The Hickory Public Schools Board of Education discussed more opportunities for students to be placed on the Academically and Intellectually Gifted Plan (AIG) in an effort to bring in more diversity to the AIG program during its regular meeting on Monday.

Tammy Beach, director of exceptional children program, approached the board with possible changes to Hickory Public Schools current AIG plan that will be implemented starting in the 2019 academic year.

“We have done our very best to make sure we are increasing our cultural diversity in the AIG program and at the same time maintain the integrity of the AIG program,” Beach said.

Beach said this would include reaching out to all of their non-English-speaking students and students with disabilities.

The first change would be to move the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) standardized test to be taken in the start of fourth grade. CogAT is currently taken at the end of third grade.

CogAT is a multiple-choice K-12 assessment that measures reasoning skills with different types of verbal, quantitative and nonverbal questions, according to testingmom.com.

CogAT helps Hickory Public Schools to place students in AIG.

Beach said by changing the grade the test is taken in would reduce the number of standardized tests students would have to complete in third grade.

Having students take the CogAT in fourth grade would require Hickory Public Schools to purchase the new edition of CogAT, which could cost them $3,500, according to Beach. This would replace the current edition the district uses from 2001. Beach said the district would not need to purchase a new edition of the CogAT each year.

Other changes offer more options for students to be placed in the AIG program.

Currently a student who scored a 97 percent or higher on CogAT is listed as intellectually gifted and placed in AIG. Under the new plan, students must score a 96 percent or higher.

Students who do not meet criteria but are close would be placed on a “watch and wait” list where Hickory Public Schools would monitor those students’ other test scores from then on to see if they qualify for AIG placement.

Teachers can also request screening by filling out a referral form if they observe AIG characteristics in a student, according to Beach.

Other options for students to be placed on the AIG plan include students being listed as either academically gifted in reading and math, academically gifted in math or academically gifted in reading.

“This is how we are going to get more students in and make it more culturally diverse and make sure we are reaching more of our student body,” Beach said.

For students to be listed as academically gifted in both reading and math and placed in AIG placement, students would have to score a 93 percent or higher on any nationally normed aptitude test and score a level five on End-of-Grade tests in reading and math. Students would also have to qualify in one of two other criteria. They must have a yearly average of “A” in reading and math or meet gifted criteria on a teacher observation checklist.

To be listed as academically gifted in math, students must score a 93 percent or higher on any nationally normed aptitude test and score a level five on the End-of-Grade test in math. Students would also have to qualify in one of two other criteria. They either have a yearly average of “A” in math or meets gifted criteria on a teacher observation checklist.

To be listed as academically gifted in reading, students must score a 93 percent or higher on any nationally normed aptitude test and score a level five on the End-of-Grade test in reading. Students would also have to qualify in one of two other criteria. They either have a yearly average of “A” in math or meets gifted criteria on a teacher observation checklist.

By looking at students’ math and reading test scores separately, students who do well in math but not reading can still be recognized as academically gifted, according to Beach. The same would be true for students who excel in reading but not math.

The board will vote on this AIG plan on May 13. Hickory Public Schools must submit its AIG plan to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction by June 15.

HPS in top 10 for improvement

Hickory Public Schools announced during the board meeting that its high school dropout, crime, and suspension rates have all dropped over the last three academic years, placing Hickory Public Schools in the top 10 for improvement among the 115 districts in North Carolina.

According to Angela Simmons, director of student services for Hickory Public Schools, in the 2015-2016 academic year 30 high-schoolers dropped out. In the 2017-2018, that number decreased to 15.

In the 2015-2016 school year Hickory Public Schools had 759 short-term suspensions. In 2017-2018, the number of suspensions decreased to 488. There were zero long-term suspensions in 2017-2018.

Forty-three crimes and violence by students on high school campuses were reported in 2015-2016 academic year. Fifteen were reported in 2017-2018.

Beverly Snowden, director of communications for Hickory Public Schools, said the improvements in the three areas are due to the relationships that teachers and counselors are building with their students. “The one-to-one working relationship and strength in communication is vital to a student’s success,” Snowden said.

Snowden said Hickory Public Schools has strong community partnerships. “Multiple agencies work with us in the joint effort to help students and their families,” Snowden said.

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