That’s a slight decrease from the year prior, and every school district except Greenfield-Central saw a slight drop in its percentage of so-called gifted-and-talented learners, according to annual school performance reports released by the department of education.
During the 2013-14 school year, 14.5 percent of local students were identified as high-ability compared with 19 percent the year prior.
Educators say evolving statewide standards for identifying high-ability students have led to decreases during the past three years at nearly every county school.
Across the county, school systems are making changes to high-ability programming to home in on students who are truly gifted and talented and to better serve them, and the data from the annual reports reflect those changes, educators say.
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Previously, any high school student taking an advanced placement course at the high school was classified as a high-ability learner, said Ann Vail, assistant superintendent of Greenfield-Central Schools.
That meant during some years, including 2012-13, about 25 percent of the district’s students were identified as high-ability, which wasn’t a true representation of the number of students actually performing above their grade level, Vail said.
Schools have since moved away from that practice and are now using a combination of assessments to pinpoint which of their students are truly high-ability rather than high-achievers, Vail said.
Though many students could be classified as high achieving, the percentage of students who are truly gifted is much smaller, said Rhonda Peterson, curriculum director at Southern Hancock.
“We think of our high-ability students as those performing above and beyond their peers. We have many high achievers in this district, but not all of them are truly high-ability,” Peterson said.
Most local schools test elementary student potential through the Cognitive Abilities Test and follow up with a Northwest Evaluation Association achievement test. Coupled together, the assessments help educators identify students who need a more challenging curriculum; those students perform well on the tests, typically scoring higher than their grade level, Peterson said.
The general standard for identifying high-ability students is to test them in kindergarten, second grade and again before they move to middle school, Peterson said.
But educators also use input from teachers and results from other standardized tests to determine whether a student should receive high-ability education.
At Southern, educators have worked to improve identification standards during the past few years, but there is no set curriculum for teaching high-ability students.
By the end of next school year, the school district’s goal is to have a clear math and language arts curriculum for students in kindergarten through 12th-grade to help students attain their full potential, Peterson said.
Administrators also want to see more teachers complete certification in gifted education to better serve high-ability students. Southern is considering an in-house certification program, she said, to make obtaining that certification easier for educators.
Eastern Hancock administrators also want to see more teachers obtaining that certification, said Dana Allen, fifth-grade teacher and high-ability coordinator. Right now, about 12 percent of teachers have the certification.
Last school year, a handful of teachers volunteered to take the four graduate-level courses that are required to have the high-ability certification added to their license, Allen said.
This school year at Mt. Vernon, administrators moved to hire two new high-ability teachers who serve as high-ability coordinators for the district’s three elementary schools. And before next school year, administrators hope to hire a third high-ability teacher to have one at each of the elementary schools, said curriculum director Jeff Bond.
The teachers currently move from school to school, pulling students out of their regular classrooms for specialized lessons in math and science and language arts and reading in smaller group settings than a traditional classroom.
Educators say those teachers can help give high-ability students an extra push to reach their capabilities. The teachers cater lesson plans to students’ needs, Bond said.
As the corporation revitalizes its current high-ability programming and identification process, it’s currently testing all students in kindergarten through fifth-grade to see whether they qualify as high-ability learners.
“We’re redoing everything we’ve done up to this point,” Bond said. “Like everything else, we want to provide the best opportunities for all of our students, regardless of their needs.”
A high-ability student is one who performs at or shows the potential to perform at an outstanding level in math, language arts/English when compared with other students.
Indiana mandates that students be tested for high-ability throughout their K-12 schooling, beginning in kindergarten.
Students who score well on those tests may be placed in classes with other high-ability students and given a more rigorous curriculum; in some circumstances, they may move up a grade level.
At the middle school and junior high level, high-ability students are able to take high-school level courses as many Hancock County schools.
And at the high school level, advanced placement, dual credit and honors courses are offered to high-ability and high-achieving students.
In 2012-13, 2,398 county students — or 19 percent — of students were identified as high ability.
During the 2013-14 school year, about 1,870 students countywide were identified as high-ability learners.
Last school year, that number dropped to about 1,780 or 14 percent of students in the county.