The advanced learning program in Riverside Elementary School District 96 is about to be revamped and made more flexible.

A committee of 21 people, including four parents, 10 teachers, four administrators, a school psychologist, a consultant and school board member Shari Klyber have been examining the program for more than a year. On April 4, the school board endorsed the committee’s proposal. 

The committee proposed changes that would make the advanced learning program more flexible both in terms of who participates and in the way it’s implemented.

“We’re really being more intentional about looking at the needs of all our students and making sure that the programs we’re providing are appropriate for their levels of readiness,” said Merryl Brownlow, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for District 96, a member of the committee.

While selection to the current gifted program has been largely dependent on test scores, the committee’s called for a wider range of factors to be considered. Over the years, some parents thought that the test-based criteria for admission to the program was too rigid.

“The criteria has expanded,” Brownlow said.

Test scores will remain an important factor in determining entry into the advanced learning program, but curriculum-based assessments as well as teacher and parent evaluations will also be considered.

This change will allow the district to reduce the number of standardized tests given to students. The new program, which will go into effect in the 2018-19 school year, also allows for a process to allow extremely advanced children to start first grade or kindergarten at a younger age than is now permitted. 

The district will establish a process for reviewing individual cases that could allow some students to skip a grade a school or enter school earlier than is now allowed. 

Skipping a grade has been out of fashion in recent years as there has been more of a focus on children’s social and emotional development. But, recent research indicates grade skipping generally doesn’t hurt kids when carefully considered, Brownlow said.

The advanced learning program will start in third grade. However, advanced learners now will be kept in their regular classrooms rather than being pulled out for separate instruction. 

Advanced learners will be team-taught by their regular classroom teacher and a specialist. Much of the instruction will be interdisciplinary and inquiry-based, which will allow advanced learners to explore a subject in greater depth within their regular classrooms.

In fourth grade math, the new program will become much more flexible. Currently, a static group of advanced learners is identified at the end of the previous academic year. Those students are pulled out of their class once a week for 60 minutes. 

Next year, students in the program will be determined on a unit-by-unit basis in fourth-grade math. At the start of each unit, students will be given a pretest. 

If a student scores high enough, they will bypass the unit and receive separate advanced instruction by a specialist for 60 minutes each day. Students might participate in advanced learning in one, some, or all units. 

There will be no change in the fifth-grade advanced math program, where advanced students will continue to be pulled out of their classroom for 60 minutes of daily instruction in math by an advanced learning teacher.

In English language arts advanced learning program will not change for fourth- and fifth-graders.

Changes in advanced learning will be minimal at Hauser Junior High. Entry to the advanced learning program will be made when students start sixth grade. 

Content acceleration will be added for advanced learners in seventh- and eighth grade English language arts classes. Teacher and parent evaluations will be considered for determining who is eligible for the program, but otherwise it will remain much the same. 

Changes in the advanced learning program will not require hiring additional staff and is not expected to cost the district additional money.

Brownlow will be conducting meetings at the district’s schools over the next four weeks to discuss the changes with any interested parents and members of the community.

On Wednesday, April 18 a meeting will be held at Hauser Junior High, 65 Woodside Road in Riverside, at 6 p.m. On April 25, Brownlow will meet with parents at Hollywood School, 3423 Hollywood Ave. in Brookfield, at 6:30 p.m. 

There will be a meeting at Blythe Park School, 735 Leesley Road in Riverside, on May 3 at 6:30 p.m. and final meeting on May 9 at Ames School, 86 Southcote Road in Riverside, at 6:30 p.m.