Talented and gifted program in Ontario seeks path to success

ONTARIO– Over 40 elementary school students from the Ontario School District’s talented and gifted program toured a local shoe factory in Ontario last month with the program’s first-ever coordinator.

The second through sixth graders learned about the shoe-making process at NuuSol, the makers of Crocs and flip-flops, during the Oct. 24 field trip, according to Valerie Reynolds, the district’s first coordinator of the program.

In Oregon, a talented and gifted student requires special educational programs or services, or both, beyond those usually provided by the regular school program, according to the state Department of Education.

These students typically exhibit outstanding abilities intellectually, academically, or creatively. Additionally, the state notes that students can be exceptionally gifted in performing arts, such as music, dance, or art, or they can be talented leaders in non-educational settings.

In her second year as the program coordinator, Reynolds said there are over 140 advanced learners in the Ontario district. This is the first year Ontario has had a program coordinator to administer services, that includes field trips, career counseling and professional development for teachers of talented and gifted students.

Reynolds said the services include activities like the field trip to the NuuSol shoe factory, where the students followed the design and production of a pair of shoes. The students also designed their own shoe charms using a 3-D printer. Charms are images, letters, and patterns mounted on a post to pop into the holes of Crocs.

Beyond the field trips, Reynolds said, once a student is identified as talented and gifted, the district provides services that, among others, include “differentiated instruction,” that is, helping teachers modify teaching methods and strategies and creating cohort groups for advanced students. Also, according to the district’s talented and gifted education plan, the district will continue to offer honors classes, independent study, credit for coursework by demonstrating proficiency through testing and online course work.

Additionally, the district is working to help identify aptitudes and abilities among the talented and gifted prior to high school to help the students identify career opportunities.

Reynolds said the three goals for the talented and gifted program are to increase the number of students in the district’s dual credit classes, giving students the opportunity to earn both high school and college credit, increase the identification of students from typically underrepresented populations and offer talented and gifted students more educational and career paths.

According to the district’s plan, “the goal is to ensure that the gifted learner is stimulated and challenged throughout the school day.”

Identifying talented and gifted students

The district’s talented and gifted student plan notes that Ontario is “committed to removing barriers and adding pathways, meaning and context to our identification of TAG students.” According to the talented and gifted plan, students are assessed for identification for the program using “multiple modes and methods.”

One pathway is administering an online non-verbal test, Raven’s Matrices, that consists of images showing a series of shapes arranged on top of each other or next them, according to the district’s plan. One of the most common ways of measuring intelligence among a wide swath of age groups, the challenge of the test is to figure out the pattern in the series of shapes and apply it to a new one. This test is given to students in grades 2 and 5.

Additionally, students who score in the top 20% among their peers within their specific school qualify to be identified as talented and gifted. According to the Department of Education’s website about talented and gifted student programs, using “local norms” in assessing advanced learners, “better aligns services offered by each district to the specific talent of students within each unique community.”

Another mode used by the district is to review samples of a student’s work, such as essays, projects, or other assignments, along with classroom behavior observations and using research-based checklists, also qualify students for eligibility. Students displaying gifted characteristics whose behavior rating scales categorize them as culturally and linguistically diverse or are experiencing childhood poverty qualify for the program as well.

From there, the district performs a case study that rates behavioral characteristics of gifted students and then decides on accepting the student into the program.

Bright child vs. gifted learner

Reynolds, who, during her more than three decades in education, has been a teacher, instructional coach, and a reading specialist, emphasizes that there is nothing wrong with a bright child. In fact, she said, bright children are often the kids who do better academically. The stereotypical “teacher pleasers,” Reynolds notes these students might work harder than their gifted peer, make few waves, ace tests and turn in assignments on time. While school might be a breeze for these bright children, those qualities are wrongly labeled as signs of giftedness.

While the bright child knows the answer, the gifted learner is curious and asks questions, she said. A bright child, she said, can receive, retain, and accept information on its face. Meanwhile, the gifted learner molds, manipulates and draws unique insights into what is being presented and begins questioning it almost immediately.

Those gifted learners, she said, are often the most at-risk students. Reynolds said students who are not identified often lose interest in school and learning, ultimately hindering their achievement.

Reynolds said that one of the myths surrounding talented and gifted kids is the sentiment that they will fare well in life given their cognitive abilities. However, she said, the research shows that talented and gifted students who do not have access to appropriate instruction have some of the highest rates of suicide.

“They don’t feel worthy,” she said. “They aren’t challenged. Instead, they’re bored, apathetic and unmotivated.”

She said people will ask her if she is sure those newly identified students are really talented and gifted, given their past performance.

“They’ll come up and ask me, ‘are you sure this student is talented and gifted, because they are this, this and this,'” she said. “I’ll say, yeah, because they are bored, bored and bored.”

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