A simple test might no longer bar the door to gifted middle school courses.
The Columbia County Board of Education Tuesday night tentatively approved recommendations from the Middle School Gifted Education Committee that would add two new gifted courses to the schedule and would open all four courses to high achievers.
"At present we only offer math and social studies in the advance-content model. Even though that is fairly common throughout the state, we wanted to find a way to improve the status quo," said Mike Lindsey, director of middle school programs.
Currently, most gifted courses are offered only to those students who have been tested and rubber-stamped as gifted.
"It would be a boost to those students who are almost there. There are many students just below that line who are wonderful achievers. This will give them an opportunity to have that high level of instruction," Lindsey said. "I think it's a very positive step for us.
"Columbia County would be one of a few systems in the state who could say gifted students received instruction in all four core areas."
One reason for rotating the courses is the difficulty in finding the teachers to teach them. A teacher must have a gifted endorsement attached to his teaching certificate and must be teaching in the field in which he is certified. A gifted endorsement does not raise a teacher's pay scale, Lindsey said.
"Gifted education regulations allow those teachers to teach a gifted class for one year provided they are presently enrolled in the endorsement training," he said. "We'll have approximately 20 teachers - if this is approved by the board - who will be pursuing their gifted teaching endorsement beginning this summer, which to me is exciting as well."
The committee recommended that the board offer a stipend or tuition reimbursement for those teachers seeking the endorsement.
"The challenge is how will we identify these high achieving students," said Board Member Regina Buccafusco. "Our biggest problem will be keeping those students out who just want to take it for prestige."
Lindsey said standardized test scores would be used to pick those students who would likely succeed in the courses.
Math is the only course for which middle school students are awarded high school credit. A student has to successfully complete algebra in seventh and eighth grades to get one credit. But Lindsey said these advanced courses would better prepare high achievers for Advanced Placement courses in high school.
"If we are going to have a gifted program, let's have a jam-up, statewide, nationally-known gifted program," Board Member Wayne Bridges said. "The teachers have to be committed to achieving that goal."
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