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How One District Made It Work:
Matching Student Needs with Gifted Services
Ann Duchscher - Teacher Specialist for Gifted Services
Fargo Public Schools - Fargo, North Dakota

Fargo Public School District, nestled in the North Dakota Valley, educates approximately 11,000 students and employs 840 teachers. It could be paradoxically described as a big little school district. The district offers a multitude of educational opportunities and programs to its students, including a gifted and talented program that has been in existence for more than 25 years. In the last five years, however, the current of education in Fargo has changed. The district's gifted and talented program has evolved from one that relied exclusively on pulling students out of classrooms to a new, more inclusive model focused on Individualized Learning Plans (ILP's) for gifted and talented learners.

A New Child-Centered Model
In a show of support and commitment to excellence, Fargo Public Schools' Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Charles DeRemer, hired external evaluators to assess the effectiveness of our gifted program's ability to meet the needs of the diverse group of gifted and talented students in the Fargo School District. Upon the evaluator's recommendations, Dr. DeRemer assembled an advisory committee comprised of administrators, classroom teachers, parents, and G/T teachers to develop a plan for implementing the evaluator's recommendations. Central to the advisory committee's work was the need to establish a process for identifying available resources and the students who needed something more than what was already being offered in the regular classroom.

The advisory committee proposed that our new program model, Gifted Services, should utilize a referral process similar to the one used in special education for identifying and meeting the needs of students, the Child Study process. A classroom teacher, parent, specialist, or G/T teacher can refer a student who exhibits gifted and talented behaviors for child study. (Students may also self-refer.) Once referred, a profile form is completed by all individuals who come in contact with the child. These forms are then given to the G/T teacher to compile the student's profile data with any additional quantitative data from school files. All individuals working with the child study team (e.g., classroom teacher, parent, principal, G/T teacher, etc.) meet to discuss the needs of the child. If services are determined necessary, an Individualized Learning Plan is written outlining the services the child will receive.

Implementation of the Child Study Process
During the first year of implementation, we struggled with the kind of services recommended for each student. Because gifted and talented learners are a diverse group of individuals (like any other subgroup of students), there was no one standard recommendation to be made. A further complication was that we were not necessarily applying modifications for advanced learners consistently across schools. We needed some expert direction.

We called upon a consultant with expertise in the area of gifted program design and development, Dr. Karen Rogers. Over the course of a year, Dr. Rogers worked with the newly-created gifted advisory board to help us identify research-based gifted and talented services that when appropriately matched to the learner would create the best educational fit possible and would also construct an improved pathway for increasing student achievement. After careful review of the research and our existing continuum of services, we selected a menu of educational options for meeting the needs of Fargo's gifted students. Thus the goal of the child study team became the creation of the best possible academic fit between a gifted and talented student's learner profile and the available gifted service(s). Sometimes a review of a student's learning profile does not necessarily demonstrate a need for a specific gifted service. Nevertheless, when such is the case, the child study process remains the perfect venue to discuss and make recommendations for classroom differentiation strategies for any student.

Once the match between the student and service(s) has been made, the G/T teacher designs the student's Individualized Learning Plan (ILP) and works with the classroom teacher to implement the service(s) over the course of the school year. Each ILP includes student demographic information, team members, the student profile (including information on learning, creativity and motivation characteristics), the service(s) applied, any implementation details associated with the service, a history of services and tables to collect all assessment data (both quantitative and qualitative) pertaining to the student.

ILP's are evaluated and renewed on a yearly basis. The G/T teacher, classroom teacher, and principal revisit each student's ILP in the spring. They discuss the progress the child has made and the impact of the applied service(s) in order to make recommendations for any changes in services and ILP renewal for the fall. If needed, the entire child study team can be reconvened to discuss the child's needs and changes to the service plan. The renewal process is, however, a flexible one, and meetings can occur at any time as needed during the school year including during parent-teacher conferences.

Does It Work?
In the 2004-2005 school year, approximately 450 students in grades 1-6 across 14 elementary schools were placed on an Individualized Learning Plan and received one or more gifted services in our school district. The child study meetings with parents have proved extremely beneficial in helping us to understand more fully a child's background and experiences. This expanded knowledge base and convening of expertise then allows us to develop and implement effective, individualized plans to meet the needs of our gifted and talented student. Additionally, parents have been very positive about participating in the process.

 This article was featured in NAGC's Compass Points, Fall 2005 (pg. 15).