Frederick Co. ending magnet program for first, second grades

The Board of Education had no qualms Wednesday with a plan to phase out the first and second grades of the elementary magnet program over the next three years.

Frederick County Public Schools will begin phasing out the primary grade magnet classes beginning in the 2013-14 school year: Kindergarten students will not be screened to enter first-grade magnet classes. With no students then prepared to enter second-grade magnet classes in the 2014-15 school year, the second-grade magnet program will be eliminated.

No changes will be made to the magnet program for the 2012-13 school year, and no students already in the magnet program will be sent back to their home school, according to school officials.

After presenting the plan to the board’s curriculum and instruction committee, school officials brought the report to the full board Wednesday. No board members had any negative comments on the plan.

While eliminating the first- and second-grade magnet classes, FCPS will phase in more programs for students at their home schools.

“That’s the goal,” board President Angie Fish said during the meeting. “The goal is to be able to meet the needs of all of our students in their home school and to challenge every single one of our students.”

School officials cited the achievement of nonmagnet students on Maryland State Assessments, a desire to expand enrichment opportunities for students in their home school, and input from magnet teachers that concluded a majority of their students can have their needs met in a regular education classroom.

“To say that we cannot meet the needs of students and challenge students in our regular ed classrooms is false,” said Jason Anderson, supervisor of elementary curriculum, instruction, assessment and innovation.

The top 5 percent of students in grades three through five not participating in magnet are actually outperforming their magnet counterparts in reading and math MSAs, according to an FCPS staff report.

These statistics do not mean the magnet program is not effective, said Steve Hess, FCPS research, development and accountability director.

He said the figures presented illustrate that the performance of highly able learners in their home school is at least comparable to that of magnet students.

FCPS plans to use first- and second-grade magnet teachers as advanced academic specialists in schools to support teachers once the magnet program is phased out, Anderson said.

The school system will continue to challenge students, he said, adding that the common core being phased in is designed to be more challenging.

Superintendent Terry Alban said it was valuable to have students gifted in different areas in her experience teaching first-graders in a school where gifted students were not identified until the third grade.

By having students gifted in different areas, she could put them in groups where their strengths would shine and they would learn to work together.

“There are a lot of social things that you can do within a regular classroom by how you group students, the kinds of things you get them to do and the opportunities you provide for them,” she said.

Anderson said the long- term vision for the elementary magnet program is not to remove the program, especially not for the “extreme outliers” who are performing above their grade level by multiple levels.

“We know there’s a need for those,” he said.

Board member April Miller said she would like to eventually see a third- through fifth-grade magnet program expanded to every feeder pattern.

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