PES and HiCap FAQs


    Programs to Services Questions

    What is changing? 
    First, based on the input from the Highly Capable Advisory Committee (HCAC), testing began looking a bit different for qualification beginning in 2nd grade during the 2020-2021 school year. Students first test on the CogAT and the Torrence Test of Creative Thinking. If a student meets the thresholds for the next step, he/she/they will take the IOWA assessments for math, reading, and science. 
    Depending on the information that the data provides, and the story it tell us about how we should best support our students, we will determine next steps. Any changes would only be in third grade for the 2021-2022 school year, followed by other grades in subsequent years (based on what we glean about our support model).
    Why are we considering changes to the existing program? 
    In 2018, we completed a program review through an outside agency for Highly Capable. In this review, we were given recommendations. One of these recommendations was to consider a more inclusive learning environment that would provide all students access to challenging learning that fosters growth. We've spent the last two years getting feedback from the HCAC on assessment changes to ensure that we are appropriately identifying students for these services and assessment changes were put into place. We've also spent the last two years considering what these changes might look like, but it all came down to one thing: we should remove barriers for students to all have equitable access to great instruction that
    promotes growth. 
    What data are you using to make this determination?
    First, we've reviewed student growth data, based on state assessments for students in and not in the "program" as it exists now. Students in the program and those not in the program have negligible differences in their student growth, as measured by students who scored similarly to them in the prior year (students at a high level are measured against other students at that level). What this tells us is that our existing model doesn't promote any greater growth than all other students have access to. 
    Second, reviewing achievement data, we are identifying as "highly capable" students who are high achievers. While this is great, that we have so many high achievers, we are excluding other high achievers. Students in both highly capable and general education score above grade level on the state assessments. In our program review, this became very clear in the focus groups when families, students, and staff all said that they didn't feel like we were truly identifying "gifted" students. There is a great deal of pressure on students to "get into" the Highly Capable Program, for fear that they might be missing an opportunity somehow. 
    Third, we review regularly the data as it comes in for our new assessment practices. As was evident in previous years, we skew higher in math scores than in verbal scores as a cohort of students. Though that's the case, we are putting all students who qualify, only holistically, into a program that focuses on all content areas in elementary, as a self-contained program, and three content areas in middle school (ELA, SS, and science).  If our scores tell us that students are talented in one domain and not another, why aren't we supporting them? Our data reinforces that we are not providing students an opportunity for growth in a single area where they excel, if they don't excel in all areas. 
    Finally, the qualitative aspects of the program review are hard to ignore. The social emotional damage that is inflicted by telling some students they are better than others or that some students aren't smart enough, is unconscionable. Students made comments like, "We're isolated" or "there are kids in HiCap who shouldn't be" or "It gives me a tremendous amount of stress, anxiety, and feelings of worthlessness" or "why don't we get retested every year to make sure we're still smart". We continue to segregate students, based on the premise that they are different, rather than providing all students access and enriching further for those who need it beyond the scope of a typical classroom. 
    How will you ensure that students get what they need? 
    While people who aren't in education don't always see the nuances of classrooms, teachers do. Our teachers, both in and out of highly capable, have always had students across the entirety of the curve. They also have students who are brilliant, yet they exhibit challenging behaviors. Teachers have long differentiated for students, based on a variety of needs both academically and socially emotionally. As we press forward to make our classrooms more inclusive, we are committed to providing professional learning for our staff. How will they meet their needs? Through Universal Design for Learning, differentiation, project-based learning. Why wouldn't we want all of our students on Mercer Island to have access to the great instruction that some parents of students in HiCap have always promoted to be the best for their child? All kids deserve a great education that fosters their passions and enriches where appropriate. 
    How will you measure success? 
    We will gather qualitative data from staff, families, and students, on the program changes. We will commit to continued learning for staff in how to engage learners in deep thinking, using the plethora of resources we have access to. Additionally, we'll continue to measure the growth of our students and the achievement scores of our students. This data will tell us the quantitative impact on any program changes. 
    Where can I provide feedback or suggestions, in the interim? 
    Please use this link to provide feedback or suggestions. While we won't be responding individually, we are planning to use this to help clarify future changes in programming for families. Additionally, should we need clarity on something in your feedback or suggestions, it is possible we'll reach out. 
    Does Primary Enrichment change? 
    No, but you may have noticed an intentional name change. We have changed our "programs" (which are barriers) to "services" (accessible to those who need it). The Primary Enrichment Service identification does not change for the 2021-2022 school year, as students in K-2 continue to find success in their classrooms. While there are occasionally students who are exceeding well beyond teacher expectation, those are handled on a case-by-case basis, similar to that of special education. Similar to the data we see in the second grade testing, math continues to be the area that students skew higher than the typical curve. 

    Testing Questions

    How often can my child test?
    Students may only test once every 12 months and students may only test on two consecutive years before they must take a one-year break from testing.
    How do I nominate my child for testing?
    Visit our website. Nominations are filled out online during the nomination window. Nomination windows are firm and no exceptions are made. 
    How will I know the nomination was received?
    After pressing the "submit" button, a screen will appear that confirms receipt.
    How do I prepare my child?
    Students need not be prepared. In order to get an appropriate result and subsequent placement, we want to ensure that the results are accurate. Each student will receive practice questions on the day of testing.
    When is testing? What if I am not in town?
    Please see the testing and placement calendars on the Highly Capable web page. Testing dates are firm.
    Will you take outside testing scores?
    Potentially—we will examine previous scores to determine eligibility once your child is enrolled in our district. Please refer to Board Policy 2190P for additional details.
    How do I transfer into the services, if my child is coming from a program elsewhere?
    After enrollment, please send the following information to Jamie Prescott, either by email; US postal service– 4160 86th Ave SE, Mercer Island, WA 98040; or Fax– 206-236-3370: All test scores (test scores must be on official letterhead or testing company report) along with an overview of the current program information, including qualification requirements. Test scores must be within the past two years. After our assessment of the information you send, we will either place your child in our HiCap Services or require that your child take further testing in our district. If further testing is needed, your child will have to adhere to our regular HiCap testing schedule. 
    What if my child does not qualify?
    PES and HiCap are specialized services intended for a small population of students (similar to Special Education). Teachers in all classrooms work to differentiate in their classes to meet the needs of all students.
    Are kindergarten students admitted into PES? Or is the kindergarten testing to determine PES placement for first grade?
    Any MISD K-2 student who hasn't tested and/or been admitted into our PES services can receive PES services. The district provides extra enrichment materials and ideas to any K-2 teacher with students who need it.

    Do you test private school students for PES and HiCap?
    If they live on the island, yes, we open testing to them once per year, typically in the spring. Please refer to the HiCap and PES calendars for specific dates.