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Fairfax County school officials continued talks Monday on options for accommodating the growing number of students eligible for “gifted” programs. During their work session this week, School Board members discussed a timeline that could expand the number of Advanced Academic Program Level IV Centers to more elementary and middle schools by 2015-16.

Level IV is the highest level of advanced academics offered to third- through eighth-graders. The program’s enrollment has more than doubled during the last several years.

While trying to accommodate more students, School Board members again voiced concerns over possible over identification of students as “gifted.”

“We are in an era where the competition to get into the right college isn’t going away any time soon,” said School Board member Jane Strauss (Dranesville District). A similar discussion was held during the School Board’s last meeting on AAP.

“The willingness to tutor and push kids as far as they can, grade level [wise], that’s not going away any time soon,” Strauss said.

School Board members also voiced concerns that students might be opting out of AAP center placement because of programming or geographic issues.

“One of the things that I calculated was the percentage of kids that declined center placement; and that has increased from 20 percent to over 32 percent. I think it’s important for us to understand where center placement is being declined,” School Board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) said. “I think that would give us some insight… Is it a distance issue? Is it a performance [issue] or reputation of the center? Is it the physical plant of where it is? Is it overcrowded?”

Board members said concerns like these, as well as number of students in each school eligible for AAP center services, will play a role in deciding whether and where new centers are established.

Board members were also concerned with parent complaints that AAP services and programs were not standardized or equal in quality across the county.

“One of the things that I have felt all along is absolutely critical in our review of these programs is whether all of our students throughout our system are getting the same delivered program,” School Board member Sandy Evans (Mason District) said. “To my mind, it is absolutely critical to look at the schools with the highest poverty rates --the highest [percentage of] minorities and compare them with our other schools-- and say: Are they getting the same thing? I’ve been told for years the Glasgow program, those students aren’t getting the same thing as they would if they were going to Longfellow [Middle School] or if they were going to Rocky Run [Middle School].”

The Fairfax County School Board began discussing expansion of AAP centers last year. In January, the board voted to add centers to four elementary schools. These centers are scheduled to open this fall.

The goal, School Board members said, was to relieve crowding at schools currently with centers that were drawing students in from other schools to receive programming. For example, during the 2012-13 school year, Haycock Elementary was 180 students over capacity. The school enrolls some 437 AAP center students — many who travel from outside attendance areas to Haycock — and 519 regular education students. Several of the new centers opening this fall would serve students who would have attended Haycock.

Board members will continue discussions on AAP expansion during an as-of-yet unscheduled work session this fall. School Board member Kathy Smith (Sully District) said she hopes discussions can offer some relief to schools already experiencing center-related crowding.

“I don’t want to wait to have a plan to move forward because I believe we need to be able to consider schools for 2014-15 school year,” she said.

hhobbs@fairfaxtimes.com