• Larkspur-Corte Madera School District 

    GATE/Advanced Learners Program

    One of the District’s strategic priorities is to inspire students to maximize their potential through an inquiry-based curriculum that adapts continuously in order to address individual needs, encourage critical thinking, and cultivate collaborative, life-long learners. The District has endeavored to achieve this priority for gifted, talented and advanced students through its identification and support of GATE/Advanced Learners. Below is a summary of our efforts, including a revision to the current processes aligned with the new state Local Control Funding Formula and our Local Control Accountability Plan.

    What is currently referred to as the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) Program has its roots in state legislation that begin in the early 1960s. The program has gone through several key changes in its 50+ year history. In 2000, an Education Code revision required that GATE programs be planned and organized as differentiated learning experiences within the regular school day. Just last year, the GATE program was one of the categorical programs that the state repealed with the legislation related to the shift to the Local Control Funding Formula. The District’s goal of meeting all students’ learning needs has not diminished since the repeal of the GATE legislation. Instead, our efforts continue to evolve and gain focus.

    Our efforts are rooted in our commitment to meeting the needs of each of our students. This manifests itself in providing intervention and support when students need a boost, and providing extension and acceleration when they are ready to go deeper and further. It also includes a willingness to create unique and personalized learning plans for students with unique needs. In addition, we build classroom rosters that have both a rich diversity of student skills and needs as well as a number of similarly abled students.

    We have learned that differentiation is a critical element in effectively meeting the needs of all learners. Providing students with learning opportunities that differentiate content (what is being taught), process (how it is taught), learning environment (where it is taught) and/or product (how students demonstrate their learning) increase student engagement and growth. The use of ongoing assessments and flexible grouping makes this a highly successful approach to instruction. We have also learned that an effective way to differentiate curriculum is to design learning opportunities using a project-based learning approach. The use of inquiry, built around a driving question, creates open-ended learning grounded in the Common Core content standards.

    We have also learned that the existing GATE identification process does not move our efforts forward. The identification process narrows our supports and devotes resources to the wrong end of the equation. Students need what they need irrespective of what the eligibility test may say. Students who require extra challenge and unique learning opportunities generally become known to teachers through their direct, daily interactions and through parent communication. The eligibility process rarely generates a name that isn’t already known to teachers. Identification as a gifted learner has proven to be neither necessary nor sufficient to meet the needs of students. Instead, our energy and resources need to be focused on strengthening our instructional practices and communication with parents to meet the needs of our students.

    As a result, the District will no longer be conducting a formal identification process for GATE students. All of the components of the GATE services will remain available to all students. This means that the District will continue to strengthen professional development for teachers centered on differentiation and project-based learning and that teachers will work collaboratively with parents to create personalized student learning goals.

    Instead of focusing on who is in and who is out, we will work harder to support who is here. We welcome your feedback and active participation in these efforts as they continue to evolve and grow.

    -Daniel Norbutas
    Senior Director of Educational Services and Technology