Steamboat Springs The mention of a Gifted and Talented student may conjure up images of math team competitors and chess prodigies, but Steamboat Springs High School teacher Lisa Ruff said to do so is to pigeonhole kids.
"When you create the red birds and the blue birds, you also create buzzards," said Ruff, the high school's Gifted and Talented teacher. "We never want to create a sense of elitism or snobbism."
The Steamboat Springs School District completed student assessments Friday to identify Gifted and Talented students. Last year, about four percent of district students were identified as Gifted and Talented. The district's new director of curriculum and instruction, JoAnne Hilton-Gabeler, said many students previously fell between the cracks and she hopes to increase the number of GT students to about 7 percent.
"We identified 67 children last year in the district, and of that only a handful were elementary students, said Hilton-Gabeler, who noted the director of curriculum and instruction position was in a state of flux last year with the mid-year resignation of Kelly Stanford and the absence of GT teachers at the elementary levels.
"It indicates to me that maybe the testing had not been done, really, recently at the lower levels because if it had, we would have had more identified younger children," she said. "That's where we concentrated this year. That number will at least be doubled."
Body of evidence
Hilton-Gabeler told the School Board on Monday that the district has no personal, policy-based procedural approach or philosophy for serving gifted and high-ability students.
"This year, the four GT specialists and I are working on such a plan," she said. We are looking for "a plan that has cohesiveness, consistency of treatment and attention, but retains the needs and unique qualities of each school's culture and climate."
Hilton-Gabeler said identifying GT students is no easy task. Although the district has no official policy on determining those who are gifted, a standardized review of four guidelines, called "body of evidence," is used as assessment criteria.
Students are tested on their intellectual ability through a nonverbal analogies test, academic achievement, and demonstrative performance, along with observed behaviors and characteristics.
Students who achieve 95th percentile and better on standardized tests, such as the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests, or SATs, are considered high academic performers, while demonstrated performance is determined by juried performance in activities, like those in the fine arts.
"Once we gather all this data, we have to take it to a review committee, which is composed of a counselor, administrator, a classroom teacher and a GT teacher," she said. "But we certainly don't want any student to have their life as a barrage of assessments."
Including all student types
Hilton-Gabeler said many districts nationwide pull GT students out of general education classrooms for specialized treatment.
"This is an inclusionary district," said Hilton-Gabeler, who noted that GT students share the same classrooms with general education students and special education students.
"A rising tide lifts all ships," she said. "We hope that everyone benefits by having them in the classroom, but when we do that, a teacher really has to be a master of differentiation."
Soda Creek Elementary School Gifted and Talented teacher Jill Brimhall was quick to point out that differential instruction "does not mean more work, but more in-depth work."
"In our fourth-grade reading groups, we are looking at pre-assessing so we can see what skills they have already mastered," said Brimhall, who noted students who already know the information might become bored when unchallenged.
"In some situations, I'm working with the teacher as more of a consultant with them - developing some strategies on how to differentiate," she said. "In some situations, we are working with the kids."
Ruff said standards-based education has falsely led educators to push all students up to the same bar.
"But with identifying where kids are, some are already at the bar," she said. "We are not going to allow them to languish in a classroom. Assessment is such an important piece of this. We need to know what they can already do and then take them farther."
Ruff said teachers should think of two words when addressing differentiation - depth and complexity.
As an example, a gifted math student would be encouraged to take the subject to a deeper level.
"A gifted student may be sitting in a regular classroom, and he may be taking the lesson on quadratic equations to a deeper level and applying it to more complex situations," she said. "We are not going to pull him out and put him in a pod and give him a specialized math program so he can sit out there alone and miss out on the social contact with students."
Hilton-Gabeler said it is impossible to make broad characterizations of Gifted and Talented students. Some may also be identified as special education students due to learning or physical disabilities, and their talents may be in very different academic arenas.
Ruff noted that GT students have the same discrepancies that exist in all populations.
"We have people who are academic achievers, we also have people who are underachievers," said Ruff, who noted a few GT students are in danger of not graduating,
"Many times, gifted kids feel disenfranchised and disconnected because their needs are not being met," she said. "They come to school with expectations of learning and sometimes those expectations aren't met, and they can turn off and tune out.
Ruff added that for many GT students, their gift is also a curse.
"One thing students don't want at any age is to look different," she said. "When we ask students to be perfect in every subject, everyday, for 180 days, that is a lot of stress," said Ruff, who added that research shows GT students have higher levels of anxiety and stress.
"You can't ask them to be perfect in every way," she said. "You have to teach academic rigor, but you must understand you are dealing with human beings. These kids already have enough in their lives. They don't need more, they need deeper."
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