Thursday, June 6, 2013

2012-2013 Year in Review: ACE -- The Dismantlement of the Gifted Program

Many changes took place with the ACE program in 2012-2013 and more are taking place that will end with the complete dismantlement of the gifted program.

Beginning in 2012-2013, the 9 "gifted specialists" (one assigned to each school) were renamed "differentiation specialists" and tasked with addressing differentiation needs of all students, not just those of identified gifted students.  The elementary one day a week program (bringing together ACE students from all of the schools to meet at one school) was dissolved.  No additional students (other than move-ins) were to be identified for the ACE gifted program, that historically had begun in 3rd grade.  Students in 4th and 5th grade, who had previously been enrolled in ACE, remained in the program, but only 1/2 day per week and in their home school.  Incoming 6th grade students who had previously been identified for ACE continued into Middle School ACE Social Studies and additional students were identified at the end of 5th grade through assessment identification (the Inview test) or an RTI process.  7th and 8th grade students previously in ACE continued, but no additional students (other than move-ins) were supposed to be added to those grades' ACE programs. All middle school students were offered an "ACE-like" experience should they choose to enroll in an encore class called Global Challenges, taught at each middle school by the differentiation specialist.

This fall and over the next few years, ACE, as a program for gifted students only, will be phased out.  No additional elementary students will be identified for ACE.   This fall, the 6th grade ACE Social Studies will be offered to students who were in elementary ACE, were identified for ACE at the end of 5th grade OR to any incoming 6th grader who wants to OPT IN to this class.  In 7th and 8th grade, there will be no OPT IN option. Only students currently in ACE Social Studies will be allowed to continue.  They will also no longer have the option of the encore class called Global Challenges, because it has been discontinued for next fall.  Within 3 years, all incoming sixth grade students will be taking ACE Social Studies and as they progress through 7th and 8th grades, they will all take ACE Social Studies as it will become the standard social studies class for all middle school students by 2017.

One of the justifications given by the administration in the past for having a gifted program that brought all elementary gifted students together once a week in elementary, and in social studies in middle school, was that it was important to create an environment where these students could actively engage with learners who shared their cognitive skills, and feel socially and emotionally at ease in actively participating in class at a higher cognitive level.  The new plan will bring all the students back into heterogenous classrooms, where students at all levels will participate.  All of the concerns raised in the past about the negative impact such an environment may have on highly cognitive learners has been discounted by the administration -- brushed aside as if such legitimate concerns no longer matter.

While the plan to open ACE to all students over the next 4 years may sound exciting and fair, the questions that need to be addressed by the Administration and Board of Education as this program rolls out include:

1.  How will a program that was previously intended to meet the unique challenges and educational needs of "gifted students" now meet these needs if it is open to all?

2.  ACE was intended to address students with high cognitive needs and the materials they were taught were more difficult and challenging than standard grade level materials.  Will teaching the ACE social studies curriculum to all middle school students be too difficult for the majority of the students, and if so, will the curriculum be watered down with the end result being that truly gifted students will no longer be provided an appropriately challenging curriculum?

3.  When this plan was being discussed by the Administration and Board, teachers were surveyed.  Many expressed concern that making ACE Social Studies the standard for all students would hurt both gifted and non-gifted students, both academically and in a social and emotional way.  How will the Administration monitor the impact on the curriculum materials if ACE becomes the norm for all students?  How will the administration monitor the social and emotional impact on the students?

We hope the Administration and the Board of Education will remember that D181 is a district where all students must be appropriately challenged,  learn something new every day and do so in an environment that will boost their self-esteem!

No comments: