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    R&E Studies Advanced Learning Programs and Practices
    Posted on 04/06/2018

    The Spectrum program was launched by SPS as a second-tier program for advanced students who did not meet the eligibility criteria for Highly Capable (HC).  Originally designed to mimic the format of HC services, Spectrum students were offered self-contained services at regional Spectrum sites and all middle schools.  Since the 2016-17 school year, the regional Spectrum elementary and K-8 sites no longer offer full time self-contained classrooms for identified students.  

    The Advanced Learning/Spectrum study contained two phases. Phase 1 explored descriptive enrollment and achievement data for students that qualify for Advanced Learning. Key findings from Phase 1 include:

    • Districtwide, nearly one in five SPS students were identified as Advanced Learning eligible in 2016-17, with 9.7 percent of students eligible for Spectrum and 9.3 percent for Highly Capable services. 81 percent of students were Not Eligible, meaning they were either not tested or were tested but did not meet the required benchmarks for identification.
    • White students comprise approximately two-thirds of AL eligible students, but less than half of enrolled students in the district. Conversely, historically underserved students of color comprise less than 10 percent of AL eligible students despite representing almost 30 percent of total district enrollment.
    • In a survey of principals, over two-thirds (68 percent, 46 principals in total) said they did not think the district should continue to designate certain schools as “Spectrum schools,” while 28 percent were unsure, and only 4 percent said that Spectrum should continue.

    Phase 2 explored best instructional practices for students who are already above or well above standard. This research included a comprehensive literature review by researchers from the University of Washington College of Education, and findings from site visits at seven SPS schools. Key findings from the UW literature review include:

    • The quality of instruction and instructional resources matters greatly for improving the academic growth of advance learners.  A great deal of research supports the use of deeper inquiry learning pedagogies that elevate critical thinking and authentic problem solving.
    • Advanced learners sometimes might not benefit adequately from instruction in mixed ability classrooms due to a lack of clear strategies, resources, and teacher training to support effective differentiation.  
    • A variety of instructional strategies, from inquiry-based learning to adaptive or personalized learning should be available to teachers. Technology can support students who’ve mastered content and need opportunities to work on more advanced topics and tackle more difficult problems.
    • Advanced learners, like all students, need to feel competent, connected to others, and have a sense of autonomy and develop self-efficacy in their learning.

    Based on site visits at SPS schools,

    • Advanced Learning students in SPS reported they often do not feel challenged or engaged in class, but this problem is more pronounced in some schools than others. Common concerns expressed by AL students was spending too much time on a topic they already mastered, excessive, repeated use of worksheets and generally non-interactive lessons.  
    • Advanced learners in every school expressed interest in more hands-on, interactive learning opportunities. Teachers reported however a lack of resources and training for effective differentiation strategies and deeper inquiry learning that is rigorous and standards-aligned.

    Read the full reports, including the presentation at the October School Board work session and a literature review conducted by UW research partners.