This article was updated at 2:15 p.m. March 7.
An enrollment boom in advanced academic programs is causing county school officials to re-evaluate how students are selected to receive Advance Academic Program services.
During the last five years, enrollment in Level IV AAP Centers, the highest level of advanced academics offered to third- through eighth-graders, has jumped from 9.7 percent to 16.6 percent.
Similarly, the number of AAP Centers at elementary and middle schools has increased from 23 to 27 (three will open fall 2013) and 10 to 15 (four will open fall 2013) respectfully. The centers set to open in fall 2013 were approved by the School Board on Jan. 24.
School Board members discussed identification criteria for AAP Centers during several meetings in February.
“One of the critical things that we’ve heard from the community, and that is almost the underpinning of how we arrived where we are, is the exponential increase in the students that have been identified for AAP and I think that the report has to have a [historic data on enrollment trends]… on what has happened to cause this exponential increase,” said School Board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District). “The bar has clearly moved. How far off are we from the original intent.”
Parents of students in AAP have said the trend of more students who qualify for placement in advanced academic classrooms has reduced the quality of education for their children.
The School Board has instructed school administrative staff to report back on criteria, access and location issues concerning advanced academics by June 30.
“The AAP program … was for those highly gifted students” but now serves a range of talented children, said School Board member Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee District). “We do have a wide range of kids… We have those emerging gifted [students]… And then we have the gifted kids. And then we have the highly gifted kids. And how, in our system are these kids identified and how do they move from one level to another… How do we serve them?”
School Board members said they hoped a study of trends within advanced academics might help them make small to major changes to Advanced Academic Programs in an effort to better serve a growing number of students identifying as gifted through the school system’s screening process, which includes testing.
Questions of location and access also sparked discussion about student selection into advanced academic programs.
“When I’m thinking about this question of equitable access for underrepresented populations…Having heard the stories about how parents pay for their children to get private testing [prep testing] at George Mason because the first go around doesn’t go well. That can create disproportionality of representation,” said School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District). “We hear about the boot camps and training for kids to make it to the next level at TJ [Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which has an admissions process similar to universities]... Do we have the data that shows us what percentage of kids went outside of our system for private testing?”
School Board members also discussed the delivery of advanced academic services.
“I think there is an argument that we are under identifying kids who could benefit from this curriculum,” said School Board member Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill District). “I don’t want this to just be ‘How can we make the pool smaller.’”
“This could mean providing greater access to students for programs that serve a specific talent,” said School Board member Sandy Evans (Mason District). “It’s not just how we identify for the centers. And I agree because some cases it seems we are over identifying and in other cases we are under identifying. Does anyone look at giftedness in terms of individual types or different areas — somebody who could be off the charts in math but average in everything else. Somebody that’s off the charts in creativity and art … is there a way to identify those students and serve those needs. In the old system it was kind of ‘thumbs up, thumbs down.’ You know you went to the center or you did. I think we’ve gotten away from that now.”
The discussion on AAP and students will be continued throughout the summer months, board members said.