Highly capable students: FW schools review new definition

Due to legislative changes, Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) had to recently re-approve its Highly Capable Program (HCP), which identifies and caters to gifted students in specific subcategories.

The recent state changes mean districts need to adopt a "continuous program" for highly capable students from K-12.

In other words, once students are identified as highly capable, the district will ensure these students' needs are met in the appropriate learning environment throughout the rest of their schooling.

Diana Graddon, the advanced program coordinator for FWPS, presented the program changes during the school board's June 25 meeting. She said the changes will especially help students stay on track as they transition from elementary to middle school, and from middle school to high school.

"In the new language…for highly capable students, access to accelerated learning and enhanced instruction is access to a basic education. That means (the state has) to fully fund it - that's awesome," Graddon said, eliciting a laugh from the board and members of the audience.

The definition of an HCP student has been changed. These are students who perform or show potential for performing at significantly advanced academic levels when compared with others their age, experiences or environments, according to the revised Washington Administrative Code.

"That means we have to look at every subcategory of students in the district, and look at students who are performing, or show potential to perform, significantly above their peers," Graddon said. "This includes (English Language Learner) students, special ed, free and reduced lunch, and every ethnicity."

Another change included at the legal and regulatory level was that districts must attempt to identify students not only by their intellectual and academic abilities, but by their "creative productivities."

Graddon said the district would expect approximately 2,710 students to be part of the HCP next year. That number was determined by looking at the numbers in programs already present in the district.

One new area will be an attempt to identify highly capable students at the kindergarten level.

"How do you test for academic aptitude in kindergarten?" she said. "It's going to be a little bit of an experiment our first year."

Most of the structure of a "continuous" program has been in place in the district for some time now, Graddon said. In other words, linking it all the way from kindergarten to high school means the cost will be approximately the same going into next year. According to district data, the HCP will run a tab of approximately $442,000.

Board member Clare Wilson commented that she hopes some sort of outreach is done for the students and families who have yet to enter the district. Board members Ed Barney and Danny Peterson said they were happy programs adopted in recent years have placed the district in a strong position for these new changes to the HCP.

"It's awesome we know what we're spending, we're not going into some mode to scramble to put something together," Barney noted.

"I just like the fact that we as a district send out the message we don't want to cap any students, we want to see all students hit their full potential. We don't want to keep you at a spot, and if you can take that next step, we want to get you there," Peterson added.

From the academic perspective, some of the existing programs that Graddon mentioned that would fall within the HCP include Honors and Advanced Placement classes, the Cambridge and International Baccalaureate programs, and Running Start.


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