Fairfax school board approves study of gifted education program

The Fairfax County School Board approved a wide-ranging study of gifted education late Thursday as the school system mulls the future of its programs for the brightest students.

The study of the so-called advanced academic program will help the board ensure that it is “aligned with the best practices in K-12 gifted education.”

The broad study will examine how students are identified for the services, how teachers are certified to take part in the program, as well as how other districts address gifted education. School officials said the study will be completed by June.

Part of the study will determine whether the school system wants to open new advanced academic centers. In January, the board opted to open four new centers across the county to help alleviate overcrowding. In recent years, the gifted student population has nearly tripled. About 16 percent of the total student population in grades 3 through 8, about 13,000 children, received gifted education services.

Sloan Presidio, the assistant superintendent for instructional services, said the school system likely will hire outside consultants from George Mason University to complete the study. The experts’ services were estimated to cost between $25,000 and $50,000.

Board member Sandy Evans (Mason) said the study should aim to begin a larger discussion about the school system’s gifted services.

“I see the goal as a robust advanced academic program,” Evans said. “This is not the end of the process.”

Patty Reed (Providence) said the study should help the board decide whether to “change the size, number and composition of our [advanced academic program] centers.”

She said that many parents had concluded that the pool of gifted students had grown so fast in recent years that the centers had become “watered down.”

Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill) said other school districts in the region, including Loudoun, Arlington and Howard counties, do not have center-based gifted services at all.

“Is it a best practice to self-contain 16 percent of the students for giftedness?” Hynes asked.

Ryan McElveen (At Large) said in the past several weeks the board had given lots of attention to the issue that concerns a small part of the student body.

“To echo what I’ve heard from many community members, we’ve spent so much time talking about 16 percent of our school population,” said McElveen. “I hope we can make time to talk about the other 84 percent.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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