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lizbusby
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What questions would you ask to find out an elementary school's real policy on acceleration and differentiation? I am investigating schools (public and private) but I don't know exactly what to say to elicit real responses. Every school says they meet kids on their level, but I know that some definitely don't. How would you word your questions to get the best (ie most helpful in determining if the school will meet our needs) responses?

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What questions would you ask to find out an elementary school's real policy on acceleration and differentiation? I am investigating schools (public and private) but I don't know exactly what to say to elicit real responses. Every school says they meet kids on their level, but I know that some definitely don't. How would you word your questions to get the best (ie most helpful in determining if the school will meet our needs) responses?

Do you know parents of children in the school?  Can you talk to parents of children in the school currently (or in the not so distant past)?

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You can ask them specifically, "How do you differentiate for <insert subject>."  This type of question got responses describing the reading groups they use, use of Accelerated Reader, and/or Accelerated Math depending on the school.  When speaking with the K teacher, I asked if she had ever had a student start the year reading (which she had) and that led into more questions and description of how that was handled.  If you are talking with the principal, you can ask if they have ever skipped a student.  Their response will tell you a lot about how resistant they might be to that option!  Search the district's website to see if there is any sort of GT coordinator, they may be able to provide additional info or at least be a resource for the classroom teacher.

 

I see from your signature you are using a Montessori preschool.  If you are considering a Montessori school, ask what they do once a student has mastered the material in their room.  My DS attends a Montessori school for PreK, so they just pulled in materials from the K room for him.

 

Johanna

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I see from your signature you are using a Montessori preschool.  If you are considering a Montessori school, ask what they do once a student has mastered the material in their room.  My DS attends a Montessori school for PreK, so they just pulled in materials from the K room for him.

 

The Montessori school we're using actually goes straight up through elementary and junior high. Heck, they're opening a Montessori high school next year! They have great acceleration policies and I've talked to kids from the lower elementary classes who go to the upper el classes for reading and math plans.

 

Basically, I'm doing my due dilligence investigating our local public school as well as a traditional private school across the street before we fork out the big tuition bucks for this dream school that we all love. I've got to justify the $$ to my hubby (who opposes homeschooling as well, so that cheap-ish option is out). I'm just trying to come prepared to Kindergarten night.

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Many years ago we were looking at school options for our oldest, who is now in high school after being homeschooled for nearly all of his previous education.  We found that *everyone* said they would differentiate, but there was very little differentiation *per child* happening.  It was all "group differentiation" such as ability grouping.

 

One of our questions was for handwriting.  Our 6 year old was writing in cursive.  We had used a curriculum for this.  One particular teacher we spoke with used the same curriculum in her classroom.  When asked how she would approach a child who was already writing in cursive, the teacher said he'd just have to work on the same page the rest of the class was working on that day, "but it would be easy for him!"  So, how is THAT differentiation???

 

We asked about teachers' previous experiences with advanced readers.  When we shared what he was reading the teachers didn't believe us.  (They really thought we were LYING?!  Seriously?!)  So we checked *that* school off the list.  

 

Another teacher said, right away, that our child would be in the highest reading group.  The highest reading group, that year, was reading 2nd grade level books.  (This child was independently choosing 5th-6th grade level 200+ page chapter books and checking adult non-fiction about WWII out of the library.  We had previously tried a curriculum that used 2nd-3rd grade level readers as the basis for its LA.  He had been completely uncooperative and refused to read the books, saying that they were boring and babyish.  So this was not going to be a good fit.)

 

It continued like this with school after school.  None of the teachers (we went to open houses, school tours, and visited classrooms) were able to come up with *actual* differentiation.  Two teachers became critical of us when we asked about the possibility of subject acceleration (going into a higher grade level classroom for a particular subject).  Others tried to convince us of the value of "fitting in"  (not working ahead of the group?).

 

Ask about your child's specific differentiation needs, but do it in private.  (Don't raise your hand and ask about specifics if you're in a group situation, even if the speaker invites the parents to do so.  Wait until you can get the teachers off in a little corner for a few minutes. Learned THAT the hard way.  Sigh.)

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Many years ago we were looking at school options for our oldest, who is now in high school after being homeschooled for nearly all of his previous education. We found that *everyone* said they would differentiate, but there was very little differentiation *per child* happening. It was all "group differentiation" such as ability grouping.

 

One of our questions was for handwriting. Our 6 year old was writing in cursive. We had used a curriculum for this. One particular teacher we spoke with used the same curriculum in her classroom. When asked how she would approach a child who was already writing in cursive, the teacher said he'd just have to work on the same page the rest of the class was working on that day, "but it would be easy for him!" So, how is THAT differentiation???

 

We asked about teachers' previous experiences with advanced readers. When we shared what he was reading the teachers didn't believe us. (They really thought we were LYING?! Seriously?!) So we checked *that* school off the list.

 

Another teacher said, right away, that our child would be in the highest reading group. The highest reading group, that year, was reading 2nd grade level books. (This child was independently choosing 5th-6th grade level 200+ page chapter books and checking adult non-fiction about WWII out of the library. We had previously tried a curriculum that used 2nd-3rd grade level readers as the basis for its LA. He had been completely uncooperative and refused to read the books, saying that they were boring and babyish. So this was not going to be a good fit.)

 

It continued like this with school after school. None of the teachers (we went to open houses, school tours, and visited classrooms) were able to come up with *actual* differentiation. Two teachers became critical of us when we asked about the possibility of subject acceleration (going into a higher grade level classroom for a particular subject). Others tried to convince us of the value of "fitting in" (not working ahead of the group?).

 

Ask about your child's specific differentiation needs, but do it in private. (Don't raise your hand and ask about specifics if you're in a group situation, even if the speaker invites the parents to do so. Wait until you can get the teachers off in a little corner for a few minutes. Learned THAT the hard way. Sigh.)

This. We also had the local Monessori school reject us after a trial day. We homeschool.

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Kindergarten night is not for anything but general questions..the type of questions you are asking should be given to the principal and the school psych. during a private appointment.  Ask them how they place students in the curriculum, what the enrichment and accel policy is, and how differentiation is done.

 

Nothing that 'exceptional' students are offered here is written down. It is all on a case by case basis. Some children have skipped grades, some work on individual projects with mentors, some are subject accelerated.  The cross-grade level K-2 fluent readers' group isn't even mentioned in public -- but it is run every year.

Thank you! This is the kind of advice I'm looking for. Who to ask, when to ask, and how to ask to get real answers.

 

I get that a lot of people on this board have experienced frustration with school systems promising one thing and giving another. (Obviously, it's a home school board for a reason.) And I'm certainly still considering homeschool as an option. But I just want to know how to get more truthful information from a school about what is done/has been done in the past so that we'll know what we'd be getting into. No horror stories about schools needed, thanks. Just let me know what questions you think would have revealed the problems beforehand.

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What is your acting like? I am not good at confrontation so I find it easier to say things like "when you accelerate more than one grade what is your transition plan?", they then have to justify why the don't do something rather than you having to put a case for what you want. If you can manage puzzled and innocent "I read that all the experts agreed that not accelerating for social reasons was an outdated approach" etc so much the better. Unfortunately I am not that convincing.

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I just ask the admissions director or the principal point blank. At this point, I have been to so many schools for admission info that I don't have any hesitation to ask. I always fix an appointment and ask in private. I specify exactly where my child is at academically (e.g. Singapore math x, reading chapter book series xyz etc) and ask how they differentiate for this case.

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What questions would you ask to find out an elementary school's real policy on acceleration and differentiation? I am investigating schools (public and private) but I don't know exactly what to say to elicit real responses. Every school says they meet kids on their level, but I know that some definitely don't. How would you word your questions to get the best (ie most helpful in determining if the school will meet our needs) responses?

 

In my experience, our school district said that they differentiate and meet each individual child's need.  The reality was much different.  If I had to do it all over again, I would have asked the following initial questions (in a private meeting with the administration):

 

1.  Can I see a copy of your written plan for subject acceleration?  (Turns out my school district didn't have any official criteria/plan for subject acceleration other than a one sentence statement that said subject acceleration is provided on an individual basis.)

 

2. Can I see a copy of your written plan for grade acceleration?  (Same situation as question #1)

 

3.  How many students have qualified for subject acceleration? (Turns out no student had ever qualified for subject acceleration in my district.)

 

4. How many students have qualified for grade acceleration. (Same as #3)

 

Had I asked these four simple questions rather than relying on what was written in the parent handbook, I would have spared both my son and myself a ton of aggravation and never enrolled him in our public school.  :banghead:

 

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 But I just want to know how to get more truthful information from a school about what is done/has been done in the past so that we'll know what we'd be getting into.

My local school district drop the GATE program when my older was in 1st grade and it was blame on the state's budget mess. The program starts from 3rd grade anyway. So despite what might have been done in the past, things do change year by year.  The only thing my school district has done is grade skip which is very rare, no subject acceleration has ever been offered.  

Here it is possible to ask for an appointment with the school principal to have a discussion and that is probably the best way to get honest answers of what is planned for the next school year.  The kindergarten teachers were very honest when I asked during open house the year before enrolling my older into the public school. The school secretary was very forthcoming with answers too.

Depending on your child's personality, homeschooling can be as expensive as private school fees. My boys need to be with other kids is costing us a lot in extracurricular classes and camp fees.  They are hyper happy when they are going for outside classes because they can chat with other kids their age.

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I would also ask if there are certain subjects or activities in which the entire class is expected to participate, regardless of "differentiation" in specific subjects.  For example, when my dd was in Kindergarten, she was given more advanced reading assignments, but she still had to participate in lots of group activities involving phonics, etc. that she did not need.  I have visited many classrooms of different grade levels in my school district, and have sadly seen very few times in which students were truly given "differentiated" instruction--except for special education classes!  Not to say that it doesn't exist elsewhere, though...

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My local school district drop the GATE program when my older was in 1st grade and it was blame on the state's budget mess. The program starts from 3rd grade anyway. So despite what might have been done in the past, things do change year by year.  The only thing my school district has done is grade skip which is very rare, no subject acceleration has ever been offered.  

 

We're actually in the exact opposite situation. (Well, not with the budgeting mess, since that's always a train wreck in our state.) Washington state recently passed a law declaring that gifted education is basic education, and that by law the state is required to provide it to those who need it in order to fulfill its state constitutional mandate to "fully fund" education. Yay for actual acknowledgement that gifted kids deserve funding! Theoretically this should lead to a rapid increase in the size and number of gifted options, but we'll see. I'm anxious to see what turns up.

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We're actually in the exact opposite situation. (Well, not with the budgeting mess, since that's always a train wreck in our state.) Washington state recently passed a law declaring that gifted education is basic education, and that by law the state is required to provide it to those who need it in order to fulfill its state constitutional mandate to "fully fund" education. Yay for actual acknowledgement that gifted kids deserve funding! Theoretically this should lead to a rapid increase in the size and number of gifted options, but we'll see. I'm anxious to see what turns up.

 

You know, I'd heard a little of the buzz around this, so I just looked it up again. It looks like the 2014-15 school year is the first year of full implementation. I'll be interested as well to see what shakes out. I'm thinking my first step (and yours) may be to make contact at the district level to see what actions they're taking to comply with the new legislation. As far as I can tell there have been zero GATE/HCP services at the elementary level in my district before now. However, so far that hasn't harmed my accelerated first grader and I'm optimistic for my little one who will enroll in kindergarten in the fall. I know the teacher she's most likely to get, and I know I will be able to work with her to make my daughter's school experience positive.

 

Something to look for: my local school has a community-wide reputation for having involved parents and caring teachers. So far that's been borne out in my experience, with a teacher who is working hard to meet the needs of all her students from the remedial learners to my son.

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 Theoretically this should lead to a rapid increase in the size and number of gifted options, but we'll see. I'm anxious to see what turns up.

You might want to read about gifted IEP in the meantime http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/unofficial_guide.htm

Another thing is that school districts test students for gifted programs differently so unless your state decide to mandate a particular test which I think is unlikely, there are plenty of tests that districts can utilize.  There are plenty of examples of school district's gate handbook on the internet, you might want to look at a few just to get some ideas. Your school district might list gifted program implementation as part of a town hall meeting agenda so you might want to keep a lookout.

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