Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Should the progress of gifted kids be tracked?

I've been reading in a few different places about the TALENT Act, a bill in Congress that would require states and schools to measure the progress of students who score above grade level on standardized tests. The progress of these students would be reported on state report cards. The idea is that, while No Child Left Behind has done a reasonable job of tracking the progress of students scoring below grade level, anyone above grade level is deemed to be doing fine. If the proportion of students scoring at the highest levels goes down, that doesn't trigger any problems under the law.

It's an interesting idea. You can read an editorial in favor of the idea over at Education Week here. The author, Frances R. Spielhagen, writes, "As a former high school teacher and coordinator of programs for gifted students, I know firsthand the frustrations of the very capable student who must slog through drill-and-kill reviews every fall while teachers ensure that everyone is up to speed and ready to move forward."

What all this gets at is that schools should be serving a "value-add" function. There is no particular glory, as a school, in getting students who are all from well-educated families, and then producing students who score reasonably well on grade-level standardized tests. If you got kids who were on average one year above grade-level, and cranked out kids who were performing at two years above grade-level, that would be more remarkable. Likewise, a high-poverty school that produces students scoring at grade level, when similar schools score far below, is adding quite a bit of value.

People track these kinds of things in other spheres, and it certainly seems possible to track it in education as well. I hope we'll be moving toward the day of high-tech testing, when the tests respond to the student, and we figure out exactly where a student is, and can monitor progress more closely. Laws, though, are blunt ways to get at this idea.

On a personal note: I have a new book out today (March 1)! It's called "All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending," and it's published by Portfolio (part of Penguin). The book looks at money as a tool for building the lives we want, and argues that money can buy happiness (usually) if we spend it right. If you enjoy my writing here, I'd appreciate if you'd check it out. There's more over at my personal blog,


Robin York said...

Student privacy has already been sacrificed to the data gods anyway. I wonder about the need to specifically track gifted kids. As of Jan. 2012 ferpa regulations have been so radically altered as to no longer serve the function of preservation of student privacy but rather as a tool of widespread dissemination of PII without parental knowledge or consent. Groups as diverse as the Natl Assn of Independent Colleges and Universities and the American Principles Project have cataloged the dangers inherit in the current climate of data compilation.

Anonymous said...

Many gifted children were taught by their parents. My parents read to me every night and subscribed to online courses even when I was 6.
So I don't think tracking would do much good.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure our school gives any standardized tests that measure above-grade level work., at least not any more. In the past year alone, many of the standardized tests they used to use have been abandoned. In a state where gifted services are neither mandated nor funded, it's unclear to me what would be gained from tracking gifted students.

'Nother Barb said...

What if, instead of No Child Left Behind, or tracking specifically high-achieving students, we simply ensured that EVERY Child Makes Progress? Children with learning delays, typically developing children, and accelerated learners, would not be judged based on their age, but by their achievement.

Meg said...

I absolutely think schools should track the progress of gifted kids in high school and in the classroom. Gifted kids are often not well served in the classroom. I don't think that standardized tests have any ability to measure this howeve. If a child is already maxing out the test or is testing at college level in elementary school, what kind of growth could be expected? Further, gifted kids are not immune from making errors in math or even in reasoining. Thus, it may appear a student is losing ground, even if they are not.

For high achieving gifted kids, the testing will have little value. For kids that have more problems as students - with getting the work done, with mechanics like writing, with attitude - such testing may help schools figure out how to reach gifted kids who are falling off the tracks.

I know that is not the function of this kind of testing, but to me it is critical. How can we tell if these programs are effective and/or worth the money if there is no information on student outcomes.

'Nother Barb said...

Our school district has never
put much stock in our state's standardized measurement because our students always score so well; i.e., 99% of our students either meet or exceed the state Math Standards. This has not been a useful diagnostic measure for our schools or teachers: How do we improve on 99%?

Our state is adopting the National Common Core, which will be assessed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). I have yet to hear from our district gifted ed coordinator how this relates to the Talent Act, but it sounds like they go together.

K-Man said...

Many public school administrators have the attitude that "all children are gifted" or, conversely, "we don't have any gifted children".

With such attitudes as a continuing problem, it's hard to imagine most school systems bothering with tracking the progress of gifted children specifically.

This is the inevitable result of the pervasive egalitarianism in public schools and to a lesser extent in everyday American life, along with generally lowered expectations of all students.

This is also the inevitable result of education majors having, of all university majors, the lowest SAT and ACT scores, lowest high school grade point averages, and worst academic performance at university. Most of them don't even begin to qualify as gifted or even bright; why should they care about children who are far smarter than they? And why should they track such students?

lgm said...

Yes. The progress of all children should be tracked. If capable children can't be grouped by instructional need, set them free. Offer them an online school where they can work at a level they need, instead of being stuck in the included classroom with those far below grade level. Why waste their time?