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86% of Charlottesville students in grades 3-11 are identified as gifted

Charlottesville’s gifted education program is much more diverse than it was a year ago, following a series of changes made over the last two years.

Beverly Catlin, the division’s gifted coordinator, said 86% of students were identified as gifted this spring, following changes aimed at opening up the label to more students — a label that’s essentially meaningless in that it doesn’t provide anything different for students formally identified as such. Third- through 11th-graders were screened for gifted education this year.

About 33% of students identified as gifted were Black, 14% were Hispanic and 46% were white. In the pool of eligible students, Black students made up 36%, Hispanic students accounted for 13% and white students comprised 42%.

The data was presented during a Charlottesville School Board meeting last week.

The division has worked over the years to identify a group of students more representative of the overall student demographics. Historically, less than one-fifth of students have been part of the gifted program. In 2018, white students made up 73% of the gifted program while representing 43% of the division overall in the 2018-19 school year.

“For our first year of implementation … an inclusive identification process has helped us make great strides in having an equitable representation of students identified as gifted,” Catlin said.

The state requires school systems to establish procedures to screen, refer and identify students for gifted education. Additionally, the gifted label is required for students who want to go to summer residential governor’s schools.

To fulfill that requirement, the division moved to automatically identify students as gifted if they respond to core instruction in a general education classroom setting and participate in assessments based on grade-level standards, under a proposal presented to board members in March.

The identification process this spring is the first time the division has screened students for gifted education since the program was overhauled in 2019. During last week’s meeting, the board approved the local plan for gifted education, which codifies the identification and other changes made over the last two years.

Board member Lashundra Bryson Morsberger said she wants to see the division start looking at how success of the gifted education changes is measured and whether they are impacting student achievement, among other data points

“If the outcomes aren’t changing, then we haven’t addressed the issue,” she said, adding that it wasn’t enough for identifications to increase.

Board members also requested more historical data regarding the gifted education program’s demographics.

James Bryant, a board member, said he wants to see the percentages of Black and Latino students continue to increase.

“When you said it was 33% of African American students that were identified, I am hoping that in the next two or three years, we will continue to see that number grow among Black and brown children,” he said.

Beginning with the 2019-20 school year, gifted resource teachers started working with all students, ending the practice of pulling out gifted-labeled students for special lessons and activities. The change in screening, referrals and identification better matches how gifted resource teachers currently work with students, Catlin said.

This school year, with students learning online for most of it, the gifted resource teachers worked with classroom teachers to plan lessons and created enrichment boards of different activities that were open to all students

Catlin said at the meeting that by the end of this summer, 17 teachers will have earned an endorsement in gifted education through a partnership with the University of Virginia, which was another highlight from the year.

Board member Jennifer McKeever said that as a mother of elementary school kids, she had a positive experience with the push-in model.

“They always looked forward to that enrichment time when the teacher came in virtually or now in person,” she said. “To make school more like that is actually the goal, in my opinion. I just hope that we can keep replicating that and engaging our students no matter where they are.”

Next year, Catlin said the gifted education team will continue to work with classroom teachers and provide professional learning about the principles of differentiation, through co-planning and co-teaching.

The gifted education changes largely have been focused on the elementary level. But next school, the program will be implemented at Buford Middle School, Catlin said.

“The feedback we’re getting has been very positive,” she said. “The classroom teachers have been very inviting to the gifted resource teachers, the co-teaching has worked very, very well across all of the elementary schools and through Walker [Upper Elementary]. And so I think we are absolutely at a great start, but I still think we’re at a start.”

Catlin’s presentation to the School Board was her last, as she is set to retire at the end of the month.

Acting Superintendent Jim Henderson highlighted Catlin’s many roles in the school system during the meeting, from working with students who speak English as a second language to serving as a liaison for the division’s afterschool program.

“So she wore many hats with confidence, and she was very effective and efficient,” Henderson said. “Not only will she be missed, but her moment in the spotlight, in my mind, is the movement that we’re taking right now to make gifted education more inclusive, and her hard work and her work with our teachers will make a difference for all our students.”


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