A Historical Perspective
In 1964, approximately seven years after the launch of the Soviet Union's communications satellite, Sputnik, Fairfax County Public Schools opened its first center for students with advanced academic aptitude. The federal government provided some funding for gifted education in its National Defense Education Act of 1958; and school districts rushed to create and implement curricular programs for talented youth especially in mathematics and the sciences. In an early report on the gifted programs it was noted that children who scored in the top one and one-half percent of the population as measured by an individual intelligence test would be placed in a center program. Thus, students in grades three through six were identified as gifted if they scored 140 and above on an individual intelligence test e.g., the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale or the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children and were offered full time placement in self-contained classrooms for "Superior Learners". These Gifted and Talented Center classes were initially located at two elementary schools and transportation was provided by the district.
With strong parental support, the Gifted and Talented Center Program expanded and additional centers were opened to accommodate growing numbers of identified students. In addition, in 1974 a school-based Gifted and Talented Program was established in every elementary school in order to provide additional resources to students in grades three through six who scored between 120 and 139 on group administered ability tests such as the Cognitive Abilities Test and the Otis Lennon School Ability Test. The Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher assigned to each elementary school worked with students identified for the Gifted and Talented School-based Program and provided lessons that were designed to develop critical and creative thinking skills. With the establishment of the Gifted and Talented School-based Program, there were two levels of service available to elementary school students and access was determined by their scores on individual and group administered ability tests.
Growing concern with the underrepresentation of ethnic minority students in gifted programs led to the appointment in 1989 of a Gifted Center Identification Committee to study identification procedures currently in place and to recommend changes that would lead to an increase in the number of students from diverse ethnic backgrounds participating in gifted programs. The committee recommended several changes to the Gifted and Talented identification process to include replacing the one intelligence test score that was being used for the Gifted and Talented Center Program with scores from two group ability tests (the Cognitive Abilities Test and the Otis-Lennon School Ability Tests) and adding other criteria (e.g., student progress reports, achievement test scores, and a score on a Gifted Behavior Rating Scale) to determine eligibility for all gifted and talented programs. A Gifted Behavior Rating Scale was developed by the committee to provide teachers with an instrument for documenting the gifted behaviors that they observed in their classrooms. Extensive study and pilot testing of the new criteria were conducted from 1991-1993 and in 1993 the new identification procedures were adopted by the School Board.
Current GT Center Program
The new identification procedures remain in place and provide two avenues by which students may be considered for the Gifted and Talented center program or level IV. First, group ability tests are administered to all second grade students and test scores are then used to select a second grade pool of candidates. Second, students in the second grade who do not meet the criteria of the group tests, and students in grades three through six, may be referred for the Gifted and Talented center program by parents, administrators, and teachers. Once a student is referred, the Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher assigned to the school compiles a screening file and meets with a local screening committee in order to complete the Gifted Behavior Rating Scale. The local screening committee consists of a school administrator, the Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher assigned to the school, other education specialists such as the reading teacher or school counselor, and classroom teachers who work with each child. Once it is complete, the file is forwarded to the Gifted and Talented Central Selection Committee. This committee consists of over 200 professionals to include GT center teachers, GT resource teachers, ESOL teachers, school psychologists, principals, and school counselors. The members review the screening files and make determinations on who qualifies for Gifted and Talented Center placement. The central selection committee members use a holistic case study approach and consider all data included in each student's screening file when making eligibility decisions. Eligible students are assigned to a Gifted and Talented Center that is in close proximity to their local school, and the school district provides transportation.
Over time, the Fairfax County Public Schools has continued to search for better ways to find and nurture gifted potential in all students. In 2001, the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test was incorporated into the screening and identification process to help find students from diverse backgrounds who are able to think, reason, and problem-solve on very high levels, but who may not do well on traditional ability tests. Traditional ability tests that require literacy and numeracy fail to accurately assess the abilities of students from diverse cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds because students from diverse backgrounds may not have acquired the reading and mathematics skills that are necessary to do well on these tests. Research suggests that while verbal reasoning tests are a useful tool in educational assessment these scores are fluid and may change with time. In contrast, the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test allows students to demonstrate their ability to think and reason by figuring out problems that are presented through a complex series of geometric shapes and designs. Because the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test requires little or no understanding of the English language, no cultural, ethnic, or linguistic group has any special advantage. The use of the Cognitive Abilities Test was maintained because, in addition to the nonverbal subscore, it has verbal and quantitative subscores that provide information on areas of strength in the verbal and mathematical domains.
Fairfax County Public Schools currently has 23 elementary and 11 middle school GT centers which provide a full time education program beginning in third grade. In addition to these traditional GT centers, 27 elementary schools offer the GT center curriculum to students who are identified for the GT center and do not want to leave their local school.
Instruction in the GT center is guided by a curriculum framework that delineates specific goals, objectives, resources, units, and strategies in order to challenge and engage highly gifted students in the four core subject areas. It is designed to extend and enrich the FCPS Program of Studies (POS) with a strong emphasis on critical and creative thinking, problem solving, and decision-making. Mathematics is accelerated and by the time GT center students have finished sixth grade, they have completed eighth grade mathematics. Students participate with the entire student body in school-based activities such as student government, physical education, band and strings, chorus, and other electives.
For more information on the screening and identification process for the GT center program, please peruse our website.
Dr. Carol V. Horn
K-12 Program Coordinator
3877 Fairfax Ridge Rd.
Fairfax, VA 22030
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