talented
Second graders Aaron Merritt, Brandon Hammond Alex Young and Brittany Glazier play chess in Linda Dewyea's Accelerated Learning Program second grade class at Westland Elementary School in West Jordan. (Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune)
Posted: 8:04 AM- SANDY -- Diana Schaffer is afraid her gifted third-grader may not reach her potential if she continues to struggle to fit in with the rest of her class.
    "What's not really well understood is that the gifted population is just as different from the standard population as the special education population is," Schaffer said. "Unless she is in a class where kids are performing at least at her level or above, she will never reach her potential."
    The third-grader is one of 1,222 students in Jordan School District's gifted and talented program, which the Jordan School Board has voted to restructure.
    Schaffer is among parents who believe the district's efforts to develop its gifted program led it to enroll and keep students in the program who are smart but perhaps not truly gifted. As a result, the program no longer serves the students for whom it originally was intended.
    Jodi Stewart-Browning, the district's gifted and talented curriculum consultant, acknowledges there's truth to that assessment. "It's no longer just the 3 percent to 5 percent of the student population in the district," she said.
    Jordan last year tried following entrance requirements for the program more closely in an effort to identify that 3 percent to 5 percent whose performance shows they should be in gifted education.

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The strategy meant more than 200 students no longer qualified for the program and faced leaving the magnet schools that house gifted programs to return to their neighborhood schools. The change raised concerns among parents whose children had been in the program for years and didn't want to change schools.
    Outcry led the district to reverse its decision so that students who wanted to remain in the program were allowed to stay. At the same time, it appointed a committee to re-evaluate the program's future.
    The committee found the program has changed over the years to better meet the needs of students enrolled in it, but they are not necessarily the students for whom the program was designed.
    It also found a need to improve communication with stakeholders and support from experts on gifted learners.
    The committee's recommendations, which the school board approved, will mean the following for the program:
    BULLET f=zapf dingbats s=8 o It will stay as it is for the next two years, but during that time, a team will research and select identification tools for cognitive ability and creativity testing.
    BULLET f=zapf dingbats s=8 o All students who do well on achievement tests already used in the district, such as the Iowa test of basic skills, will be invited to take the second tier of tests.
    BULLET f=zapf dingbats s=8 o Students currently in the program also will be invited to take the cognitive and creativity tests.
    BULLET f=zapf dingbats s=8 o Those who do not meet the requirement will return to their neighborhood schools.
    BULLET f=zapf dingbats s=8 o Programming will be developed at neighborhood schools for accelerated learners and gifted students who choose not to attend the new magnet.
    BULLET f=zapf dingbats s=8 o Regular classroom teachers will receive training to help those students.
    BULLET f=zapf dingbats s=8 o The changes will be implemented in July 2010 after the district splits along east-west lines.
    Some parents still aren't happy with the approved changes.
    Parents with children who still will qualify for gifted education are happy about the change but believe two years is too long for their children to wait.
    Other parents and some district staff feel disqualifying some students from the program is a disservice to them and presents an added challenge for teachers.
    "The program as it is now functions very well for many, many accelerated students and gifted children," said Lora Barber, a parent with two children in the program. "I don't hear frequently that gifted children's needs are not truly being met."
    Tauna Olsen, another parent with children in the program for the past five years, said "the program is not broken. [It] works for the majority."
    Parents such as Olsen and Barber are happy the testing will be revisited and a creative and cognitive ability aspect will be added.
    But they worry about what the changes will mean for regular classroom teachers having to meet the needs of a spectrum of students, as they already have to meet No Child Left Behind requirements.
    It may be difficult for regular classroom teachers to meet a wider range of needs, acknowledged Linda Dewyea, who teaches gifted second-graders at Westland Elementary in West Jordan.
    Karen Nugent, who has taught in both gifted and regular classrooms, said she has had children with reading levels from second grade to eighth grade and has had to meet their needs.
    "Some of us feel that there needs to be a tier-two, some teachers feel that there just needs to be a gifted class," Nugent said. "There is a difference of opinions within the district with that."
    rorellana@sltrib.com