Plainfield schools look at reinventing gifted programs
By Catherine Ann Velasco email@example.com June 28, 2011 4:14PM
Updated: August 28, 2011 12:23AM
PLAINFIELD — Instead of sending a gifted third grader to the middle school for math, Plainfield School District is looking at other options, such as an online video connection.
The student in question just finished second grade, but has completed fifth-grade accelerated math. Previously a differentiation specialist provided individual instruction, but those instructors have been reassigned to classrooms because of budget cuts.
“The parents are requesting that this child be allowed to attend the middle school so we have the potential of an 8- to 9-year-old sitting in a classroom with 12- and 13-year-olds with raging hormones and everything that happens at the middle school. There’s a big concern with the developmental appropriateness,” said Carmen Ayala, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, who gave an update to committee members last week.
Ayala said the district fears bullying if the third-grader is in a middle school classroom.
The district also has a fifth-grader who is ready for sixth-grade accelerated math.
The district is suggesting that the third-grader and fifth-grader take the math class via a video connection from an elementary classroom. A teacher could monitor them and shut off the connection if there is a conversation in the middle school classroom that a third grader shouldn’t hear.
Ayala said the district could be responsible for any emotional ramifications of putting a child in a middle school classroom.
Starting next year, the district is restructuring its program for gifted students, replacing differentiation specialists with accelerated classrooms in grades 3-5. Students identified as gifted will receive 60 minutes of instruction each day in accelerated math and 175 minutes a day in accelerated language arts.
That doesn’t address the needs of the highly gifted. With so many new requests, Ayala said the district is developing criteria for entrance at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
“The district is experiencing more and more challenges for providing services to students that we would call highly accelerated,” Ayala said. “The other thing that we are experiencing more and more of is the issue of double and sometimes triple promotion.”
The district is receiving a handful of parental requests to enroll children in first grade at age 4 or 5. To enter kindergarten in the district, students must be 5 years old on or before Sept. 1. The students seeking early enrollment attended a private kindergarten at a younger age and are ready for first grade, Ayala said.
There is detailed policy regarding early entrance into kindergarten, but not for first grade, she said.
Parents of middle-school students often want their children to get credit for taking high school courses.
“The potential could be that they finish their high school requirements for math while they are in middle school. They could go through their whole high school experience without taking any math,” Ayala said. “It could be a negative impact on the child further on.”
The district has made it clear that they don’t give high school credit for classes taken during middle school because there are requirements to graduate high school, such as three years of math.
There is also a concern about class rankings and grade point average in high school, saying the process should start freshmen year for all students.
“We did find in a couple of cases that high school credit was awarded for middle school students,” she said “We made it clear (to principals) that you cannot allow that to happen because you can’t do it for one and not for others. Somehow that slipped through.
At the high school, the district has a request to pay for a college-level math course because the student has almost completed all the math courses Plainfield offers. School board member Michelle Smith agreed with Ayala that the district shouldn’t pay for college courses.
“In working with our legal counsel, I’ve been told we have to be very careful with how creative we become in trying to meet the needs of these particular students,” Ayala said. “Principals are very creative with parents and work out situations and problem solve. They forget that when they make a decision to do something with a child in this school it has ramifications systemwide.”
Ayala said the district wants to be careful because some research indicates rapid acceleration can be detrimental to students in the future.
The district has seen that effect. Middle school students who took college Advanced Placement courses scored a 3 on exams instead of the highest score of a 5. Many colleges still offer credit for a score of 3.
Ayala said students might not have been ready developmentally to grasp abstract concepts.
“If you move them too fast, they don’t have a solid foundation,” she said.