District To Make Changes To Gifted Program


Revisions will help better identify students and provide more opportunities


July 22, 2011
The Kirkwood School District is making changes to its gifted program in an effort to better identify students with exceptional capabilities and provide more opportunities for them to excel at the elementary and middle school levels.

The redesign of the eligibility and service delivery model for grades K-8 stems from those goals. Changes to the identification process will allow the district to assess students better by taking all of their abilities into account.

"What we've looked at is making revisions to our identification process that give us more information about students and we can make better judgments about their needs and provide different levels of service based on the information that we've collected," said Thurma DeLoach, executive director of special programs for the district. "We're going to be looking at the individual differences and paying attention to those in a more individualized way."

For example, if a student is showing exceptional capabilities in one area but not others, the assessment will acknowledge that.

"It's no longer a one-size-fits-all," DeLoach said, adding that multifaceted assessments will allow the district to look at a student's performance in individual categories.

With assessment changes come shifts in how to best serve gifted students.

"We recognized that our existing service delivery model was a one-size- fits-all," she said. She added that all gifted students at the elementary level were given 150 minutes of gifted learning time a week and gifted students at the middle-school level were given 45 minutes a day for half the school year.

"There's been a growing concern about the need for students who have advanced capabilities to be addressed all day long," DeLoach said.

To that end, gifted teachers will work with classroom teachers to help them target an individual's strengths.

"We're going to work with classroom teachers at the elementary level and teams of teachers at the middle school on strategies that can be incorporated into the regular classroom to facilitate the kids with advanced capabilities," DeLoach said.

This approach also benefits students who have not been identified for the gifted program, but have shown strength in a certain area. Other students could benefit by having an opportunity to do more complex and high-interest learning activities, DeLoach explained.

At the middle-school level, the district will implement a new program called SOAR, which stands for Specialized Opportunities in Advanced Readiness.

"We have core curriculum teachers who have volunteered to offer SOAR classes in place of traditional classes, which are intended for students who have been identified as advanced," DeLoach said. "It gives those students opportunities to dig more deeply in a specific area of study, which is consistent with the middle-school theory of exploring their interests."

The main change is that gifted teachers will be collaborating with classroom teachers to build in strategies and independent study opportunities for advanced students. Core extension classes will also be taught by gifted teachers.

Historically, gifted programs have ended at the eighth-grade level, but the district is now identifying ways it can appropriately meet the needs of gifted students in the high school setting.

"We have (previously) addressed those needs through honors and AP courses, but we have a growing recognition that those kids might require more intentional planning and support (other than honors classes)," she said.

One gifted specialist will spend eight hours a week at the high school working with grade-level principals and counselors to make sure they have enough information about students who have participated in prior gifted programs.

"They can help monitor their performances to make sure they're taking challenging classes and doing well," she said.

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