The Brainerd School District is transforming the way it identifies and educates its most gifted and talented learners.
The school board Curriculum Committee accepted a recommendation Friday that was made by the district's gifted education task force that the board hire a consultant who would lead the district's efforts in revamping gifted education programming in kindergarten through 12th-grade.
Gifted education includes the Lowell enrichment program, which educates 5 percent of the first- through fourth-grade student population; honors and accelerated courses at Forestview Middle School that serve about 25 percent of the student population; and high school classes that encourage all students to take offerings of College in the Schools, Advanced Placement, College Level Examination Program and Post Secondary Education Option.
Andrea Rusk, BHS principal, said about 25 percent of high school students are taking advantage of advanced opportunities, earning college credit while remaining at BHS and engaged in high school activities.
Committee members did not act on any of the recommendations from the task force other than to seek the hiring of a consultant. Task force members, which included building principals and other staff, have spent time visiting several other districts in the state to learn more about their gifted education programs, along with consulting experts in the field.
The task force recommended that the district screen all kindergarten students for the Lowell enrichment program rather than those few students recommended by teachers or requested by parents, to become more inclusive.
Currently only about one-fifth of kindergartners are assessed for the program. Deb Lechner, director of teaching and learning, said the task force has concerns that the assessment test is primarily verbal and may not catch students who are gifted but are struggling language learners. Lechner said many schools begin assessment testing in third grade, not kindergarten.
Task force members recommended other changes that likely would be implemented next year.
Recommendations include that Lowell enriched students would no longer automatically be placed in the honors courses at Forestview but would have to earn a spot like their other classmates. No longer would Lowell enrichment students be able to bump a non-enrichment student from an honors class. It would be based on highest test scores.
Donna Whalen, Forestview principal and task force member, said Forestview students have had to be enrolled in either all honors courses or none. But since some students may excel in writing but not math, or vice versa, the task force is recommending students be placed in the courses that best suit their needs.
The task force also recommended the establishment of a formal appeals process, more teacher training on awareness of characteristics of gifted students and that enriched classrooms become more representative of the district as a whole with more students who qualify for free and reduced lunches. For example, about 48 percent of the district's first-graders qualify for free and reduced meals but only 15 percent of first-graders in the Lowell enrichment program qualify. Only 17 percent of fifth-graders in the Forestview honors program qualify for free and reduced lunches while 47 percent qualify in the grade.
Lechner said the task force would like to see the Lowell enrichment program be renamed to something more inclusive and that the district adopt a tiered model for its gifted and talented program. This would provide opportunities for gifted students through the Lowell enrichment program but also would promote more opportunities for students who qualify but choose to stay at their neighborhood schools. The task force would like to see the district consider a second "sweep" for gifted and talented students at the end of second grade, rather than just kindergarten.
The task force found that if gifted and talented students are not identified at a young age they may become underachievers. Research has found that for every year a gifted student is placed in a self-contained gifted classroom, they demonstrate two years growth and a substantial increase in self-esteem.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.