Evaluating a School's Gifted Program

Evaluating a School's Gifted Program
How do you know if your child’s school system is accurately and adequately identifying and serving its gifted students? If your school district has gifted programming in place this is obviously a significant step towards meeting your child’s academic needs. However, you may want to consider some of the following questions which can help you evaluate the program and know if it’s in line with best practices in gifted education.

When does the identification process begin?
Ideally students should be identified as soon as possible. The sooner that gifted students can begin receiving services for their needs, the sooner they will begin to adapt to the way they learn. It is crucial for gifted children to learn how to work up to a challenge from an early age. If school is too easy for them they may become bored and apathetic. Behavior can also become a problem.

Once students are identified how are they served?
Ask for specific information about servicing. If the school can provide clear details about their programming, it is likely a well planned system based on best practices in gifted education.

Are services provided only in core content areas or other areas as well?
Some students are globally gifted meaning that they process everything at higher levels than their peers. Other students stand out in only one or two areas. It is ideal if schools can provide support for students regardless of the area of their giftedness. While most schools only focus on the core subjects (language arts, math, science, and social sciences or social studies), an excellent school would also include instruction for the gifted in foreign language, visual arts, performing arts and leadership.

How often are services offered?
Find out how often your child will receive specialized instruction. A significant amount of time every day working with new and challenging content should be expected in a high quality program. Be wary of school systems that say their gifted students receive specialized programming once a day or once a week.

Are there self-contained classrooms and honors sections for gifted students or are they pulled out?
At the elementary level, find out if your child will be “pulled-out” for gifted programming or if the work is integrated into the regular classroom (also known as differentiation). If there are pull-out classes, how much time will the child be able to spend with others who learn like her? Some schools may even cluster their gifted students in one classroom to enable the teacher to work more specifically with them.
Once students are in middle and high school look for honors sections, AP classes and International Baccalaureate programming. Are schools willing to let younger students take honors courses out of grade level?

Are the teachers who work with high ability students specifically trained to work with this population?
Most teacher education programs do not provide extra training in how to work with the gifted population. Teaching this type of student is a specialized task. An excellent program will include teachers who either have a license in gifted education or who are receiving training in this area.

What type of curriculum is being used with high ability students?
Students should be expected to “go deeper” and use more critical thinking skills, not just do more work. While some of the curriculum for gifted students can be the same as what the rest of the class is working on, it should be differentiated for their level of ability. Sometimes it is appropriate to simply have different curriculum or content as well.

Is pre-assessment a common tool used to determine needs and readiness?
Pre-assessing what students already know is an excellent tool to utilize prior to introducing any new material. Teachers can plan their lessons accordingly and students won’t have to spend time with material they already know but can move on to new content.

Are open-ended, student-directed activities a common part of the learning process?
Providing these types of learning experiences is excellent for all students but is especially beneficial to gifted children. This style of learning encourages students to process information in ways that make the most sense to them.

How is the high ability program evaluated within the school system?
Educators and administrators should be continually reviewing the identification process and gifted programming. Keeping up to date with best practices and ensuring that all gifted students are being included in programming are critical to a program’s success.

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