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What’s the Difference Between SAS and GATE Designations?

What’s the Difference Between SAS and GATE Designations?

posted by Karen Quinn, The Testing Mom - December 18th, 2017

Last week, we welcomed Sonia Reiter, our TestingMom parent expert, to share her experience with applying for, testing and qualifying for the LAUSD Gate Program. Today Sonia continues her story by discussing the difference between SAS and GATE designations.

SAS vs. GATE Designation

There is a very important distinction between SAS (school for advanced studies) and GATE (gifted and talented education). No, they are NOT the same thing.  As you have just read, GATE is an official designation determined by the district using standardized test scores.This designation goes in their permanent record and follows the child for their entire career as an LAUSD student.

SAS, on the other hand, is limited to the actual school site and does NOT follow the child to another school. For the most part, a child is designated SAS by their teacher based on performance and this is fluid from year to year, even within-year if the child cannot keep up. I mean this to say that a child may move in and out of the SAS program while staying in the same class. SAS kids are grouped by high ability regardless of test scores, and placed in classes with specially trained teachers. It is important to note that just because a child is in an SAS class does not mean that the child is identified as SAS. Often these classes are mixed ability with the best SAS teachers providing differentiated instruction as needed. SAS classes are great for kids that may not perform very well all the time, but have the potential to excel beyond standards in the right environment.

It hurts me to see parents stressed, confused, and disappointed when their child is not moved to the next SAS class in the following grade. This is probably a sign that the child is not in the SAS program while in a mixed ability SAS class, was having trouble keeping up during the current year, or not a good fit for the pace of the next grade. Some parents are relieved their child will have a break from the rigor.  For this reason, some even ask for their kid to be taken out of the program. Others understandably want an explanation. What does this mean? Is something wrong? Is this temporary? Or worst of all, is my kid not smart enough? This is exactly the point where SAS and GATE diverge; SAS is unofficial and fluid and GATE is official and finite.

SAS School vs. GATE Magnet School

Ability aside, there is one major difference between SAS schools and GATE magnet schools: ethnic diversity. Magnet schools were set up in the late 70’s as a means to desegregate schools across Los Angeles. They were given themes to make them more attractive to applicants.  Both SAS schools and GATE magnet schools can be schools-within-schools. GATE magnet schools, however, can be what we call full magnets, or technically magnet centers, and not allow any students in from the resident population.

SAS schools that are not affiliated charters offer admission through an SAS permit application. Affiliated charters may only admit non-resident students using the open charter lottery. An affiliated charter may have an SAS program, however it may not offer the SAS permit as a means of admission to the school. After acceptance though the open charter lottery, children will be screened for SAS using the criteria in the next paragraph. In fairness and as a rule now, GATE designation MAY NOT be used as a tool for admission through an open lottery at an affiliated charter SAS school.

To qualify for SAS admission lottery at a non-charter, regular public SAS school, a child must either already be GATE-designated, scored 85% and above on a nationally standardized test, like the OLSAT, school psychologist’s test, or other LAUSD-approved test (total score) (2nd or 3rd grade only), scored “Standards Exceeded” on the SBAC for only the most recent year, not three in a row (4th grade and up), or by teacher verification (K, 1st, and 2nd grade).


In tomorrow’s post, we’ll talk about how to prepare for GATE testing.

LAUSD GATE Program Blog Series:

How Can My Child Apply for the LAUSD GATE Program?

How Can My Child Qualify for the LAUSD GATE Program?

How to Prepare for LAUSD GATE Testing

For more information on the LAUSD GATE Programs see:

Sonia Reiter is a parent-expert on LAUSD GATE and SAS programs.  She guides parents who, like her, seek the best education programs LAUSD has to offer.  For more information, contact Sonia at

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