New AIG measures could help identify students

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 2, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — Local changes to identification practices for intellectually gifted students could mean that fewer slip through the cracks, Rowan-Salisbury School officials said.

Kelly Feimster, director of instructional programs for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, said that North Carolina school districts are required every three years to write a new plan for Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) programs. This year, the Rowan-Salisbury School System has taken steps to identify and catch students as soon as they walk through school doors.

The new plan not only helps identify kindergartners who could qualify for the program later in their school career, but also includes an alternate assessment measure to catch kids who may not perform well on a paper-and-pencil test.

“One of the big problems . . . is underrepresented populations being identified across the state,” Feimster said.

Underrepresented populations include students who speak English as a second language, students from minority groups, students with a low socio-economic status or students who may have been identified as an exceptional child in at least one area.

Traditionally in Rowan-Salisbury Schools, children qualify for an AIG program one of two ways. Either they score a certain percentage on an approved aptitude test — such as the CogAT, an assessment test all RSS third graders take — or they may be assessed using a composite of aptitude and achievement scores.

But now, there’s a third way — classroom observation.

“It’s for those kids that don’t test well,” said Nancy Goodnight, nurturing adviser with Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

Some children exhibit characteristics that might mark them as gifted to someone with a trained eye, but they don’t clear the assessment test. Sometimes they miss by just a few points, sometimes they don’t do well at all — but the markers are still there.

And a gifted child isn’t necessarily the teacher’s pet, Goodnight said. Sometimes they’re the class clown, or the student who never turns in their work. The classroom observation would allow teachers to catch those children, as well.

“We want to try and get every kid served that needs to be served,” Goodnight said.

This third assessment route would include at least five consecutive days of classroom observation coupled with a performance task — having the student answer a high-level question based on something they’ve read, and then having him or her complete a project.

Feimster and Goodnight expect the measure to kick up at the end of the year, once they’ve finished smoothing out all the wrinkles and training personnel.

In the meantime, Goodnight will be working on early identification. Goodnight travels from kindergarten classroom to kindergarten classroom, teaching a series of four lessons designed to assess and develop a child’s critical and creative thinking skills.

Solving logic puzzles and other modes of higher level thinking have to be explicitly taught, Goodnight said — especially to young children.

“If they don’t know what an analogy is before they get to the CogAT, then they just don’t understand,” she said.

This year, Goodnight will identify students who show promise and sharp or creative thought processes. Next year, she’ll follow the group to first grade while working with a new crop of kindergarteners. Eventually, the program will run from kindergarten through third grade, when students are handed off to the AIG program.

The state has also mandated that school systems provide some sort of AIG offering in high school beyond honors courses. Goodnight is currently working with high school freshmen who were in AIG in elementary and middle school to take a tally of features the students would like to see.

“We just want them to know that they are still in AIG and that there are still people advocating for them,” she said.

But for Feimster and Goodnight, it’s about giving students a chance.

“We know the kids are out there,” Goodnight said. “We know Rowan County has smart kids, we just have to find them.”

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.