Middle School Highly Able Learner (HAL) Program Overview

What Does HAL mean?

HAL stands for “Highly Able Learner”  and is an umbrella term used to describe students who demonstrate above average ability and/or students who perform at advanced levels in one or more content areas. “HAL,” is inclusive of gifted and talented students and advanced learners

What is the purpose of the Middle School Highly Able Learner Program?

This specialized middle school program provides advanced academics services through one or more core content areas to HALs who demonstrate readiness to learn at accelerated rates and deeper levels of understanding. The HAL Program provides academic rigor and challenge at a pace designed to meet the unique academic needs of these students. HAL Program participants follow the FCPS Essential Curriculum; however, learning experiences may be “extended” to emphasize greater depth and complexity within course content and address HALs’ abilities and interests. Students engage in a variety of instructional experiences that include, but are not limited to: hands-on exploratory activities; problem-based challenges, and projects that require research and application of knowledge (such as through National History Day participation). Additional talent development opportunities may occur during the Extended Learning Time (ELT) in some schools, but all middle schools implement the HAL Program through cluster grouping in the general education setting.

What services are offered to highly-able learners?

Highly able learner cluster groups exist in 6th, 7th, & 8th grade language arts, math, science, and social studies classes at all FCPS middle schools. HAL Math clusters are in both the Math Pathways classes as well as sixth grade honors Math, 7th grade accelerated Math and year long Algebra classes. For more detailed information about the different advanced Math trajectories, please see pages 4 and 11 of the Middle School Course guide.

What is cluster grouping?

Abbreviated from “Schoolwide Cluster Grouping Model (SCGM), cluster grouping is a research-based gifted service delivery model that addresses the academic needs of gifted and advanced learners. Groups of identified students (varying in number from 3 to no more than 10) are placed together in the core content classroom(s). In this model, every core content class in the school has a “top” group, the range of ability levels in classrooms are reduced, and both gifted and talented students and HALs receive appropriate instruction to meet their needs. In FCPS the HAL Program employs cluster grouping. Teachers of cluster groups receive specialized, ongoing professional development in instructional strategies which are proven to be most effective in meeting the needs of highly able learners.  In addition, principals, assistant principals, and curriculum leaders receive professional development in support of the Highly Able Learner Program.

What are the criteria for selection?

In accordance with Code of Maryland Regulations for Gifted and Talented Education (COMAR 13A.04.07; COMAR for GTE), FCPS screens rising Grade 6 students for gifted and talented services. Measures that determine the need for these specialized education services include those for ability, performance, and potential. Percentiles from nationally-normed ability and performance measures--as well as state testing data are referenced. Local norms are used to identify students who are academic outliers and, as such, require gifted and talented services as they transition to middle school.

Any student who demonstrates advanced academic need(s) may access advanced-level course content via the FCPS Middle School HAL Program. While the FCPS Middle School HAL Program has been in place for several years, Spring 2021 marks the phasing in formal gifted and talented identification, a continuation of the process that is currently initiated in elementary schools for Grades 3-5. The Elementary Advanced Academics Teacher Specialists work with the Middle School Advanced Academics Specialists to ensure the continuity of GT services from the intermediate to middle school levels, as well as those additional students who may require gifted and talented services. Gifted and talented identification is inclusive of students who are English Language learners and students with Individualized Education or 504 Plans.

What might HAL instruction look like for my child?

Your child will be exposed to a variety of instructional activities that promote deep understanding of content. Some of the way this may happen my include:

  • Small group work
  • Pull out/push in lessons with a specialist
  • Flexibly grouped station rotation
  • Tiered levels of assignments
  • Assignments that involve more depth and complexity and the explicit teaching of thinking skills

When students demonstrate mastery, they may also be strategically accelerated through a portion of a curriculum standard. This advanced pacing allows time to explore curriculum topics through extension and/or enrichment with greater depth and breadth.

Will my child always be aware that they are working on a HAL lesson?

Not necessarily. We hope that all students recognize that not every student in a class is always working on the same exact material in the same way.  However, sometimes teachers provide specific assignments to students in a way such that students are not aware that they have different tasks to complete.  Teachers assign lessons that have been designed to best meet a student’s academic needs, providing the right amount of scaffolding and challenge for the current curriculum standards.

Does our middle school still have an Advanced Academics Specialist?

Absolutely!  In FCPS, our Advanced Academics Specialists participate in ongoing professional learning that prepares them to support caregivers and teachers of both gifted and talented students and advanced/ highly able learners, not to mention, the students themselves. Under the guidance of the school principal, they:

  • Collaborate with staff to analyze data for the purpose of appropriate intervention(s), course placement, curriculum planning, and HAL Plan coordination
  • Coordinate, organize, and facilitate curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities for advanced, gifted and talented, and highly motivated students
  • Provide staff development to build HAL teachers’ capacity to meet the needs of their advanced and gifted and talented students
  • Work on a short-term basis with HAL students for the purpose of academic interventions and social-emotional goal setting, and other specialized supports

Who do I contact if I have questions?

Contact your middle school’s Advanced Academics Specialist with questions or for more information:
Ballenger Creek: Mrs. Christine Brown
Brunswick: Mrs. Amy Mossburg
Crestwood: Mrs. Keri Grossnickle
Governor Thomas Johnson: Mrs. Kerri Cole
Middletown: Mrs. Melissa Lippy
Monocacy: Mrs. Andrea Maruskin
New Market: Ms. Renee Heeley
Oakdale: Ms. Karen Shomaker
Thurmont: Ms. Candace Desonier
Urbana: Mrs. Emma Kaveney
Walkersville: Mr. Mark Elias
West Frederick: Mrs. Heather Kehr
Windsor Knolls: Mrs. Lori Saylor