9 Reasons Why You Should Accept the the HiCap Placement

and some considerations for your decision

First, some terminology. “HiCap” is shorthand for highly capable. Highly capable is the term in WA state for students who perform or show potential for performing at significantly advanced academic levels. Students can receive a HiCap designation in math, reading, or both. 

A student who receives a designation in one area is often called single-qualified. For these students, if their school hosts the HiCap integrated model at their grade level, they will receive services in their subject area at their home school. Math will use a “walk-to” model where the student may go to another same-grade classroom during math instruction time. Reading services will be provided in the student’s home classroom. For students whose school does not host the integrated model at their grade level, no formal services are provided but the classroom teacher will provide differentiation within the classroom. This is very teacher dependent and can range from a little to a lot.

A student who receives a designation in both is called dual qualified. Most dual qualified students will be offered placement in an integrated HiCap classroom. This might be at the student’s home school, or may be at another site in the district. Incoming 5th graders and some 3rd and 4th graders will be offered a placement in a self-contained HiCap classroom (often called EAP). All other dual qualifiers will be offered placement in an integrated classroom. Math will use a “walk-to” model where the student may go to another same-grade classroom during math instruction time. Reading services will be provided in the student’s home classroom.

For complete details on which school and grade have which programs and on the integrated HiCap classroom model, see the district website here. If you are considering placement in a self contained HiCap classroom you may want to read the document on the HiCap Parents Council website called “11 Reasons Why You Should Take the EAP Spot” here. This post will address the district’s integrated HiCap model. 

The way highly capable services are delivered in Northshore is changing, but we as a HiCap Parents Council still feel that, for most kids and most families, you should take the HiCap spot. Here are some reasons why, and considerations as you make your decision. 

1. If your kid qualified, they are ready academically. The qualification criteria are high. If your kid passed the bar, they will do fine. In fact, we see plenty of kids who really SHOULD qualify and would benefit tremendously from a HiCap classroom, but for one reason or another can’t seem to pass the district test. (If this is your kid, or perhaps a sibling, please reach out – there may be a hidden learning disability at play that can be quite difficult to suss out in a high IQ kid because they can compensate so well. It’s worth figuring this out while they are still young and therapies are more effective. Vision processing issues are a huge hidden culprit – covd.org)

2. Everyone needs to find their tribe. The academic benefits are obvious, but many parents are surprised to learn that HiCap services can provide social benefits as well. Whether your kid is a social butterfly in their home school, or whether they have struggled to make friends, both kids (and parents!) are surprised at how much they have in common with other HiCap kids (and parents!). In the integrated HiCap cluster model, each class will have at least seven HiCap-qualified kids in it. Whether it’s playing quirky, imaginative, involved games on the playground, telling abstract jokes, using advanced vocabulary in everyday conversation, or getting deep into a debate in the classroom, these kids often need access to peers with whom they have things in common in order to make friends and have a chance to develop their social skills. 

3. Do the math jump early, not late. Accepting highly capable services as early as they are offered is by far the easiest and kindest way for a kid to get on the accelerated math path. A kid who is in the integrated HiCap cluster model accelerates ahead only one year the first year (2nd and 3rd grade math are compacted into the 2nd grade year), and fourth grade compacts 5th, 6th, and part of 7th grade math into one year, so kids actually don’t “miss” much in math. HiCap math students who have been in accelerated math in 5th grade automatically qualify for algebra in 6th grade or can opt for a second year of Pre-algebra 2 in 6th and take algebra in 7th. Even kids who enter HiCap math later, in 4th or 5th grade, have way more support from elementary teachers to catch up than they would by leaping into algebra in 6th or 7th grade. Practically speaking, kids make the math transition really well, and no, you don’t need to spend the summer prepping them. The teachers will take care of it. (If you want to do some prep anyway, try KhanAcademy.com, or the district provides links to online district math curriculum under services at http://nsd.org/hicap. Just be sure to log in with your kid’s school Google account for access.)

Note that for 4th and 5th grade, an online accelerated math program is available in all elementary schools. This program uses the Edgenuity software. During their regular class math time, HiCap math students will do their online math class instead, which is largely self-paced. They will also attend occasional zoom sessions with a Northshore math teacher who provides additional differentiation and support, particularly for any missing skills that may need review. These teachers are hand picked by the HiCap department and are fabulous, but we know that online math does not work equally well for all students. However this online approach will fully prepare a student to enter algebra in sixth grade and is available in all schools. 

For some students, algebra in sixth grade is not the right choice. For some things to consider, read our other doc here.

4. Advanced, accelerated curriculum that goes deeper. Not only do HiCap kids accelerate in math, but they should receive instruction that is one year advanced in the NSD’s approved Into Reading curriculum, including instructional supports to allow teachers to differentiate for their cluster of HiCap reading students. In comparison, schools not using the integrated HiCap cluster model do not typically accelerate at all. Rather, general education teachers are asked to provide more enrichment/depth instead of acceleration. Some may provide some exposure to accelerated topics via computer software. How effectively this is done seems to vary tremendously by school/teacher, and we have heard a lot of frustration about neighborhood school HiCap services over the years. 

By the way, HiCap homework load is not high – by design. The goal is not more work – but different work. You’ll find HiCap homework very similar in volume to homework at your neighborhood school, but students will be working at a level that will provide an appropriate challenge.  

5. Make friends that will continue to middle school together. In the past, HiCap sites were placed where there was the most space in the district, typically in the south and east edges of the district. This created transportation headaches and meant that some HiCap 5th grade classrooms were splitting up to go to as many as 5 different middle schools, making for a rough social transition into middle school. Now, as the district moves towards regional HiCap sites, with at least one HiCap site inside every middle school feeder pattern, and often several, this is less of an issue. If you attend your assigned regional site, your student’s entire class will move on to one middle schools together, making for a smoother middle school transition. Exceptions to this are Canyon Creek and Hollywood Hill which split across two middle schools. 

6. Transportation, for real. For many years now, the district has been providing full transportation for all HiCap students attending their assigned school. By far this was the biggest complaint about HiCap in the distant past, and we are exceptionally lucky to have a district that was committed to fixing this. Transportation will still be provided for dual qualified students who need to attend a different school for integrated HiCap services with walk-to-math. 

7. Prevent middle school underachievement by providing genuine challenge in elementary school. Many kids new to HiCap services have an adjustment period the first month or two where they experience actual challenge at school for the very first time – ideas, topics, and work that does not come naturally or intuitively for them. You want your kid to learn how to deal with challenge as early as possible, when you can more effectively coach them and help them over the bumps. Kids who never have the opportunity to develop these critical emotional coping skills, persistence, picking yourself up and trying again, time management, study skills, etc. are at huge risk for underachievement and other issues in middle school or high school when they finally encounter subjects that are not intuitive for them. Underchallenged kids can easily develop the belief that being smart means everything will always be easy for them. When they are eventually faced with a situation where it doesn’t come easy, and they really have to buckle down to be successful, they may have an identity crisis – “Uh oh, this isn’t easy, so I must not be smart after all.” Sadly, not all kids rise to the challenge – the underachievement rate in our population is high. We have counseled many parents whose middle schoolers or high schoolers stopped engaging at school, skate by with C’s, yet clearly are capable of so much more – and were straight A elementary students. We are not doing our kids any favors long term by letting school be “easy” for them. The foundation of these crucial life skills is built in the elementary years; the longer you wait for your kid to experience challenge at school, the harder it will be for your kid in the long run.

8. Yes, HiCap is even for 2e kids with a 504 or IEP, and those with an undiagnosed learning disability. A HiCap kid can also have a learning disability (called “twice exceptional” or 2e) and may already have a 504 plan or IEP in place to support their needs, or may need to get one in the future. A learning disability or other special need is not a reason to stay out of HiCap. In fact, being in HiCap may even speed discovery of an underlying disability. When school material is actually challenging, disabilities become more noticeable. Just like for any kid, early intervention for disabilities is more effective – the trick is realizing it’s there. HiCap kids can compensate for disabilities so well that parents and teachers can sometimes be completely unaware – until eventually the work gets hard enough and the student hits a brick wall, usually in middle or high school, and sometimes not until college. It’s tough to figure out a learning disability with a prickly adolescent. You really want any issues to surface earlier so you can get accommodations and intervention on board when it’s going to be most effective.

9. Changing schools isn’t as hard as you think. The social transition of changing schools can be a big concern for kids and families - leaving friends, making new ones. For some reason, families of girls seem to have particularly strong concerns about leaving friends behind, especially if the girl has struggled socially in the

past, but also if the girl has developed a strong network of friends that are hard to leave. In fact, most kids, girls and boys, do BETTER socially when they can connect with peers they have things in common with, because they finally find their “people.” Participating in back to school events at your new school goes a long way to easing the anxiety. The hardest part of changing schools is often for the parents to make new friends—not the kids. The answer to that is easy: join the PTA, volunteer, get involved. Just because the HiCap school isn’t your neighborhood school doesn’t mean you can’t be PTA president, run the chess club, or bring over a great new idea from your old school. Jump right in, and welcome!

Read More on the HiCap Parents Website


• Join the HiCap Parents Mailing List

• Join the “NSD HiCap Discussion” group on Facebook

• Read articles and get resources

• Contact your school/regional representative

• Get involved!