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D181 Board Discusses Transitional ACE Program in 2012-13

Reworked identification processes will be installed to make ACE more inclusive if the district goes forward with the transition plan.

D181 Board Discusses Transitional ACE Program in 2012-13

District 181 parents and students might see an ACE program next year different than the one they're used to. 

The District 181 Board of Education discussed at its Monday Committee of the Whole meeting at an ACE program transition plan for the 2012-13 school year that would drop formal ACE identification in second grade, change the test used to identify middle school ACE students, and end the “grandfathering” process whereby elementary ACE students are automatically enrolled in middle school program.

Current-year third- and fourth-grade students who are in the elementary ACE program would next year be given a Personal Learning Plan (PLP) that, according to the proposed plan presented by Superintendent Dr. Renée Schuster, would “outline each student’s provisions for advanced learning.”

These PLPs will be developed collaboratively by a student’s parents, their teacher, and a “differentiation specialist,” which is the position that, over time, the current gifted specialists will take on.

Current ACE students aside, Schuster said PLPs could be given out to a student at any elementary grade level if their teacher (or parent) thinks advanced learning could be appropriate. A Response to Intervention (RtI) process would then take place to determine if advanced learning is indeed appropriate, based on the student's past assessments and teacher observations. RtI evaluation teams would be composed of the student’s classroom teacher, a differentiation specialist, and an administrator. Other specialists could be brought in if necessary.

“Should the RtI process determine that the student has significantly advanced knowledge, conceptual understanding, and skills in an academic subject, such that the general education program may not be able to consistently support his or her learning, the parent will be involved in this determination and in writing the PLP,” the proposed transition plan reads.

Schuster said the biggest change to the elementary program would be that students identified for ACE curriculum would no longer be bused to one day a week for specialized instruction in an ACE-only classroom.

The middle school ACE program will operate much as it currently does during the proposed transition year, though its identification structure would change. Instead of taking the SCAT test to determine if they qualify for ACE, District 181 fifth-graders will instead take the InView test, which Schuster said aims to administer for the first time on April 25.

Students who hit a certain score on the InView test would be considered for ACE, but their selection would be finalized only after a teacher recommendation and parent questionnaire are submitted, and the RtI process is completed.

All fifth-grade students, including those in the elementary ACE program, would be selected for the middle school program based on their InView results. There will no longer be “grandfathering” of elementary ACE students into the middle school program when they don’t meet the middle school standards.

Sixth- and seventh-graders who are currently enrolled in the middle school ACE program will remain in the program for the proposed 2012-13 transition year.

Inclusivity has been a main focus of District 181 during the gifted overhaul process, so the InView test-score cutoff will not necessarily be final. Students who score close to the benchmark could be considered if recommended by a teacher or parent for RtI.

“Parents or teachers also may recommend a student for the RtI process if the student’s abilities may be masked by learning challenges, disabilities, cultural or linguistic diversity,” the plan reads.

Also included in the middle school transition plan is an elective "encore” class that would teach ACE-like curriculum to students who might not qualify for ACE but want to take the class and show “passion, readiness, and willingness for advanced learning.”

In addition to the ACE modifications, the plan also has new plans for the ELA program and aims to accelerate all District 181 students in math so that most eighth-graders complete Algebra 1. 

Board member Yvonne Mayer said she could not support the transition plan is it was presented Monday because its scope was too wide.Mayer said she would be comfortable with making changes to the current program, such as getting ACE assessment right.

Instead, Mayer said, “We’ve gone nuclear.”

Board members Sarah Lewensohn and Russell Rhoads, on the other hand, said they were okay with the proposed transition plan. Rhoads said he wanted the district to be aggressive in its problem-solving and Lewensohn said she liked the idea of broadening the RtI concept to identify students for advanced learning.

“I don’t see anything here that causes me to panic or pause,” Lewensohn said of transition plan. “I think we need to be moving forward and I’m pleased that we were able to come up with this.”

Board President Michael Nelson said he’s concerned that the district has planned a transition without first knowing exactly what the final product is that it's transitioning to.

“What I’m not seeing clearly articulated is what the end-game is,” Nelson said. “What do we ultimately want these programs to look like?”

Schuster confirmed that the ultimate gifted vision is not yet “crystal clear.” She said the district has been working off the board-inspired premise that the gifted-program changes should begin with the 2012-13 school year, and she said the transition is structured in a way so that it does not eliminate any future scenarios the district would pursue.

At its April 23 business meeting, the board will further discuss the possible transition plan.

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