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Worcester board of ed gives update on gifted, talented program

Worcester County Coordinator of Instruction Tamara Mills recently discussed the school system’s Gifted and Talented program, including how students are identified and what services are provided.

Worcester BOE-file

The Worcester County Board of Education building in Newark is pictured.

By Tara Fischer, Staff Writer 

Worcester County Coordinator of Instruction Tamara Mills presented the school system’s Gifted and Talented program, including how students are identified and what services are provided, at the board of education’s June 18 meeting. 

Maryland’s qualification requirements for the program were updated. Mills detailed how this has benefitted Worcester County.

“We want to make sure that all the students eligible were being identified,” she said. 

The determination process begins in pre-k. As a single measurement is not sufficient to properly evaluate a student’s skill level, Mills explains that the screening process has four elements. These include a primary talent development portfolio, a cognitive ability assessment, a gifted behavioral checklist, and iReady and Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program scores.

Mills said that students receive talent development lessons from pre-k until second grade through two science-based modules a year. Teachers will watch and record the outcomes, which creates a four-year portfolio. The cognitive ability evaluation is given in the third grade, and the educational privileges begin in the fourth.

The primary talent development portfolio is constructed through science or arts-based modules. The students receive scores on readiness, emerging, progressing, and independence lessons. 

The coordinator of instruction explains that reading the story The Fourth Little Pig is an example of an assessment. 

“The students must use creativity and brainstorming and complex thinking exercises to figure out how the fourth little pig is integrated into that story,” Mills said.

According to the educator, these evaluations were designed with an equity lens.

“What happened was years ago, was our younger, white females were getting highly identified,” she claimed. “Often, they were our early talkers, so teachers saw those communicative abilities. Sometimes, males are not always as early communicators. A lot of times, they were getting overlooked. We are now looking for other characteristics of giftedness that we didn’t look at before.”

Most services fall into the reading, math, and science areas. The school system offers science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs, writing labs, Advanced Placement classes, and college dual enrollment courses for high schoolers, among other things. If a student demonstrates talent in the arts, additional assessments may be given.

One of the new state requirements is that counties must reevaluate middle schoolers to determine if any students made progress between third and seventh grade. 

“This year, we had eight seventh graders that were either missed in third grade or made huge strides in the academic achievements and abilities, so we had a few new identifications,” Mills said. 

The state recommends that a county has a minimum of 10% of the student population identified as gifted and talented. Worcester County has 10.2% in the program. 

Mills is happy with this figure. If a school system has 20% or 30% considered gifted and talented, she said, it needs to assess whether its process yields accurate results. Of the 10% of talented students in Worcester, 34% are minorities. 

Each school’s principal chooses the program’s teachers, often librarians, because of their backgrounds in reading, literature, and technology. 

Students can utilize gifted and talented services through an elective, a “specials” period, or an enrichment block. 

If a student is new to Maryland, they are evaluated upon enrollment. If the child came from another in-state county, Worcester honors the previous school system’s analysis.

“It is impressive regarding screening and assessment,” board member Bill Buchanan said. “I remember when Gifted and Talented was basically if you were artistically talented, you were picked out to do all the bulletin boards, so I am very happy to see this program.” 

This story appears in the June 27, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.