In Iowa public schools, there are classes for all abilities and levels of learning.
One of the most common programs is the Talented and Gifted -TAG -Program, which offers advanced learning opportunities for students who have been identified as gifted or exceptional learners.
In the Fort Dodge Community Schools, TAG programs start in elementary school with screening programs that identify students who are ahead of their class at an early age.
Kayla Gollob, left, and Kirsten DeLanoit work together to construct a section.
"In the kindergarten through second grades we provide teachers with resources to see who could potentially become TAG students," said Diane Pratt, talented and gifted specialist for the Fort Dodge Community Schools. "And in second grade we formally test students for TAG."
Both teachers and parents can initiate the process of testing a student for the TAG program.
When a student is considered for TAG, teachers examine their Iowa Test of Basic Skills results and listen to anecdotes of a student's speech, actions or thoughts considered to be on a higher level than their current grade. Then teachers go through a checklist of characteristics noticed in TAG students.
If these exercises confirm a student is a prospect for the TAG program, the child is given a cognitive abilities test which is added to their score.
If all criteria are met, the student is placed in TAG.
In Fort Dodge Community Schools, there are 162 TAG students in second through 12th grade, Pratt said.
At the elementary level, TAG students from all six schools are bused to Cooper Elementary School twice a week where they spend a half day together.
"We want to bring all of the TAG students together at least part of the time," said Pratt.
In fifth and sixth grade classes at Fair Oaks Middle School, Pratt spends one class period three times per week with TAG students. The fifth-and-sixth grade TAG curriculums focus on lifelong learning and communication skills.
"At this age, we help the students become comfortable and familiar with their giftedness because they are starting to realize they might be a little different from the other students," said Pratt.
The skill-based focus continues in the seventh-and-eighth grade TAG classes at Phillips Middle School.
At the senior high level, TAG students don't meet together as a class. However, Pratt serves as an advisor to the students and helps them select advanced placement and college level courses that fit their interests and abilities.
"TAG students have a different selection of classes," said Pratt. "We start college preparedness in 10th grade with different advanced placement, Iowa Central, online and distance learning courses. This allows them to make choices. They may not know where they are going to college or what they want to do, but they can take the advanced classes."
Pratt said TAG is a necessary part of a school's curriculum to meet the needs of high functioning students.
"They are learners that are intellectually different," she said. "When they learn new information, the put it to a different perspective. Students at the high end have just as many needs as students who are slower learners. If they aren't being challenged it is hard to keep them occupied."
Molly Hall, a junior TAG student at Fort Dodge Senior High, said being in TAG has allowed her many opportunities she may not have otherwise had.
"I've had more opportunities to be challenged," Hall said. "And some of the things we learned in earlier years have helped me later in AP classes. If I wasn't being challenged enough I may have been bored in class, but working with other students of similar ability you can count on everyone contributing their fair share to projects and more involved conversations."
Senior TAG student Tiffany Huang said she enjoys TAG and the advanced classes because of the pace at which she is allowed to work.
"In regular classes of mixed ability, teachers have to slow down to explain, and in TAG and advanced placement, they don't really have to do that," Huang said. "It's a great opportunity to learn at a good pace, and it's challenging and fun."
Contact Emilie Nelson at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org