The High Flyer

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...

 
 

The buzz about mindsets, what we believe about our intelligence, has captivated parents and educators in recent years. Its message is powerful—if you believe your intelligence can grow, you will embrace challenges and achieve more. Yet, even as noted by Carol Dweck herself, this mighty notion of mindset can be misinterpreted. In discussions about giftedness and mindsets, there may also be misconceptions.

Research about praise tells us that when we praise students for their intelligence, they are likely to develop fixed mindset beliefs—the belief that your abilities do not change—and so, they are more likely to avoid challenges in order to maintain a smart identity. Using this premise, it has been argued that the gifted label itself is a form of intelligent praise that can influence challenge-avoidance. The very label provides the context that their strong abilities were “gifted” to them as innate, unchanging qualities.

These discussions and the popularity of Dweck’s work have influenced educators, blog-writers, and authors of books to assert that gifted students are especially fragile to developing fixed mindsets and miss the mark on achieving their potential. Others have also argued that students who...

 
 
Catherine Little

Each year, I have the opportunity to work with preservice teachers to provide a little bit of information for them about gifted education. During that workshop, someone always brings up the idea that one great way to work with advanced learners—particularly the teacher pleasers and “fast finishers” among them—is to have them help the other kids with their work. These developing professionals, along with some of the practicing teachers with whom they work, are secure in their belief that this approach is a win for everyone. Students are kept busy, the struggling student has individual support, and surely the gifted learner will benefit because “we all learn something better when we have to teach it to others.”

And yet when this idea comes up with gifted education professionals, their eyes roll and sighs are audible because “it is not a solution to giving both students an appropriate challenge”. Gifted education professionals, gifted students, and parents of gifted students raise their own concerns about this practice and the degree to which it provides benefits for the learners involved. The practice reflects implicit assumptions about educational benefits that are not necessarily well supported, and although some gifted students may enjoy it,...

 
 
Jonathan Plucker, Ph.D.

A disappointingly flawed Education Week story on San Francisco initiatives to reduce advanced learning opportunities in middle school math has garnered lots of attention. It’s called “A Bold Effort to End Algebra Tracking Shows Promise,” and was written by Stephen Sawchuk, who has a well-deserved reputation for being an excellent reporter. I was out of the country when it appeared, and I assumed it would burn itself out by now. But alas, Ed Week continues to circulate the article, and people continue to talk about it.

Advocates for advanced learning can learn a lot from the piece, both about how the media tends to cover topics related to advanced learning and how educators often justify anti-excellence policies. In rereading the article, my attention was drawn to Sawchuk’s many anti-intellectual dog whistles more than underlying problems with the district’s policies. Others have noted those problems—perhaps none better than Kurt Vonnegut in his short story “Harrison Bergeron”—so I’ll focus on the dog whistles.

1. The headline

Journalists usually don’t write the headlines that accompany their piece, but there’s nothing “bold” about the policy change described in the story. As I discuss below, the city’s “effort to end algebra tracking” is...

 
 
Rudy Crew

The world is getting more flooded by issues of disproportionality whether in education, politics, or opportunities to vote. A myriad of examples exist in the form of policies that pit people against each other rather than cause the steady increase in overall opportunities which comes with raising the bar for everyone.

In education, creating the proverbial level playing field that enables minority and low-income students to be identified and served in gifted education programs is critical. There are lots of children, children of color, children whose first language is not English, children living in poverty, who do not get access to gifted programs for all kinds of reasons. Either they never learn about these programs or they are not looked at as kids who ultimately could benefit from them. Many of these children have undeveloped abilities that may never be realized.

As M. René Islas, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children, recently said, this really is a “social justice issue…children living in poverty, and from racial and ethnic and language minorities, are not getting a fair shake at getting access to gifted services.”

A study by the National Center for Research on Gifted Education found that...

 
 

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