going to be easier to get in. ... The method for choosing who
gets in is going to be fairer," said Amy Rogers, the district's
coordinator of gifted services.
past several years, Brandywine has offered a full-time program
for students identified as 'gifted learners'. Kindergarten
through third grades are housed at Mount Pleasant Elementary and
the fourth, fifth and sixth grades are at Claymont Intermediate.
There currently are 350 students enrolled. Although their
classes are separate from traditional classes, 'gifted' students
are fully a part of the 'school community' in their respective
this year, admittance to the program for other than entering
kindergarteners was largely dependent upon how a nominated
student performed in a single test. Other criteria were
considered, but "the fact remains that, unless you achieved a
certain score, you didn't get in," she said. Nationally, about
4% of all children in the elementary grades are able to reach
the threshold Brandywine used.
more, she added, the test that was used, the Otis-Lenen School
Ability Test, is considered 'culturally biased' in favor of
children who come from what Rogers calls "strong backgrounds."
They include those whose parents have read to them since
infancy, who live in households where they experience various
intellectual activities and whose families are supportive of
in other terms, the test tends to identify white children in
middle and upper socioeconomic straits whose parents have had
higher educations and who do things that encourage the children
to follow suit. The result is classes which reflect that bias in
that, Rogers explained, the selection process had to be
initiated by parents and that tended to exclude children whose
parents did not recognize nor understand 'academically gifted'
nor even know that the public school district had a program
designed for students in that category.
so much a matter of discriminating against children from racial
and ethnic minorities with lower socioeconomic standing as it is
overlooking them, Rogers said. The new process "will lead us to
'gifted' children we didn't find in the past."
Educational research has shown that 'giftedness' -- not just
academic but in any respect -- is not the product of a cultural
milieu. While it can be, and in many cases, is nurtured, it is
inherent in the individual and not dependent upon heredity nor
happen now is that teachers, principals and counselors also will
be able to nominate students in first through fifth grade to
enter the program. Parents and guardians still can request that
their children be considered for admittance. Brandywine also
will accept nominations of students attending nonpublic schools
from parents or their school personnel.
nomination period opened on Jan. 20 and continues through Feb.
12. Appropriate forms are available at the district's
administrative office in Radnor Green and individual schools.
who will enter kindergarten in September will continue to be
identified through the Child Find evaluation, which Brandywine
and other districts use to get their initial indications of how
the youngest students may perform.
nominated to enter the other grades will be evaluated against
several criteria, including the recommendations of school
professionals who have observed the students on a continuing
basis. "Instead of one test, we will be working from a profile,"
will still be tests involved. Rising fourth- and sixth-graders'
profiles will include results of the portion of the state
assessment test which measures performance in Delaware against
national performance. They and students in other grades will be
evaluated in part on the basis of all the tests they have taken.
nominated students will also take the Nagliers Nonverbal Ability
Test, which uses geometric figures rather than words and, Rogers
said, is regarded as about as unbiased as it is possible to get.
Even the color coding uses colors which people with
color-blindness can distinguish.
she said, the big difference is that the new test "measures
ability to think, not the amount of knowledge they have
of the evaluation will be told to parents by May 15. The final
decision about whether the child enters the 'gifted' program
will then be up to the parent or guardian, as it has been in the
past. Reasons for deciding not to participate are selective and
there is no obligation nor pressure to participate, even among
those parents who initially nominated a child to go through the
element there, Rogers said, is that not every 'gifted' child is
'gifted' in every subject. One with a strong aptitude for
arithmetic, for instance, may not be a proficient reader and
Experience has shown that participation in the program "is not
for everybody" even though it may seem that a child has
exceptional ability, she said. On the other hand, she added,
"all people have the potential to excel," if not intellectually,
then in other regards.
admissions process, which is being regarded as a pilot this
year, is the beginning of a general overhaul in Brandywine's
providing for the 'academically gifted', she said. An evaluative
study by the University of Virginia in 2002 produced more than
100 recommendations for change throughout the program, which is
highly regarded in Delaware and elsewhere.
is out across the nation on whether a free-standing program,
like the one Brandywine has, or a 'pull-out' program where
students are taken from their traditional classes in 'home'
schools, usually one day a week, to attend special classes at a
central location is better. Brandywine used to have such a
program. Rogers said the district remains indefinitely committed
to the full-time approach.
there also is no agreement on whether children in the primary
grades, through third, should be in a 'gifted' program. "I go to
conferences where people are surprised that we offer it all the
way down to kindergarten," she said.
other end of the scale, it is generally agreed that students in
middle- and high schools have comparable opportunities through
the availability of elective subjects, 'honors' classes and
those leading to advanced college placement. Introduction into
the district of the International Baccalaureate program, which
includes preparatory programs at the elementary and intermediate
levels, will not replace nor supercede the 'gifted' program, she
Broadening participation in the program is not likely to produce
a situation where various levels of 'giftedness' are recognized
in the curriculum, she said. However, providing for selectively
'gifted' students with advanced classes in all schools is one
future possibility. Rogers noted that her job title includes
reference to 'gifted' services in the plural.
having been hired this year reflects interest in assigning a
higher priority to that effort. In the past, administering the
program has been a duty the designated administrator shared with
other charges. Rogers was most recently a fifth grade teacher in
the Central Bucks (County, Pa.) School District. Before that,
she taught 'gifted' students in the Colonial district in New
no stated goal for what proportion of Brandywine students will ultimately
be involved. But she said Brandywine has "a districtwide
commitment to expand the 'gifted' program well beyond what we