By Jeff Montgomery
NSP Staff Writer
North Scott schools are hoping to improve communication with the community about the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program at a time when major changes to TAG have drawn increased interest from parents.
TAG leader C.J. Alberston updated school board members on the program’s progress during a meeting held Nov. 12 in the North Scott administration center. During the meeting, she unveiled a new document that outlines the program’s key points and includes specific identification and selection criteria for students hoping to attain Talented and Gifted instruction.
The new information, available on the district website, is meant to clear up TAG’s gray areas and make relevant information more accessible to parents.
“The idea was to put our usual protocols into a document that is more public-friendly,” said Albertson, who has administered TAG in North Scott for the past 13 years. “We are working to have better communication, and this is the first time we have provided this kind of information on the website.”
The push for better communication comes at a time when the TAG program is undergoing significant changes. Perhaps the biggest change has been the addition of actual TAG classes for students at the junior high and high school.
Prior to the 2011-12 school year, TAG services were provided in addition to traditional classroom instruction. The fall semester of 2011 marked the first time that students in the junior high and high schools attended full TAG classes as part of their normal, daily schedule.
Heidi Redmond, the TAG coordinator for grades 7-12, said this transition changed the way students received TAG servies.
“Up until last year TAG was kind of a pullout program, where we pulled them out of classes,” she said. “Last year we added classes that the kids come to every day.”
In the fall of 2011, the district created a TAG class at the high school and a class for eighth-grade students at the junior high.
This year, a class for seventh-graders was added, and Redmond said a second high school TAG class will be created at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
As talented and gifted instruction makes the pivot from supplemental education to a part of the daily routine, more parents are inquiring about how to get their kids involved.
In response, program coordinators developed a detailed document that lays out the instructional methods, goals and selection criteria for TAG.
Program leaders began reviewing the program this spring and the school board approved a formal document on TAG at last Monday’s meeting.
The document can be accessed by clicking on the “Talented and Gifted” link in the “A-Z” portion of district’s website.
Changing but not growing
While the TAG program is clearly changing, district leaders stress that it is not actually growing.
Only a small segment of the student population – between 3 and 5 percent of North Scott students – are formally identified as gifted.
There are currently 102 students at the junior high and high schools who receive talented and gifted instruction. In the junior high, 18 seventh-graders and 20 eight-graders are a part of TAG. At the high school, there are 20 freshmen, nine sophomores, 19 juniors, and 16 seniors enrolled in the program.
Because slots in the program are highly coveted by parents, steps have been taken to make the identification of TAG students as objective as possible.
These specific criteria are a key part of the new document developed by TAG coordinators.
“Many parents of students who are high-achieving are very interested in (talented and gifted services) and we needed to better explain how students are chosen and what the criteria are,” said Albertson.
The selection process involves a 33-point “assessment identification matrix” designed to test the student’s talents and abilities. Students who exceed a pre-determined threshold on these tests may become eligible for talented and gifted services.
A number of other methods, from classroom observation to standardized test scores, are used to identify high-achieving students as early as elementary school.
While the services from TAG may help some students, the district is quick to point out that “the education needs of the vast majority of students can be met through the core curriculum.”
Redmond noted that, in many ways, the delivery of talented and gifted services is similar to that of special education services. In each case, a new educational approach is created to meet the specific needs of the students.
While students with special needs are given Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), talented and gifted students are now supplied with Personalized Education Plans (PEPs).
“The document is really quite similar to an IEP,” explained Redmond. “A PEP tracks the strengths and weaknesses of the student and comes up with an educational plan on a yearly basis. It is a way of formalizing what the plans and goals are.”
As TAG continues to change, new responsibilities have fallen on the small staff that oversees the program.
Seven district employees, including Redmond and Albertson, are employed as part of TAG. Redmond is the only full-time TAG educator; all others split their time between gifted programming and other duties.
The seven-person staff includes one part-time talented and gifted instructor at each of the district’s five elementaries. These teachers spend 40 percent of their time providing TAG services and the remaining 60 percent working as media specialists.
Albertson said the district is considering the addition of another .5 employee (an employee whose responsibilities are spent on gifted student 50 percent of the time) to help facilitate the program. This measure is currently in discussion at the curriculum cabinet level but has not made its way onto a school board agenda.