Gifted Program Evaluation in Progress

Fall 2000 Masthead


Darla-Gail Bohn
Andover, MN

Introduction

One of the most important, and most challenging aspects of the gifted coordinator’s duties is program design. This task can be a large and daunting one. Many questions face the evaluator. How should the task of program evaluation begin? What information should be collected? Are there standards for a good gifted program? Where should the effort be focused? (see Fetterman, 1993; Renzulli, 1975). What follows are one district’s answers to those questions. We reviewed current program policies and practices as a way to conduct an informal evaluation that would allow us to make decisions throughout the school year. The process is documented month-by-month to illustrate the steps of gathering input and making decisions. This small district is located in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN. It is comprised of one high school, one middle school, and two elementary schools. There is an elementary gifted coordinator (.60 full-time equivalent [FTE]), a middle school gifted coordinator (.33 FTE), and a high school advanced placement coordinator (less than .20 FTE).

August/September

The first step in the process was to look at the current program. We began with the identification process. The procedure being used consisted of a matrix system that assigned points to three pieces of information gathered about students. Parent and classroom teachers completed a very simple yes/no checklist of student characteristics. Also included on the matrix were the scores from the Cognitive Abilities Test (Thorndike & Hagen, 1993). Points were totaled and compared to the required minimum score needed for inclusion in the gifted program. Only students referred by a teacher or parent were tested at the end of first grade. The gifted coordinator had sole responsibility for identifying the students.

The gifted program at the elementary level was a pullout for identified students in grades 2-4. Identified students were clustered with one teacher at each grade level in one elementary building and dispersed among several teachers at the other building. Students in each grade level were scheduled to meet with the gifted coordinator every other day for a period of 50 minutes.

The next task was to identify the goals of the program. This proved to be more elusive. The program lacked written goals; however, a search of the district’s records uncovered two pertinent documents. The first was the district board policy requiring the individual sites to develop procedures for identifying students for inclusion in the gifted program.

The second document was the final recommendation of the district-wide Gifted Education Study Group. This group consisted of parents, staff, and administrators from grades K-12. They met over an extended period, read current literature in the gifted field, and discussed the merits and applications for this district. The end result was a document that gave clear direction to the overall gifted program.

The resulting philosophy/mission statement was over 4 years old and had not been implemented. The study group provided valuable information regarding the district’s focus for the program, but required updating. The opinions and suggestions of both staff and parents needed to be collected.

As part of the informal evaluation process, a brief written survey was given to all elementary teachers and parents of identified elementary students. Each group was asked to list positive outcomes of the program, as well as possible changes. Teachers were asked to indicate how the coordinator could help them in their classroom and what goals/outcomes they felt were important for the program. Parents were asked to list possible discussion topics for monthly parent meetings and to provide any other input they wanted to share. Four teachers from each building responded to the survey. Seventeen of the 56 families in the program responded.

A common thread found in the answers of both parents and staff was the positive response to the challenge the students received in the program, particularly within the math curriculum. Both groups also mentioned the positive effects on students:

  • spending time in small groups reading and discussing challenging novels;
  • participating in Junior Great Books (The Great Books Foundation, 1992) and Omnibus (Rogers, 1989) with parent volunteers; and
  • working with Challenge Math (Haag, Kaufman, Martin, & Rising, 1986), which requires manipulating math concepts and using different number base systems.

Several teachers wanted activities for the students to do after they completed other assignments. Parents asked for curriculum changes within the classroom instead of an add-on to an already full day. There was concern about students participating in the pullout program and returning to the classroom to make up work.

Parent responses for discussion topics were very revealing. The majority requested help with the social/emotional needs of gifted students. Parents wanted to know how they could help their child reduce anxiety, deal with perfectionism, and cope with underachievement and lack of motivation. Our direct response to these requests was to provide monthly parent meetings offering information and discussion on topics selected from this list.

While this information was being collected, the elementary and middle school gifted coordinators met to discuss the issues of continuity between their two programs. A meeting with the superintendent and the building administrators was requested and scheduled for early October.

October

The administrative meeting involved the three gifted coordinators, principals from the four buildings, the coordinator of teaching and learning, and the superintendent. Each participant was asked to respond to a few questions in preparation for the meeting. The questions included commenting on the current identification/placement process, the program as it currently existed, possible future program directions, and suggestions for moving forward in implementing those directions. Responses were varied. Three of nine participants had formal training in gifted education, each having earned a Master’s degree in that field. Responses centered on the need to have a defensible identification process matched to services. Of particular concern was the need for all teachers to differentiate curriculum within their classroom. For example, some teachers believed students were spending too much time reading the basic chapter on the Boston Tea Party when they could be delving into the perspectives of the participants in the event. Their findings could then be presented to the class in a multimedia format. Because these teachers were also parents of gifted children, the need for parental communication and involvement was also seen as vital to the success of the gifted program.

Comments and concerns of the other members included everything from the desire to have good public relations within the community, to concerns with the elite nature of gifted programming, to the lack of funding, and to the unwillingness of some staff members to differentiate curriculum.

After much discussion, we developed a plan to help each member proceed in an organized and cohesive fashion. Some participants had specific concerns for their building; others were not convinced that change was necessary. In the past, parents raised concerns about the lack of continuity in the district. All agreed that this needed to change.

The identification process needed revision at all levels, particularly at the elementary level where initial placement generally occurs. All principals were asked to incorporate professional development opportunities on best practices and programs in gifted education through their site-based management teams. They were also asked to check on the status of differentiation at each site. Additionally, the elementary coordinator was asked to work with the coordinator of teaching and learning to begin revision of the elementary service model.

November

The administrative team met again in mid-November for a progress update. Professional development opportunities were being discussed at middle and high school levels, but at the elementary level there was little progress. High school course offerings were changing to incorporate advanced placement classes for the next school year. At the middle school, there were opportunities for a variety of co-curricular activities, including geography contests, spelling bees, and authors’ conferences.

At the elementary level, progress was being made on redesigning the service delivery model. There were 13 identified students. One teacher chose to retain the pullout model for 7 identified students. Another teacher volunteered to use the resource model with 6 identified students The resource model was designed to meet specific needs of a cluster of gifted students by providing resources and activities to extend and enrich grade level objectives and course materials. Extension activities were completed in the classroom, while other students worked on concepts they needed to master. In this way, the gifted program would be part of the students’ day-not an add-on of curriculum that did not connect with regular curriculum. The intent was to give the other staff members a living example of what this model would look like. Six identified students remained in the classroom. The elementary gifted coordinator set aside 30 minutes every other day to focus on these resource students. Much of that time was spent preparing activities for these students to complete within their classrooms. Activities were prepared to enhance the curriculum, requiring performance at higher levels. Time was also available to introduce activities, conference with students as they worked on long-term assignments, and provide individual help with research and study skills. Classroom teachers and the elementary gifted coordinator collaborated closely on this model. The beauty of this arrangement was the flexibility it offered classroom teachers to include students not formally identified as gifted. Teachers could also exclude identified students from particular activities based on individual needs.

While progress was being made in several areas, identification for inclusion in the program was still a big concern. Several local districts were contacted to develop a good sense of how comparable districts were identifying students. After reviewing these processes, members assigned to this task made preliminary recommendations. The first recommendation was to delay the administration of the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) until the end of grade 2. The elementary gifted coordinator would work within each grade 2 classroom providing whole group lessons in thinking skills and would keep problem-based assessment logs on students. The CogAT would be administered to all grade 2 students to be as inclusive as possible in the initial screening.

The next recommendation was to include the Kranz Talent Identification Instrument (Kranz, 1981) as a screening tool. This instrument asks teachers to identify talent areas in academics, arts, and motor skills. The third recommendation was to replace the current checklists with Renzulli scales (Renzulli, Smith, White, Callahan, & Hartman, 1976). The Renzulli scales offer additional information because each characteristic is rated on a one to four scale instead of with a simple yes or no. Both teachers and parents would be given instruction on how to complete the scale. The final recommendation was to involve a team, instead of just the gifted coordinator, to review each student’s portfolio to determine the best match for services within the program.

There was some concern with these recommendations. Change can be difficult; it was certainly true in this situation. Over the next few months, there would be limited success with the acceptance of these recommendations.

January

We convened an advisory group consisting of teachers representing each grade level. It was a joint committee with teachers from both elementary buildings. It took a great deal of encouragement to find a representative from each grade level. Many teachers were already very busy and the gifted program was not a high priority. Eventually, the Gifted Advisory Group convened, including one representative from grades 1, 2, and 3, and two representatives from grade 4.

February

The Gifted Advisory Group met for the first time. The elementary gifted coordinator, coordinator of teaching and learning, and one elementary principal attended the meeting. The elementary gifted coordinator shared concerns with the identification process. The group reviewed screening and identification techniques other districts were using. They also studied the National Association for Gifted Children gifted program standards (NAGC, 1998). The idea of making these changes was very difficult for some, while not as difficult for others.

Within days following the initial meeting it was decided to disband the group and meet with the teachers separately at each building. Two meetings with grades 1 and 2 teachers were scheduled for March.

March

The first meeting was held at one building. With the input of grade 1 and 2 teachers, the overall plan was articulated and organized as a paragraph form. Two weeks later, a meeting was held at the other elementary building. Teachers’ input was gathered; the articulated plan resulting from the Gifted Advisory Group was not shared with them. This group of teachers was extremely concerned about making any changes; therefore, presenting an articulated plan was not advisable. We scheduled another meeting with building representatives.

April

The elementary coordinator returned to the first building to present the articulated plan, using a flow chart, and provided a rationale for suggested changes. Each staff member was given a copy of the plan to review. We received very limited, but positive feedback.

May

The site-based decision making team at one elementary school approved the new identification process. Unfortunately, the staff at the other building was still very concerned about potential changes. A second meeting with them proved to be impossible to schedule. The school year ended with a split decision between the two buildings with no final determination of the district plan to identify new students.

Final Words

Program design and implementation are challenging, but rewarding tasks. Finding the identification procedure and program model that is right for your own district is vital, but it takes time. There can be many stumbling blocks along the way, both from fellow staff members and administrators. Our district is halfway there to implementing an identification process that should be more inclusive. We made baby steps in demonstrating how differentiation within the classroom can be done. We still need to work on professional development for this to be fully realized. As with any change within a school district, the key is to have administrative support and a few willing teachers who can help you model proposed changes. The ultimate goal is to provide programming and service opportunities matched to students’ needs that are also linked to the overall goals and management of the district.

Documenting the progression of ideas and suggestions for possible changes in the current gifted and talented programs and services in this one district was certainly an effective method of using informal evaluation techniques to make decisions. Keeping a monthly log aided the decision-making process. Ideas and suggestions need to emerge from meetings with administrators, teachers, and parents to ensure a commitment to implementing the most defensible and appropriate opportunities for bright youngsters.

Reference
Fetterman, D. M. (1993). Evaluate yourself (RBDM 9304). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
The Great Books Foundation. (1992). Junior Great Books. Chicago, IL: Author.
Haag, V., Kaufman, B., Martin, E., & Rising, G. (1986). Challenge: A program for the mathematically talented. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley.
Kranz, B. (1981). Kranz talent identification instrument. Moorhead, MN: Moorhead State College.
National Association for Gifted Children. (1998). Pre-K-Grade 12 gifted program standards [Brochure]. Washington, DC: National Association for Gifted Children.
Renzulli, J. S. (1975). A guidebook for evaluating programs for the gifted and talented. National/State Leadership Training Institute on the Gifted and Talented. Ventura, CA: Office of the Ventura County Superintendent of Schools.
Renzulli, J. S., Smith, L. H., White, A. J., Callahan, C. M., & Hartman, R. K. (1976). Scales for Rating the Behavioral Characteristics of Superior Students. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.
Rogers, K. (1989). Omnibus units. Minneapolis, MN: Junior League of Minneapolis.
Thorndike, R. L., & Hagen E. P. (1993). Cognitive abilities test. Itasca, IL: Riverside Publishing.

 

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