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Updates on the Gifted Front

July 31, 2012

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has.  -Margaret Mead

Rochester SAGE and other advocacy groups have continued to work hard for gifted learners in the Rochester Community Schools and throughout Michigan.  We are happy to report some progress and future opportunities for meeting the needs of gifted students.

Curriculum Committee

The district’s Curriculum Committee has made some changes to student acceleration and is considering more.  For math, every fifth grader will be tested before middle school for placement into accelerated courses.  The district is no longer relying on simply one assessment to determine placement, but using multiple assessments to help place students in the appropriate class.  Last year there were parents upset because their children had scored too low on a single assessment even though other indicators showed they should be placed in advanced math.

The Curriculum Committee is also looking at subject matter acceleration for elementary students to create policies and practices on how and when to move a child up in a particular subject.  This will be beneficial for students who are ahead in one or more subjects but want to or should remain at grade level in other subjects.  Principal April Wuest of Long Meadow, an advocate for gifted learners, is on this committee and we are anticipating great results.

Gifted Charter School

Clamor is increasing for a charter school for gifted students in Oakland County and leaders of gifted advocacy groups have had some informal discussions about the need for one and its possibility under state law.  Prior to the recent changes, charter schools could not be established in many areas of Oakland County, including the RCS district, because graduation rates for public schools were above 75%.  Now that this stipulation has been repealed, a charter school could be established here.  However, under current law a charter school cannot test students for entrance, unlike a public magnet school could.  One proposal from Governor Snyder would be to authorize new forms of schools including international schools and advanced learning academies with selective enrollments.  This should allow for a charter school to serve the needs of gifted students in this area.

Rewrite of the School Aid Act

Governor Snyder has also asked to have the “Michigan Education Finance Act of 2013” drafted to replace the School Aid Act of 1979.  The current School Aid Act has been patched and altered numerous times and is a Frankenstein bill that is out of date and does not allow for effective implementation of many new education concepts.

This bill is being created by the Oxford Foundation and is using the input of many educators and education groups.  It is attempting to create a new public school learning model of “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace”.  This should allow greater choice for students and parents, more flexible learning methods and paces, and funding based on proficiency, not “seat time”.  The Michigan Association for Gifted Children will be working to help ensure that this new funding mechanism will provide incentive to accelerate gifted learners to their cognitive grade levels instead of providing reason for schools to retain gifted children at their chronological grade levels.

More information on the Michigan Education Finance Act of 2013 can be found here.

Gifted Magnet Classrooms

In an excellent example of school districts working together for their students, the Grosse Pointe Public School System hosted members of the Rochester Community Schools administration team and Rochester SAGE in a tour of their magnet gifted classrooms.  We traveled to Grosse Pointe for a presentation and Q&A session before heading to Defer and Ferry Elementary Schools where their 2/3 and 4/5 gifted classrooms are located.

In the Grosse Pointe Public Schools, they have made a commitment to providing a continuum of educational options for very able students at the elementary school level.  We saw this shown in a number of ways and it was evident that significant thought had been put into how to educate this often overlooked group of students.

First, ability grouping is very common in their classrooms.  Students are routinely grouped across sections with their academic peers for math or language arts and head to the appropriate level classroom during these subject periods.  By focusing on teaching only one or two levels of students, teachers can spend more time with each group and less time preparing differentiation.  This benefits both student and teacher.

Second, if students should be in a higher level grade for a subject, they travel down the hall to that classroom for that class.  If a third grader is a year ahead in math, he simply goes to the fourth grade classroom.  It requires some coordination, but does not hold a student back.

Third, second through fifth students that are sufficiently ahead in all subjects may be placed into gifted magnet classrooms.  The selection process includes the NWEA tests and teacher recommendations.  Gifted magnet classrooms allow teachers to accelerate curriculum to a pace gifted students learn better at.  They allow for discussions on topics that other students may view as cerebral or uninteresting.  They place gifted students under a teacher who has training in understanding their needs and how they think.  They allow gifted children to be with similar kids and find acceptance, an important emotional component for them.

The members of SAGE and many of the members of RCS administration were impressed by the methods used by Grosse Pointe to instruct their gifted learners.  I’ve been informed that some of the techniques have been discussed in the Curriculum Committee meetings and we look forward to seeing some implemented.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that gifted magnet classrooms will be implemented in RCS at this time.  There appears to be dispute even in Grosse Pointe about their actual cost, whether it is almost free as no special resources are assigned or whether removing one or two children from each classroom to make up a new class results in an expense of about $5,000 per student.  Mathematically, it should even out.  (See math)

Virtual Learning Academy Consortium

I had the opportunity to talk with Tresa Shaw of the Virtual Learning Academy Consortium (VLAC) based in Oakland ISD about this new school opening this fall.  Instead of a brick-and-mortar school, students learn at home with online lessons and print materials.  Does this offer gifted learners appropriate education?  Will they be placed at the right level?  Can they work at their own pace?

VLAC is designed for the home-schooled student to have an education compatible with the Core Curriculum to be used in public schools.  Should your child enroll in a traditional public school at a later time, he should have learned the same material as a student in that grade there.  The curriculum from the Calvert Schools is designed around a series of twenty lessons followed by an assessment.   The parent works with the child to go through the curriculum and becomes the primary instructor.  At least once a week, the learner interacts with an Oakland ISD teacher who is responsible for 40 students.

For students entering the program in grades 1-8, they are given a placement test.  This placement test allows VLAC to determine the appropriate grade levels of courses for them.  However, while math is its own placement, English and Language Arts, Science, and History are all at the same level, so your child cannot partially accelerate in English while remaining at grade level for science.

Students are able to do extra lessons per day and thus can work at their own pace.  Lessons are expected to take 5 hours and be done 5 days a week.  However, they are expected to complete all 20 lessons before an assessment, so there is no curriculum compacting for students that do not need as many lessons.  The representative I talked with was unsure if students could pre-test out of segments of curriculum that they already know.

While VLAC is not a year-around school, lessons online remain available for parents who wish to instruct year-around or supplement in the summer.

Enrollment for this year ends September 7, 2012.  Pre-enrollment to ensure one of the limited spots available is occurring now through August 1.  For more information, there is an upcoming parent meeting at Oakland Schools: Wednesday, August 1 from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. in Oakland County. Oakland Schools, Conference Room B, 2111 Pontiac Lake Road, Waterford, 48328.

Superintendent Fred Clarke

Lastly, it appears RCS Superintendent Fred Clarke will be leaving shortly for another position. Rochester SAGE would like to thank Mr. Clarke for his service.  Mr. Clarke understood that gifted learners have extraordinary needs and dialogued regularly with members of SAGE regarding how well our district supports gifted children.  Mr. Clarke worked with Superintendent Tom Harwood of Grosse Pointe Public Schools to set up the previously mentioned tour of their gifted magnet classrooms.  Mr. Clarke and Mrs. Moore’s direction have also led to the Curriculum Committee looking at more acceleration for gifted students.

We thank Mr. Clarke for his support and wish him well in future endeavors.

When the superintendent search begins again, Rochester SAGE will again send questionnaires to superintendent candidates requesting feedback on their views on gifted education and will work with the new superintendent to represent gifted children in our district.

Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE.  Together we can make a difference for gifted children!

One Comment leave one →
  1. La Toya Tung permalink
    July 31, 2012 12:32 PM

    This is an excellent summation of the events of the past few months. It also gives us a clear picture of what to look for and expect over the next few months. Thanks Joshua!

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