Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gifted and Talented Education in Unit 4

Last night I attended the informational meeting for parents regarding the Unit 4 gifted program. X-man had taken a test with the rest of the first graders called the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test. If your child scored over the 80th percentile, they got a letter in the mail to test for the gifted program.

I am not a fan of self-contained gifted programs. But I wanted to see exactly what kind of test they would be administering given X-man's current list of learning disabilities (handwriting and anxiety). He did very well on the NNAT test, but if you mention the word "test" to him he freaks out. And since I didn't even know they were administering the last one, I'm just going to make sure he's well fed and well rested and not use the word test this time.

Around twice as many people showed up for the meeting than were anticipated, because the administrator there had to set up many tables and chairs.

He explained where the gifted programs are in the district for elementary school children (Dr. Howard, BT Washington, Garden Hills and Stratton Elementary). Most of the schools with gifted program are typically under chosen schools in Unit 4. Three of them have enjoyed more popularity because they've become Magnet schools (BT, Stratton and Garden Hills) so they offer more variety in their curriculums.

If a child tests into the gifted program, parents are required to go through the school selection lottery again and rank/choose the school they would like their child to attend. There is no guarantee, even if your child tests into the gifted program that you'll get the school of your choice. It is required by federal law that there must be a drawing at all the schools that are Magnet Schools. It is part of the requirements when the school district accepted Federal funds to create those Magnet Programs. But, as usual, because it's Unit 4, when parents, who are two years past the kindergarten fiasco hear lottery, they get wound up. Past numbers, according to the administrator, were that 95% of the families entering the gifted program got the magnet school of their choice.

And every time parents asked the same question asking for guarantees that their child will have a "higher" possibility of getting into the gifted program building of their choice, the administrator answered with a no each time. And each time there was this uncomfortable silence like a giant boulder hitting the floor. Once they appeared to accept where the programs were, they started asking about whether or not gifted programs would be opening up in schools in other parts of the district to make it more accessible so children wouldn't have to be on a school bus for an hour or two each way to school. The administrator said confirmed that no new gifted programs would be coming next year, but if they see growth in the program, particularly since they're doing so much building in other schools, it might be possible that in the future other schools could have gifted programs. But no -- just because you have a high performing school with lots of children qualifying for gifted or enrichment, doesn't necessarily mean they'd put a gifted strand at your school.

They handed out a sample of the Naglieri test so parents could see the kinds of questions their children had been successful answering. Then they put out a sample of what they call the three-subject test (Verbal, Non-Verbal and Quantitative). First graders who scored over the 80% on the Naglieri test and had their parents sign off on the test at registration, will spend one hour a day for two days in the next few weeks taking the three-subject tests. In the past, children who scored in the 90% or higher on three of the four tests (the three-subject tests and the Naglieri) are usually welcomed into the gifted program. Usually 300 children are tested, but there are only 100 gifted spots in the district at each grade level. The top three scores are usually a composite score of 270 for three of the four tests. The difference between the tests (besides the subject) is that Naglieri measures potential for learning, where as the three-subject test measures achievement/knowledge.

If family decides not to enter the gifted program, but their child did well on the Naglieri test OR if a teacher nominates a student, they can go into enrichment at the school where they normally attend. Students in enrichment usually spend 30-40 minutes per day doing either pull out (kids leave the room) or push in (they accommodate accelerated learning in the classroom). Some of the schools use things like Lego Engineering as a project-based learning approach that is above and beyond a regular education classroom activity. (Don't get me started on the 1,800 reasons why I think all kids should get to use Legos...)

In a gifted program, the children spend all day doing accelerated work. From what I could tell, how it is accelerated is left up to the teacher. They could learn the Latin roots for words. If your child tests into gifted, he or she will automatically jump one grade level in the Everyday Math curriculum that the district uses. That is, when they start second grade, they will start third grade math. If you have a child that is stronger in language arts, than in math, it is up to the teacher to make sure that your child gets the extra help he or she needs to bring up their more challenging subject.

They also handed out a couple of flyers on what defines "gifted and talented."

"Champaign Community School District 4 believes that all children have special gifts and talents. Outstanding talents are present in children and youth from all cultural groups, across all economic strata, and in all areas of human endeavor.

Gifted and talented children in Champaign County School District 4 are identified as those children with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at exceptionally high levels of accomplishments when compared to others of their age, experience, or environment. THese children and youth exhibit high performance capacity in at least one or more of the following areas: intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership, or specific academic fields. They require additional services or activities that need to be provided by the schools."

So here's our deal. X-man did well on the Naglieri. But if you had asked me before we started looking into the spectrum disorders if he was gifted, I would have looked at you funny. You'd walk into a room and see that most other kids could sit still and follow directions, and my kid was moving -- all the time. You'd see him cry at sad stories, hide under his kindergarten teacher's desk when they watched movies on rainy days that made him uncomfortable or bite his fingernails until they bled when he was worked up over something. You'd notice that he can't be quiet when he's supposed to and that he's always asking questions. Always asking questions. You'd notice he has social skills deficits with children his own age, but will talk to adults or older kids about a wealth of subjects. You'll find that even though he's doing everything but seeming to pay attention, he actually understands what's going on. And you'd notice that my child has a pretty crappy self-esteem problem. He doesn't think he's ever good enough and he struggles with being self-accepting. But he does have a tinge of "leader" in him. He wants to know what's going on. He wants to know why it's happening and why it's important. Basically, if you put all of these things together, you have a walking hot mess that often feels like a parental puzzle to figure out. And I always wondered why he couldn't sit and focus like child A or B or why he badgers people with constant questions, so eager that he can't wait his turn, and why does he always have to have his hands in things all the damn time?

The last flyer they gave us was one comparing a "bright child" with a "gifted child." And it made me wonder if, indeed, X-man could be gifted, albeit with his learning disabilities and perhaps also on the spectrum.

Bright Child
Knows the answers.
Pays attention.
Works hard.
Answers questions.
Enjoys same-age peers.
Good at memorization.
Learns easily.
Listens well.

Gifted child
Asks the questions.
Extremely curious.
Gets involved physically and mentally.
Plays around, still gets good test scores.
Questions the answers.
Prefers adults or older children.
Good at guessing.
Bored. Already knew the answers.
Shows strong feelings and opinions.
Highly critical of self.

So, I guess he takes the tests and we see what happens. In California, they don't do self-contained gifted. Gifted and Talented is worked like enrichment (sometimes it's in the classroom and sometimes it gets pulled out). And I'm fine with that. I just want to make sure he's intellectually challenged while finding a social environment he's able to thrive in. I'm not sure such an environment exists. But I hope so.

If he doesn't get the scores, that's quite okay, too. Let X-man be X-man is still the most successful philosophy.

1 comment:

Debra Crabtree said...

I like reading about what you are learning about Xman on this journey. Most people don't really conceptualize that one person can have many "dialectic" qualities inside a single self. My husband is certainly someone, in some ways, similar to X. Super intelligent, likely on the spectrum (though we are just slightly too old for him to have been really diagnosed), and he has some decent anxiety. The good news is that while these things are always part of a person, they can be learned to be managed. I work with self regulation and anxiety management a lot with the kids I work with and with support and reminders, kids can greatly improve and have lessened symptoms. My gut says you are right and he is all of the above or rather that he is... him. There is no box he has to fit into and kudos to you for knowing that and helping to find him a place in the world where he can fit, as he is.