Darien weighs changes in gifted education, along with added challenges in elementary school level math

DARIEN — After an evaluation of the district’s gifted education program, the district is considering possible changes to the program’s curriculum at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

The June evaluation drew on surveys with parents, teachers and children to assess the limitations of Darien’s gifted program, while including suggestions for how the district should improve that curriculum. One major finding, the report said, was that students could benefit from math acceleration programs at the elementary school level.

The results of the evaluation will guide the future of gifted programming in Darien schools, Christopher Tranberg, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said during a Nov. 23 meeting of the Board of Education.

Tranberg and other faculty are working with a newly created Gifted Education Steering Committee to look at how to implement recommendations from the June evaluation. The committee is made up of teaching staff, parents and one student.

“This is very, very exciting work,” Tranberg told board members.

A key takeaway of the evaluation was that middle school students said they felt unprepared for the level of math difficulty, according to the report. Elementary students, meanwhile, felt math classwork did not sufficiently challenge them, the report said.

Due to that finding, a math acceleration subcommittee has also been formed to scrutinize how to implement a more rigorous math curriculum in the elementary schools, Tranberg said.

But math acceleration courses will not be limited to just the students who identify as gifted, he said.

“That group discussed and decided, well, we need to expand it beyond just this idea of gifted education, because it’s not limited to students that are identified as gifted,” Tranberg said. “The saying that you’ve heard many times is high-achieving students don’t necessarily equate to students identified as gifted.”

Parents have long called for math acceleration programs at the elementary schools, board member Tara Wurm said.

“I’m so happy to see that you’re actually looking at math acceleration,” Wurm said. “It’s something we’ve been asking for 15 years, maybe longer.”

Darien’s gifted and talented program, which is called Idea, runs from grades 2 through 9.

The committee is also considering changes to the middle school gifted curriculum, Tranberg said. Citing lower participation rates, the committee recommended using embedded class time for gifted programs.

The committee also recommended increasing the credits that high school students would receive from their gifted courses, as well as opening the courses up to students who are not necessarily identified as gifted but want to apply for the course in their freshman year.

Further research and site visits will be conducted over the winter, and Tranberg said the committee hopes to wrap up final recommendations by the spring.