Gifted Education Challenges in Washington and in Snoqualmie Valley

What is going on with gifted education in Washington State?

Gifted education is a hot topic in public education, especially when it comes to who gets in, who gets left out, and who gets what. In Washington State, gifted students have different experiences depending on where they live, what kind of program they go to, and what resources they have.

What is gifted education?

According to the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), gifted education is “a basic education program that provides accelerated learning and enhanced instruction to students who perform or show potential for performing at significantly advanced academic levels when compared with others of their age, experiences, or environments.” Gifted students are identified based on different things, such as tests, teacher recommendations, parent nominations, and student portfolios. Snoqualmie Valley School District uses CogAt and ITBS into the Elementary Hi-Cap testing Matrix to qualify students into their Highly Capable Services. In Middle School, SVSD uses CogAt and ITBS entered into Secondary Hi-Cap testing Matrix to qualify students into pathways. High school students receive highly capable services from Running Start, Honors and AP courses as well as College in High school.

How many gifted students are there in Washington State?

According to OSPI data, there were 76,529 gifted students enrolled in public schools in Washington State in the 2018-19 school year, making up 7.1% of the total student population. But this number may not be accurate, as some districts may not have good ways to identify gifted students or may miss some groups of students, such as low-income, racial/ethnic minority, English language learner, or twice-exceptional (gifted with a disability such as ADHD or Dyslexia) students.

How are gifted students served in Washington State?

Washington State has a system where each district decides how to run its own gifted program. There is no state rule or money for gifted education, although OSPI gives some advice and checks. As a result, there is a lot of variation in the types and quality of gifted programs across the state. Have a look at our district’s current gifted programs across K – 12, as per their website.

According to a recent study by CALDER, gifted programs in Washington State can be grouped into four main types:

 – Self-contained programs: Gifted students are put together in separate classrooms for all or most subjects. These programs tend to have bigger effects on the learning environment for gifted students, such as access to more advanced courses, higher-achieving peers, and better-qualified teachers. But these programs also tend to be more segregated by race and income and may create social and emotional issues for gifted students who feel cut off from their non-gifted peers.

 – Pull-out programs: Gifted students are taken out of their regular classrooms for part of the day or week to do enrichment or acceleration activities. These programs tend to have smaller effects on the learning environment for gifted students, as they spend most of their time in mixed-ability classrooms. But these programs may be more flexible and inclusive than self-contained programs and may foster more positive attitudes toward learning among gifted students.

 – Cluster grouping: Gifted students are grouped together within mixed-ability classrooms for instruction. These programs tend to have moderate effects on the learning environment for gifted students, as they benefit from both peer interaction and differentiated instruction. But these programs may depend on the teacher’s ability and willingness to provide appropriate challenge and support for gifted students within a diverse classroom.

 – Schoolwide enrichment: All students in a school get enrichment opportunities based on their interests and abilities. These programs tend to have minimal effects on the learning environment for gifted students, as they do not provide much differentiation or acceleration for them. But these programs may promote a culture of excellence and creativity among all students and may reduce the stigma and elitism associated with gifted education.

What are the challenges and opportunities for gifted education in Washington State?

Gifted education in Washington State faces several challenges and opportunities in terms of equity, quality, and funding.

Equity: Gifted education in Washington State has been criticized for being unfair and exclusive. According to a study by IES, low-income students are less likely to be identified as gifted than high-income students with similar achievement levels. Also, racial/ethnic minority students are underrepresented in some districts but overrepresented in others. Moreover, some districts have more strict eligibility criteria or fewer program options than others. To address these issues, some districts have used universal screening methods or multiple pathways for identification; others have used more inclusive or diverse program models; and still others have partnered with community organizations or universities to provide more opportunities for underserved gifted students.

Quality: Gifted education in Washington State has also been challenged by the lack of consistent standards and accountability. According to OSPI data, only 56% of districts reported having a written plan for their gifted program; only 46% reported having an evaluation process; and only 34% reported having professional development for teachers of gifted students. Also, there is little evidence on how effective or impactful different program types or practices are on student outcomes. To improve quality, some districts have followed best practices from national or state organizations; others have joined peer review or accreditation processes; and still others have done research or evaluation studies on their own programs. SVSD participated in a review of their highly capable services in the 2022-2023 school year. However, as of late May 2023, budget cuts across the district will create significant impact on many services within the district, including highly capable services. As of June 2023, there no standardization of curriculum in the elementary STREAM program to withstand high teacher turnover and reduce impact on student learning. Middle school does not have a highly capable curriculum but rather pathways that teach a year ahead for students. The reason given by district officials is that STREAM program takes away funding for anything else.

Funding: Gifted education in Washington State has also been limited by the lack of enough and stable funding. According to OSPI data, the state provided only $5.6 million for gifted education in the 2018-19 school year, which was $73 per gifted student. This was way below the national average of $500 per gifted student and the recommended amount of $2,000 per gifted student. Also, state funding has changed over the years, depending on the availability of extra funds. As a result, most districts rely on local levies, grants, donations, or fees to support their gifted programs. To increase funding, some districts have asked for more state support or legislation; others have looked for alternative sources of revenue or partnerships; and still others have used more cost-effective or efficient program models. According to SVSD’s website, the state funds Highly Capable programming at around 2.9% of our total population.

So what do we do?

Gifted education in Washington State is a complex and dynamic thing that reflects the diversity and needs of gifted students and their communities. While there are many challenges and opportunities for improving gifted education in the state, there is also a lot of innovation and collaboration among educators, parents, researchers, policymakers, and advocates. By sharing best practices, learning from research, and talking to each other, we can make sure that gifted students in Washington State get the education they deserve. Our voices as parents play a crucial role in helping us build the highly capable programs that suit every one of our kids in the valley. We must remember to speak up and continue to advocate for them no matter how daunting!

  • Reach out to your class teachers, your principals, and even your district officials responsible for gifted curriculum. We have been continuously in touch with them to help improve highly capable services in our district for all our kids.
  • Prepare ahead for the next year by asking crucial information about class sizes, teachers, and curriculum. At present, there is not enough information available for parents in elementary and middle school about the highly capable curriculum.
  • Connect with your fellow hi-cap parents for information. This is an incredible resource that grows as this community grows.
  • Attend the school board meetings and voice your concerns!

– Farheen Al-Mishari
Mom of two Hi-Cap students in Snoqualmie, WA

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *