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Final Frontier

Published on: August 19th, 2011

Both Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley school districts use what they call “a body of evidence” to determine if a child is gifted. It begins with a nomination, usually from a parent or teacher. Then the district’s gifted/talented coordinators collect a body of evidence, which can cover the student’s performance, behaviors, aptitude, ability or achievement. It can include test scores, IQ tests, examples of work, information from teachers, parents and specialists, and any other data.

“There is not one piece of evidence that will ID a student or a piece of evidence that will keep them from being identified,” said Jennifer Barr, BVSD’s coordinator of advanced academic services.

Parents, teachers, coordinators and the student then work together to create an Advanced Learning Plan, which sets a strategy for the child’s education.

“The process of creating the Advanced Learning Plan helps decide what happens next,” Barr said. “Should we put the third grader in a fifth-grade reading group? Perhaps it’s a situation where a student needs to be skipped. It helps us decide what the programming looks like.”

Depending on the areas of giftedness, the ALP could impact how the teacher works with a student, it could mean transferring schools or it could extend to extracurriculars.

“It specifically states how their needs will be met, so that they will continue to grow,” said Michelle Faye, St. Vrain’s gifted and talented programs coordinator. “It’s specific to that child. What you do in one area is not what you would do in another. If the child excels at performing arts in elementary school then we look for drama clubs or even local theater companies. We’ve had children who are not just gifted in school but in various activities or sports. So, part of the ALP becomes clear documentation of what the child is receiving.”

BVSD and SVVSD have identified 3,000 and 1,800 gifted students respectively.

Officials from both districts say their gifted offerings are refining and expanding—especially because of recent state legislation that requires school districts to offer “highly advanced gifted children” the option of early entrance to kindergarten or first grade. Omdal of the Center for the Education and Study of Gifted, Talented, Creative Learners says Colorado is ahead of the pack when it comes to awareness and effort in educating gifted students, and at the district level there is momentum for gifted programming.
BVSD started three pilot programs for gifted students in district schools last year.

During the 2009-10 school year, the district held public forums to better understand what was working with TAG programming and what wasn’t. One consistent request was for more gifted magnet or focus schools; Lafayette Elementary is the district’s only gifted focus school.

So, during the last school year, the district started pilot programs at Manhattan Middle School, Aspen Creek K-8 and Broomfield High School. Programs at the schools include seminar courses geared toward gifted programming, discussion groups, seminar elective classes and clustering, which groups students by ability. The programs also included professional development as well as enhanced parent and school communication.

Based on qualitative data from end-of-year feedback, parents and students were positive about the seminar courses and clustering. During the 2011–12 school year, school officials will make adjustments to the pilot programs based on that feedback. Lafayette Elementary and Manhattan Middle School will team up with Eisenhower Elementary and Angevine Middle School, respectively, to expand some of the programming. With time, the pilot programs will turn into TAG lab schools.

“All students have the right to learn something new and engaging every day,” Barr said. “For any student, we must figure out what they know how to do and where they need help. And then we can move them forward with challenging, respectful groupings. What we risk when we don’t is students become disengaged. When they are not challenged, they will find something else to do—but it may not
be education.”

In SVVSD, the focus has been on the gifted/talented procedures. The district developed universal criteria for defining giftedness; back in the day, specialists at each school would decide who was gifted on their own standards. Today, they have specific criteria for all schools to follow: “We would find good students over gifted kids. A lot of gifted kids are not performers,” Faye says. So the overall percentage of gifted students has actually decreased.

St. Vrain’s gifted and talented focus school, Black Rock Elementary in Erie, focuses on clustering and flexible grouping, which allows for students to move between groups based on their improvement and needs.

“If they are not grouped together and you have one child who is so different, you really run the risk of having them become disengaged in school,” Faye said. “They will be bored at school and they can’t wait to get home and learn. If you only have one gifted student in a group, as a teacher it’s difficult to do something for that kid who has it, when the other kids don’t.”

While the clustering has worked for teachers and students, Faye said, it doesn’t necessarily mean all students will thrive in a clustered program or in a gifted and talented focus school.

“There is not one school that is the best place. It depends on your child,” Faye said. “We have so many different programs and options, everyone can find a great place for their kid.”

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