Are gifted students adequately served?

Sunnyside’s highly capable program questioned at school board meeting

A plan for highly capable students approved by the Sunnyside School Board this past February is coming under fire from both parents and members of the board.

The Sunnyside School District’s highly capable program seems to be generating a lot of confusion as it moves forward.

The plan as approved in February requires extra support for gifted students. In addition to providing enhanced study that provides deeper learning of subjects in the standard curriculum, the program also offers students in third through fifth grades all-day courses, joined by other highly capable students.

At last night’s meeting, Director of Special Services Cody Gardiner told the board that the district had 540 students in all grades referred to the program. Of those, 39 qualified under the more stringent state standards that were recently put in place. The district has 18 students appealing to be added to the program.

For the self-contained program, which will be a single classroom at Chief Kamiakin Elementary School made up of gifted students from third through fifth grades, 18 students have qualified. Of those, 14 have chosen to participate in the program while one is still undecided.

Director Michelle Perry questioned the decrease in the number of students in the program, noting that the existing program for gifted students, SEEK, has considerably more involved.

“Why aren’t we serving the same number of students?” she asked. “The numbers just keep going down.”

Gardiner said it was due to the state standards. The state only funds highly capable programs at a certain rate based on the total population of the district. In Sunnyside’s case, the district only gets funds for 2.3 percent of its total student body.

In addition, the SEEK program, which was a before and after school program, no longer qualifies for state funding because of restrictions that require highly capable programs to be embedded in the regular school day.

“The state has redefined what a highly capable program is,” said Gardiner.

The district is using general funds to boost participation so that 3 percent of the students in the district can be served, as opposed to the 2.3 percent funding from the state. In addition, the district will continue funding the SEEK program for all students currently in it until the youngest have left fifth grade.

At Thursday’s meeting a parent questioned the cognitive abilities test used by the district to qualify students. The parent alleged that when some students finished the test, they were allowed to talk, distracting others still testing.

Gardiner said the test was taken on computers in a lab and acknowledged that such a problem could have happened. The parent has appealed, and district officials indicated they will look into testing practices.

Perry also questioned the validity of the test, claiming it has no relation to other tests that students in the district take.

Gardiner defended the test, which is approved by the Washington Association of Educators and is used throughout the state to determine which students qualify for highly capable programs.

The board made no decision on the highly capable program, but Perry made it clear she wants more discussion on the subject.


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