Highly Capable (Gifted)

Program Overview

The Issaquah School District Highly Capable Program provides a continuum of services to eligible students in grades K-12. Highly Capable Program Services are different at various grades; the continuum of services is fluid and responsive to student needs as well as district capacity. Options for service may include: accelerated learning opportunities, academic grouping arrangements that provide intellectual and interest peer group interactions, self-contained classroom, pull-out and/or push-in model, AP, IB, College in the High School, Running Start, and honors classes. The links below provide further information regarding the continuum of services provided at each grade level.

Program Objectives:

Expansion of academic attainments and intellectual skills; stimulation of intellectual curiosity, independence and responsibility; development of a positive attitude toward self and others; and development of originality and creativity.

Highly Capable Program Descriptions

The Issaquah School District offers a continuum of program services for highly capable students in grades K-12.

  1. PEP (Kindergarten-2nd grade
    (Primary Enrichment Program) is offered at each elementary school. PEP services may include, pull-out or push in model, and/or differentiated instruction within the classroom. SAGE/PEP teachers provide support for these services. Students work on special enrichment projects that incorporate a high level of cognitive demand.
  2. MERLIN (3rd-5th grade)
    (Mind Education Right Left Integration) is a self-contained program located at Apollo Elementary and Endeavour Elementary. Each of the schools offers three MERLIN classes: one in third, fourth, and fifth grade. Students who live in the following attendance areas: Apollo, Briarwood, Clark, Cougar Ridge, Grand Ridge, Issaquah Valley, Maple Hills, Newcastle, and Sunset will attend Apollo. Students who live in the following attendance areas: Cascade Ridge, Challenger, Creekside, Discovery, Endeavour, and Sunny Hills will attend Endeavour. Attendance areas for MERLIN are subject to change based on patterns of enrollment. Parents are responsible for transporting MERLIN students to Apollo or Endeavour.
  3. SAGE (3rd-5th grade) 
    (Special Approach to Gifted Education) is offered at each elementary school. Students are identified for services by subject area, either math or reading. SAGE math students leave their regular classrooms for approximately two hours per week to work on a variety of enriching, challenging, and creative problem solving activities. SAGE lessons often enhance general education class lessons. Many SAGE activities are designed around hands-on cooperative learning strategies. SAGE reading students are provided differentiated instruction by their classroom teacher to meet their learning needs. Guided reading groups provide students the opportunity to read materials and receive instruction on comprehension strategies based on their individual instructional reading level.
  4. Secondary (6th -12th grade)
    The District offers a variety of options to meet the needs of highly capable students in grades 6-12. Within these program options, our goal is to provide students with academic acceleration and rigor. These options include, but are not limited to: Honors classes, International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced Placement (AP), Running Start, College in the High School, and online courses.

Nomination Process

All kindergarten students will be screened to determine eligibility for further testing for possible selection into the Highly Capable program. Parents may choose to exclude their student from screening for the Highly Capable program by completing an Opt-Out form.

All second grade students will be assessed by the District for possible selection into the Highly Capable Program. Parents may choose to exclude their student from testing for the Highly Capable program by completing an Opt-Out form.

In addition to the district nomination process outlined above, individuals including teachers, other staff, parents, students, and members of the community may nominate a child for consideration for the program.

Nominations from individuals will be accepted between September 1st and September 15th of each school year.

The District's nomination procedure for determining students for possible eligibility for the Highly Capable Program may include screening procedures as allowed under the statute.

Individuals making a nomination must use the District provided nomination form. The following exceptions will apply:

  1. Nominations will not be accepted for students who were tested for the Highly Capable Program in the previous school year.
  2. Nominations for second grade students will not be accepted as testing for these students will occur mid-year.
  3. Nominations for students new to the district who enroll after September 15 will be accepted for ten (10) school days from the enrollment date. Students enrolling after the HCP fall testing window who meet the screening criteria will be assessed prior to the beginning of the next school year.

The District provided nomination form will be available here during the nomination window only, between September 1st and September 15th.

How to qualify

To qualify for the Highly Capable Program students will be screened in their kindergarten year (for PEP service to begin in the winter of the kindergarten year and continue through 2nd grade). Students will be assessed again in the winter of the 2nd grade year (for MERLIN or SAGE service to begin in the third grade year). Once students are identified in their 2nd grade year, they continue in the program through grade 12 (unless they are exited from the program). Kindergarten screening and 2nd grade testing occur in the regular classroom within the school day. Typically, students who score in the top 2 percent or above qualify for Highly Capable Program services.

Grade Level Testing Window(see district assessment calendar for test window dates) Tests to be Administered
Kindergarten Fall Screener –mid to late October, given in classroom Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT), screener
Kindergarten Level 2 Eligibility testing–early December, given to students who meet screening criteria Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT), full battery
ITBS Form E/F, reading and math achievement test
2nd Grade Achievement testing–late January/early February, given in classroom ITBS Form E/F, reading and math achievement test
2nd Grade Cognitive testing–early March, given in classroom Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT), full battery
2nd Grade Creativity testing–early March, given in classroom Structure of Intellect (SOI)


Students who enrolled AFTER the kindergarten screening and/or 2nd grade testing can be nominated for consideration (within 10 days of their enrollment). 

Next steps

A multidisciplinary selection committee of qualified District personnel (WAC 392-170-055; 392-170-070) reviews test results, approves selections for program services, and reviews appeals. This committee, operating within the constraints of the Washington Administrative Code, strives to consider the learning needs of every student, reviewing data to get as complete a profile as possible for selection and placement. No decision about selection or placement in programming is made unilaterally. Decisions are made by a team of professionals who strive to ensure to the greatest extent possible fair and equitable consideration of all students in the Issaquah School District. They meet regularly throughout the year.

Parents will be notified following the decisions of the multidisciplinary selection committee. Parents of students qualifying for PEP will be notified in the winter of the student's kindergarten year. Students qualifying for SAGE or MERLIN will be notified in June of their second grade year.

Parent Letters

Kindergarten students will bring home a parent letter in September that describes the screening, testing, qualifying, and entrance process for the District's highly capable program for students in kindergarten-2 grade. All Kindergarten students will be screened prior to eligibility testing. Two tests are used in identifying students who are eligible for the program–ITBS Form E/F and CogAT cognitive abilities test.

Second grade students will bring home a parent letter in January that describes the testing, qualifying, and entrance process for the District's Highly Capable Program options for students in grades 3-5. Three tests are used for qualifying students to these programs—ITBS Form E/F, CogAT cognitive abilities test, and SOI Structure of Intellect creativity test. The Stanford test will be given during a January-February testing window and CogAT and SOI during a March window.

Appeal Process

The Issaquah School District, in compliance with the Washington State rules for Highly Capable Programs (WAC 392-170-076), has an appeal process. Please note: Screening decisions and/or placement decisions, as allowed under statute, are not subject to appeal.

You may file an appeal of the selection decision based on one of the following criteria:

  • A condition or circumstance believed to have caused a misinterpretation of the testing results, (for example, an incorrect birthdate or grade level used in calculation of the student's score).
  • An extraordinary circumstance occurred during the testing period that may negatively affect the validity of the test results (such as a death in the family or extreme physical ailment); this must be communicated to the district office in writing within two weeks of the end of the district testing window.
  • The suspicion of an error in the administration of the assessment.
  • A misapplication or miscalculation of the scores by the selection committee.

Appeals submitted for reasons other than above will be denied without further consideration. No outside testing will be considered.

To file an appeal you must use the Selection Decision Appeal Form. The form must be completed and returned to the district office within ten (10) work days following the notification of score results.

All appeals will go before the Appeal Review Team and you will be notified of the decision by mail. The purpose of the Appeal Review Team is to consider individual circumstances based on the criteria above, that may have impacted the student's evaluation data. The decision of the Appeal Review Team is final. It is the goal of the Issaquah School District to provide all of our students with appropriate academic services.

Exit Procedures

The Issaquah School District, in compliance with the Washington State rules for Highly Capable Programs (WAC 392-170-047), has a procedure to allow students to exit the Highly Capable Program.

The Highly Capable Program consists of a variety of models and services and therefore is dynamic and fluid. Students will be exited from the program for one of the following reasons:

  1. Parents/guardians request that the student no longer take part in the services. In this case the parents/guardians complete the Exit Request form and send it to the district office. The form will then be placed in the student's file.
  2. The student no longer meets eligibility requirements for the Highly Capable Program. Students who are identified for PEP services in Kindergarten-2nd grade are not guaranteed continuation of Highly Capable services beyond 2nd grade. The continuation of services is contingent upon qualifying for services based on new test results (2nd grade Stanford 10, CogAT, and Structure of Intellect (SOI) testing of ALL students).

Please note: in order to qualify for Highly Capable Program services in 3rd grade and beyond, all students will be required to participate in 2nd grade assessments that determine highly capable eligibility.

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