Everybody's kid is a genius, but identifying students who are so gifted that they need special instruction can be a daunting task.
Concerned that some of the children in the area were not receiving the attention they demanded, the Park City School District commissioned a study to identify strengths and weaknesses in the Gifted and Talented program currently used in the area. This week, the results of that study were made public.
The study, in short, found that the district's program was meeting basic state demands, but that it offered relatively little past those requisites. In turn, the study recommends a restructuring of the program to more inclusively target children who are extremely intelligent, but may not prove their abilities through their test scores.
Conducting the study was a relatively lengthy process that began last year during school and did not wrap up until last week. To facilitate the study, Lori Gardner, head of curriculum development for the district brought in Dr. Paul H. Shepherd to conduct surveys and gather information from both students and teachers.
Based on the information he received from these surveys, the highlight of the study for him, said Shepherd, he devised a number of recommendations to help the school district redraft their policy to be more inclusive and diverse.
At the moment, the district caters mostly to fourth and fifth grade students who are placed into the PATHS program by virtue of their test scores. That program is staffed only by Chris Fournier. At the very least, according to Gardner, the district might consider expanding its program to integrate more students.
Among the concerns that Shepherd's study mentions, is the relative scarcity of Hispanic students in gifted and talented education in Park City. He proposes that schools integrate a non-test based method of evaluating the talents of those students, who may not perform well in some tests because of possible English language deficiencies. Shepherd also suggested that some teachers undergo training to work with gifted children who are also ELL students.
One route to avoiding over-dependency on test results could be better communication with parents. Shepherd recommended that schools handout brochures or send out fliers, update their Web site or use similar methods to reach and inform parents about the program and what it might offer or which students could be eligible.
The district might need to inform parents if they opt to include another of Shepherd's suggestions and test students more regularly. Currently, most students are selected via Iowa Basic Skills Test or the Naglieri Non-Verbal Assesment Test. The Iowa is the standard test that is administered yearly to all students in grades K, 5 and 8. Much of that test centers on student achievement. The Naglieri test, can be taken by virtually anyone, even if they are not proficient in English. The problem with the Naglieri test, said Shepherd, is that the district was weighting it with the Iowa test and consequently devaluing it as a method of evaluating ELL students.
A better test of cognitive ability could be basic IQ tests. When a teacher or administrator realizes that there is a major gap between a student's IQ and the quality of their work, curriculum can be adjusted accordingly to offer that student appropriate challenges to their ability level.
Even with a new identification system in place, the district will have to find a way to grow the program and provide facilities to more students, should they locate them. To some degree, said Shepherd, the infrastructure is already in place since high-ability students should not drain more resources than other students. But, he continued, faculty training and some special measures could cost slightly more.
The district has yet to formalize plans and will take Shepherd's recommendations into consideration. It is likely that any plan they produce for gifted students will be funded by the Park City Education Foundation which has placed the program on its list of funding opportunities for the 2009-2010 academic year. Meetings on the topic are scheduled for September and will include teachers, parents and faculty.
Although the benefit for these programs may seem most obvious to accelerated students, Shepherd said that also extends further: "A good gifted and talented program helps to raise the bar for increasing rigor in a school district and providing a level of achievement."