District 55 begins testing students for TAG eligibility

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Testing is just getting underway to identify talented and gifted students in District 55.

The district has just finished a districtwide cognitive test for third-graders, TAG Assistant Loanne Huschka said. “That takes a month, month and a half. Once the third-grade testing, we start in on screening of our regular kids.”

That testing is just about to begin.

Last year, the district screened 34 students, Student Services Director Elena Barton said. Of those, 22 qualified for the TAG program.

The district has a total of 154 TAG students, 6.5 percent of the student population, about the statewide average, Barton said.

Students qualify for TAG when they score among the top 3 percent in reading, math or cognition tests.

Students are referred for testing when they test high enough on state assessment tests or when a teacher or parent specifically refers a student for testing, Barton said. “Most of the kids that go into our screening pool we pick up from their test scores (about two-thirds).”

Most new TAG students are identified at the elementary level, she said. They are rarely identified at the junior high level and even less often at the high school level.

The only state tests where TAG students did not meet state testing benchmarks last year were in fifth-, seventh- and 10th-grade math, Barton said. A small minority of TAG students missed those standards, while all TAG students met the standard in reading.

All TAG students also met or exceeded the standard in science, while six missed the benchmark in reading.

Compared to the rest of the state, TAG students in fifth- and seventh-grade math performed a little lower on average, while in 10th-grade science they performed a little higher. Fourth- and seventh-grade writing were above state averages while 10th grade was below.

Students who qualify for TAG are given personal education plans, Barton said. Teachers develop plans to either accelerate or extend TAG students’ educations.

At the elementary level, acceleration is most common, pushing students to higher levels, Barton said. Extension plans focus on more in-depth study into different topics.

One first-grader came into the school district reading at a late first-grade level, Barton said. She was instructed at her rate and level of learning. She finished the year reading at a third-grade level.

Sometimes the TAG students attend different classes for a period, she said, or the teacher simply differentiates their work, giving them more challenging assignments.

The district tries to avoid overloading the students with a bunch of extra work though, Barton said.

At the junior high level, the students can start taking more advanced classes, and in high school they can take higher level math, for example, or honors type classes.

Students who are TAG in the “cognitive” area are supposed to receive opportunities for differentiation and advanced study in all areas, Barton said. Typically, about half of TAG students qualify in the “cognitive” area. About one in five qualify for TAG under reading, math and cognitive.

The district has also provided special grant-funded programs for the older elementary students, Barton said. A couple of years ago, a teacher who works for OMSI came to District 55 and provided science instruction for the fourth through sixth grade.

Last year, the Young Writers Association visited three times last year to work directly with students for several days.

This year, the district is focusing on math in the second through sixth grade with teachers from Canby, Barton said, layering hands-on math activities onto other activities.

TAG costs the district approximately $17,500 this year plus grant funds in the range of $5,000 to $7,0000.

The bulk of TAG instruction is handled outside the TAG budget, Barton said. Two employees conduct the testing and clerical work. Barton and Curriculum Director Jan Sharp also spend some of their time working in the TAG program. The budget also includes a few supplies.

Teachers develop and deliver TAG instruction, revisiting their students personal education plans at grading periods, Barton said. The teachers have a one-page template to develop the plans. The toughest part of it is figuring out how to provide differentiated activities for students.