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Opportunity expanding for ‘gifted’ high-fliers in CMS, across N.C.

The coming school year will bring new opportunities for top students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and across North Carolina.

CMS is launching new efforts to screen students for placement in gifted programs, recognizing that some may be extremely talented in reading or math but not both.

In a separate move aimed at top performers across the state, public schools will start offering middle and high school students an opportunity to test out of basic classes.

The common theme: making sure the strongest students are challenged to excel.

“The intention is for students who are capable to be able to get into courses where they are learning something new,” Kathleen Koch, director of advanced studies for CMS, said of the new state option.

In December, the N.C. Board of Education approved the plan that lets students in grades 6-12 earn credit without taking a class. It’s known as credit by demonstrated mastery, which means “CDM” will soon enter the lexicon of educational acronyms.

To get the credit, students must pass an exam and do a project. For instance, the state offered an example of a “capstone project” for an e-commerce course: Create a website, logo and marketing strategy for a real or fictional business, with a report on what the student learned during the work.

Koch said CMS students will be expected to shape their own projects: “There’s an element of creativity. It’s not going to be like a work sheet.”

Offering credit without seat time is part of a national movement, Koch said; North Carolina is relatively late joining in. The goal is for students who already know basic material to move straight into a more advanced course.

Students can apply in the spring of 2014 to demonstrate their mastery of classes they’d otherwise take in the fall of 2014, she said. Koch said the approach applies only to basic classes; students must still attend class to get credit for advanced classes and career-tech courses.

Broader view of ‘gifted’

In September, CMS will test all second-graders and some older students for placement in programs for gifted students. In the past, students had to get extremely high marks in reading and math to be classified as gifted. Starting in 2013-14, Koch said, students can be classified as gifted in reading or math only.

While many think that gifted students excel in everything, the reality is that a math genius, for instance, may be average in other subjects – or even have learning disabilities in reading. That situation, known as “twice exceptional” in education jargon, poses a challenge for meeting all the student’s needs.

“Oftentimes that learning disability can mask their giftedness,” Koch said.

CMS also plans new approaches to make sure strong academic ability is detected among students who are learning English.

What happens when a student is identified as gifted varies by school. Some magnets and neighborhood schools with large numbers of gifted students have separate classes for gifted students. Other schools have ability levels mixed in the main classes but offer additional enrichment for gifted and advanced students.

Last year 14,450 CMS students, or about 10 percent of the student body, were identified as academically gifted.

An advisory panel on gifted students, made up of educators, parents, students and community members, will release recommendations later this month. They’ve discussed big challenges, such as creating better options for gifted students in middle school.

Koch said her department is already working on one request: a clearly worded “frequently asked questions” document to help parents understand how students are identified and served.

There are also plans to use videos to explain services to families, and to work with community groups and houses of worship to spread the word about reaching all high-ability students.

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms
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