As New Albany-Plain Local Schools leaders solidify plans for reconfiguring how students in preschool through eighth grade are assigned to certain buildings, the outcomes could affect how they administer education and services to students identified as "gifted."

As New Albany-Plain Local Schools leaders solidify plans for reconfiguring how students in preschool through eighth grade are assigned to certain buildings, the outcomes could affect how they administer education and services to students identified as "gifted."

Officials will need to determine how clusters of gifted students in classrooms would operate after a final decision on reconfiguration is made in January, said Scott Emery, director of elementary education.

At the end of last school year, 1,112 K-8 students were identified as gifted, Emery said. At the end of the first semester of this school year, 995 K-8 students were identified as gifted.

More screenings to identify gifted students will happen this coming semester, Emery said.

"We anticipate more (students) being added as the year progresses," he said.

What does 'gifted' mean?

Assistant Superintendent Marilyn Troyer previously said the Ohio Revised Code defines how to identify gifted students. Students scoring two standard deviations above the mean in IQ tests are identified as having superior cognitive ability. Those students would have to have an IQ of 127 to 130 or higher to qualify, she said.

The district conducts screenings for all students for superior cognitive ability in grades 2, 4 and 6.

Students identified as having superior cognitive ability are grouped together in clusters within classrooms, said district spokesman Patrick Gallaway.

Students also may qualify as gifted in a specific academic ability by scoring in the top-fifth percentile of students across the nation in state-approved assessments, Troyer previously said.

Right now, no screenings are done for whole grade levels to determine whether students are gifted in creative thinking, Emery said. But the State Board of Education voted last week to mandate testing in that category prior to the end of second grade and again prior to the end of sixth grade, he said.

Emery said he's concerned that the new testing requirement could contribute to a loss of instructional time and increased costs associated with purchasing and scoring assessments. Another concern is whether there are enough staff members to provide services to the new students identified as gifted as a result of the tests, he said.

Along with the new tests, the State Board of Education also mandated that teachers with gifted students in their classes will require additional training, Emery said.

Apart from state mandates on testing, the district is working to expand the accelerated class options it offers for students.

Starting in fourth grade, students can take fifth-grade math, Emery said. Fifth-graders also can take sixth-grade math, and this year, fifth-graders are able to take middle school math.

"I believe we're going to keep our focus on math in the time being," he said.

Last school year, 800 students were in grades 4 and 5, Emery said. Of that number, 200 were in accelerated math courses.

Staffing

considerations

The district already has augmented its gifted-education staff to allow teachers to spend more time interacting with students, Emery said.

In the summer, the district moved a fourth-grade teacher from the 2-5 building to the role of gifted intervention specialist, he said.

In addition to that full-time position, the district also hired a part-time secretary, Emery said. Salary and benefits for the two positions total $142,575.37.

The new gifted intervention specialist is working with fourth- and fifth-grade students, he said. The secretary takes care of paperwork, freeing up two other gifted coordinators to work more with students.

Not including the part-time secretary, the district has 3.5 instructional staff positions on its gifted team, Emery said.

Staff members are interacting with fourth- and fifth-grade students for parts of the school day. To a lesser degree, they are doing the same with second- and third-graders, he said.

Still, the level of student interaction hasn't returned to the levels present in the 2014-15 school year that district leaders would like to see, Emery said. Staff levels have not returned, however, to the seven full-time positions the gifted team had in 2014-15, he said. Any future staff additions would need to be weighed against other district needs, he said.

The levy rejection in November 2014 cost the district two part-time gifted coordinators, one gifted-education teacher for kindergarten through fifth grade and one middle school intervention specialist, according to a budget-reduction report to the school board that was approved Oct. 13, 2014.

Feedback

on reconfiguration

Nanette Nardi Triplett, a parent and president of the NAVIGATOR -- an acronym for New Albany Values Integrated Gifted and Talented Opportunities and Resources -- group that advocates for gifted education in the district, said the district's addition of a part-time administrator and a gifted intervention specialist is a "step in the right direction."

Still, Triplett said, she is concerned how the district's reconfiguration of grades 1 through 8 throughout district buildings would affect how students access advanced materials that could be in different buildings, such as a third-grader who needs fourth-grade math.

"I have not heard how they're going to address that concept ahead of time," Triplett said.

She said she also is concerned how the reconfiguration would affect the district's small learning communities, which group grades together for planned activities. The communities help students develop empathy for those younger than them and gain role models from older students, Triplett said.

Gallaway said Superintendent Michael Sawyers has asked staff members to be part of the conversation about small learning communities once the time comes for it to be part of the reconfiguration discussion. Some faculty members like the communities, but others think they could operate a bit differently, he said.

"Staff are highly involved in that process," he said.

Emery said district officials are figuring out how the clusters of gifted students would operate. After a final decision on reconfiguration is made next month, staff members must determine how clusters will work, he said. The conversation about small learning communities will have a similar time line, he said.

"It's something that we really need to speak to staff about," he said.

The district also has scheduled several parent-guardian and community-focus groups to gather residents' input on the grade reconfigurations. No registration is required to attend the sessions on Jan. 11 and 12.

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