Assuring learning excellence and readiness for a changing world



2013-14 Executive Review Summary

Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Heather Mueller, and Gifted Program Coordinator, Sarah Scott-Cipos, requested Professor Karen B. Rogers and Karen L. Westberg of the University of St. Thomas to plan and conduct a full K-12 program review of the Mankato School District's Gifted Services Program in April, 2013. At that time, a schedule for the two phases of the program review were planned: (1) on-line questionnaires for all cluster and advanced class teachers, all parents of identified gifted students, and all gifted students receiving district services to collect quantitative data about their responses to the program; and (2) qualitative on-site observations of cluster, advanced, and AP /enriched classrooms at all building levels, interviews of principals, current program coordinators and related specialists, and parents. All program documents involving program description/goals/mission, policies and procedures concerning acceleration, grouping, and identification, documentation of current student placements in gifted classrooms, as well as examples of differentiated learning materials and experiences were analyzed. Data from both the quantitative and qualitative phases were triangulated to identify the strengths and potential areas for improvement of services provided by the district. From these results, recommendations were made, accompanied by a rationale for these recommendations and a suggested timeline for implementation. 

In combining data collected across the two phases of the review, parent response came to 138 (18%) of the estimated total of 785 families with at least one student in the program; teacher response included 59 cluster teachers at elementary level and several advanced teachers at the middle school and high school, while the school focus groups included these same teachers for more in-depth reflections on program quality. Survey responses were received from 664 students, representing sizeable portion of identified students in the district. All principals, as well as the Director of Curriculum & Instruction, the Gifted Program coordinator, and the GT math specialist were interviewed for their perceptions of program quality as well as their concerns and ideas for program improvement in interviews lasting 45 minutes to 2 hours in length. It is, therefore, reasonable to draw conclusions about Mankato's Gifted Services program from the data provided by these stakeholders, although some were more fully represented than others. 

The DESDEG model (Diagnostic and Evaluative Scales for Differential Education for the Gifted) was used to ensure a comprehensive look at all aspects of Step Up. For the 10 program features of this model, the program was rated high on: (1) existence of services, and (2) proportions of students identified for services. Moderate ratings were reported for (1) validity of conception of giftedness and mission, (2) correspondence to research-based practices, (3) match between student needs and services, and ( 4) financial allocations. Low ratings were given for (1) articulation of K-12 differentiation; (2) selection procedures of cluster and advanced class teachers; (3) professional development for GT-designated teachers, (4) general staff orientation, (5) correspondence and adequacy of identification procedures, (6) application of services documents; (7) adequacy of services; and (8) comprehensiveness .. Rated as moderate criteria of quality were: (1) provision of complex, abstract content, and (2) grouping practices. Rated as low were: (1) accommodation of individual differences in background, experience, ability (2) acceleration practices (grade- and subject-based), (3) differentiated curriculum outcomes in core areas, articulated K-12, ( 4) compacting/ telescoping of learning time; (5) instructional differentiation in pace, organization, and practice for mastery; (6) daily progress in high performance areas, (7) opportunities for independent learning via credit for prior learning, testing out, or independent study. and (B) promotion of affective development and support. 

The strengths of the program, therefore are: 

  • The grouping management system for addressing academic needs of GT learners 
  • Designated GT teachers dedicated to providing differentiation 
  • The quality of mathematical differentiation provided for grades 3-12 
  • GT parents who wish to be genuinely supportive of district services 
  • District leadership, from superintendent, school principals, and GT service personnel, who genuinely support program implementation, maintenance, and improvement 

The areas of concern regarding the program include:

  • Lack of correspondence between identification procedures and placement of students in services 
  • Undocumented representation (i.e., underrepresentation) of economically disadvantaged, culturally diverse, and 2e learners in district gifted services 

  • Inconsistency of differentiated curricular delivery (grouping models implementation) from grade to grade and school level to school level 

  • Inconsistency in the curriculum materials provided across grades 3-8 in all subject areas 

  • Rarity with which grade-based and subject-based acceleration are provided for GT students among the top 1-2% of the district's population when there is a need to move beyond grade level outcomes 

  • Inadequate communication of program vision, procedures and policies at the district level to school personnel and community 

  • Inadequate teacher support and professional development planning for designated GT teachers 

Recommendations for maintaining and improving Mankato's gifted services program for gifted and talented learners include: ​​​​​​​

  1. Expand and solidify identification procedures to ensure proportionate representation of gender, SES, and ability performance. 
  2. Strengthen district policies for academic acceleration, early entrance to school, and identification to conform with State mandates just passed. 
  3. Systematize (i.e., consistently group GT learners together) the implementation of cluster classrooms in grade 1-2 and advanced regrouped classes in grades 3-8. 
  4. Provide learning-to-learn support for underrepresented, high potential learners in K-2. 
  5. Differentiate curriculum outcomes for all academic core areas, grades 1-12. 
  6. Expand talent development resources for the top 1-2% of district performers to include more independent learning, on-line learning, and outside-of-district learning opportunities. 
  7. Offer a full range of after school co-curriculars at the elementary and intermediate levels, with changing content that builds for more depth and allows for academic competitions (such as Math Masters, Science Olympiads, Future Problem Solving, Destination Imagination, Knowledge Bowl, History Day) that are to be implemented in each district school. 
  8. Provide annual professional development support for teachers responsible for GT students in grades 1-12. 
  9. Provide combined teacher /parent association meetings to communicate program goals and practices as well as to communicate parent and student "concerns". 
  10. Expand district and site personnel with roles and responsibilities for maintain program  goals and implementation across all district schools.



Department of Teaching & Learning
Dr. Heather Mueller, Director
10 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 2
Mankato, Minnesota 56001

Talent Development Services
Dr. Tania Lyon, Coordinator
10 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 3
Mankato, Minnesota 56001