A word from superintendent Quintin Shepherd of the VIctoria I.S.D.

Closing thoughts: More kids learning more

A word from superintendent Quintin Shepherd of the VIctoria I.S.D.

The following is an article provided by Supt. Shepherd of the Victoria I.S.D.

This is a catchphrase I use a lot. It is not our mission statement, but more like a slogan. It is easy to remember, captures our efforts across the spectrum of grades and courses, and allows us to ask the question, “are they?” This is a fair question. Can we really say more kids are learning more? The answer is yes. I would like to highlight Gifted and Talented in this article.

Since the 2019-2020 school year, the gifted services being offered here at VISD have gone through a drastic evolution. Previously, services were solely focused on the Texas Performance Standards Project (TPSP) and Pre-AP/AP classes. High school students were able to take the Advanced Academics Skills class or an Independent Studies TPSP option to work on this project during the fall semester; however, the middle school and elementary gifted students completed this TPSP project at home. Elementary students, prior to the 2018- 2019 school year, were given the choice to transfer to Dudley Elementary to receive added gifted services.

After receiving extensive feedback from parents, staff, and students and the change in the Texas State Plan for the Education of Gifted/Talented Students, we started the change in services and identification during the 2019-2020 school year. Currently, all your elementary schools across the district have pull-out services provided during the school day by a gifted/talented specialist teacher and receive differentiation within their clustered classroom by a G/T qualified general education teacher. Our middle schools now have a designated Advanced Academic Skills (AAS) elective class that all gifted students take, as well as receiving differentiated services in their Pre-AP classes by a G/T qualified teacher. Our high schools still have the AAS class and the Independent Studies option as well as G/T qualified teachers providing services in all Pre-AP/AP classes.

As if that wasn’t enough, our curriculum and focus have changed from solely focusing on TPSP for services and now gives an array of learning opportunities for students. We started the process of creating this new curriculum and focus with a survey of our staff and parents about what they felt were the essential skills our gifted students need. From those findings, we developed our VISD Gifted Education Standards in which we based our curriculum around: Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Research Skills, Leadership, Communication, and Social-Emotional Learning. Using these pillars of standards and the guidance from the new state plan, we identified strands to vertically align our curriculum building from kindergarten to the 8th grade. Our curriculum strands are the following: Arts & Humanities, STEM, Citizenship & Leadership, Innovation & Change, Coding/Computer Science, Living in Our Environment. For example, we have introduced the students to various engineering fields through multiple hands-on project-based learning opportunities using Engineering is Elementary. Students are also being introduced to computer coding using the code.org curriculum teaching students basic computer coding and debugging through problem-solving puzzles and block coding. Last year we were able to extend this unit using Sphero robots through our funded grant from the VISD Education Foundation. We still utilize TPSP; however, students are now given the opportunity and guidance during the school day to complete research and create products. Lastly, we have interwoven social and emotional learning geared towards giftedness and gifted tendencies throughout the entire curriculum to address items such as persistence, perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence, grit, growth mindset, tenacity, and failure.

In addition to the service and curricular changes, VISD has also changed the identification and assessment of gifted students. Prior to the 2019-2020 school year, only students who were referred by a parent or teacher for testing were tested which resulted in approximately 300-500 students being tested annually. In 2019, VISD had 3.8 % of their total population identified as gifted while the state of Texas average was 8-10% (we receive funding for up to 5%). We also saw a large discrepancy in the gifted populations from campus to campus as well as issues with diversity. Currently, ALL kindergarten students are now screened for gifted services. From this screener, we can continue testing students who score well without having to wait for a referral from a parent or teacher. In addition, VISD also instituted testing ALL grade 2 students for gifted services. Testing all grade 2 students gives us the opportunity to test students who are not typically referred by parents or teachers and provides a large enough sample size to create local norms and see where our students are here in VISD. Our implementation of grade 2 testing has shown the biggest increase in identification and has helped our department in bridging the equity gap in gifted services. We nearly doubled our elementary gifted population in the first year. As a result of our new identification procedures, we currently service 6.3% of students in VISD.

More kids learning more? We have proof, and it’s hard to argue with the facts. We are accepting referrals through October 29 for our Gifted and Talented program. If you know of a student who should be referred, we ask you to fill out the form available at https://bit.ly/21GTReferral.

By Supt. Quintin Shepherd of the Victoria I.S.D.