Questions
1)  What does it mean to place gifted students in cluster groups?
2)  Isn't cluster grouping the same as tracking?
3)  Why should gifted students be placed in a cluster group instead of being assigned evenly to all classes?
4)  What are the learning needs of gifted students?
5)  Isn't gifted education elitist?
6)  Don't we need gifted students in all classes so they can help others learn through cooperative learning, peer tutoring, and other collaborative models?
7)  Don't we need gifted students in all classes so they can help others learn through cooperative learning, peer tutoring, and other collaborative models?
8)  How does the cluster grouping concept fit in with the inclusion models that integrate students with exceptional educational needs into regular classes?
9)  How does the cluster grouping concept fit in with the inclusion models that integrate students with exceptional educational needs into regular classes?
10)  Is the Cluster Group being run like GATE where the students leave their homeroom class and attend that advanced subject. If so, is that subject being taught in their classroom at the same time.
11)  How are the classrooms being set up? Will there be one homeroom class devoted only to the Advanced Open Enrollment Classes where the students stay together.
12)  In the letter it states "a high level of parental involvement". What does that mean?
13)  If a student does not sign up for Advanced classes now in 6th grade, are they locked out or is there open enrollment each semester or each year?
14)  The information we have is very vague - is this more like a GATE program or more like an Honors program?
 
Answers
1)  Q What does it mean to place gifted students in cluster groups?
A
A group of five to eight identified gifted students, usually those in the top 5% of ability in the grade level population, are "clustered" in the classroom of one teacher who has training in how to teach exceptionally capable students. The other students in that class are of mixed ability. If there are more than eight to ten gifted students, two or more clusters should be formed.
2)  Q Isn't cluster grouping the same as tracking?
A
No. In a tracking system, all students are grouped by ability for much of the school day, and students tend to remain in the same track throughout their school experience. Gifted students benefit from learning together, and need to be placed with similar students in their areas of strength (Hoover, et al., 1993; Kulik & Kulik, 1990; Rogers, 1993). Cluster grouping of gifted students allows them to learn together, while avoiding permanent grouping arrangements for students of other ability levels.
3)  Q Why should gifted students be placed in a cluster group instead of being assigned evenly to all classes?
A
When teachers try to meet the diverse learning needs of all students, it becomes extremely difficult to provide adequately for everyone, Often, the highest ability students are expected to "make it on their own." When a teacher has several gifted students, taking the time to make appropriate provisions for them seems more realistic. Furthermore, gifted students can better understand and accept their learning differences if there are others just like them in the class. Finally, scheduling out-of-class activities is easier when the resource teacher has only one cluster teacher's schedule to work with.
4)  Q What are the learning needs of gifted students?
A
Since gifted students have previously mastered many of the concepts they are expected to "learn" in a given class, a huge part of their school time may be wasted. They need exactly what all other students need: consistent opportunity to learn new material and-to develop the behaviors that allow them to cope with the challenge and struggle of new learning. It is very difficult for such students to have those needs met in .heterogeneous classes.
5)  Q Isn't gifted education elitist?
A
Gifted students need consistent opportunities to learn at their challenge level--just as all students do. It is inequitable to prevent gifted students from being challenged by trying to apply one level of difficulty for all students in mixed-ability classes. When teachers can provide opportunities for all students, including those who are gifted, to be challenged by rigorous curriculum, there is nothing elitist about the situation.
6)  Q Don't we need gifted students in all classes so they can help others learn through cooperative learning, peer tutoring, and other collaborative models?
A
When gifted students are placed in mixed-ability groups for cooperative learning, they frequently become tutors. Other students in these groups may rely on the gifted to do most of the work and may actually learn less than when the gifted students are not in their groups. When gifted students work in their own cooperative learning groups from time to time on appropriately challenging tasks, they are more likely to develop positive attitudes about cooperative learning. At the same time, other students learn to become more active learners because they are not able to rely so heavily on the gifted students. When the learning task focuses on content some students already know, those students should be learning how to cooperate in their own groups on extension tasks that are difficult enough to require cooperation. When the cooperative task is open-ended and requires critical or divergent thinking, it is acceptable to include the gifted students in heterogeneous cooperative learning groups.
7)  Q Don't we need gifted students in all classes so they can help others learn through cooperative learning, peer tutoring, and other collaborative models?
A
Research on role modeling (Schunk, 1987) indicates that to be effective, role models cannot be drastically discrepant in ability from those who would be motivated by them. Teachers overwhelmingly report that new leadership "rises to the top" in the non-cluster classes. There are many students, other than identified gifted students, who welcome opportunities to become the new leaders in groups that no longer include the top 5% of a grade level group. This issue becomes a problem only when more than 5 to 10% of students are clustered. As classes are formed, be sure the classes without clusters of gifted students include several highly capable students.
8)  Q How does the cluster grouping concept fit in with the inclusion models that integrate students with exceptional educational needs into regular classes?
A
The Inclusion model, in which students with exceptional learning needs are integrated into regular classrooms, is compatible with the concept of cluster grouping of gifted students, since both groups have exceptional educational needs. The practice of cluster grouping allows educators to come much closer to providing better educational services for groups of students with similar exceptional learning needs. In non-cluster classrooms, teachers report they are able to pay more attention to the special learning needs of those for whom learning may be more difficult. Some schools choose to avoid placing students with significant learning difficulties in the same class that has the cluster group of gifted students. A particular class may have a cluster of gifted students and a cluster of special education students as long as more than one adult is sharing the teaching responsibilities.
9)  Q How does the cluster grouping concept fit in with the inclusion models that integrate students with exceptional educational needs into regular classes?
A
When the cluster group is kept to a manageable size, many cluster teachers report that there is general improvement in achievement for the entire class. This suggests the exciting possibility that when teachers learn how to provide what gifted students need, they also learn to offer modified versions of the same opportunities to the entire class, thus raising the level of learning for all students, including those who are gifted. The positive effects of the cluster grouping practice may be shared with all students over several years by rotating the cluster teacher assignment among teachers who have had gifted education training.
10)  Q Is the Cluster Group being run like GATE where the students leave their homeroom class and attend that advanced subject. If so, is that subject being taught in their classroom at the same time.
A
Students will not be leaving their homerooms. GATE students are clustered and therefore forming their own group within the homeroom. Teachers differentiate based on need.
11)  Q How are the classrooms being set up? Will there be one homeroom class devoted only to the Advanced Open Enrollment Classes where the students stay together.
A
Students will be rotating classes based on individual schedules. Some students will opt into every advanced class, whereas some will only be enrolled in one advanced section.
12)  Q In the letter it states "a high level of parental involvement". What does that mean?
A
A high level of parental involvement means a couple of things: one that the parent recognizes that their child is in an advance class with performance criteria. Two, that there may be outside projects required that parents may be required to assist their child.
13)  Q If a student does not sign up for Advanced classes now in 6th grade, are they locked out or is there open enrollment each semester or each year?
A
Open enrollment will be offered each spring to incoming 6th and 7th graders.
14)  Q The information we have is very vague - is this more like a GATE program or more like an Honors program?
A
This is more inline with an honors program, except we are not offering credit. In honors classes students receive credit.