Choosing the Best School
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Choosing a School for Your Gifted Child:
Asking the Right Questions

Selecting the right educational environment for a child can be a challenge for any parent, but the more unique the learning needs, the more challenging it is to find the right educational fit. Giftedness, therefore, can make an already difficult task daunting. Below are some questions to think about and pose to school personnel; a few important elements to look for follow in italics.

1. Does your school have a gifted program and what is its focus? Is the gifted program primarily extracurricular or is it embedded in the regular classroom curriculum? At the secondary level, are Advanced Placement, Honors, or International Baccalaureate classes available?
Schools with programs embedded in the classroom curriculum, whether in a self-contained GATE class, a clustered group within the regular classroom, or where students are distributed throughout the grade level, at least recognize the fact that gifted students require curricular challenge in order to continually progress in learning. Programs that focus on enrichment and extracurricular activities do not necessarily meet these learning needs. At the secondary level, appropriately challenging classes should be available.

2. How are gifted funds utilized? What percentage is used for teacher training?
Gifted funds are minimal in today’s economic climate, but teacher training is crucial to meet the needs of gifted learners. While this need not require a huge investment, it should be an ongoing component of the program. Administrators should support and provide time for collaboration among teachers, access to print and on-line resources, and ideally, opportunities to attend gifted conferences and workshops.

3. What training does your staff receive on gifted education?
Training should include the recognition of giftedness in underserved populations, social and emotional issues of gifted learners, as well as strategies for differentiating the curriculum to appropriately challenge the gifted student to ensure continuous growth. At the secondary level, training should also be available for the counseling staff.

4. How are children identified for your gifted programming?
Multiple criteria should be used to determine GATE identification. A single test score should neither ensure nor deny identification. The fact that a child does not meet the district criteria at one grade level should not eliminate the student from further screening at a later date. The goal of GATE identification is to provide support for the social and emotional challenges a gifted student may have and for their continuous academic growth.

5. Who coordinates the program?
Someone at the district level should be responsible for the smooth coordination of all elements of the GATE program. Whoever coordinates the program should have training in both the needs of gifted learners and in the strategies appropriate to meet those needs.

6. Are ongoing assessments used to indicate the need for differentiation? Are goals set for gifted learners to ensure appropriate levels of challenge in the learning environment?
Gifted students should be provided the opportunity to advance at their own rate of learning without excessive repetition and wait-time. Ongoing assessments should be used to determine what has already been learned. Goals can then be created and strategies developed to allow students to study the topic in greater depth or at an advanced level.

7. How does your school include instruction in critical thinking, analysis, creativity, and universal concepts within the curriculum?
While all curricular standards include critical thinking, the focus on test scores can divert attention from these essential elements of learning. Embedding creativity, relevance, and higher level thinking skills can be done even within prescripted curricular programs, and including these in the daily curriculum should be part of the ongoing expectations of administrator, teacher, and parent.

8. Is acceleration an option when deemed necessary?
Acceleration can be accomplished through a wide range of strategies including acceleration through appropriately higher level materials, single subject advanced placement, or grade-skipping. Districts should consider all options when developing the best educational plan for advanced learners in consultation with parents and students. At both elementary and secondary levels, a plan should exist for accommodating students who advance faster than the norm.

9. Do your gifted students have the opportunity to work together?
All gifted learners have the need for intellectual peer interaction. This can be accomplished within self-contained classrooms, through clustering, or by flexible grouping in grade-level or cross-grade-level configurations.

10. Does your gifted program work with special education to accommodate the needs of twice-exceptional students?
Districts should ensure communication and collaboration between programs working to meet the educational needs of the twice-exceptional learner.

11. Who monitors that the needs of gifted students are met in the classroom? Is the use of gifted strategies included as part of teacher evaluations?
The classroom teacher is responsible for differentiating to meet the needs of gifted learners and monitoring the students’ progress. Principals should act as resources and partners in this process and should include the use of gifted strategies in evaluations, just as are the use of strategies to help the struggling learner. At the district level, the GATE subgroup on state achievement tests should be analyzed.

12. Is parent education a part of the gifted program?
Raising a gifted child is a challenge. Meeting the educational needs of gifted learners necessitates collaboration among parent, teacher, and student. A good GATE program will support parents in this collaboration by providing information on parenting and on the particular needs of gifted children.
Keep in mind that GATE programs vary widely throughout California, and responses to these questions will necessarily differ from district to district and from school to school. All children are unique and require differing educational environments and plans. These are just some elements to keep in mind when making your decision about what school best meets your child’s needs.


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