. The report is titled Failure Is Not an Option: How Principals, Teachers, Parents, and Students in High-Achieving, High-Poverty Schools Explain Their Success, and it highlights nine schools for their achievements. The three elementary, two middle, and four high schools were selected as Ohio Schools of Promise for 2010 and 2011 or were close to the selection cutoff. The criteria for selection as an Ohio School of Promise criteria are performance on the measures of AYP and the Ohio Achievement Assessments or the Ohio Graduation Test. High school graduation rates are also considered for high schools, as is value-added growth for elementary and middle schools.

So far, the facts are clear-cut: each school met or almost met the Ohio Schools of Promise criteria for one or more years. With the exception of graduation rates, however, almost all of the criteria relate back to Ohio’s state assessments—and this is where the facts are both clear and blurred at the same time. By the ODE’s own admission, Ohio’s state assessments are not high quality. Moreover, cut scores to make the grade are abysmally low. While it still may be remarkable that these schools perform as well as they do, it is not at all clear that the students are performing as well as the report’s authors would have us believe. To demonstrate, let’s focus on the facts shared about one of the four high schools. No value-added data are reported for the high schools, so it is almost impossible to determine what kind of achievement growth is taking place in each school.

In the 2009–2010 school year, School A met 12 out of 12 standards on the Ohio report card and received an excellent rating. More than 98% of their 11th-graders were proficient or above in reading, math, and social studies. Approximately 94% were proficient or above in science, and more than 87% of 11th-graders were proficient or above in writing. Those are the facts, and most parents would be happy to send their children to this school on the basis of those facts. But without proper context, these facts are stupid things. Here are some other facts, which provide a more complete story. While most of these students, many of whom live in poverty, are passing the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) and graduating, it is highly unlikely that they are college or career ready.

To understand why this is so, one must dig into the data. First, let’s go to the cut scores on the current OGT. The proficiency cut score is extremely low—43% for both reading and math. We already know that the new assessments coming out for the 2014–2015 school year to support the Common Core Curriculum will be much more difficult. ODE staff members have indicated that unless students are passing at accelerated or advanced rates on the current OGT, they will be unlikely to score at the proficient level on the new assessments. In the 2009–2010 school year, no students in the 10th or 11th grade in School A scored at the advanced level. In the 12th grade, 10% scored at the advanced level, but no students in 12th grade scored at the accelerated level. Twelve percent of School A’s 10th-graders scored at the accelerated level, and 5% of the 11th-graders scored at the proficient level. This means that the vast majority of students will not meet levels of proficiency by 2014–2015. (Note: While it would have been interesting to see how gifted students performed on the OGT, School A does not report any students as identified as gifted.) Other facts also call into question just how promising the future is for School A’s graduates. No student at School A received an honors diploma. No student passed an AP test with a score of 3 or above. The average ACT score was 14 (the state average is 22). And the facts on how graduates fared in college are very telling. First, only 11% of School A’s graduates went on to a public college in Ohio. Of those who attended postsecondary institutions, 44% went to a community college. Sadly, 94% of School A’s graduates who did attend a public university or community college required remediation in English or math.

While the faculty of School A are presumably doing exactly what has been asked of them by the state of Ohio, it is apparent that their students are graduating with much less promise than advertised. Failure may not be an option, but the low bar for success is doing a disservice to students, parents, and policy makers. Unless all of the data are revealed, the public gets only a version of the truth. A story built on partial facts can lead us to think and do stupid things. That is the danger of stupid, stubborn facts.

A Ghoulish Gifted Halloween Tale (and It’s all Frighteningly True…)

October 31, 2012

It’s official. Service levels for gifted students have dropped to a new low. In the 2010/2011 school year, Ohio districts served approximately 52,470 gifted students. The figures just released for 2011/2012 show a decrease of almost 5% to 49,947 students. In fact, since the 2008/2009 school year, which was the last year Ohio saw a stable and coherent funding system for gifted students, service levels have dropped by almost 35%. That year, 76,440 gifted students were served.  Ohio now serves less than 19% of the total identified gifted student population – a statistic that is artificially high as districts are also identifying fewer gifted students as well.  In school year 2008/2009, districts identified 280,720 students as gifted. That figure is now down to 263,688 a drop of 6% with over half of that drop from 2010/2011 to 2011/2012. This would make sense if the number of students overall was decreasing, but in fact the number of students attending school districts increased in the last school year.

While these numbers are certainly not encouraging, when we actually view this from a historical perspective, they are downright frightening.   Ohio districts provide service to fewer than half the gifted students in 2012 that were provided in 1999. In that year, 103,087 gifted students were served – and this was based on criteria that were far more restrictive than the flexible methods of service that can be counted today.  If we want to go a bit further back, say 20 years, 86, 592 gifted students were served.

So here’s the scary situation faced by gifted children and their families in Ohio: While the number of districts labeled as “excellent” has increased to ridiculous new high levels (387 out of 611 or over 63%), gifted students are being provided service at record level low numbers. In fact, 260 districts decreased services from 2010/2011 to 2011/2012. This is in addition to the 124 districts that chose not to serve any gifted students in either year.

In terms of gifted staffing, the situation is equally chilling. Along with services, licensed gifted staffing levels have likewise plummeted. Currently, there are approximately 1500 licensed gifted professionals working in the field in Ohio districts and ESCs. Considering that over 15% of Ohio’s student population is identified as gifted, this level is highly inadequate. In school districts, licensed gifted staff has decreased by 17% since the 2008/2009 school year. Gifted coordinator numbers have decreased by 32% while the number of gifted intervention specialists has decreased by 14%. In ESCs (educational service centers), where specific funding was maintained but not tied to gifted units until this past year, the decreases were less dramatic with a 7% overall decline, a 9% decrease in gifted coordinators and a 5% decrease in gifted intervention specialists. Interestingly, there was a slight increase in gifted staffing in ESCs this past year as funding was once again tied to actual gifted units.

So, to recap, 384 districts have decreased services or continue to serve no gifted students, while 387 districts are regarded as excellent this year. Services have decreased have dropped by 35% in less than four years while gifted staffing has decreased by 17%. And, of course, this is despite the gifted maintenance of effort provision that the General Assembly intended to ensure that gifted student services would be maintained over the past four years.

It is indeed a scary Halloween story for gifted students, their parents, and ultimately for all Ohioans. Let’s hope that the 130th General Assembly will do something to rectify this terrifying situation.

If Districts Aren’t Responsible for the Growth of Gifted Students, Who Is?

September 17, 2012

Last month I had the opportunity to testify in Akron before the House Finance Extended Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education. This is the subcommittee that will be exploring ways to overhaul school funding in Ohio. The topic for the evening was categorical and weighted funding. As each witness was provided only six minutes to speak, much of what I wanted to share with committee members was included in written testimony. Despite the short length of time to testify, I was gratified that the subcommittee member questions were quite thoughtful. One question in particular cut to the core of why gifted students are so poorly funded and served in Ohio — as well as in many states across the country. The question was how can we dispel the myth that gifted education is elitist and that gifted kids can “get it on their own?”

It is more than a little discouraging that we are still asking this question. There are decades of research about the distribution of gifted students across the soci0-economic and racial spectrum as well as research on impact of quality services for this population. Unfortunately, the public-at-large and general educators,  in particular, are loathe to take responsibility for the needs of gifted students largely because they do not see any need to do so. While I could have answered the question several different ways, I chose to answer with what I truly what believe will help gifted students the most: data — more specifically –performance growth data.

Ohio, like many states, has dumbed down expectations of our highest achieving students by maintaining a singular focus on achieving low levels of proficiency. Almost 60% of our districts are rated as “Excellent” or above within an accountability system that appears to be created solely for the benefit of making districts look and feel good about student performance. (See OAGC’s Grading on a Curve for more details). Meanwhile, true student performance continues to stagnate or decline on international benchmarks. If are we only going to judge district performance on the basis of proficiency, that is all we will achieve. This approach works largely for adults in the system, but not so much for children – especially gifted children.

As Ohio overhauls the district report card, we have a rare opportunity to look not just at performance and value-added growth of all students as a whole, but of student sub-groups as well. Ohio’s initial ESEA waiver (click on Full Wavier and go to page 62) included information about breaking the performance and growth of gifted students as a sub-group. Unfortunately, the Ohio Department of Education has done little if anything to move forward with this promise, but that is a blog post for another day…

Are there potential problems with measuring the growth of gifted students? Yes, there may well be. We may have issues with low population sizes and low test ceilings. And we surely will need to determine a better method for assessing accelerated students. However, until we actually move down the growth data path, we can never begin to resolve these issues. The truth is that for far too long in Ohio, as well as other states, districts have had a free pass when it comes to accountability for gifted students. We know that is has had a negative impact on gifted student performance, and smart coordinators gathering data at local districts can show just how negative the impact has been. But this data is largely hidden from the public. We need to begin collecting the data at the state level, and shine the light on the issue. Until we do, gifted kids who can hit proficiency level scores in their sleep will continue to languish in schools across the state. Growth data on gifted students as a sub-group could eventually give us a tremendous amount of information about the types of services that are most effective, the value of gifted coordination at the district level, and the impact of service or lack thereof especially with gifted students in high poverty areas. So back to my title: if districts are not responsible for the growth of gifted students, who is? Without state-level growth data to show what is or what is not happening for gifted students in this state, the answer is “no one.” And we simply cannot let that continue to be the case.

Educating High Ability Learners? Bah Humbug!

December 14, 2011

One of the great things about being the executive director of a state gifted organization is that I get to meet some pretty sharp people from all over the country. It makes the more painful aspects of the job (lack of funding, general disrespect from the gen. ed. community, etc, etc,) much more tolerable. It is great to routinely network with some of the brightest folks in education to share information and ideas.

My good friend from Indiana, Ginny Burney, (Indiana Association for Gifted Children) passed on a gem to me, yesterday. Written by a (very clever) student of hers, The High Ability Carol by Rhonda Cheney is a rewrite of Charles Dicken’s more famous A Christmas Carol.  The main character Scrooge is replaced by a school superintendent named Clutch. Clutch’s general disdain for gifted students combined with natural miserly ways leads him to the conclusion that he should do less for students of high ability.  His opinion, shared by so many was, “If these kids were so smart, why couldn’t they educate themselves?”

The night before Christmas, Clutch is visited by three spirits, the Ghost of Individual Impact, the Ghost of Social Impact, and the Ghost of Global Impact. The Ghost of Individual Impact shows Clutch what his life could have been. Unfortunately, his “dreams and hopes for the future died at a young age because no one ever showed me what I could be capable of in life.” The Ghost of Social Impact is a little feistier, breaking Clutch’s window as his delivers his message, “I’m not satisfied with my life, but what else am I supposed to do? My background of poverty, behavior issues in the classroom, and achievement test scores all hid the fact that I was a student with high abilities. No one identified me for what I could be.” Finally, the Clutch is visited by the Ghost of Global Impact who shows that the effects of not educating high ability students at an appropriate level were far reaching.

The United States could no longer compete in a global market because of a lack of workers with problem solving skills and creativity. Businesses moved to other countries where they could find the employees they needed. Civil and individual effort towards improving lives dissipated as cultural apathy grew.  Scientists no longer looked for cures to diseases, and entire cities were eliminated by viral infections. Institutes of high learning closed their doors with so few applicants. Those looking for more education had to find it in another country.

The story ends on a high note with Clutch waking up to reverse course and embarking on a journey to do whatever he could to meet the needs of high ability students.

And this is where I have to become the Scrooge in the story and offer up a  hearty “Bah Humbug.” I am ever optimistic about moving things forward for gifted children in Ohio and the rest of the country. However, I know from years of experience that policymakers and others, even when presented with the stark evidence of the impact of ignoring the needs of gifted children are not as easily convinced to do the right thing.

Business magnates don’t necessarily care that we don’t produce great thinkers. Their answer is to outsource or expand the H1B visas to bring in foreign talent. Policymakers who view the state and national score comparisons of our brightest students against international talent prefer to believe that the comparisons are unfair, even while there is a good deal of evidence that international benchmark tests are extremely well-vetted to make sure comparisons are accurate.

What is it going to take before policymakers and others get a clue? I honestly don’t have an answer to that. What I do know is that advocates of gifted children need to continue to serve as the Ghosts of Individual, Social, and Global Impact. Let’s chip away at the Scrooges of education policy and work toward a happy future where public education blesses every child with appropriate opportunities.

Happy holidays, everyone!


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