Wake County shifting to push-in model for teaching academically gifted students

Posted by T. Keung Hui on December 3, 2013 

The more than 25,000 Wake County students who are identified as academically gifted are set to see some fundamental shifts in how they receive instruction that’s supposed to meet their educational needs.

The Wake County school board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on adopting a new plan for serving the district’s academically or intellectually gifted (AIG) students. The plan calls for a shift from pulling gifted students out of their regular classes for services in favor of having them get instruction from the AIG teacher coming into the regular classes.

School administrators say the shift from a pull-out model to a push-in model is the right move at a time of limited resources and will help improve instruction for all students.

North Carolina school districts are required to adopt a plan showing the state how they’ll educate their AIG students. In Wake’s case, the new plan comes after an independent audit earlier this year that identified poorly organized programs and outdated policies for gifted students

At last month’s school board work session, Ruth Steidinger, the senior director of academic programming, said the new plan has Wake moving toward more of a push-in model for AIG services.

In the push-in model, Steidinger said that the AIG teacher would come into the regular classrooms to collaboratively co-teach with the non-AIG teachers. Wake would use cluster grouping in which the AIG students are clustered together in small groups for core instruction in what are otherwise heterogeneous classes.

Steidinger said one of the benefits of this collaborative co-teaching model is that it will allow the AIG teacher to identify students who are gifted but who haven’t been formally placed in the program. One of the other goals in the AIG plan is to increase the number of AIG students from under-represented groups, such as minority and low-income students.

Steidinger said schools will need to strategically schedule their classes to allow the AIG teachers to have the time to work with all the classes. Some schools have multiple AIG teachers while some only have a part-time teacher.

Wendy Carlyle, Wake’s AIG director, said one of key issues with the push-in model is cluster grouping of AIG students so as not to stretch the AIG specialists to a point where they’re not serving anyone.

“By the AIG teacher going into the classroom, we’re exposing more of our students to those higher cognitive skill activities and having those students in those cluster groups is best practice because then our gifted children are with their academic peers as well as their age peers, which gives those students a balance,” Carlyle said.

Carlyle added that at a time of limited funding that having a push-in model exposes more students to AIG instruction.

Carlyle also said teachers are very protective over their students. She said that having co-teaching will help show teachers they’re in this as a partnership.

School board member John Tedesco said he likes the new AIG plan and think it’s making positive gains. Tedesco said he also likes the push-in approach, pointing to the under-representation of minority students in the program under the pull-out model.

“What we’ve seen from the pull-out model has been many children missing opportunities for rigorous achievement,” Tedesco said.

The push-in model also fits in with the emphasis Wake is now giving to core instruction – the subjects students must take such as language arts and math.

School board member Jim Martin is more skeptical than his colleagues about this emphasis on core instruction.

“I think with AIG we’e got to get beyond core,” Martin said. “I’m not satisfied with core because so much learning takes place outside of core. Whether it’s AIG or remediation, that’s where the creativity, that’s where the spark, that’s where the life in education comes. I would like to see them integrated. I would have a problem if AIG was just focused on core.”

But school board member Bill Fletcher differed with Martin on core instruction. Fletcher praised the work of Judy Elliot, former chief academic officer of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Responsiveness to Instruction (RTi) program.

“I have become a Judy Ellliot fan and believer,” Fletcher said. “My takeaway from the RTi concept is that nothing else matters except instruction. If instruction is not right, then the world is going to end in terms of behavior, in terms of student performance, in terms of student growth, in terms of parental satisfaction, teacher satisfaction. It boils down to how effective we’re being at delivering core instruction.

So I’m a little contrarian with Dr. Martin at the moment in that. When I read this, and reflecting upon the RTi presentation, how do these fit together? This seems like it’s up here as an addendum on the shoulder of the program as opposed to integrated into the demand and an expectation that core instruction is absolutely stellar excellent and beyond that then we have students who need more from an instructional standpoint.”

Steidinger said she’s also a disciple of Elliott, who’s been in her office several times.

“Core instruction should meet the needs of all kids,” Steidinger said. “So in order to do that you have a panoply of kids sitting in that classroom. That’s one of the primary reasons we felt was critical to move into the co-teaching and collaborative model because that resource – the AIG teacher – is an excellent resource in terms of challenging, helping the teachers, co-teaching with the classroom teacher to understand what true rigor looks like. That is their primary responsibility – AIG. If we’re fixing it in the core, that’s aligns with RTi.”

Martin said there were a “couple of points” that he felt the need to highlight.

“We’ve got to watch our vocabulary a little bit more,” Martin said. “One of my concerns is we’re a little too one size fits all here. There are teachers like me who believe that there is value in pull out, not just push in.

There’s value both ways and I think you can make a good case for both. And I don’t think we do our teachers or our students a service by saying that there really should be a one size fits all. “

Martin also pointed back to the town-hall meeting he had held the day before as part of the teacher walk-in events in which educators told him about their frustrations with the state of education.

“I’ll just note here you did make this statement that some of our AIG teachers need to, and I think it was almost a quote, ‘show other teachers what true rigor is,’” Martin said. “And I don’t think that’s what you really intended to say. But I know that’s what I heard a lot of at my town-hall meeting yesterday is teachers feel like they’re sort of under the gun, they’re disrespected.

You know a lot of teachers know what true rigor is, but if you’ve got 35 or more students at all levels of learning, you know you have to make choices. And so I just really encourage us to be careful with the language that we use. AIG teachers aren’t the only ones who know what true rigor is.

Let’s recognize that there’s a lot of rigorous instruction that goes on from a lot of our teachers and what we need to do is make sure our structures, our programmings for our curriculum allow all teachers to teach at a rigorous level. It’s not just we need somebody to come in to tell us how to do it. We need the space. We need the time. We need the resources to be able to do that.”

Steidinger said she had to respond because she didn’t want her comments to be misinterpreted. Steidinger noted that she lives with a teacher and her sister is a teacher

“I certainly believe that all teachers understand what rigor looks like,” Steidinger said. “I think just as we have special-ed teachers who are trained in a certain skill set, we have AIG teachers that are trained in a certain sill set. In the collaboration there’s nothing but enhanced core instruction. That’s the message I want to send.”

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