Wendy Morgan’s children needed Learning Environment for Advanced Programming, an advanced curriculum program for students in fourth through eighth grade.
For her younger child, the program represented the first time he had ever been challenged. For her older child, it represented a change in the quality of life.
Now there’s discussion of changing gifted education programs in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system, worrying parents who believe their children need this program.
This program gives students in fourth through eighth grade supplemental instruction when they demonstrate a need for accelerated study in all four content areas, including language arts, math, science and social studies.
Morgan’s older child was socially and academically withdrawn. There were initial signs of further problems showing, and she said LEAP turned everything around.
“All of sudden, there were friends and academics were engaging, and life seemed good,” she said.
Morgan and other parents have joined together to convince the leadership in the school district that this program is vitally important. Morgan’s oldest gave a speech at the school board’s Nov. 15 meeting about what the program did for her.
Rani Dasi, chair of the CHCCS board, said the program was started to serve kids who were identified as having significantly higher needs for instructional services. She said this was measured through testing the students’ proficiency and capability in reading and math during standardized testing.
She said this is part of a state-required discussion every three years about the efficiency of the program.
“The administration is looking at how they can better serve all gifted students,” she said.
She said one avenue the board is looking at is a partnership with Elon University to provide licensure to teachers in academically gifted classrooms in the hopes of improving efficiency.
She said the board has gotten some emails from parents concerned about the future of the LEAP program.
“The board hasn’t seen any plans to dismantle LEAP,” she said. “It’s been a broader conversation that the administration is having to understand if this is working for the students.”
She said a draft plan to revise the academically gifted education program will be presented to the board in May. The time between now and then will be focused on discussing with parents and community groups to reach a plan that meets the standards of the state and the people.
North Carolina has had legislation on academically gifted education since 1961, and students identified as gifted were originally deemed as children with special needs in 1974.
In 1996, legislation known as Article 9B created a concrete statewide definition for academically or intellectually gifted students and required local education agencies, like the CHCCS Board of Education, to develop three-year AIG local plans eventually sent to the State Board of Education and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
The plan proposed to the board in May must adhere to six standards set up by Article 9B, including student identification, differentiated curriculum, personal and professional development and program accountability.
Research into academically gifted programs has had multiple different conclusions about the boost these programs yield for students.
A Michigan State University study found students that were marginally identified as academically gifted – those just barely above threshold – achieved no greater than those students who were marginally identified as non-academically gifted, just barely below the threshold.
The authors for the study said a possible theory for this is that the students just above the threshold felt insecure and less confident when they didn’t achieve as much as their other identified peers. On the other hand, students not identified might feel more confident from being at the top of their classes and thus get a boost.
However, a study from researchers at Northwestern University and Duke University found that data shows students do gain a boost from accelerated learning when they are challenged and avoid learning what they already know.
She said there is a need to re-evaluate how students are identified, including considering aptitude tests and achievement. She also has concerns about helping students with a serious need for academic and gifted instruction, with scores on identification tests far beyond their peers.
A lot of parents in the district struggle with the misconception that LEAP is an exclusive program, she said.
“This is a program that is there to serve a profound and severe need that children have,” she said. “The fact that it happens at the top of the academic spectrum versus the bottom of the academic spectrum does not make it less of a need.”
Morgan and Dasi agree the school district needs to offer more services to all of the students, even those not identified as gifted and enrolled in LEAP.
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