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Rochester gifted and talented program shrinks

Rochester public school officials have canceled two of the three grades for a new program geared toward highly gifted students because of a low number of applicants.

Officials originally envisioned that the program, which is to be launched at Sunset Terrace Elementary School this fall, would serve students in grades third through fifth grades. But the low number of applications received by the district prompted officials to cancel the classes at the third- and fourth-grade levels.

The program will thus begin with a fifth-grade class of 31 students, raising questions about the program's long-term viability. The school board approved the program last December.

The low number of applicants surprised officials who assumed, based on previous indicators of interest, that there would be enough students to fill out all three classes.

Highly gifted students are those at the apex of academic achievement in a district, whose test scores or abilities put them in the 99th percentile of students. The program is modeled after a similar program at Friedell Middle School, which draws qualified students from across the district. Similar programs at the elementary school level exist in the Inver Grove Heights and Bloomington districts.


Cindy Martenson, the district's coordinator of gifted services, said the low number of applicants should not be interpreted as a sign of a lack of interest in the program. She noted that there wasn't much time to advertise and promote the program once the board approved it in the middle of December.

"It takes awhile for people to get used to the idea," Martenson said. "I think that was a big part of it. And then just the idea of sending your student to another school."

Rochester already offers gifted services to students in all its elementary schools. What set the program at Sunset Terrace apart was its focus on highly gifted students.

Students can enter the program one of two ways: either through high scores on a standardized test or through a portfolio process.

Board members expressed the hope that the program might be a way to draw students from outside the district. And officials say some of the applications did come from families outside the district. But the limited response raises questions about the program's sustainability. Students from the fifth-grade class will move on to middle school in the following year, leaving no students in the third- and fourth-grade levels to move through the system.

"It would make it more difficult, because they're gone from the elementary school next year," said Ann Clark, the district's executive director of curriculum and instruction.

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