Janesville84.1°

Gifted and talented program under review

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
January 22, 2008
— An independent review of the Janesville public schools’ programs for gifted students found room for improvement.

But budget constraints could tie the schools’ hands.


A UW-Whitewater professor who led the review gave a report to the school board Monday night.


Professor Pamela Clinkenbeard listed a variety of recommendations for the programs, including expansion of the Challenge Program, which now starts in fourth grade, to the second and third grades.


The Challenge Program takes in only the top-testing students in grades 4-8, a very small number compared to the hundreds who are considered gifted.


Programs for the majority of gifted elementary students have been cut in recent years.


While the report was full of recommendations for improvement, it also praised the district’s efforts.


“The TAG teachers work hard to get the job done and give the program their ‘all,’” the report states.


Ruth Robinson, who coordinates the district’s programs for the gifted, asked the board to hold off on cutting her budget in 2008-09. That would give Robinson and her team time to look at ways the programs might be restructured.


The Challenge Program attracts families to Janesville, and it is one of the few such programs that remain in Wisconsin, according to a letter from Robinson that accompanied the report.


Robinson said the TAG budget has hovered around 0.1 percent of the total district budget for the past 10 years.


“There is a valiant effort to continue to do more with less, however, the reality is that the future looks bleak if the current trends continue,” Robinson wrote.


“I think you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck,” Clinkenbeard told the board.


The board is expected to look for $2 million worth of spending to cut out of the 2008-09 budget. Every program and position is on the table for possible cuts, Superintendent Tom Evert has said.


The budget constraints come at a time when the district is trying to respond to criticism that it identifies only a tiny percentage of its minority population for gifted programs.


Robinson admits the problem but said efforts are being made to change things.


“If public schools do not actively and consistently provide services for gifted students from all ethnic, economic and linguistic backgrounds, gifted education truly does become an elitist program,” Robinson wrote.


The school board has cut teachers from the talented-and-gifted programs in recent years. Last year, the elementary TAG teachers’ numbers went from four to three.


Robinson’s steering committee is reviewing the report with an eye to developing an improvement plan.


The board asked questions but took no action Monday. The board is expected to begin budget deliberations next month.


REVIEW RECOMMENDATIONS

Selected recommendations and criticisms in the independent review of the Janesville School District’s programs for gifted students:


-- Communications need to be improved with parents and teachers. Some teachers don’t know which students have been identified as gifted or what that identification means.


-- Programming for the gifted is not consistent among the schools. The report does not say which schools do a better or worse job.


-- “There still exists a general lack of understanding of giftedness and talent and the implications for educators.”


-- The practice of differentiation—providing learning opportunities that address students’ varying abilities to learn—is not practiced by every teacher. Teachers don’t have the time or resources to try new ideas.


-- Principals need to be trained “so that they might be more knowledgeable and supportive of the teachers and gifted students.”


-- More diversity training is needed so that teachers are able to identify gifted students without regard to their ethnic, racial or language background.


-- Children should be identified as gifted as early as kindergarten rather than in later grades.


-- Transitions from elementary to middle school and middle to high school are problematic. “Students do not know how they are selected for honors classes … Some describe the transitions as a black hole where students and curriculum are lost. More communication between programs needs to occur.”


-- Teachers in the elementary Talent Enrichment Program “feel stretched beyond their limits with multiple buildings and paperwork. One teacher-specialist for each elementary building is recommended. Now, three teachers cover the 12 schools.


View documents related to the assessment of the Janesville School District gifted and talented program:


Final Evaluation Study [PDF]
November Summary [PDF]
Evaluation Rubric [PDF]

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