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Gifted student eligibility requires a complete package

IQ, motivation, leadership and more figured into the equation before moving a student into the gifted program.

Cheryl Hughes is the Exceptional Student Education Gifted Coordinator while Nicole Cox heads Exceptional Student Education for the School District of Manatee County.
Cheryl Hughes is the Exceptional Student Education Gifted Coordinator while Nicole Cox heads Exceptional Student Education for the School District of Manatee County.
Photo by Jay Heater
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Every parent knows his or her child has many special gifts.

Whether those gifts qualify a student for a gifted student program is another story, often requiring an extensive evaluation by school personnel.

Do straight "As" qualify a student as gifted? Can a student with lower grades who is exceptional in one specific area qualify? Is IQ a factor?

The school districts of Manatee and Sarasota counties focus resources on identifying gifted students and developing educational plans for those students.

Identifying gifted students

For the School District of Manatee County, Nicole Cox heads the Exceptional Student Education program while Cheryl Hughes is the Exceptional Student Education Gifted Coordinator.

They oversee the program as well as make sure the district's teachers undergo constant training so they can identify students who would fit into the gifted student program.

The School District of Manatee County has a nomination form that sets the process of evaluation in motion. Teachers, parents and students themselves can nominate a student for the gifted program.

Hughes said the district is constantly training teachers so they identify students who would be a good fit for a gifted program.

"What are you seeing?" Hughes said is the constant question being asked of the teachers. "We provide a lot of professional development."

In Sarasota County Schools, referrals should primarily be made by "classroom teachers or parents' request."

Cox and Hughes made it clear that the process for identifying gifted students isn't simply about grades or numbers.

"We train our teachers to look beyond reading, writing and arithmetic," Cox said.

While that is true, they also said state guidelines have some specific requirements when it comes to placing students in a gifted program.

At the top of the list is IQ.

Cox said the School District of Manatee County requires a 130 IQ for a student to be part of a gifted program. Some students are accepted with a slightly lower IQ depending on socioeconomic concerns.

Cox said the IQ score is vital, but having a high IQ and great grades doesn't mean a student automatically is enrolled in a gifted program. They also look at other characteristics such as motivation and leadership. 

Evaluation process

After the nomination is received, the "screening" process begins, often by a school counselor in Manatee County. After a screening in Sarasota, students are then referred to a school psychologist for an evaluation.

In Sarasota, all gifted evaluations are performed at a student's zoned district no matter whether that student attends another district school, a private school or is homeschooled. Each school has an Exceptional Student Education liaison.

Motivation, leadership and critical skills are examined. A psych examination is performed to see if the student is a good fit for the program. An IQ test is performed. A consultation with the parents is scheduled.

When all the information is gathered, teams meet to discuss the student and the possibilities. It involves a lot of "conversation and dialogue," Hughes said.

The identification and evaluation process has nothing to do with exclusion but rather finding ways to allow the students to reach their full potential.

"Entering a student (with a high IQ) in a gifted program gives them the opportunity to interact with their like-minded peers," Cox said. "It challenges them. These students often look at things differently than other students. When they are together, they challenge each other. We don't want a student sitting in a class thinking, 'I am smarter than the teacher.'

"But we don't want to pull those students out of their (regular) class all the time. They have to live in the real world."

Delivering the news that a student nominated for a gifted program doesn't have the necessary IQ can be difficult.

"Parents don't always understand," said Cox, who said they might not understand why a student who is acing every class wouldn't be eligible. 

Entering the gifted program

If the student appears ready in Manatee County, a parental consent form needs to be signed. Then for a gifted program, an education plan is developed. Such a plan might be implemented with the student only being taken out of a regular class once or twice a week.

"A lot depends on the number of gifted students in a classroom," Cox said.

When they do come out of a regular class, they might get together with gifted peers to delve more deeply into a subject. An example would be an astronomy class where the regular class would be studying the universe as a whole while the gifted students might be studying one planet, in particular, in depth.

Sarasota has a gifted or accelerated magnet program where students meet in a classroom on a daily basis with all gifted students, taught by a teacher qualified to work with gifted students. According to the Sarasota County Schools website, the program "focuses on accelerated curriculum — grade-ahead instruction in English, language arts and math."

Gifted magnet schools are Fruitville, Venice and Toledo Blade elementary schools; Booker, Sarasota and Woodland middle schools; and Pine View School and Laurel Nokomis School. 

However, students don't necessarily have to attend a magnet school to be in an advanced class. Their regular school can offer a class where gifted students are placed in a classroom with other gifted children and a teacher qualified to work with gifted students. At this level, Sarasota County Schools will allow a student who doesn't necessarily meet the gifted requirements, but who has excelled academically, to be paired with the gifted students. The program focuses on enrichment activities and instruction on a grade-level curriculum. 

Other programs include a gifted student who remains in his or her normal classroom being pulled out at times to receive specialized instruction from a teacher qualified to work with gifted students. There also is a "consultation" program where a teacher who is certified to work with the gifted works with the general education teacher in meeting the needs of a gifted student.

It's elementary

Hughes and Cox said most of the students who are introduced into the gifted program are elementary school students, usually after kindergarten.

"Elementary age gives the opportunity for acceleration and enrichment," Hughes said. "In high school, it looks different. It might be making sure a student is taking advantage of Advanced Placement classes and electives."

Evaluations of all the students are being done with the awareness there could be a language barrier.

And no matter the age, Cox said a close watch is performed so that anyone entering the program is happy and progressing.

"We're very gentle," Cox said.

They are in constant contact with parents of students in the gifted program.

"The parent knows the child best," Cox said.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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