High Achievers

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...

  • Darius Brown’s educational biography, featured last week in the Dallas Morning News, should be encouraging for reformers. It’s the story of a bright young Texan from modest circumstances who, through his own talents and the prodigious advocacy of his single mother, took part in his district’s gifted program and won a Gates Millennium Scholars award and matriculate to Texas A&M. Unfortunately, his story isn’t representative—even though they account for 6.5 percent of the state’s students, black boys like Darius make up less than 3 percent of those enrolled in Texas’s gifted programs. One of the main reasons for the discrepancy is that too many states and districts still rely on referrals from teachers and parents for screening into such programs, rather than spending extra and instituting universal screening. As Jay Mathews argues in the Washington Post, settling for this narrower pool leads to gifted classrooms that are significantly whiter and more affluent. Above-average intelligence is a category of special learning need; the only thing setting it apart from, say, a physical disability or a lack of English fluency is that it doesn’t always make itself known. That’s why we need to do everything we can to identify and
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M. René Islas

Children with extraordinary gifts and talents experience drastically different needs. We parents, teachers, and advocates often get nervous calling attention to bright children, and we often fall into the trap of working under the radar or even making ourselves invisible.

When we do this, we pull smart kids into the shadows with us. Hiding hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work in the future. A new approach is required to meet the needs of gifted children. We should borrow the strategies and tactics that other movements—such as civil rights protesters, suffragettes, and environmental activists—have successfully used to inspire social change. It is imperative that we emerge from the shadows and work openly on behalf of gifted children.

As advocates, we must try new strategies and tactics to help society fully understand the nature and needs of gifted children, to create supportive environments for their learning, and to implement research-based practices that help them capitalize on their talents.

In short, we must change minds, change policies, and change practice. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) will drive initiatives to accomplish these important goals through our action and collaboration.

Change Minds

The first goal is to dispel common myths, to expand the...

Scott J. Peters

Gifted education has an identity problem.

If you ask many people, gifted programs exist because “gifted” students have unique needs. But what does this mean? And what is the overall purpose of K–12 gifted education? Even within the gifted education community, the actual outcomes of “gifted” programs are too often unclear, leading to charges of ineffectiveness at best and outright discrimination at worst.

Competing priorities

In one sense, gifted services exist to develop advanced abilities—to provide interventions to those students who need them in order to develop excellence. Some students have unmet academic needs, that’s where gifted education kicks in. Makes sense, right? However, the kids served in gifted programs are disproportionally from white, Asian, and higher-income families. This is a problem for political and advocacy reasons, but also because the majority of American students now come from low-income or racial/ethnic minority families. If the U.S. educational system can’t develop the talents of African American, Latino, or low-income students, what good is it?

In gifted education, there is often tension between two implied goals: developing excellence and promoting equity. In a recent Gifted Child Quarterly article, my colleague Kenneth Engerrand and I tried to come up with a way

  • Elite public academies like Boston Latin, Stuyvesant High School, and San Francisco’s Lowell High School have long been acclaimed for the top-flight academics they offer to applicants who pass their rigorous entrance exams. Lately, however, they’ve been receiving some unwanted attention: Many now argue that the schools’ admissions practices should be altered to cultivate student populations that more closely reflect the demographics of their host cities. Of course, the issue of race and selective schools isn’t a new one, but it has recently burned so hot that people have begun losing their jobs. PBS’s Newshour, in collaboration with Education Week, has a fine roundup of the debate. One point that’s beyond dispute, however, is that major urban K–8 systems need to do a much better job preparing students of color to enter our best high schools. This objective may call for enhanced gifted-and-talented programming, more funding for magnet schools, and a commitment to a form of academic tracking in the early years. Whatever the ingredients, the aim should be higher-achieving kids.
  • Education Week’s terrific coverage has actually earned double honors this week, as we hasten to recommend that you check out their special package
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M. René Islas and Del Siegle

Earlier this month, the Department of Education released new data exposing the uneven suspension rates and limited learning opportunities faced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Secretary John King is right in saying that the American education system is guilty of "systemic failure" in educating children of poverty and color.

As if locking students out of class through suspension weren’t bad enough, data from the federally funded National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE) reveals an even more hidden and wicked form of marginalization: the exclusion of poor and minority students from advanced academic programs. According to the NCRGE research, it is virtually impossible— a less than 1 percent chance—for low-income, minority English language learners to be served in gifted and talented programs.    

We are optimistic about the true motivations of our nation's educators, and we hope that the narrowing of opportunities for disadvantaged students was inadvertent. It is high time that we rally to implement programs that recognize, support, and develop the talent of children from all backgrounds so that they achieve their full potential.

M. René Islas is the executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children. Del Siegle is the director and principal investigator of the University of Connecticut's National...

Thomas P. Hébert

During my first year at the University of South Carolina, I often purchased a morning cup of coffee in the university’s student union. Early one morning, I spotted a young man dressed in a business suit and bow tie carrying on an animated conversation with a group of undergraduates. I had regularly encountered the young gentleman—with his ubiquitous bow tie—as I traveled across campus. Eventually I learned he was Chase Mizzell, a leader in the university’s student government. As an avid reader of the school’s daily newspaper, I was able to follow this charismatic young man’s political career.

In reading the Daily Gamecock, I discovered that Chase was an Honors College student from Folly Beach, South Carolina, and a sophomore enrolled in the international business program. I learned that during his freshman year, he was having lunch in the restaurant in the Honors Residence Hall and noticed extra food being carried away at the end of the lunch shift. He asked food service employees what became of the leftovers and discovered that they were thrown away. Chase knew immediately that he wanted to change that. Realizing that the city of Columbia faced the challenges of a growing homeless population, Chase began...