After yearlong delay, Chicago’s plan for gifted children heads to new school board

Advocates for gifted and talented children have been clamoring for Chicago to comply with a state law that requires districts to have a formal acceleration plan that would allow early entrance to kindergarten and grade skipping.

In one of its first big decisions on Wednesday, Chicago’s new school board will decide whether the district’s proposal is enough.

After soliciting feedback from parents at two meetings in April — a more public step than it sometimes takes in policymaking — district leaders are pitching a proposal that would allow early admittance to kindergarten for children who turn 5 before Dec. 31.

To qualify, students would have to score a 91 percent or higher on a cognitive evaluation.

Currently, prospective kindergarteners must turn 5 by Sept. 1 to attend a public school in Chicago. The first draft of the plan only extended the window to Oct. 31, but parents said in the meetings that would only apply to a very narrow subset of children.

LaTanya McDade, Chicago’s chief academic officer, said her team listened.

“It was refreshing to hear from families, and I am looking forward to them seeing that, in this new proposal, we did listen,” she said. “Not only did we listen, but their voice made a difference in the way we shape policy in the district.”

The new policy would also allow older elementary-aged students to either skip grades or advance in a single subject: reading or math.

The latest version relaxes a few of the strict guidelines for kindergarten entry and grade skipping. In earlier drafts, prospective kindergarteners would have to score in the 98th percentile or higher on a cognitive test administered by a psychologist. Under the new policy, they’d have to score in the 91st percentile or higher.

For grade skipping, under the original policy, students had to earn a 4.0 GPA in core classes, score at least in the 95th percentile on the NWEA/MAP standardized test, and pass an assessment by a school team determining developmental and social readiness to make the jump. Under the new policy, students need only have a GPA of 3.75.

Gifted advocates criticized the first draft of the plan because it relied solely on parental initiative to seek out testing and apply for consideration. Some school districts are experimenting with “universal screens” that would assess all children.

Black and brown children are vastly underrepresented in gifted programs compared with their white peers.

The revised policy does not include a universal screen.

McDade said that screening a child for accelerated placement is a “personal decision a family makes for their child” and that the cost of a universal screen would also be “fiscally irresponsible.”

Not everything that advocates sought made it into the final proposal, she said, but the process of getting a review from a cross-departmental team of educators and parents was still considered a success. “Everything doesn’t always shake out the way every individual person may want it to, but there’s something to be said about building public trust.”

Here’s the proposed board policy in full: