Evolution of Elementary Highly Capable Programs in the Era of NCLB: A Comparison of Three School Districts
Sork Gehlhausen, Cathy Ann
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This study began as an action research project to determine if the elementary highly capable program should be altered or redesigned in Camas. Questions raised during the study led the researcher to expand the project to include a broader look at how programs for high achievers have changed over time and been impacted by contemporary educational events, specifically No Child Left Behind legislation, Response to Intervention implementation, and steady decline in school funding. An examination of the literature reviewed the history of highly capable education and how it intertwined with public opinion and a changing political climate since its inception. To expand the depths of my findings, interviews were conducted among educators in three like-sized school districts. District leadership as well as teachers working with highly capable students shared their experiences in how highly capable education has evolved.Study interviews revealed that, in the last decade, imposed state and federal legislation, have been catalysts for change within the school systems, especially in the area of differentiated instruction driven by data. Each school district in the study reported increased pressure to serve at-risk populations differently in order to reduce the achievement gap as demanded by NCLB. Contrary to theories suggested by some researchers, the highly capable programs in these districts do not seem to have taken a back seat to programs for struggling students trying to meet minimum standards. This study showed that the biggest impact on school programs for highly capable students has been the reduction in state revenue. Budget driven cuts to staff development, staffing positions, and material budgets have reduced special program support for students of high ability.The study concluded with recommendations for consideration by the Camas School District. These focused on the importance of ongoing staff development, increased teacher collaboration, modification of the current student identification system, and the monitoring of program effectiveness.