Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Did NCLB hurt gifted students, part 2

For those of you who have waded through the whole Fordham report (see previous post) I'd like to start a discussion on the teacher survey. This is the second part of the Fordham report, and is based on questions asked of 900 elementary, middle and high school teachers.

Surveys are always somewhat problematic for a few reasons. First, people who respond may be different than those who don't respond. For instance, they may be more thoughtful about the questions being asked, have more of an interest in them, or just not be as busy. Second, people often answer questions in ways that show they agree with positive sounding statements (and then answer just as affirmatively to opposing statements that are also framed in a positive manner).

That said, the results of this teacher survey are fascinating. Among them:

1. Teachers are skeptical of the gifted label. A full 50% either strongly or somewhat agreed that "too often students are labeled as advanced only because their parents are overzealous and know how to work the system." Over 60% of high school teachers agreed with this statement.

2. Schools are not that concerned with the needs of high achievers. 78% of teachers agreed that getting underachieving students to proficiency is so important that the needs of advanced students have taken a back seat. About a third said that academically advanced students were a low priority, and 40% of high school teachers said that honors and accelerated classes were often watered down.

3. Teachers are quite concerned with the needs of academically advanced students, even if they don't believe their schools are. 73% agreed that "too often the brightest students are bored and under-challenged in school -- we're not giving them a sufficient chance to thrive." The focus group statements on this were particularly interesting. See page 52-- teachers talk about "cheating" their students and levels of frustration "when they have to sit by while we're babysitting." Noted one teacher. "It does seem that the resources, when we do get them for the higher achievers, are always geared toward things like day trips to places...The problem is that when we do get funds for the gifted students, it's always 'Take them to the science museum.'"

4. Teachers think students do better with homogeneous grouping and recognize that in-class differentiation is tough.
By a margin of 72-14, teachers believed advanced students were more likely to reach their academic potential in homogeneous classes, rather than mixed ability classes. While this fell to 46-36 for struggling students, this still tilts in favor of ability grouping for slower students as well. A full 76% of teachers said they favored the idea of homogeneous grouping for meeting students' needs. Key problems in mixed classes: 77% agreed that when they assign group projects, advanced students do most of the work. (I should note that 57% disagreed that teachers had advanced students tutor others when they ran out of things to do...)

5. Teachers recognize that they have not had much professional development on the topic of high achievers. Only 30% said they had some training, and only 5% said a lot. This is a problem because most teachers said that there wasn't a lot of special gifted programming in their schools, meaning that any teacher may be required to teach a high ability student.

6. Yet for all this, teachers are pretty negative on grade skipping, something that would remove the need for as much in-class differentiation and specialized training. While 85% liked the idea of subject matter acceleration, 63% opposed grade skipping. This is reflected in school policies. 46% said that their schools do not allow grade skipping, and 27% say they are not sure, which means that it must be extremely rare in these teachers' schools.

I find it intriguing that the majority of teachers would favor subject matter acceleration and the majority would oppose whole grade acceleration. I wonder if there is the fear of kids being picked on in gym class (though few schools have gym class anymore)? Or a way of recognizing the reality that kids need more challenge while clinging to the "community" ideal of school? (That frankly has no basis in reality -- my friends weren't all born within 6 months of my birthday).

Regardless of the oddity, this may suggest a strategy for parents looking to advocate for gifted kids: if you want a high probability of success, pick 3 subjects you want your kid advanced in, and go for broke on those. If you play your cards right, you might say that this is introducing your kid to more peers, and hence is increasing their socialization... Grade skipping will be a harder sell.


Sandra Foyt said...

I had an interesting discussion over the weekend with the moms in my mother/daughter book club. Most them are current or former teachers.

The current teachers agreed that they were focusing on the needs of average to below average students, and there is nothing they can do about it. They are not allowed to do any subject acceleration, especially in math.

One of the former teachers piped in with the tired old myth that bright students will succeed, regardless.

Others complained about how NCLB is sucking the joy out of learning as various programs are cut to prep students for the tests.

Now, some of these are teachers who are also moms of girls who are/were in the Enrichment Program. However, this gives them no advantage when speaking up about problems in our district. Actually, it's more of a disadvantage.

Of course, anyone who has read Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot's The Essential Conversation would not be surprised that teachers are at a disadvantage when advocating for their kids.

Sad, isn't it? Ignorance and apathy seem to win every time.

ienjoysoup said...

WEll... our boy joe....

He has had this.

Poor kid, they put him from his 1st grade class to a 5th grade class for reading and expected him to succeed.
He ended up feeling like a loser and the school now has something they can point to and say, "Well we put him with into his correct reading level?!?!!?"

My fault, when they suggested pushing him up 4 grade levels, I should have said, NO!

Advancing him into a class with kids that are almost twice his age, is not a good solution.

But then... what is the solution that will cost the district no money, they are not willing to spend any money on gifted kids under 4th grade.

Anonymous said...

This isn't exactly about the NCLB topic, but your point 1 set me off. I worry about watering down
of expectations to make things look better than they are. well, my kids don't fall into the highly gifted category but are a little more than bright.

However, point 1 about teachers saying that getting into GT is a result of pushy parents of bright, not GT kids, is something that I do see around here. In fact I worry that courses are getting watered down because there is pressure both from parents and from the adminstration to have high levels of GT kids. I live in a county with high test scores in a state with high test scores. For example, one third of the kids in my son's 4th grade were considered GT for math (took 6th grade math this past year). Another example is that it is the goal of the state for all 8th graders to take algebra.

At the same time GT access is very codified. They don't like kids who are beyond the district levels.
For example, my older child--who was multiplying and dividing in his head in kindergarten--was never given any more advanced course work than the standard 1 year ahead until GT started in 4th grade. That he wasn't given this was brought home when my younger child (not so extreme in math skills) was in kindergarten and the teacher made it a point to frequently tell me she couldn't introduce first grade math to kindergarteners (but she would
ask my child harder questions). It finally dawned on me that this child also was beyond the grade level even though simple addition and subtraction were her limits. And also, they can't tell me my kindergartner's reading level because they are not allowed to test them at beyond the end of first grade (level I on the FP scale). This child probably
passed I in the 3rd quarter. What in the world would happen with a child who was highly gifted in such a system?

Language arts GT in elementary school is done by pull out extension units that are not in depth enough (according to
my son) but are just a carrot to dangle in front of all the pushy parents of the 'bright' kids. They need something harder for intellectual stimulation of the GT kids that isn't so attractive.

Finally, being GT works against one if one has a disability. My older child has adhd/dysgraphia (to the point of frustration)
and it took me 4 years to get minor typing accommodation in a 504. Even though he failed the written part of his reading assessment all year, it didn't matter because they average that score with his stellar multiple choice score.

I'm not sure how much NCLB has forced this odd bright but not too bright system as I didn't have kids in school before NCLB. But I thought that times would have changed since I was in school in the 60's. Now with the codification, I'm not sure that my younger child, who is following
my pattern of learning to read---not especially early but really really fast--can experience what I did when my first grade teacher
showed me to the cool Happy Hollister books that I was ready for when my classmates were reading Dick and Jane.

Good luck to all who advocate for the GT kids of the world. I have spent too much time in advocation for the 2e, unfortunately one 'e' more than the other.

Heather Annastasia said...

As I substitute teacher, I have taken over classes for days or months at a time, and I've had experience with many different classroom styles.

Some of the things I really worry about as result of NCLB are the things that cannot be measured on standardized tests that teachers used to focus on. Cursive handwriting is falling by the wayside. PE, music, posture, manners...

Definately gifted students suffer; often because it's difficult for a creative and complicated mind to do something as simple as choose between A, B, C, or D. They often overthink the problems, which really shouldn't be a bad thing. To compensate for this, we teach them test-taking skills when we should be teaching them how to focus their creative minds to solve problems in their own "outside the box" sort of way. I really think that we are crippling our most gifted students with standardized tests. We are teaching them that there can be only one right answer, AND it's one of the options provided... How often is that actually true in life?