High Achievers

Capped by recent reports that Superintendent Dallas Dance wants to drop the "gifted and talented" label altogether, Baltimore County Public Schools' recent undoing of its elementary gifted education program is a classic example of moving American K–12 schooling in the wrong direction—and doing so in the name of equity.

Last year, BCPS jettisoned its decades-long practice of funneling high-achieving second graders into separate, accelerated math and reading classes. Many stayed on that path through high school, but it was deemed unfair because it smacks of "tracking" and gifted classrooms didn't contain enough minority youngsters.

Instead, high achievers will now remain in classes with their lower-achieving peers in grades 3–5, increasing the burden on teachers, who must "differentiate" instruction for all levels in classes with as many as twenty-five pupils.

Teachers try to cope by placing students in groups within their classrooms, differentiating by achievement or ability, and then doing their best to instruct each group in the skills and knowledge prescribed for that grade. Six times each year, they can rearrange groups based on children's progress (or struggle) in each subject.

The impetus for this change was the view that too many kids—particularly minority children—were relegated to low-level coursework with no hope...

Sally Krisel

The games of the thirty-first Olympiad are over. Maybe now I will be able to catch up on my sleep! For two weeks I stayed up way too late, spellbound by the competition between the world’s greatest athletes. I loved the world records, the close finishes, the upsets, the rivalries, and the camaraderie. I loved the emotion. But even more than these, I loved the stories—stories of athletes who excelled against the odds, who came back to compete after everyone said they were too old, who sacrificed so much to be Olympians. The stories of individual athletes kept me awake even after I was finally able to turn off the TV. As I replayed in my head the accounts of various athletes’ journeys to Rio, I reflected on the parallels between elite-level athletics and gifted education, and I thought how much we could learn about developing exceptional ability from what we saw during those two weeks.

Let’s consider just two of the athletes who delighted us during the games—Simone Biles, now the most decorated American gymnast in history, and Michelle Carter, American record holder and gold medalist in the shot put. At first glance, could two women be any more different? Biles,...

Felicia A. Dixon

Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose. — Bill Gates

How do you define success? Is it the accomplishment of one’s goals? Is it the attainment of wealth, position, honors? Is it happiness? Is it all of these, selected from a number of definitions on Wikipedia?

Perhaps more important to teachers of the gifted is this question: How do we view success for our students? Do we see it as an individual entity for each student, determined by the growth in thought and sophistication evident in the work submitted? Or do we have one predetermined definition of success against which each student’s individual efforts are measured? 

On the first day of class with gifted adolescents, do we treat them as successful individuals? Or does the student have to earn success in our class in order to merit such a distinction?   

We all know students who have not been overtly successful. Perhaps they have chosen a less-than-prestigious career and are viewed as not reaching their potential. Counseling psychologist Barbara Kerr attended a prestigious school for the “best and brightest” young people in St. Louis. She was fearful of facing her high school classmates at...

While everyone is fixated on the Rio Olympics and the impressive start that U.S. athletes have made there, it’s worth a brief detour to the results of another summer competition—this one in Hong Kong—in which the American team dominated: the International Math Olympiad (IMO) for high-school students.

More than one hundred countries fielded teams at this year’s fifty-seventh annual competition, including most of those whose students surpass American teens when PISA and TIMSS assess math prowess. And yes, it’s true that Korea, China, and Singapore placed second, third, and fourth in this year’s IMO. But the six Olympians who represented the United States won gold. Nor was this a fluke. The American team came in first last year, too. In fact, with a single exception, it has placed in the IMO’s top five every year since 2000.

Selection for the U.S. team is, in its way, as rigorous as that for the Olympics, and it is conducted through a series of assessments and competitions organized by the Mathematics Association of America.

The six kids who represented the United States in Hong Kong last month are an interesting bunch: Five of them appear to be Asian-Americans, and four attend selective-admission high schools (three...

Keri Guilbault

Editor's note: This blog was first published as a letter to the editor in the Washington Post on August 7, 2016.

A profound injustice occurs when our schools fail to meet the needs of our most advanced students—and, in some cases, actively work against these learners and their parents—as Jay Mathews noted in his August 1 column, “She is a gifted young student, so why did educators doubt her ability?

Caitlyn Singam and her family had to overcome the obstinacy of teachers and administrators in Montgomery County who doubted Caitlyn’s brilliance and erected roadblocks to her being appropriately served. Unfortunately, gifted learners often suffer similar slights and all-out neglect, even in well-regarded districts like Montgomery County.

Under last year’s rewrite of No Child Left Behind, federal law explicitly authorizes school districts to use Title I funds to identify and serve gifted students and Title II funds to train teachers in working with such students. The law also enhances reporting on the progress of gifted students, and it supports research on identifying and serving gifted children from underrepresented populations in gifted education programs.

None of these provisions offers a panacea for decades of neglect and mistreatment, but they move us in...

M. René Islas

Earlier this year, in his final State of the Union address, President Barak Obama asked, “How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity in this new economy?” Education is a powerful tool to help do that. However, we know that this is not necessarily the case for children with extraordinary gifts and talents—particularly those bright students who are racial and ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged, or learning English as a second language.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) makes positive steps toward improving the learning lives of the 3–5 million gifted students (who account for between 6 and 10 percent of the U.S. student population). An upcoming paper by Matthew C. Makel, Michael S. Matthews, Scott J. Peters, Karen Rambo-Hernandez, and Jonathan A. Plucker, leading researchers in the field of gifted education, shows that 15–45 percent of these students enter the late elementary classroom each fall already performing at least one year ahead of expectations.

In his recent letter to U.S. Education Secretary John King, NAGC Board President George Betts said, “The failure to support our best students, including supporting those who have the ability to become high achievers and challenging those who already are above grade level, has...

Janette Boazman

We hear parents, teachers, and students use the word hope every day. But what exactly does it mean? When we read or hear the word, we might think of a positive outlook or desire, yet its true definition is nebulous. It implies that something will automatically or magically occur without effort. Even though having an optimistic outlook is important to overall well-being, a person with an unstructured and immeasurable concept of hope is prey to vague expectations—as if he is a passive bystander waiting for an outcome to come about.

What happens when it is instead viewed as an active construct? Studies have found that hope, when used in a proactive manner, can become a useful framework to help achieve goals and contribute to personal and psychological health.

Positive Psychology: A Strengths Approach

Historically, psychologists have approached the study of psychological well-being from a deficit perspective, focusing on treating and alleviating pathologies. Over time, they have taken an increasingly proactive and positive approach to the study and development of individuals and their happiness. Positive psychologists focus on developing personal strengths, fostering the growth of positive responses to adversity, and strengthening social and emotional foundations in patient’s lives. They study well-being, contentment, and...

George Betts

Ensuring that highly able learners are recognized through systematic programming is of the highest importance. All teachers must be able to recognize a high-ability student who needs more depth and complexity in instruction or a referral for further assessment and services. Teachers in specialized programs for gifted learners, or those who coordinate gifted and talented programs, should be familiar with the theory, research, curriculum strategies, and educational practices necessary to sustain high-quality, classroom-based opportunities for advanced student learning.  

To help improve teaching for the nation’s estimated 3–5 million gifted and talented students, the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) has created national standards in gifted education programming and services, as well as teacher preparation.

Pre-K–12 Gifted Education Programming Standards

National programming standards assist school districts in examining the quality of their programs and services for gifted learners. Recognizing that the ongoing evaluation and re-tooling of a successful gifted program is an evolutionary process, “NAGC Pre-K–Grade 12 Gifted Programming Standards: A Blueprint for Quality Gifted Education Programs” detail a framework that focuses on student outcomes rather than teacher practices. Districts use the program standards both as mileposts for improving programs and as rubrics for evaluation.  

The standards have been endorsed...

Jesse Lovejoy

The San Francisco 49ers are taking science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to new heights for children throughout Silicon Valley.

We leveraged the powerful appeal of sports, as well as our location in the heart of the world’s tech capital, to motivate young people and enrich our community with STEM education platforms. At the outset, we asked ourselves how we could help make STEM more meaningful, relevant, and approachable to young students. We found that the best approach was to create a STEM learning platform that was unconventional in its pedagogy, atmosphere, programming, and reach. Our programs engage the full range of learning domains: physical, affective, and intellectual.

An Unconventional Atmosphere

The 49ers STEM Education Program, which opened in conjunction with Levi’s Stadium in 2014, provides K–8 learning platforms that teach content-rich lessons in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Housed in the Denise DeBartolo York Education Center inside the 49ers Museum presented by Sony, the program is committed to education and innovation that inspires students by repurposing football and the stadium as vehicles for learning.

Our field trips give sixty thousand students each year the opportunity to learn about STEM outside the classroom. The program—a...

Despite its age, this 2014 study examining high-achievers’ lack of reading growth during the school year is still relevant today—especially during summer vacation.

Researchers examined differences in reading growth between high-achieving and average-achieving students during the school year and the summer. They used student scores on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, which is administered twice during each school year and tests skills such as reading comprehension and word association.

Using national and local norms to identify high-achievers, the analysts used a sample comprising two thousand schools with 171,380 students. They tracked each from the beginning of grade three until the start of grade six, looking at their scores on seven tests from fall 2006 to fall 2009. Students were excluded if they missed a test or changed schools during the observation years. Approximately eight hundred schools and forty-thousand students met the criteria.

The key findings: Reading growth among average-achieving students was rapid from September to June, but it slowed down as the year went on and virtually halted over the summer. High-achievers saw less growth than average students did during the school year, yet that rate remained almost constant during the summer (meaning they didn’t experience the drop-off...

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