El Oro Way Elementary School houses an SAS program in the Los Angeles Unified School District. (credit: Gareth Mills)

Previously, we published a guide to applying to LAUSD’s vaunted magnet schools. Those who made the December 17 application deadline will find out if their students have been accepted or waitlisted some time in the Spring. Those who missed the opportunity to apply should know that magnet schools are not the only arrow in LAUSD’s educational quiver. The District’s division of Gifted and Talented Education programs (GATE) has another academically enriched option that may be an even better fit for your child.

The District has been establishing Schools for Advanced Studies (SAS) for about ten years. Like magnets, these are academies that often co-exist with the regular school program on a designated campus. But that’s where the similarities end.

The magnet program was intended to desegregate Los Angeles schools and so most magnets have no testing criteria for prospective students. SAS is a GATE program; students will have to be identified as “gifted” or “high ability” before they can apply.

LAUSD Gifted Programs

Los Angeles Unified was one of the first California school districts to implement a program for gifted children (established back in 1951). Since then, California’s educational standards have evolved to recognize the importance of providing accelerated and challenging curriculum to students who are identified as high achieving or have high abilities. In 2001, the state mandated that public school districts provide “differentiated instruction” for these students.

Basically, that means that the basic educational curriculum for GATE students is supplemented with more advanced content to ensure that they are challenged and engaged.

Campus GATE programs vary from school to school. Your gifted child could be served through a kind of break-out class for students with similar abilities and interests, after-school or Saturday sessions, enrichment activities during the course of the regular school day, independent study or Advanced Placement courses.

Gifted students are served according to each individual’s talents and needs. Other considerations are the size of the gifted population on a particular campus, staffing issues, availability of local resources and the ever-changing bottom line of funding.

Elementary students enrolled in an SAS program are placed in gifted instruction together for the full school day. Secondary SAS students are generally assigned to honors and AP classes for their core requirements, but not for physical education or electives. There are currently 179 schools with an SAS program listed on LAUSD’s website. The full list can be found here.

How To Qualify

As much as I tend to boast about the accomplishments of my own child, the District won’t just take my word that she is “gifted.” Students undergo some testing to attain that classification. The good news is that once a child has been identified as gifted, the gifted designation stays on his or her permanent record (even if grades do not reflect their giftedness).

And classroom performance measured by grades and standardized tests are not the only criteria used to evaluate students with high abilities. According to LAUSD, your children could be classified as gifted by meeting just one of the following three criteria:

(1) Abilities in four critical-thinking and problem-solving skills in their primary language.
These skills are:
• The ability to explain meanings or relationships among facts, information, or concepts (demonstrating depth and complexity).
• Formulating new ideas or solutions and elaborate on the information.
• Using alternative methods in approaching new or unfamiliar mathematical problems.
• The use extensive vocabulary easily and accurately to express creative ideas.

(2) Percentile scores of 85 or above in both total reading and total mathematics on standardized norm-reference tests or –Scaled scores on the California Standards Test (CST) as follows:
• A scaled score of 445 or above in English-Language Arts, grades 2-11 and
• A scaled score of 450 or above in mathematics, grades 2-7 or
• A scaled score of 450 or above for grades 8 and above in one of the following math content courses: Algebra I or II; Geometry; Integrated Math I, II or III; High School Summative Math.

(3) Identification as gifted in any of the categories by an LAUSD school psychologist.

There is a score of information on LAUSD’s website, describing in detail the criteria teachers and administrators look for to identify possible gifted students.

When my daughter was in elementary school, it was one of her teachers who suggested that she be tested – but parents may also request an evaluation by a school psychologist, and I knew some who did make such a request (and succeeded in attaining the gifted designation for their children).

How To Apply For An SAS School

Once your child has been identified as gifted or high ability, you are eligible to apply to your school’s SAS program or to fill an opening at another school. Unfortunately, you are not likely to receive notification in the mail, as you do each year with the Magnet program. If you are interested in enrolling your child in an SAS program outside your home school, you will need to call the administrators there to determine if there are openings.

The SAS applications for 2011 will be made available in May. If you are thinking of applying to one, this is a great time for doing your homework: Identify the schools in your region that offer the program and make contact with them. Schools with openings in their SAS programs often hold parent tours in the Spring; these give you the perfect opportunity to talk to the teachers and parents of children currently in the program.

Donna Schwartz Mills blogs at So Cal Mom.


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