Engaging High Ability Students
Writer / Dr. Wendy Kruger
Parents and educators want programs for children that are challenging, engaging and purposeful. While each grade level in Center Grove Community Schools has a robust curriculum based on Indiana College and Career ready standards designed to meet the needs of a wide-range of students, some students require additional supports, while others require additional challenges to maximize their individual potential. Center Grove students in grades K-12 have a variety of options for additional enrichment or acceleration of the grade level curriculum.
CGCSC teachers differentiate material to adjust for individual needs within the general classroom. Teachers make accommodations for students needing additional support and provide curricular extensions for students needing more challenge. Sometimes students benefit from additional opportunities to work with students of similar abilities and need experiences beyond the regular classroom. This is where high ability programming comes into play.
Indiana schools are required to identify and serve students of high ability in grades K-12 with tiered levels of service for educational needs. The identification method and services are determined at the local level.
What is a High Ability Student?
According to Indiana Board of Education Rules, a high ability student is one who performs at OR shows the potential for performing at an outstanding level of accomplishment in at least one area when compared to other students of the same age, experience or environment; AND is characterized by exceptional gifts, talents, motivations or interests.
Center Grove Community School Corporation defines high ability students as those who require services and educational experiences not ordinarily offered in the regular school curriculum in order to develop demonstrated or potential aptitude, leadership and creativity.
With this definition, students who display at exceptional ABILITY or ACCOMPLISHMENT may be identified. Sometimes high ability students are not the highest classroom performers, but they may need the additional challenge to engage and develop their ability for exceptional work. Because the overall rigor of classes at CGCSC is already high and because there are many high achieving students, the identification process is also rigorous and aimed at identifying only those students who excel significantly above others in their grade level.
Many factors influence student academic ability, including social maturity, home environment and experiences outside of school. To ensure the most accurate identification of high ability students, CGCSC uses a variety of methods to identify students who would benefit from additional services. Some students may excel at early numeracy or early literacy because of home supports, while other students may become above level students once formal schooling is started. For this reason, CGCSC identifies only the top one to two percent of students in grades K-2 as high ability students. In grades three to five additional students in the top four to eight percent are identified as student ability and achievement become more accurately apparent.
Identification of Students
Many times parents struggle to determine whether their child is on grade level, above grade level or in need of additional services. The classroom teacher, counselor and district level personnel can assist in evaluating student performance. School personnel have the perspective and experience to view a child’s performance in relationship to others in the same grade level, while parents are sometimes able to see their child’s performance based on a smaller group. The school uses a variety of assessments and a data-based model to make placement decisions so that the process is clear and unbiased. A committee of administrators and trained teachers review the data to make placement decisions.
All kindergarten students are given the Cognitive Abilities Test (CoGAT) during the first nine-weeks of school. This data is used for initial identification of high ability students. Teachers are also trained in observation for high ability traits to further identify students who may need additional screening. Identified students are then pulled for small group opportunities to accelerate or enhance the grade level curriculum based on identified student needs.
In grades 1 through 8, students are identified for high ability testing based on reading and math test performance, reading levels and observational checklists and ability screening results. Students identified for further testing are given additional achievement, ability and writing assessments. High ability testing occurs in late winter and the information is used for services in the following school year.
Types of Programming
Programming for high ability students elementary can include several options depending on student needs such as grade skipping, subject skipping, placement in cluster groups within the ENRICH classroom, participation in interest-area activities or differentiation within a grade level class or participation in the magnet Extended Learning Program.
Identified kindergarten students are generally pulled for small group opportunities to accelerate or enhance the grade level curriculum based on identified student needs.
In grades 1-3, students identified as high ability students are usually cluster grouped and placed into the ENRICH classrooms in their school. Other high achieving students are placed into this classroom based on their grade level test scores.
In grade 4 and 5 most high ability students are offered an opportunity to participate in the Extended Learning Program that is a magnet program at two elementary schools, North Grove and Center Grove Elementary School. Students in the EL program demonstrate exceptional ability in English/LA, mathematics and problem solving. These students are placed into a self-contained program for their core academics. The teachers collaborate to present thematic instruction that is interdisciplinary. Some subjects include multi-age grouping of the fourth and fifth graders. Problem-solving and higher levels of thinking are promoted through hands-on activities and research projects. Mathematics is one year advanced of grade level.
In middle school, high ability students may be placed in honors classes for science, mathematics and/or English/Language Arts. Students may also develop individual talents and interests through art, music, athletics and other activities. On rare occasions, students may be grade or subject skipped.
At the high school, students have more choice in their classes and experiences. Students have opportunities for honors, Advanced Placement and dual-credit courses. Students may pursue their interests through academics, electives, music, arts, career courses and certifications, and extra-curricular activities.
ENRICH Placements for Grades 1-5
Students in elementary school are looked at each year for participation in high ability testing. Students who meet established cut-scores on identified criteria such as math or reading tests, ISTEP+, or their cognitive ability score may be given more extensive high ability testing. Students who qualify as a high ability student may be placed into a cluster group in the ENRICH classroom.
The remainder of students in the ENRICH classroom represent high achieving students. Students do not have to test for high ability to be placed into ENRICH. All students who are not identified as high ability students are then reviewed for placement into Enrich based on their school-level test scores in math, language arts, reading, ISTEP+ and CSI. Students are rank-order in comparison with all other students in the grade level and the top students are placed into the Enrich class. These are single-year class placements. As student’s performance changes each year, some students will move into the class and others will move back into the grade level class.
Tips for Parents
- Read the CGCSC High Ability Handbook to gain a thorough understanding of identification and services.
- Take opportunities to read and learn about high ability student characteristics ways to foster growth and higher level thinking
- Become familiar with grade level learning objectives and standards
- Ask questions about your child’s abilities and interests
- Work with the classroom teacher and ask questions or discuss areas of concern
- Input on identification and services can be given through the Broad-Based Planning Group that meets at least annually to review aspects of programming and make recommendations for communication, identification, services and programming for high ability students. Contact Dr. Wendy Kruger at firstname.lastname@example.org with input for the group or if you have an interest in serving on the committee.
Many misconceptions surround high ability students and programming. Below is information to dispel those misconceptions:
- Students may have both a special need and be a high ability student
- Students may be learning English as a Second Language and be a high ability learner
- Students do not have to be identified as a high ability learning in elementary school to qualify for honors classes in middle school
- Students do not have to be in middle school honors classes to take high school honors classes
- Many students are successful in middle school, high school, college and life without ever being identified as a high ability student
- It is an exception to be identified as a high ability student. It is more likely to be a high achieving student.
- While only four to six percent of students in any grade level would be labeled high ability, many more students will be considered high achieving students
- The majority of students in ENRICH and honors courses are not labeled as high ability students – they are instead, high achieving students. Students DO NOT have to be tested for high ability to be considered for placement as a high achieving student.
- Earning straight As on grade level material, especially in elementary school, does not indicate a student is a high ability student. This would identify higher achieving students.
- High ability students may not be the top performers in a grade level or classroom. They will, however, have the ability to perform in an exceptional manner, but may need additional supports and challenges to exhibit those abilities.
- High ability students may excel in one area and struggle in others.
- High ability students do not develop in every area at the same rate.
- High ability students may have behavior or emotional challenges
More Information/Additional Resources