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District tests all kindergartners for gifted, talented program

The Brainerd School District is overhauling the way it identifies gifted and talented students, expanding the process to make it more inclusive of all students.

The Brainerd School Board Curriculum Committee Wednesday heard from Deb Lechner, director of teaching and learning; Erin Herman, gifted and talented coordinator; and Lisa Worden, gifted and talented resource teacher. 

In the past, only kindergartners recommended by their parents and teachers were tested for the school-within-a-school gifted program at Lowell Elementary School.

In January, all district kindergartners participated in four participation tasks and were then tested in February and March. Students who scored in the 90th percentile and above were considered for the gifted education program and will undergo a portfolio review by the gifted and talented committee, which will take place later this week. 

The portfolio review will involve questionnaires completed by the student’s parents and teachers, as well as student report card achievement, reading level and their academic growth from fall to winter. 

Lechner said by testing all kindergartners, the district did identify more students who may not have otherwise been considered for the gifted and talented program.

Gifted program students at Lowell this year includes 4.3 percent minority students while kindergarten testing identified 4.8 percent minority students who meet that criteria, a slight increase. Minority students make up 7.5 percent of the current kindergarten class. 

Gifted program students at Lowell include 13 percent who qualify for free and reduced meals while kindergartners recently identified as gifted include 36 percent who also qualify for free and reduced meals. 

Lowell gifted students include 42 percent male students and 58 percent female students; kindergartners scoring high on the gifted tests were 57 percent male and 43 percent female. 

Lechner said Lowell’s gifted students now have no special education students while 14 percent of those kindergarten students who tested high also qualify for special education services. 

The testing identified 42 kindergartners who scored between the 90th-99th percentile from the following schools: Lowell, six students; Nisswa, three students; Baxter, 14 students; Garfield, seven students; Harrison, five students; and Riverside, seven students.

The district will be notifying kindergarten parents this month about whether their child has been identified for participation in the school-within-a-school program at Lowell, other building level programming or differentiation in their general classrooms. Differentiation involves matching curriculum with specific students’ abilities and interests, a way of engaging students in a classroom but not requiring them to be all working on the same thing at the same time.

Worden said the committee is developing a process to test new students who move into the district during the school year, as well as create an appeals process. They also will be looking at first- through third-graders who may be tested to get into the Lowell program. 

Testing will be available next week for students enrolled outside the district, including area parochial and charter schools, to find out if they qualify for gifted programming. 

Herman said the committee is working on an acceleration policy, which would outline procedures for early enrolling gifted students into kindergarten, allowing students to skip grades or graduate early.  

Herman said the district has participated in early entrance to kindergarten and advanced placement for students, but not grade skipping, which is a more common practice at Twin Cities schools. 

A parent meeting for those who have kindergarten students who qualified for the Lowell program is planned in May so they can learn more about the school-within-a-school program. 

Herman said Lowell principal Todd Sauer and his staff will be coming up with a new name for what has been called the Lowell Enrichment Program. The program is not considered an enrichment program but a gifted program and is a district-wide program housed at Lowell Elementary. 

The committee recommended board approval to make June 6 a full teacher inservice day to make up for the district snow day last month. Students will not have school on this day. 

JODIE TWEED may be reached at or 855-5858.