Friday, May 13, 2011

Gifted Education: Not A Smart Idea?

Over at the Globe and Mail, economist Frances Woolley wrote about some recent research into the performance of gifted students on No Child Left Behind tests. The conclusion of the research was that there were no outsized gains for these students who were just barely identified as gifted on NCLB tests... and therefore, according to the headline, gifted education may not be a smart idea.

I think Woolley and the researchers are completely missing the point.

I understand the befuddlement. An unfortunately high percentage of gifted programs don’t really offer accelerated work for gifted students. They send them on field trips or into resource rooms where you learn about mythology or some such enrichment topic. What gifted students need is academic work that challenges them to the extent of their abilities. An unfortunate number of gifted programs, operating under the idea that the gifted label is a "reward," also set the bar in a place where many kids whose needs could be served in a regular classroom qualify as gifted. We should not be particularly surprised that there are not huge gains there, or that some of these students might struggle in gifted programs that actually are challenging.

(Regular readers of this blog will also get a good laugh out of the idea that gifted kids get "more educational resources coming their way").

But most of my readers here are dealing with situations where a child would score in the 99th percentile on a grade level test. Put her in a gifted program and, guess what, she’ll still score at the 99th percentile. Because that’s as high as grade level tests go! But a good gifted program may actually allow her to interact with peers on a similar level, and do challenging work, as opposed to grade level work that she mastered years before that leaves her bored to tears. What's so dumb about that?

[Deleting the part about Carleton College -- as it's Carleton in Canada, not in US.]


'Nother Barb said...

How many gifted programs test above grade level, and allow the course - or the child - to be accelerated based on the scores? I figure not many. I finally got a handle on where my 6th grader ranks among his peers by his taking the ACT through an academic talent search. The talent search was able to tell us that, while he's at the 99th percentile across the general population, he's also in the 97th percentile among 6th graders who took the ACT through the search, and the 84th percentile among ALL the ACT test-takers. This was very helpful to us, but not to our school, who still keeps him in the 6th grade gifted math class, going at the same pokey pace. When my son suggested using summation with Sigma to solve a problem, the teacher told him "yes, but we're not ready for that yet".

When my son was in 2nd grade and a MAP test score for reading had not increased over the course of the year, the teacher said "well, he was already scoring so high that he couldn't score any higher; besides, we don't have any 2nd grade books for his lexile level." But the MAP test is supposed to be open ended; it's the reading level labels that stop. Grr.

Katie said...

The logic of their conclusions is a little baffling. I'm sure if you did a study comparing kids who just barely made it into an elite college with kids who barely didn't make it and went to their local college, you would get the same results. But, nobody is saying that elite colleges should be closed.

Anonymous said...

Woolley is from Carleton University, in Canada, not Carleton College in Minnesota. Carleton University has 24,000 students, Carleton College has under 2,000.

Seems to me that Woolley and subsequent posters are all pointing out that we don't know yet how to best serve this population of students. No Child Left Behind does not guarantee All Children Move Forward, which would be a much more inclusive and challenging program for all kids on both ends of the spectrum. Gifted programs tend towards a "one size fits all" approach, where one grade level up, or enrichment is provided at times, but there are the kids for whom that is in no way a challenge. They get bored and drift off just as easily as if they were in regular ed, except they are not and therefore "fail" to be "gifted" as that district defines it. Differentiation, a catch phrase, is an elusive critter that few teachers or districts seem to know how to deliver successfully.
All our kids deserve to move forward from where they are.. . . What's next?

'Nother Barb said...

I agree with Anonymous. Our district uses a MAP test to show advancement, but as I said, they have excuses when they DON'T show advancement: they already scored so high. What is school for, if not to learn? The gifted program is one grade level ahead, but they won't accelerate kids one grade level. If they need more, it is done via online or outside talent development programs, IN ADDITION to their regular schoolwork. Just because they haven't gotten it right yet doesn't mean it's not worth trying!

Janet said...

Doesn't anyone know how to educate these kids??? I want to serve this population in my community. My kids are grown and successfully navigated the public school system. But it seems this path grows ever more difficult, especially for a student at the upper ranges of the standard. I am a volunteer in a predominantly Hispanic school and have a passion to guide their gifted students. I read the districts guidelines for their "GT" program and it offers minimal resources and puts the total responsibility on the classroom teacher. I hear the frustration of the teachers burdened with practical implementaion of "differentiation" for 25-30 students, many of whom are performing several years below proficiency. Sadly, but not surpisingly the upper level students get shuffled aside.
I am willing to give as much of my time and energy as possible but need some guidance on how to mentor these kids. I want to teach these kids to love learning and embrace their intellectual curiosity and potential.

Heather said...

@ Janet, I think is wonderful that you want to mentor these kids! I think part of the problem is that a large proportion of gifted kids have "out of the box" thinking which makes their needs even more individualized. I started homeschooling my two kids this year--but not everyone has that option available. One of the things I found recently is SCRATCH which teaches computational thinking and programming--and is free (if you have access to computers.) It serves a pretty wide range of interests (as long as the kids are computer oriented.) such as animation, game creation, music integration, etc.

Anonymous said...

Economist like Frances Woolley are too myopic to understand the test itself is flawed and not able to truly measure the intelligence of these gifted children.

I have always been opposed to the massive amount time and money we spend in schools testing of children for this No Child Left Behind fiasco. Teachers wind up teaching for the test and not teaching what children need to know.

My daughter told me, " I wish I could go to FOCUS (our gifted program) every day! " Being with the smarter kids pushes her to succeed. She is bored when she has to spend the day learning what she already knows.

Bostonian said...

I wonder how carefully Ms. Vanderkam read the paper. They specifically address the "ceiling" concern, but she does not mention this. Here is a quote:

"One particular concern is that the lack of results may be due to top-coding of the exams.
Since GT students are high-achievers many of them may not be able to exhibit growth on
achievement tests as they are very close to getting every question correct. To address this, in
Online Appendix Figures 7 – 11 we provide distribution plots of raw scores on each of the
7th grade Stanford Achievement Tests for students with Euclidean distances between -10 and 10. In
all cases the mass of the distribution is centered quite far from the maximum score. For example
in math the modal score is 62 out of 80 while for reading it is 67 out of 84 leaving substantial
room for improvement."

Connie said...

Whether "gifted" education is smart or not is one question. Perhaps the more relevant question in a multicultural and multiethnic country is whether it is moral.

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