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updated: 6/25/2013 1:23 PM

District 25 makes changes to gifted education program

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Despite concerns from parents, Arlington Heights Elementary School District 25 will be moving forward with changes to gifted education following a multiyear review of the program.

Among the changes is the elimination of the Odyssey program after next year. Instead of pulling certain students out of the classroom for advanced classes twice a week -- what was called Odyssey -- those students instead will receive differentiated instruction every day from their regular teachers starting in 2014-15, said Dale Truding, assistant superintendent for student learning.

"The purpose of the whole change was to make sure we provided challenges for advanced learners more than just two hours a week," Truding said. "Every child has a right to be challenged all six hours of the day, every day."

At a school board meeting last month some parents called the end of the Odyssey program "heartbreaking," but Truding said she hopes they will see the benefits of the change once it is implemented.

Students currently in the Odyssey program will have individual meetings for goal-setting and transition next year, she said.

With the implementation of Common Core standards, all students will be receiving a more rigorous education, Truding added.

The district's advanced learners committee, which has been studying best practices since 2010, also recommended that classes start to integrate a PSI (problem solving and innovation) Hour to focus on problem-solving and innovation skills for all students in the classroom.

Truding said the PSI hour is a way to foster student creativity and questioning in areas where they show interest. More advanced students will be grouped together to work on projects as well.

The District 25 school board does not have to vote to approve the changes, but board President David Page said the panel supports the recommendations.

Page said the Odyssey program was developed in the 1990s and was not up to current research about best practices for advanced learner education. He said the program also was being taught differently at each school and there was no clear definition of "gifted."

"The fact that these kids won't be alone in a room doesn't mean they are getting subpar services; it's actually a big improvement over what we're giving them now," Page said.

Page also shot down accusations that the change is a way for the district to save money, saying the new program eventually will add three full-time positions because of the need for advanced learning facilitators to help teachers plan and develop programs.

"(Parents) feel a sense of loss that their children won't be able to experience Odyssey, but I am confident that what their children will be getting will be rich, meaningful and challenging," Truding said.

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