Understanding Seattle Public Schools’ Highly Capable Services and Advanced Learning Programs
Many students and parents are unaware that there are multiple programs within the SPS system designated to foster students who are deemed highly capable or advanced learners. Before delving into the process SPS uses to identify such learners, let’s take a brief look at these programs and why they exist.
Seattle Public Schools believes that each and every student should have an academic experience tailored to his or her specific needs and abilities. To accomplish this, SPS has created environments within the SPS system that will best foster and encourage students’ critical and creative thinking abilities. There are two specific programs SPS created to address the needs of qualified students: Advanced Learners/Spectrum and Highly Capable Services. Advanced Learners/Spectrum serves students from first through eighth grade while Highly Capable Services serves learners from kindergarten through high school graduation.
The Advanced Learners/Spectrum program offers, “enhanced, enriched and/or accelerated curriculum in reading or mathematics,” as well as “flexible grouping opportunities to better serve individual student needs.” These students are supported in classrooms at their designated schools during elementary and middle school.
While the Highly Capable Services program provides a similar accelerated curriculum, it goes beyond the scope of the Advanced Learners/Spectrum curriculum. The Highly Capable Services program significantly accelerates the syllabus in reading, math, science, and social studies (based on student needs and abilities). These students are “district-identified as highly capable and are eligible to be served in self contained programs at the elementary and middle school levels.” Additionally, Highly Capable learners in eighth grade who are enrolled at Hamilton, Washington, Madison, Robert Eaglestaff or Jane Addams middle schools’ are automatically assigned to Garfield High School.
Moreover, Highly Capable eighth grade students enrolled in any school in the district may apply to Ingraham High School for the Accelerated IB program. Acceptance is based on seat availability rather than more testing. Interestingly, other eighth graders who are neither designated as Advanced Learners nor Highly Capable may take a test for acceptance into the Accelerated International Baccalaureate program at Ingraham. However, there is no eighth grade testing for placement at Garfield High School.
With that background in mind, the next question we must ask is how are these learners identified as Advanced Learners or Highly Capable? The process begins with a referral by a student’s parent or guardian to be tested for potential placement in one of the two accelerated programs. While only a parent or guardian can refer a student, teachers and community members may recommend to the Advanced Learning Office specific students they believe should be evaluated. In this instance, the Advanced Learning Office will contact the child’s parents or guardians and explain the options open to their children if the parents or guardians refer them for testing. There is no prescreening required to be tested and students can be referred as early as kindergarten.
The only exception to the referral process is for second graders in Title I and High ELL schools. These students are universally screened to address issues of access and equality. This is done to “provide teachers and the district the opportunity to reach out to families who may not otherwise refer a child for [the] Highly Capable program.”
The referral window for the 2017-18 school year is open from May 15 through September 22, an increase of over two months as compared to previous years. This was done in order to “increase the number of referrals from underrepresented communities [through] robust outreach and referral assistance…”
Moreover, if a student qualifies as Highly Capable, they are not required to attend one of the aforementioned Highly Capable Cohort Schools and may remain at their reference area school. This is possible because SPS requires that all schools be able to provide for the needs of all students, including those designated as Highly Capable.
These programs are a great opportunity to serve all learners, regardless of cultural, linguistic, or economic differences. If you are interested in referring your child to be tested, you can begin the process here. Notably, even if your child is not enrolled in Seattle Public Schools, you may refer them for testing here. However, only students who reside within the district boundaries are eligible for Advanced Learning testing. Students outside of the district are only eligible for Highly Capable testing and placement.
If you have questions about the process, get in touch with us – helping parents and students navigate the Seattle school system is what we do.