Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is rethinking how it identifies students for its academically gifted programs.
The district’s staff is revising the criteria for the Learning Environment for Advanced Programming, or LEAP, program, a curriculum for the most gifted students in grades 4 through 8.
Kerry Moore, the district’s director of Head Start and pre-K, told the school board last week that just adding an interview portion to the LEAP selection process bumped up the percentage of African Americans in fourth and fifth grades from zero to 5.6% and 4.2%.
“A more holistic process got us an increase,” Moore said.
The district is now looking at adding such criteria as motivation and task commitment, social and emotional needs, creativity and problem solving, among others. Moore noted that some are “teacher pleasing” and some are not.
“Imagine if you got a phone call from your teacher because your student was baseball sliding into the reading circle, and it became a celebration of his strengths and his intensity and excitement,” Moore said. “That would probably be a better conversation than, ‘I need to talk to you about your student’s behavior.’ Yes, you need to behave, and what’s that behavior telling us? It tells you you’ve got a lot of energy and a lot going on and you know all the answers.”
The district is also considering universal screening for all third-graders so that students can be identified without a teacher flagging them.
Administrators might look for the top 10% across all student groups, Moore said, so they would consider the top 10 percent among races, genders, English proficiency and socioeconomic status, as well as the top 10% from each school.
Plans also include reviewing all referred students using a trained interdisciplinary team to consider quantitative and qualitative data.
The goal is to select the top 5% for LEAP.
To engage stakeholders, the staff has completed collaborative planning sessions with gifted education specialists, equity specialists, principals, parent representatives and teachers. There have also been community discussions. A focus group with LEAP parents of color is planned, as well as more community meetings.
Summer camp possible
Board member Rani Dasi asked how teacher capacity for LEAP would change with the new guidelines. Jessica O’Donovan, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction said the district was not looking to substantially expand the program over the long term.
“While that might happen initially as we adjust to this new process … if we are identifying large numbers then we’re really not doing something right,” O’Donovan said.
That would go against what research says about how many students need to be separated from their classmates for special instruction, she said.
“We’re not looking to keep anyone out who needs the specialized environment,” O’Donovan said. “We’ve never kept a student out of a program that needs it, and we can’t. The law says that we provide the services that students need.”
The district is also considering starting a kindergarten-second grade summer camp for underrepresented populations to develop students who may be candidates for gifted services.
The curriculum focus would be science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM.
Referrals would be based on reading and math indicators of performance combined with collaborative observations and documentation.
The camp would run for five weeks with meals and transportation included.