Raising the bar

In the future, test scores won’t be the key deciding factor on whether a Center Grove student should be placed in more challenging courses.

Their teachers and administrators also will look at other factors to decide whether those children are able to learn at a faster pace that would be needed in high-ability classes.

School officials said they also want to offer more high-ability programs to younger students and create a committee to track which students should be in high-ability courses, and if any students should be removed.

Those were some of the key concerns raised by Center Grove parents in a meeting last year with school officials.

Earlier this year, Center Grove officials asked two experts from Ball State University to study their high-ability program, including how classes were conducted, the curriculum and how students are picked. School officials wanted the study to find ways to make the high-ability programming more uniform from school to school, officials said.

The study identified six areas Center Grove could improve upon: identification of high-ability students, program design, curriculum and instruction, psychological needs and self-regulatory skills, professional development and program effectiveness.

Even before the study was done, administrators knew improvements could be made to the high-ability program, such as finding a better way to identify gifted students, said Jack Parker, Center Grove director of teaching and learning.

“We knew that there were some things we wanted to look at differently to help our students. We wanted to be more inclusive, and this allows us to be more inclusive,” Parker said.

Changes will begin this fall, with a new way to track high-ability students throughout their school career and provide more training for educators who teach high-ability students. When hiring new teachers, school officials also want to put an emphasis on finding ones trained in teaching gifted and high-ability classes.

An identification study team, planned to include teachers and administrators, will be created this summer to look at testing data, how students will be chosen to skip a grade and how children can be referred to and exit the high-ability program, Parker said. The team’s goal is to make sure every student who should be in the high-ability program is, and determine the process if a student should no longer be in the program.

School officials want to set specific standards for when students should be considered high-ability, considering both aptitude and achievement-based assessments. Currently, students have to hit at least three of five high-ability categories, such as being in the 90th percentile on assessments in math or English, and be reading at a certain grade level.

But the assessments don’t consider potential ability, said assistant director of elementary curriculum Marcy Szostak. So a student who may naturally guess and infer, but doesn’t test well, would not be included in high-ability classes by the current assessments, she said.

In the future, the school district wants students also to be considered for high-ability classes if they show the capacity to perform well in either English or math, Szostak said. If students score in the 96th percentile in either English or math, they’ll be automatically considered for high-ability programming, she said. But students who fall within 88th and 95th percentiles on either assessment will also have a chance to be in gifted classes, Szostak said.

School officials also are discussing the way classes are set up at elementary schools.

One idea is cluster groups in classes, where teachers would have two or three types of learners in their classroom, instead of four or five. Making the classrooms less diverse would allow teachers to meet needs of only a few groups of students, instead of needing to teach a range of learners, Parker said.

The school district is also considering adding separate extended learning magnet classes for third grade, which are currently only available for grades four and five. The classes group all high-ability learners together, and are only housed at North Grove and Maple Grove Elementary Schools. Parents had said in a meeting last year that they didn’t like moving their children to a different school in order to be in a magnet class.