Parents concerned with Carmel Clay Schools plan to remove high-ability students from self-contained classroom 

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Carmel Clay Schools announced a plan this week to combine high-ability students and general education peers in elementary school classrooms beginning next school year, but many parents say the changes are a step in the wrong direction.

The Total School Cluster Grouping model identifies students as high achieving, above average, average, low average and low, although only the high achieving students know their status. The goal is for classrooms to have no more than three of those groups represented, with average students in each classroom and high-ability students not being placed in classrooms with lower achieving students.

Currently, the district places its highest achievers in self-contained classrooms. Some parents of these students are concerned that the new model will be detrimental to their children’s education.

“I can see some really big losses, and I’m not sure I’m seeing the gains,” said Melissa Ho, a parent of two high-ability students at Smoky Row Elementary. “There are a lot of parents here who are saying, ‘I have this gifted child that is going to really struggle in this environment, and at the same time my average student is going to feel defeated in this environment, too.’”

Ho and others have expressed concerns about the impact on teachers because they may often be faced with preparing different lessons for students at various levels within the classroom. She’s also worried that students or clusters won’t receive enough attention if teachers must work to accommodate different levels for most lessons.

Gaya Boyers, who has a daughter identified as high-ability at Smoky Row and a son taking honors courses at Carmel High School, worked as an instructional aide at Smoky Row last year and spent time in high-ability and general education classrooms. She said the TSCG model seems like “a huge step backwards.” 

“When I would circulate around a classroom I’d spend a lot of time trying to get kids more engaged on the task at hand, unless I was in the challenge room. It was a totally different atmosphere,” she said. “Unless they tell us we’re going to add more adult involvement in the classroom, I just don’t see kids at any level getting the attention they’re going to need.”

At a March 12 school board workshop, CCS Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment Martha McFarland said the model has been tested at Mohawk Trails and Orchard Park elementary schools with positive results.

Although the school board did not and will not vote on the high-ability classroom changes, several board members offered feedback.

School board member Lin Zheng, who teaches both honors and general education students at the college level, said she has many concerns, from additional teachers being required to learn how to create high-ability lessons to the impact on students.

“I’m concerned that high-ability students may not get as full attention as they would have under the self-contained classes,” she said. 

CCS announced the change in a March 13 letter sent to parents of high-ability children. Ho and Boyers said that was the first official communication they received from the district regarding the matter.

The letter lists several benefits of TSCG. They include:

  • Helping teachers more effectively and efficiently meet the diverse needs of their students.
  • Increasing opportunities for collaboration among high ability, general education and special education staff.
  • Weaving the benefits of evidence-based practices for high-ability students into the fabric of all educational practices.
  • Improving the representation of traditionally underserved students identified over time as above average and high achieving.

The changes implement findings from the 2015 CCS K-12 High Ability Program Evaluation and 2017 Elementary Program Evaluation High Ability Strand.

The letter states that teachers and specialists will work with elementary administrators to make recommendations for next year’s classroom placement.

Carmel Teachers’ Association President Pete O’Hara said CCS teachers will embrace the new opportunities the new model presents.

“While there will be challenges and there are concerns about the district’s plan to change high ability education, teachers are eager to continue do the best job possible for their students,” he stated in an email. “There certainly will be new requirements, but teachers will strive to ensure all students receive the same high level of instruction as in past years.”

CCS did not provide responses to questions regarding the matter submitted by Current as of press time.


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