Thursday, September 18, 2014

What makes a gifted program a success?

Much of education is focused on data these days. Reformers want to move to a world in which teachers and schools are held accountable for helping students achieve gains on tests.

It raises the question for me: How would you define an effective gifted program? What would be a metric that would show it is successful?

I was thinking of this while reading some new research on how different kids perform in gifted programs. In a working paper published with the National Bureau of Economic Research, David Card and Laura Giuliano looked at what happened when children were placed in self-contained gifted classes after achieving certain criteria. You could be a "non-disadvantaged student" with the standard selection criteria of IQ>130. You could be a student receiving subsidized lunch, or an English language learner, with an IQ>116. Or you could have missed these IQ cut-offs, but scored very high on grade level achievement tests.

The researchers then looked at test scores at the end of the year. The first two groups (those selected by IQ) had not seen improvement in scores. The latter group did, with the gains most concentrated among lower income black and Hispanic students.

The conclusion is that separate, self-contained classrooms are most effective for children chosen on the basis of past achievement, "particularly disadvantaged students who are often excluded from gifted and talented programs."

Past performance on achievement tests could certainly be a criteria for gifted programs. Frankly, I'm thrilled to see any separate classes aimed at high-achievers, no matter how participants are chosen. So many schools fail to create any such environments where kids' minds can be stretched, and they can learn with their intellectual peers. It's also great to find that self-contained classes are effective at raising scores among disadvantaged students who are already doing well. Again, many schools do nothing for such children because teachers have limited time, and must concentrate their attention on kids who need a lot more help to pass grade level tests.

That said, this brings us back to the question of what makes a gifted program effective. Should it be the criteria from this study: that children's test scores on achievement tests rise over the year? What kind of tests? Grade level tests? On those, gifted kids often max out anyway, so we'd need to be looking at out-of-level tests or those without ceilings. Or should it be something else, and if so, what? Ability to create an intense, independent project? Being more satisfied with school?

I don't really know. I'm curious what Gifted Exchange readers think.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The new Davidson Fellows

Every year, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development awards thousands of dollars in scholarships to recognize great work by young people. The 2014 Fellows have just been announced, and you can read all about them by following this link.

As usual, they're a pretty amazing bunch. Sara Kornfeld Simpson, for instance, built a mathematical model that provides insight into cognitive functioning. (I thought that name sounded familiar and it turns out her sister was a fellow in 2010). Eric Chen (who I interviewed for Fast Company) did work that identified potential targets for flu drugs. While most of the fellows did science-related work, the Davidson Fellowship is unique among major awards for young people in that people can win for music, literature, and other topics too.

The top awards are extremely competitive, of course, but what's cool about big prizes for big projects is that it can lure schools into creating programs that give kids space to try such things. Many of the winners of the Davidson Fellows awards, and Intel and Siemens awards tend to come from certain schools that have exceptional research programs. But given the kind of recognition such schools get when their students win, prizes can induce other schools to try to build such programs. When kids get the chance to throw themselves into difficult, long-term projects, they often learn a lot more than they would in 45-minute science classes.

Did you ever attempt a big project during school? My sophomore year of high school, I wrote a book of short stories (they were pretty bad!) I also wrote a series of sonnets. What have you or your children worked on?