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Highly Capable Programming

Program Information

Washington State law requires that all school districts identify their "most highly capable" students and provide a continuum of services to those students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Walla Walla School District's Highly Capable Program provides students of high academic and intellectual ability with designated time to explore concepts in greater depth.  The goal of the Highly Capable Program is to encourage the development of higher-level thinking skills. Students learn to become responsible for their own learning, develop their creative thinking and critical reasoning power, and strive to reach their potential.

To learn more about the one-day a week pull out program you can access the family letter here:

2023-24 Explorer Program Information 

If you are new to Walla Walla Public Schools and have questions about the 2023-24 school year, please contact the Teaching and Learning department at 526-6783.

Referral and Testing Information for 2024-25 School Year

The 2023-24 highly capable referral process supports programming starting in the 2024-25 school year. Families should discuss their desire to refer their child with their child's classroom teacher and building learning specialists or counselor. 

Families who are new to WWPS should contact their child's home school Learning Specialist if their child was identified as Highly Capable at their previous school district.

In Walla Walla Public Schools we test all 2nd and 5th graders to ensure equitable access to programming. Thus, permission to test is not required for these grades. 

For any family who wants their child to complete the full referral process, please access the packets below. If you need a paper copy, please contact your school. 

2024 Referral Packet English

2024 Referral Packet Spanish

Highly Capable Identification is based on multiple factors and reviewed by a committee, including, but not limited to the following:

  • Cognitive testing (NGAT)

  • i-Ready Test Data and other available test data

  • Teacher Referrals and descriptions of highly capable characteristics

  • Parent Referrals and descriptions of highly capable characteristics

  • Test data presented from previous schools (if applicable) 

Highly Capable Identification does not guarantee Explorers or Honors placement. 

Programming Descriptions

Walla Walla Public Schools’ Highly Capable Program programming focus on two domains: 1) general intellectual growth and exploration and 2) specific academic content areas. The specific academic focus areas are mathematics, science, language arts and social studies. Students identified as Highly Capable are offered the following:

Students identified as Highly Capable in kindergarten through second grade are served through the Response to Intervention (RtI) model in their home schools. The elementary principal or designee will work with classroom teachers to provide appropriate accelerated/enhanced learning opportunities. Kindergarten through second grade classroom/program options could include, but are not limited to: alternative activities, enrichment activities, flexible group learning, independent projects, advanced lessons, online or supplemental instruction. Students who qualify for highly capable identification in kindergarten or first grade will participate in the cognitive assessment again in second grade to ensure the review team has the most current information to determine whether Explorers programming matches identified highly capable areas.

Third through fifth grade identified Highly Capable students receive services under the RtI model at their home schools depending on the area(s) identified as Highly Capable.  Some identified third through fifth grade students may be served in Explorers, a program focusing on enriched academic experiences.  Explorers is a half day pull-out program for students in 3rd and 4th grade and a full day for 5th grade students. Highly Capable identification does not guarantee Explorers placement.

Middle school Highly Capable services are incorporated into the school day through specific classes. Students are involved in inquiry-based lessons, group problem-solving settings, independent investigations and group discussions. Middle school Highly Capable students also have an opportunity to take different levels of math and science classes based on their ability, test scores and recommendations from teachers.

Students identified as Highly Capable and transitioning to ninth grade will meet with high school counselors (or principal’s designee) for the purpose of course selection and access to advanced instruction. Teachers of high school Highly Capable students will know who has been identified and will be provided with professional development and/or instructional suggestions through the high school RtI team. Services for high school students can include, but are not limited to, honors or Advanced Placement classes, Running Start or independent study.

Previously identified transfer students, with proof of Highly Capable program acceptance from another school district, are placed according to the education needs in the academic focus areas of mathematics, science, language arts and social studies.

For more information, please contact the Walla Walla School District Teaching and Learning office: 509-526-6783.

Highly Capable Learner Characteristics

Gifted children have a definite set of characteristics. You may see some of these in your child:

• Learns new material faster, and at an earlier age, than peers.
• Remembers what has been learned, often making review unnecessary.
• Is able to deal with concepts that are too complex and abstract for age peers.
• Has a passionate interest in one or more topics; would spend all available time learning about that topic if s/he could.
• Does not need to watch the teacher to hear what is being said; can process more than one task at a time.
• Is very intense. Gets totally absorbed in activities and thoughts; may be reluctant to move from one subject area to another; may insist on mastering one thing before starting another. May experience periods of such fierce concentration that he is literally unaware of what is going on around him.
• Prefers complex and challenging tasks to “basic” or “busy” work. May change simple tasks or directions to more complex ones to keep interested.
• Has many, and sometimes unusual, interests, hobbies, and collections. May have a passionate interest, such as dinosaurs, that has lasted for many years.


Highly Capable Teachers (Grade 3 through 8 program)

For questions about Highly Capable programming please contact the Teaching and Learning department first. 526-6734.

School Name Phone Email
Grade 3-5 Explorers Program Shannon Swanson-Harvey 526-1776 sharvey@wwps.org
Garrison Middle School

Beth Clearman

Sydney Wallingford




Pioneer Middle School

Stephanie Kytola

Kate VanCleve






WALLA WALLA PUBLIC SCHOOLS • 364 South Park St. • Walla Walla, WA 99362 • Phone: 509-527-3000 • Fax: 509.529.7713

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