In fall 2014, a team of West Chicago Elementary School District 33 parents, teachers and administrators, led by Director for Teaching and Learning Christine Wells, conducted a systematic and rigorous program evaluation of gifted and talented services offered to students in the district. The purpose of the study was to ensure that the learning needs of our advanced learners were being met.
This steering committee focused on four main areas:
• Evaluate the state of gifted education policy and programming with regard to Illinois rules and statutes
• Evaluate the state of gifted education policy and practice with regard to best practices
• Evaluate the degree to which existing programming is meeting the needs of students
• Provide feedback and suggestions for improvement to programming
The current program model provides above grade level math instruction to a small group of fourth- and fifth-grade students identified from each elementary school. In order to receive services, the students are bused to Leman Middle School, where they receive instruction as a whole group. While bringing the students together in one location had some initial efficiency, it comes with transportation costs and lost learning time for the students. Furthermore, only the learning needs of a very few students from each school can be met.
All school districts have a full spectrum of students with different learning challenges and opportunities. While District 33 has done an excellent job to develop support systems at one end of the learning spectrum, it is necessary to assess the way the learning needs of students at the other end of the spectrum are addressed as well.
After a year of study, the committee recognized that the current program model does not address the needs of fast-paced learners. Realizing this gap in learning services, and acknowledging the financial restraints of the district, the committee analyzed various delivery models to address this concern. As a result, the committee proposed the implementation of a pilot study which included an updated identification process to include identification of fast-paced learners.
The team proposed, and the District 33 Board of Education concurred, that a pilot study would be implemented at Currier and Wegner elementary schools. In this pilot, the students remain in their own schools with a full-time teacher devoted to not only supporting gifted students, but also the advanced learners. With this broader identification process, both schools are able to offer support services to more students than in the past.
When not working directly with groups of students in math, the Gifted Specialist pulls groups for reading enrichment in grades three through five. In addition, these specialists can now spend time in K/1/2 classrooms to provide “push-in” support to our youngest students who may fall into the gifted and talented spectrum.
While the pilot study is far from complete and the data has yet to be analyzed, early signs are promising. For example, in the pilot programs, over 130 more students combined are receiving gifted and/or advanced learning instruction in math, as opposed to less than 30 that would have been identified as qualifying for math instruction using the current program.
The study team is scheduled to make two more appearances before the District 33 school board. Before budget planning for the 2016-17 school year begins, the board will want to evaluate the cost and benefits of the program to see if it merits continuation or expansion.
Dr. Charles Johns is superintendent of West Chicago Elementary School District 33.