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City Schools Advances Equity Work in Gifted and Advanced Learning

Dramatic increase in gifted student ID thanks to analogical reasoning lessons 

“This is what we call a matrix! Can you say ‘matrix?’”

Samantha Gergela’s morning lesson at Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School is a brain teaser for her kindergarteners. A 3x3 matrix on the easel includes cards with images of a baker hat, firefighter hat, and construction hat — each in three different colors. The students close their eyes as Mrs. Gergela hides the orange firefighter hat. They open them again. 

“What hat is missing?”

Kindergartener Hannah responds: “The firefighter hat.”

Mrs. Gergela tries to replace it with a blue firefighter hat, but the students catch her: 

“That’s the wrong one!”
- But you said a firefighter hat!
“It’s a firefighter hat and it’s ORANGE.”

This school year, all students in kindergarten and first grade are being introduced to “analogical reasoning” lessons like this that prompt students to draw conclusions from similarities across contexts. 

Based on the latest educational research, City Schools staff believed that adding analogical reasoning lessons to our youngest learners’ classes would lead to better and more equitable identification of Gifted and Advanced Learning (GAL) students. Analogical reasoning is a staple of the NNAT and CogAT standardized tests that are two of the ways City Schools identifies these students. 

It was a great success: Historically, City Schools identified 10% of its K-1 students as gifted, but this year, that jumped to 14% — an increase that surpassed the expectations of City Schools GAL staff. 

For example, more than twice as many of Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School kindergarteners were identified as GAL this year. “We found that not only were we able to identify more students, but now have a more diverse population of students identified even though they did not always show high academic achievement during virtual learning,” says Mrs. Gergela. 

In Fall 2020, City Schools passed a  Gifted and Advanced Learning policy, with expectations for instruction and professional learning that align with best practices in gifted education. At the core of the policy is the commitment to screen all students for ability in gifted and advanced learning beginning in kindergarten —starting with the NNAT and CogAT tests.

“Thanks to universal screening, we don’t have to rely on teacher referrals or parents' intuition to identify gifted kids,” says Dennis Jutras, City Schools Coordinator - Gifted and Advanced Learning. “In the past, so many kids weren’t identified because they were quiet in class, were English-language learners, or weren't previously exposed to analogical reasoning. Or maybe they needed a more rigorous academic experience to showcase their talent. By not identifying these students as gifted, we were perpetuating the cycle of inequity. Now we’re leveling the playing field.”  

The Board of School Commissioners voted 9-0 to implement the Policy on Gifted and Advanced Learning. For some students, being identified as gifted can be essential. Studies have shown that up to 25% of school dropouts are gifted students who lost interest in school due to curricula that didn't meet their needs. 

“One size does not fit all when it comes to education, and it is the responsibility of City Schools to meet students at their need,” says, Dr. Rae Lymer City Schools Gifted Education Specialist. “If a student is gifted, we need to communicate and advocate on their behalf. Just because a student has mastered the material ahead of schedule doesn’t mean we can just let them be ‘done’. We owe this to them.”

Once a student is identified as gifted, the district works with the student and their family to craft an Individualized Learning Plan to guide their academic work and supplemental instruction. 

Key to the district’s approach is bringing GAL lessons into classrooms, overlaying the existing curriculum with supplemental work — rather than removing students from classrooms for separate programs. This allows for minimal disruption and gives other students who may have fallen just short of the gifted criteria to enjoy the benefits of these supports. 

City Schools has created three classifications based on a student’s ability — Gifted, Advanced, and Talent Development — with all entitled to an Individualized Learning Plan. This way, students who do not necessarily reach the “gifted” level still have opportunities to engage with gifted curricula and demonstrate their abilities through their City Schools career. 

For the kindergarteners in Mrs. Gergela’s class, analogical reasoning lessons with hats could set them up for success years later in advanced and college-level classes in programs like Ingenuity Project, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate. 

Watch the City Schools video "I Am Gifted," below: 



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