High Achievers

Sally C. Krisel

If you had a magic wand and could change one thing to ensure the availability of great gifted education services for students in your community, what would it be? A state mandate? More funding? A wide array of service requirements based on what we know about giftedness and best practices for promoting the development of high-ability learners?

In the absence of a magic wand, I might suggest that the next best thing is a robust state policy related to gifted education. Gifted education policies provide a framework for identification, services, teacher preparedness, accountability for student learning, and program evaluation. Together, these elements should define comprehensive, equitable opportunities for high-achieving and high-potential students. A coherent set of state policies not only define issues and practices that are essential to the delivery of high-quality programs for gifted students; they also provide parents, teachers, and other gifted education advocates with leverage to demand appropriate services for gifted and talented students in their communities. Well-crafted state policies also serve as tools for local policy development, assisting boards of education, educational leaders, and parent advocates as they seek to improve their own policies.

In my career as a gifted education professional at the classroom, district,...

M. René Islas and Joy Lawson Davis

It is disheartening that, in 2016, the recognition of gifted students of color may be more dependent on the race of their teachers than their demonstrated abilities. But for those of us in the trenches of gifted education, it is clear that students’ race or socioeconomic status far too often dictate whether they will be identified and served as gifted learners. Of students enrolled in gifted programs, only 9 percent are black, whereas more than 60 percent are white. This is unacceptable.

For decades, our nation has done a poor job of prioritizing the identification of gifted students across the board. As the 2015 State of the States in Gifted Education highlighted, too few teachers receive any substantive preparation in working with gifted students before entering the classroom, and professional development support focused on gifted education strategies is minimal. If few teachers are trained to recognize the signs of giftedness, high-ability students are at a disadvantage. This is particularly true of black and Hispanic students and those of modest means, who may lack the academic and psycho-social supports to aggressively pursue the necessary services.

This study raises some interesting findings about the value of a teaching corps that reflects the diversity of...

Ronald F. Ferguson, Ph.D.

The following text is an excerpt from Aiming Higher Together: Strategizing Better Educational Outcomes for Boys and Young Men of Color, an Urban Institute report authored by Ronald F. Ferguson of Harvard University. The report proposes ways to improve the educational outcomes of boys and men of color by altering conditions in homes, schools, and communities to create “person-environment fits” that better foster achievement. Dr. Ferguson’s strategies for accomplishing this span from birth to adulthood, and concern everything from preschool nurturing to respect outside of the classroom during the school years.

In the report, Dr. Ferguson splits these strategies into three sections, one of which he calls “disproportionality and bias.”

Ferguson defines bias as the absence of neutrality. He distinguishes three types of neutrality: equal application of criteria (for example, the test scores and grades required to qualify for a particular placement is the same for students of different groups); equal quality of options (for example, the quality of instruction is the same in different tracks); and equal quality of access (in this case, the criteria are biased insofar as they do not treat equally qualified people equally). He uses these distinctions to put several issues in perspective, including tracking...

Dr. Joy Lawson Davis

At the turn of the twentieth century, scholars and politicians alike were wrestling with a new America. It was the end of Reconstruction, and race relations in the country were coming to the fore of the national conversation. Sociologists and politicians were embroiled in contentious discussions that would shape the nation’s development. Amidst the controversies were egregious theories perpetuating the belief that persons of the Negro race were intellectually inferior and, thus, not deserving of full rights and equal opportunities alongside their white peers in American society. Entering this dialogue were a small group of black scholars, some supported by white mentors, who themselves joined the cause of disproving theories of racial inferiority. These theories presupposed that individuals, based on their skin color and Negro bloodline, were incapable of reaching the upper limits of mental ability ascribed to gifted individuals.

It therefore appears to be providential that Martin David Jenkins was born in 1904 was born and by the 1920s was of an age that he may have been aware of early civil rights activists and scholars like Bond and Proctor. Martin was the only son of David W. and Josephine Jenkins. David Jenkins, a very prominent engineer, was the first Negro bridge...

Joan Franklin Smutny

Although we consider creativity and critical thinking two of the most important skills today, children often have limited opportunities to flex their creative muscles. Parents and teachers need to encourage creative children to find at least one outlet, along with venues and audiences to showcase their work. With summer on the way, now is the right time for parents and teachers to help gifted children look for ways to expand their creative horizons.

The International Torrance Legacy Creativity Awards competition is one way gifted children ages from ages eight to eighteen can nurture their inventiveness in the areas of writing, visual arts, musical composition, and inventions. Judged by professionals in those fields, the competition (now in its eighth year) has grown to include original submissions from hundreds of students around the world, including Australia, Bahrain, China, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey, and the United States.

The awards honor the fundamental contributions of psychologist E. Paul Torrance (1915–2003), who devoted his life to examining correlations between intelligence and creativity. Throughout his career, Torrance wrote over 1,500 books and articles and enabled thousands of young people around the world to realize their potential. He described the talents and abilities of gifted children in...

Last week, the Department of Education released the 2015 Nation’s Report Card for twelfth graders. As with the fourth- and eighth-grade scores provided last fall, there was little to celebrate. In the core subjects of math and reading, average scores held firm at the same unimpressive level they’ve been at since 2009. The scores of low-performers—whether defined as the proportion of students “below Basic” or those in the bottom decile—actually declined for the first time in at least a decade.

There was one glimmer of good news: High-end reading scores (whether defined as the top decile or the percentage of students at NAEP’s “Advanced” level) rose by a statistically significant margin—the first time that’s happened since 1998. Indeed, this qualified as only the second such upward bump ever for high-end twelfth graders. (Since 1990, there has never been a statistically significant jump at the high end in math or science for high school seniors.)

Moreover, this year’s high-end reading gains occurred despite all other scores (average and low-end reading and math, as well as high-end math) being down or flat across all core subjects in the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades. That fact that is itself rather unusual. High-end fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores,...

Barbara Clark

Observing what a young person is capable of is always exciting. Many of the limits we thought children had do not seem to be as absolute as we once believed. The more we study children, the more we discover that our beliefs are limited, not the abilities of kids.

Are children born gifted?

The potential for giftedness or a high level of intellectual development begins very early in a child’s life. Studies since the early 1970s consistently show that such development is the result of an interaction between the child’s genetic endowment and a rich and appropriate environment in which the child grows. No child is born gifted—only with the potential for giftedness. Although all children have amazing potential, only those who are fortunate enough to have opportunities to develop their talents in an environment that responds to their particular needs will be able to actualize their abilities to high levels. Research in psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and early learning can help parents create responsive environments that allow their children to develop their potential to the fullest—that is, to create giftedness.

Giftedness is a changing concept

Giftedness can now be seen as a biologically rooted label for a high level of intelligence, which indicates...

Lisa Riggs

Over the past year, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has published numerous articles (including a book) explaining how schools across the country are overlooking high-achieving poor students. In the age of ESSA, the role of the states and districts in serving its high-achievers is more important than ever before. In Texas, where I live and work, nearly 8 percent of children are identified as gifted and talented, but before my arrival in the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), only 4.5 percent of students were so identified. That percentage was unacceptable, so the district reinvented its approach. Its current methods—now much improved—ought to be an example of what other districts across the country can do to better serve high-ability boys and girls.

In December 2015, the SAISD board approved a universal screening assessment and matrix for all first and fifth graders for Gifted and Talented Education (GATE). Therefore, every student would have an equal opportunity to be identified for these essential GATE services. (In a district where 92 percent of the students are considered economically disadvantaged and 98 percent of students are Latino or African American, this work is even more critical.)

Identification is just the first step in...

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires a “negotiated rulemaking” process whenever the Department of Education issues regulations under parts of the law pertaining to assessments, academic standards, and several other topics. This process requires a panel of experts, which the agency assembled in March. Their work thus far (they’ve met twice) has revealed major problems on the regulatory front concerning gifted and high-achieving students. These issues need immediate attention, including close scrutiny by the lawmakers who crafted ESSA.

As Education Week explains the process, panel members “essentially get together in a room and try to hammer out an agreement with the department. If the process fails, which it often does, the feds go back to the drawing board and negotiate through the regular process, which involves releasing a draft rule, getting comments on it, and then putting out a final rule.” The Department of Education assists this process with issues papers (which provide background), discussion questions, and draft regulatory language that the panel can edit based on its discussions.

Last week, the group tackled assessments, an area of ESSA that directly affects gifted and high-achieving students. Unfortunately, in the twenty-plus pages of draft regulations and seven issue papers that accompanied those discussions,...

Allow me to let you in on a little secret from deep inside the nation's policy making machinery: Policy elites view the rise of Donald Trump—the candidate and everything he stands for—with equal parts alarm and revulsion. That's probably not much of a secret. A campaign that draws its oxygen from anti-elite sentiments probably doesn't expect much attention or affection from think tanks and serious people in education reform. Not surprisingly, there hasn't been much.

But it's well past time to start thinking seriously about education reform in the Trump era. Even if 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue becomes the one piece of real estate destined never to be festooned with the candidate's surname, the restive 2016 campaign should serve as a wake-up call. Broad swaths of Americans feel disconnected from public institutions and are convinced that policy makers don't understand or much care about them.

Education policy has done little to bridge that divide. When downwardly mobile white, working-class Americans hear us talking about education reform, it's a fair bet they don't think we're talking about them and their children. And they're not mistaken. The priorities and language of reformers—achievement gaps, no-excuses schools, social justice, and the "civil rights issue of our...

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