A big lift by Lakota teachers to personalize student learning is steadily translating to big gains in the number of Lakota students identified as gifted actually receiving gifted services.
Lakota’s elementary schools were the first to see the impact of this district-wide effort to remodel Gifted Services, achieving a 327% increase in the number of identified students receiving gifted support last school year. That’s nearly 1,500 elementary students compared to the 350 who received services during the 2020-2021 school year.
“This isn’t the result of some rapid increase in our gifted numbers,” explained Lauren Webb, Lakota’s assistant director of gifted services. “Historically, we’ve had higher rates of identification at the elementary level than we have had gifted teachers to support that need. We had to change our model to make gifted services an extension of Lakota’s commitment to personalized learning.”
A Step Toward More Personalized Learning
This success at the elementary level started with a professional development plan that shifted gifted math education to the traditional classroom and also added an English Language Arts gifted option (ELA Plus) for students excelling in this content area. Every elementary-level general education teacher participated in 15 hours of training to become a gifted service provider in both subject areas. They will build upon that training for another three consecutive years.
As a result, the original eight gifted intervention specialists (GIS) spread across Lakota’s eight elementary schools essentially grew to hundreds of teachers with a similar skill set to differentiate their instruction for students needing a challenge in not only math, but language arts too. Four GISs remain in Lakota’s elementary schools to support their classroom teacher peers with this work. In addition to providing resources, this group also provides small group instruction to gifted students requiring extra support in skills that go beyond core learning standards like executive functioning and social and emotional regulation, for example.
“The biggest change I've noticed is that it's becoming common practice for teachers to personalize their instruction by pre-testing before the units,” noted Amy Alexander, the GIS serving Cherokee and VanGorden. “This way, they can provide more challenging materials and enrichment projects to students who show mastery of the standards before the class has covered the material. It's satisfying and engaging for a child to realize that they will get to learn at their level and don't need to sit through days and days of repetitive lessons and practice if they have already mastered the skill.”
Because of this shift, for the first time last year 100% of students identified as gifted in reading and math at the elementary level received gifted support. Plus, 1,300 students took advantage of the new ELA Plus option.
“Our team is hearing comments from teachers and administrators who are thrilled with the markedly higher growth numbers we're seeing on MAP and state tests in just one year,” Alexander said. “Far more of our talented math students are receiving instruction and enrichment at their personal learning level, which means that more students are showing academic growth that's on pace with their individualized learning. When all students in a class were learning the same standards at the same level and at the same time, it was harder for our very talented mathematicians to show the kind of growth we're seeing now. It’s so exciting and very rewarding to be a part of this paradigm shift!”
The shift has also meant Lakota meeting the gifted performance index on the state report card at all eight elementary buildings for the first time ever. The district also saw a record number of elementary students participate in national math and language arts contests.
“One of my favorite parts has been seeing the students’ enthusiasm about competing in the national contests,” said Debbie Roberts, the GIS serving both Adena and Union. “Anytime I would walk into a room last year, students would ask me questions about the contests. You could hear the excitement in the air.”
Multiplying the Impact
“We couldn’t have achieved any of this without our teachers stepping up and understanding the importance of this work,” said Webb.
“The revamped model for gifted services is just one cog in Lakota’s larger plan to strengthen our MTSS efforts. MTSS is the driver behind personalized learning,” added Lori Brown, Lakota’s director of student services. MTSS, otherwise known as Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, is the district’s data-driven response to students’ academic, social or behavioral needs in the form of programs or initiatives that address those needs.
At the secondary level, the initial results of the gifted model changes are just beginning to emerge this school year. Tiered course designations like honors, advanced, Advanced Placement (AP) and College Credit Plus (CCP) are what is offered to secondary students identified as gifted in certain subject areas. Currently, about 3,000 students in grades 7-12 take advantage of these options.
Nothing about these offerings is changing, but for the first time, Lakota staff teaching this material are becoming gifted service providers in their respective content areas. Teachers completed 15 hours of professional development last year and will continue to add 15 more hours every year for another three consecutive years.
Additionally, any Lakota student participating in an advanced course will receive a personalized Written Education Plan (WEP) for each course they are enrolled in. The WEP specifies their individual learning goals for that particular course and helps both the student and teacher monitor their progress toward that goal throughout the school year.
“These two adjustments mean that our secondary gifted model now meets the qualifications set forth by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) for gifted services,” said Webb, explaining that Lakota’s state report card did not previously give the district credit for any of these services. As a result, the report card assessing the 2022-2023 school year will look different on this mark.
At the early childhood level, Lakota teachers rely on a variety of resources to enrich and challenge students who are beginning to show signs of advancement. They utilize a classroom structure called “workshop” to allow students to work at different levels within the same classroom. Additionally, first and second grade students who are identified as gifted in either reading or math will be placed in a "cluster group" of 5-10 students within the same classroom. Through this model, students are able to work with peers of the similar ability level and teachers, who have received specialized professional development, are able to differentiate for this group within the regular classroom setting.
While Lakota’s early childhood model does not qualify as “gifted services,” as defined by ODE, Webb says that it emphasizes personalized learning and that’s what matters most.
“We will always choose the route that favors a more personalized learning experience for our students over just meeting a mark on the state report card,” said Webb. “Meeting our students where they are in their learning and appropriately challenging them is what personalized learning is all about.”
- Personalized Learning