Seize the opportunity to support all gifted and talented students

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M. René Islas

As the ink dries on the recently enacted gifted education law, Public Law 17–82, Connecticut has the opportunity to lead the nation in empowering local school administrators and teachers in how to best serve our gifted and talented students.

The field of education knows what works to serve gifted and talented students, including how best to identify these students, how to appropriately use acceleration strategies and how to best prepare teachers to work with this population. Best practice guidelines called for in the law will offer direction and clarity to districts on gifted education practices; guidance many practitioners lack today.

To move this forward, we encourage state officials to follow three important steps.

First, they should remove policy barriers to learning and establish a sound statewide policy on acceleration. Research demonstrates that acceleration strategiessuch as advancing students an entire grade or in certain subjectsare one of the most effective approaches to help ensure all children, regardless of background, receive quality gifted and talented programing.

Acceleration strategies allow students to access advanced content, skills, or understanding before their expected age or grade level. Rather than load students up with more content they have already mastered, acceleration helps truly challenge these learners with more stimulating and enriched content.

Second, Connecticut must commit to providing teachers and administrators quality pre-service training and on-the-job professional learning on how to best spot and subsequently support gifted students, especially those from underserved backgrounds.

On this point, the state can leverage the designated staff member charged with supporting those on the ground who serve gifted students by focusing their energies on this significant need.

The state can assist districts in accessing and delivering such content, including through partnerships with organizations like the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), to deliver cost-effective and evidence-based professional development.

Third, the state should build on its new assessment and accountability system and monitor the progress of its gifted students. Connecticut should include high achieving students as a measured sub-group in its accountability system and establish targets for continued growth and excellence. By doing so, the state will send the clear message that all children deserve to learn every day.

By enacting Public Law 17–82, Connecticut’s elected officials have acknowledged that gifted and talented students are important. These three points are examples of how the new law can be leveraged to create guidelines that will give every Connecticut school district the information it needs to implement evidence-based and high-impact gifted education programs.

Absent such guidance, districts are largely left to do as they please and this has created a widely uneven playing field with a few haves and far more have-nots in the state’s most disadvantaged districts.

To evaluate the law’s ultimate impact, NAGC and our allies in the Connecticut Association for the Gifted will carefully scrutinize future reports for hopeful upticks in numbers of students receiving specialized gifted services. Nearer-term, we are eager to support the state in developing the best practice guidelines and with districts to put the guidelines into practice.

Public Law 17–82 positions Connecticut to become a national leader in helping school districts appropriately serve all gifted and talented children. We urge all parties to seize this opportunity to, at long last, make strides in supporting these students as they reach to achieve their personal best.

M. René Islas is the executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children.