Total School Cluster Grouping

RISD Advanced Learning Services

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What is clustering?

Clustering is the intentional and strategic placement of each student in their class to maximize all students’ achievement and growth.

Which campuses and classes will be clustered?

Each elementary school will implement the Total School Cluster Grouping model in at least some grade levels. In all grade levels, students identified for gifted services will be clustered. More information will be shared as it becomes available.

What are the benefits of TSCG?

“○ Provide full-time services to high-achieving and high-ability elementary students.

○ Help all students improve their academic achievement and educational self-efficacy.

○ Help teachers more effectively and efficiently meet the diverse needs of their students.

○ Weave gifted education and talent development “know-how” into the fabric of all educational practices in the school.

○ Improve representation of traditionally underserved students identified over time as above average and high achieving.”

“1. Gifted students regularly interact both with their intellectual peers and their age peers (Delcourt & Evans, 1994; Gentry, 1999; Rogers, 1991; Slavin, 1987a).

2. Full-time services are provided for gifted students without additional cost (Gentry & Owen, 1999; Hoover et al., 1993; LaRose, 1986).

3. Curricular differentiation is more efficient and likely to occur when a group of high-achieving students is placed with a teacher who has expertise, training, and a desire to differentiate curriculum than when these students are distributed among many teachers (Brulles et al., 2010; Bryant, 1987; Gentry, 1999; Kennedy, 1995; Kulik, 1992; Rogers, 2002).

4. Removing the highest achievers from most classrooms allows other achievers to emerge and gain recognition (Gentry & Owen, 1999; Kennedy, 1989).

5. Student achievement increases when cluster grouping is used (Brulles et al., 2010; Brulles et al., 2012; Gentry & Owen, 1999; Pierce et al., 2011).

6. Over time, fewer students are identified as low achievers and more students are identified as high achievers (Gentry, 1999; Gentry, 2011; Gentry, 2012; Brulles et al., 2012).

7. Cluster grouping reduces the range of student achievement levels that must be addressed within the classrooms of all teachers (Coleman, 1995; Gentry, 1999; Delcourt & Evans, 1994; Rogers, 1993). “

Gentry, M. L., Paul, K. A., McIntosh, J. L., Fugate, C. M., & Enyi, J. (2014). Total school cluster grouping and differentiation: a comprehensive, research-based plan for raising student achievement and improving teacher practice. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

How does TSCG impact the role of the general education teacher?

As mentioned above, using a cluster grouping model reduces the range of achievement levels in each classroom so teachers can be more effective. Also, teachers are already meeting in PLCs (professional learning communities) to plan for their students’ success. Embedded in the PLC process are four questions:

  1. What do we want students to learn?

  2. How will we know if they learn it?

  3. What will we do when they do not learn it?

  4. What will we do when they have already learned it?

That means that this is not an added expectation. Our expanded services will allow us to support teachers better in addressing question 4, which is part of the current teacher expectation.

Is this tracking?

Absolutely not. Clustering is revisited annually and meets students where they are.

“Renzulli and Reis (1991) explained an important delineation between tracking and ability grouping when they described tracking as “the general and usually permanent assignment of students to classes taught at a certain level” and ability grouping as “a more flexible arrangement that takes into account factors in addition to ability, and sometimes in the place of ability” (p. 31). Even so, research regarding tracking has become generalized to include all forms of ability grouping, although the terms tracking and ability grouping are not synonymous (Tieso, 2003). Cluster grouping is used with elementary students, and tracking is a practice used with high school students.”

Gentry, M. L., Paul, K. A., McIntosh, J. L., Fugate, C. M., & Enyi, J. (2014). Total school cluster grouping and differentiation: a comprehensive, research-based plan for raising student achievement and improving teacher practice. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

How are classes created?

Teachers will complete student cards to determine the level of achievement for each student. Then the teachers collect any additional testing information such as CogAT and/or MAP. That information is used to INCLUDE students, not exclude, in a more challenging classification. Class lists are created by the campus leadership team or the grade-level teachers. The campus leadership team evaluates the class lists to ensure they pass fidelity checks. Finally, sending and receiving grade-level teachers review class lists.

What about Kindergarten?

Kindergarten classes present two challenges. The first is that there is no information about the students prior to their entering our schools. The second is that kindergarten classes present the largest range of achievement levels because students enter with different levels of prior school experience. Each campus will decide how to create kindergarten classes.

Campuses can choose to have something like a “Kinder Camp” experience for students. This time can be a few days to a few weeks. All students would become familiar with all teachers and then teachers would make recommendations of appropriate clustering.

Campuses also could choose to place kindergarten students and then configure the classes in clusters at a designated time in the fall.

What if a child transfers into RISD during the year?

Students who transfer into the school during the school year will enter with varying types of achievement information. Campus administrators will first assure parents that we utilize TSCG in RISD. They will place the child where s/he can have the most growth in achievement and then, if needed, the child can be moved once achievement levels have been established. Most of the time, a move is not necessary.

Will qualify learning experiences and enrichment be included in all classes?

Yes! All classroom teachers are expected to offer appropriately challenging and engaging learning experiences that address their interests and talents. Also, all teachers will have high expectations for all their students. These strategies promote achievement among all students.

Will opportunities for extensions be included in all classes?

Yes! These opportunities are designed for any student who masters the concepts before the end of a unit.

What is the "rigor bump"?

Sometimes students new to TSCG may express frustration because the work is more challenging than they are accustomed to experiencing. This initial bump is a normal occurrence that presents students with the opportunity to learn to work hard and rise to meeting challenging curriculum. It is much better for students to be challenged and receive marks below 100% than for them to move through school obtaining great grades with little effort. (Robinson et al., 2002).

How will we know it's implemented correctly?

Although the class placement process is important, it is what happens after that makes this model successful. It is important to ensure each class that the first two years focus on becoming comfortable with the process and teachers are supported in working with their students. After the first two years, the focus shifts to all teachers using gifted strategies, to flexible grouping/regrouping used in addition to clustering, and to no language about “low” or “high” classes since each room is a cluster room with enriched learning experiences.

How are teachers selected or appointed for each cluster grouping?

Teachers are given the opportunity to volunteer for any particular cluster position. Since all teachers are cluster teachers and all teachers will eventually have the gifted training, all will be qualified. Campus administrators will decide which teachers are the best fits for each grade level and specific cluster. Wherever a teacher is teaching, s/he should have a desire to work with the students and a desire to grow in that area.

Which teachers will receive the 30 hours of GT training?

Teachers who will teach the cluster of students that includes students who have qualified for gifted services will be required to have the 30 foundation hours of training for GT. Also, these teachers will complete a 6-hour GT update annually. Campus administrators can determine which other teachers will be required to complete the training in this first year. Several campuses have already determined that they plan to have their entire staff trained in the 2020-2021 school year.

Are there areas in which RISD partially or does not meet the accountability measures of the state plan?

Yes, although we have made great strides in updating, expanding, and enhancing our services for gifted and advanced learners, we still have areas for growth. The number you see at the beginning of each section designates where you can find it in the state plan. If there is an education or administrative code specified, it is at the end. You will notice one other set of letters and numbers in parentheses. Those are correlations to the strategic plan. The below information is summarized and synthesized to make it easier to follow.

*Partially Meets 2019 Texas State Plan Accountability Measures

  • 3.5 Flexible grouping patterns and independent investigations are provided throughout the program design/services. (D2)

  • 4.5 Opportunities are provided to accelerate in areas of student strengths (19 TAC §89.3(4)). (D2)

  • 4.7 Scheduling modifications are implemented in order to meet the identified needs of individual students. (D2)

  • 5.8 Teachers as well as administrators who have supervisory duties for service decisions are required to complete a minimum of six (6) hours of professional development that includes nature and needs of gifted/talented students and service options for gifted/talented students (19 TAC §89.2(4)). (D4.9)

  • 5.9 Counselors who work with gifted/talented students are required to complete a minimum of six (6) hours of professional development that includes nature and needs of gifted/talented students, service options for gifted/talented students, and social emotional learning (19 TAC §89.2(4)). (D4.9)

*Does Not Meet 2019 Texas State Plan Accountability Measures

  • 2.25 The population of the gifted/talented services program is closely reflective of the population of the total district and/or campus. (C1) (Equity Policy)
  • 3.1 Identified gifted/talented students are assured an array of learning opportunities that are commensurate with their abilities and that emphasize content in the four (4) foundation curricular areas. Services are available during the school day as well as the entire school year. Parents are informed of these options (19 TAC §89.3(3)). (D2)

  • 3.3 Services for gifted/talented students are comprehensive, structured, sequenced, and appropriately challenging, including options in the four (4) foundation curricular areas. (D2)

  • 3.8 Acceleration and flexible pacing are employed, allowing students to learn at the pace and level appropriate for their abilities and skills, and are actively facilitated by district administrators, counselors, and teachers. (D2)

  • 4.1 An array of appropriately challenging learning experiences in each of the four (4) foundation curricular areas is provided for gifted/talented students in grades K–12, and parents are informed of the opportunities (19 TAC §89.3) (D4.7-8, D2)

  • 4.3 A continuum of learning experiences is provided that leads to the development of advanced-level products and/or performances such as those provided through the Texas Performance Standards Project (TPSP) (19 TAC §89.3(2)). (D2)

  • 4.9 Educators adapt and/or modify the core or standard curriculum to meet the needs of gifted/talented students and those with special needs such as twice-exceptional, highly gifted, and English learners. (D4.7-8, D2)

How can I learn More?

Who to Contact

Talbot Boulter

Administrative Specialist

Advanced Learning Programs and Services