The High Flyer

Susan Rhodes

In December 2003, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Daniel Golden interviewed me about the identification and admissions policies of our district’s gifted program. I served as the gifted coordinator of a district with fifteen thousand students in pre-K through twelfth grade. I was instrumental in the movement to create the district’s first gifted magnet school for students in first through fifth grade, that opened in the year 2000. Our team had done extensive research on developing an identification process that would closely reflect the demographics of the entire district. The conversation with Mr. Golden was focused on admissions of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and the impact of No Child Left Behind. The conversation began with the mechanics of our district’s identification system and federal mandates and ended with forever changing the course of one family.

I described to Mr. Golden our district’s identification process of administering the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test to all kindergarten students at the end of January each year. In March, students receiving a score of 1.5 standard deviations above the group norm were then invited to learn more about the gifted magnet school. Teachers and parents could also nominate students who demonstrated achievement at one grade...

 
 
Frederick Hess

For the better part of two decades, school improvement has been focused on narrowing “achievement gaps” by raising the reading and math scores of low-performing students. While this charge has undeniable merit, it also carries some real costs. Among these is a lack of attention to students who are performing passably but are eager to pursue learning that stretches beyond the corners of state academic standards.

For those concerned about the failure to adequately challenge these students or push their intellectual horizons, this state of affairs has been disheartening. William Fitzhugh, founder of The Concord Review, the world’s only quarterly journal for academic research papers by high school students, is one of them. Frustrated by decades of mostly-ineffectual efforts to persuade high schools to prioritize long-form, rigorous student work, he recently offered a suggestion that’s half tongue-in-cheek but wholly worth pursuing.

As Fitzhugh puts it:

One of my favorite scenes in the movie Hoosiers is when the coach first drives into the town early in the morning or late in the evening, and he passes the HS senior shooting hoops. This student is the one who defends the coach and puts up the winning shot in the...

 
 
Joy Lawson Davis

As an educational community, we are constantly analyzing our strengths and weaknesses to determine how well we are meeting the needs of all students. Often, we measure our performance in terms of ‘growth’ and ‘gaps’. Gifted education equity advocates, school personnel, and policymakers are always on the alert for new information addressing gaps in performance and opportunities for students who are typically underserved in gifted programs. We are often discouraged when new studies or reports indicate that we are not progressing and making positive change occur for students as rapidly as we should.

A recent study reported that across the nation, black and Hispanic students continue to be under-served in gifted programs at an alarming rate. Actually, the report notes that only three of the nation’s state data indicate equitable services for black and Hispanic students. For many of us, these statistics are not all surprising. In the report, several practices are noted that appear to have some impact on addressing the ‘gifted gap’ in schools. Based on my experience and involvement with schools and communities across the nation over the past twenty-five years or so, there are at least three strategies that I would like to recommend...

 
 
Jonathan Plucker

Last week, the Twin Cities was the epicenter of gifted education policy and practice as Minneapolis hosted the sixty-fifth NAGC Annual Convention. The convention provided a time for reflection about how Minnesota and the nation fare in supporting the needs of advanced students—and what we can do better.

After years of darkness, we are fortunate that a number of new studies are providing insights into who would benefit from advanced learning, the types of programs that are most effective, and policies needed to support high levels of student achievement.

For example, in a recent study we found evidence that large percentages of students—between 15 to 40 percent—start each school year already knowing most of what will be taught that year. Without access to a more rigorous and advanced education, the odds of them developing their talents are long indeed. Boredom need not be a characteristic of a bright student’s educational experience!

Fortunately, Minnesota has been a national leader in addressing the needs of gifted students. In studies of state-level policies to support academic excellence we identified Minnesota as one of only a handful of states that provide high levels of support for gifted students across multiple criteria. This includes...

 
 

Research tells us what works to serve gifted and talented students, including how best to identify these students and how to use acceleration strategies appropriately. A new resource, Developing Academic Acceleration Policies: Whole Grade, Early Entrance, and Single Subject, offers direction and clarity to school districts on gifted education practices, guidance many practitioners lack today.

Gifted and talented children need and deserve appropriate levels of challenge and stimulation as they reach for their personal best. Unfortunately, far too many children experience low expectations in their classrooms. Recent research by Dr. Scott Peters and others reveals that up to 10 percent of children perform four or more grade levels above the grade level standards used in their classrooms.

Acceleration strategies—such as advancing students an entire grade level or in specific subjects—are one of the most effective approaches to help ensure all children who demonstrate readiness for more advanced instruction receive quality gifted and talented programming. They allow students to access curriculum content, skills, and understandings before their expected age or grade level. Rather than requiring gifted children to endure repetitive work with content they have already mastered, educators can use a variety of acceleration strategies to challenge these learners...

 
 

From the outside, Heather’s daughter was doing just fine at her suburban district school. “Teagan picked up concepts quickly and was one of her teachers’ favorite students,” said Heather. It was no surprise then, that she was identified as gifted.

While Teagan was excelling academically, she was having other challenges. “The older she got, the more anxiety she had about school,” said Heather. Teagan loved the academic side of school but found herself becoming increasingly isolated, especially at lunch and recess. Still, she found a close group of friends and was managing her way through elementary school, even if she was not being challenged to her full potential.

Things were very different for her younger brother, Cael. Even in preschool, it was clear that he was profoundly gifted. “When he got excited by a topic, he went really deep into it. Way beyond what you would see in a typical four-year- old,” said Heather. Given his love of learning, he was looking forward to Kindergarten, but school was a struggle for him from day one.

Cael was well above grade level in the subjects he found interesting. Yet it was nearly impossible to engage him in other subjects, and he...

 
 

School districts all across America have long suffered from “excellence gaps” in which advantaged students reach high levels of achievement at significantly greater rates than their less affluent peers. But some school systems are working to combat it.

One such place is Montgomery County, Maryland, a large district in the Washington, D.C., area that’s made strides in diversifying the students served by its gifted education programs. By expanding the number of seats, universally screening every third grader, using more holistic identification criteria, and selecting students based on how they perform compared to kids at their school instead of the entire district (using “local norms”), administrators increased the proportion of black and Hispanic elementary-school participants from 23 percent in 2016 to 31 percent today.

What school leaders, policymakers, educators, and advocates need to recognize, however, is that these very important, short-term changes are only part of the solution. It’s not enough to diversify gifted education offerings. The programs must also continue to challenge all of their students and maximize their potential. They must remain, in other words, excellent.

Yet one of the problems with achieving both of these aims is that various forms of inequality cause disadvantaged students, through no...

 
 
Dina Brulles

Cesar, a first grader, scored 92 percent on the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT2). Although he did not officially qualify for gifted education services (requiring a score of 97 percent or higher), the school’s gifted specialist “flexed” Cesar into the gifted cluster class because of his ELL status. Cesar attends one of the district’s Title I schools (where they have few gifted-identified students), so they were able to offer him this participation. In third grade, Cesar took the gifted test again, and with his new score in the ninety-eighth percentile, he was officially identified as gifted. Cesar continued receiving advanced academic instruction through the cluster grouping model and then in honors classes. Had he not been tested on a nonverbal assessment and then flexed into the program in first grade, his teachers may not have recognized his high potential.

Those in low socioeconomic groups remain largely underserved in gifted and talented (G/T) programs. Yet gifted and talented students span all cultures and socioeconomic groups. The inequity stems from two primary challenges. First, considerable controversy surrounds what it means to be gifted. States and school districts vary greatly in their identification procedures, program qualification criteria, and instructional methods. Second, educators wrestle...

 
 

There’s no perfect solution to the quandary that New York City has long faced in trying to inject greater equity into the most meritocratic of its schools: the nine selective public high schools, eight of which (including Bronx Science and Stuyvesant) rely on scores from a single test of interested eighth graders to determine who gets admitted. Exceed the ever-changing cut score for one of these schools and you’re in; fall a fraction of a point below and you’re out.

In one important sense, it’s completely fair, much like a school’s field day. Anyone who wishes to can enter an event, everyone who does is judged on the same metric, the scoring is objective (e.g., stop watches), and the top scorers win. In another important sense, however, it’s not fair at all, because in a city with a high school population that’s predominantly African American and Hispanic, the overwhelming majority of those who win admission to these schools are Asian and white.

That unfortunate circumstance is the result of many factors, some of them beyond the reach of public policy, much less of high school admission procedures. Other key factors, however, are led by the parlous condition of many of...

 
 

This editorial was first published by the New York Daily News.

New York City’s eight selective high schools are rightfully sought after. Most consistently rank near the top of U.S. secondary schools. Their alumni include multiple Nobel laureates. Their graduates garner bountiful acceptance letters from Ivy League universities and go on to become the innovators, job creators, scientists, and leaders of tomorrow.

Each year, tens of thousands of eighth graders seek admission, which for decades has been based solely on whether an applicant gets above a cut-off score on the city’s Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). Only a few thousand make the cut.

But the racial profile of those admitted does not remotely mirror the diversity of the city’s population. Black and Hispanic youngsters comprise 67 percent of New York City students, but just 10 percent of those who attend the eight elite public high schools. Various efforts have been made over the years to fix this, but they’ve only made small dents.

Mayor de Blasio recently proposed his own remedy: overhauling the admissions process. He would scrap the SHSAT, which is taken only by students seeking admission to the specialized high schools. Instead, he’d use New York...

 
 

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