The SPARK team will be giving two presentations at this year’s NAGC Convention. The first will be on Friday, November 8 at 2:30 pm, titled “Promoting Gifted Program Access for Learners From Undeserved Populations.” The second will be on Saturday, November 9 at 2:30 pm, titled “Mathematical Fun in the Summer Sun: Advanced Summer Learning in the Early Grades.”

Upcoming SPARK Team Presentations

The SPARK Team will be presenting the following at AERA this year. We hope to see you there!


More of a Good Thing? One- and Two-Year Summer Program Effects on Mathematics Achievement

  • Presenters:   Kearney, K. L., Adelson, J. L., Little, C. A., O’Brien, R.   &
  • Conference: American Educational Research Association, New York, NY
  • Date: April 16, 2018

Abstract: Summer learning opportunities can mitigate achievement gaps between students of diverse backgrounds, perhaps supporting high-potential learners from underserved groups in reaching high achievement levels. Dosage effects of summer program participation on achievement have not been systematically studied with advanced students. We examined effects of summer learning on mathematics achievement with emphasis on differences for years of participation. The sample of 460 participants included 193 that attended at least one summer and 41 that attended two summers. Using hierarchical linear modeling, we found students who participated in only one year did not score statistically significantly differently from students who did not attend at all. Students who attended two years scored statistically significantly higher than those who did not attend any.


Summer Learning in Mathematics: Promoting a Supportive Learning Environment through Curriculum and Instruction

  • Presenters:  Little, C. A., Kearney, K. L., O’Brien, R., Adelson, J. L.,  & Roberts, A.
  • Conference: American Educational Research Association, New York, NY
  • Date: April 16, 2018

Abstract: Purposes and Perspectives: This project focuses on building capacity for academic success among high-potential students from diverse backgrounds through early teacher attention to high potential, access to advanced learning through summer programming, and professional development. The project reflects several key perspectives: (a) advanced potential exists across demographic groups; (b) early attention to high potential is critical for engaging student growth and academic success; (c) teacher support is important to guide recognition of how high potential may manifest in students across diverse backgrounds; and (d) curriculum and instruction designed to yield and develop high-potential behaviors are valuable tools for identification and programming in response to advanced learner needs.
Methods: In this project, we use a quasi-experimental design in which pairs of schools representing similar demographics within districts function as treatment and comparison groups. In 22 schools across 4 districts, teachers at grades K-2 participate in professional development to support recognition of high-potential behaviors, and students enter the project based on such informed teacher referral. Treatment school students have access to summer programming focused on challenging curriculum in mathematics. The curricular materials were developed around best practices in mathematics education, gifted education, and early childhood education, including key elements of ensuring a nurturing classroom environment for all learners (Gavin et al., 2013). Such practices also contribute to an environment that is culturally responsive and inclusive.
Data Sources: Data sources include student assessments (Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test [NNAT-2; Naglieri, 2011]; Measures of Academic Progress [MAP; Northwest Evaluation Association]; and teacher referral forms [Shaklee, 2002]) and teacher observations (Classroom Observation Scales-Revised [COS-R; VanTassel-Baska et al., 2003] and Instructional Quality Assessments [Matsumara et al., 2006]). We also collect data regarding which project students are later identified for their local gifted programs. Achievement results thus far have demonstrated treatment effects on mathematics achievement based on one or two years of participation in summer programming (Authors, in press).
Results: The focus for this session is on evidence from classroom observations of teacher implementation of the curricular materials. We report descriptive evidence from summer program classrooms, with particular focus on teacher efforts to respond to individual and group differences, to engage students in mathematical discourse in a supportive environment, and to maintain high expectations. Results from classrooms observations demonstrate satisfactory to high levels of teacher and student behaviors as linked to the observation criteria. The observations also demonstrated the challenges inherent in working with young students on discourse moves, and the efforts that teachers used to establish discourse routines and to nurture student participation.
Significance: Classroom observations are but one component of demonstrating the learning experiences students may gain from specialized programming to respond to advanced learning needs. The specific gains students show following a summer program may be related to a wide range of factors. Nevertheless, classroom observation data, combined with other evidence on the particular curriculum and on student outcomes, contributes to our understanding of effective practices by providing a picture of the kinds of instruction that may contribute to positive learning outcomes.

New Publication in Gifted Child Quarterly

Early Opportunities to Strengthen Academic Readiness: Effects of Summer Learning on Mathematics Achievement

Catherine A. Little, Jill L. Adelson, Kelly L. Kearney, Kathleen Cash, and Rebecca O’Brien


Students who come from low-income backgrounds tend to be underidentified and underserved in gifted education. Early interventions with learners of high potential from underserved groups, including exposure to challenging curriculum and summer opportunities, are important for nurturing these students’ talents and preparing them for advanced learning opportunities in later school years. Project SPARK, based on the Young Scholars model, focuses on recognizing and responding to high-potential learners from underserved populations in the early grades. In this study, we examined the effects on mathematics achievement of participation in a summer program as part of Project SPARK in schools with substantial populations of students in poverty, as demonstrated by percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch. We examined summer program effects on achievement for the sample overall and specifically for students from low-income backgrounds. Students who participated in the summer program made moderately larger mathematics achievement gains than students who did not participate, with Cohen’s d-type effect sizes of 0.92. Students who qualified for free or reduced lunch saw similar gains over the summer if they participated in the summer program, indicating that the summer program experience was supportive for students across a range of income backgrounds.

Access Gifted Child Quarterly to read the full article:

Little, C. A., Adelson, J. L., Kearney, K. L., Cash, K., & O’Brien, R. (2017). Early Opportunities to Strengthen       Academic Readiness: Effects of Summer Learning on Mathematics Achievement. Gifted Child Quarterly, 62(1), 83-95. doi:10.1177/0016986217738052 

Neag School of Education Honors Project SPARK Volunteers

The Neag School of Education presented a number of scholarships and awards during its annual scholarship awards ceremony Wednesday, April 12th, 2017.  Many award recipients have volunteered for Project SPARK during the summer, including:

  • Kelsey Iwanicki, who received the following awards:
    • Daniel Thomas Perley Scholarship
    • Babbidge Scholars
  • Alexandra Jabick, who received the following award:
    • UConn Honors Scholars
  • Efthimia Kutrubis, who received the following award:
    • New England Scholars
  • Jessica Liu, who received the following award:
    • UConn Honors Scholars
  • Kennedy Martin, who received the following award:
    • Andrews International Education Award
  • Jennifer O’Brien, who received the following award:
    • New England Scholars
  • Hannah Ragonese, who received the following award:
    • UConn Honors Scholars
  • Kevin Smaglis, who received the following award:
    • Sidney Skolnick Scholarship
  • Heather Vasquez, who received the following awards:
    • Lodewick Teachers for a New Era Alumni Scholarship
    • Marjory C. Gelfenbien Scholarship
    • New England Scholars
  • Brett Wojtkowski, who received the following award:
    • New England Scholars

Congratulations to all of our Project SPARK volunteers on their awards!

To read more about the award ceremony, click here.

Related talent development model in Charleston, SC

Springfield Elementary tries out gifted-and-talented teaching for all students
By Paul Bowers,, Nov 27, 2016

Graylon Nell wasn’t giving a lot of hints to her third-grade math class at Springfield Elementary. During a lesson on place values one recent Tuesday morning, she challenged students to suss out the meaning of the digit 1 in the number 1,389.

“That one costs one thousand,” said a boy sitting nearby on the floor.

“It costs 1,000, so I have to pay 1,000 to put that there?” Nell responded.

“No …”

“Can someone add on?” Nell said to the class.

For five minutes the students hashed it out. They spoke in turns, refining each other’s ideas and building a working definition of numerical place values. The conversation took longer than a traditional lecture might have, but, Nell hoped, the students would not soon forget a lesson they taught themselves.

Nell hasn’t always conducted her classroom this way. For the past two years, her school has been trying a new approach.

Using part of a multimillion-dollar grant for Title I schools in the area from the U.S. Department of Education’s Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, Springfield has sent all of its teachers for training in gifted-and-talented education strategies developed at the College of William and Mary. They attended summer classes at the College of Charleston and will have opportunities for continuing education.

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