Gifted Education in Massachusetts: A Practice and Policy Review

Dana Ansel:

Last year, the Massachusetts Legislature decided that the time had come to understand the state of education that gifted students receive in Massachusetts. They issued a mandate for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to review the policy and practices of education in public schools for gifted students as well as for students capable of performing above grade level.

The challenge that this mandate presents is that Massachusetts neither defines giftedness nor collects data on gifted students. We can nevertheless review what districts report about their practices and what parents of gifted children report about their experiences. We can also report on the state’s policies toward gifted education. In addition, we can analyze the academic trajectory and social-emotional well-being of academically advanced students based on their math MCAS scores. All of this information is valuable in painting a picture of gifted education in Massachusetts, but it is nonetheless limited.

To begin, Massachusetts is an outlier in the country in its approach to gifted education. Nearly every other state in the country defines giftedness. Nor is there an explicit mandate to either identify or serve gifted students in Massachusetts. In contrast, 32 states reported a mandate to identify and/or serve gifted students, according to the State of the States in Gifted Education. In terms of preparing teachers to teach gifted students, Massachusetts used to have an Academically Advanced Specialist Teacher License, but it was eliminated in 2017 because of the lack of licenses being issued and programs preparing teachers for the license.

We do not know how many gifted students live in Massachusetts, but a reasonable estimate would be 6–8 percent of state’s students, which translates into 57,000 – 76,000 students.1 Without a common definition and identification process, it is impossible to pinpoint the precise number. According to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) 2015-16 survey, 6.6 percent of students were enrolled in gifted programs nationally. This number includes states such as Massachusetts that have very few gifted programs, and other states that enroll many more than the average. Another source of data, a nationally representative survey of school districts, found that the fraction of elementary school students nationwide who have been identified as gifted and enrolled in a gifted program was 7.8 percent (Callahan, Moon, & Oh, 2017)

Related: Wisconsin adopted a very small part of Massachusetts’ elementary teacher content knowledge licensing requirements, known as MTEL.

Massachusetts public schools lead the United States in academic performance.

However and unfortunately, the Wisconsin Department of public instruction has waived more than 6000 elementary teacher exam requirements since 2015…. (Foundations of reading)

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 School Districts.

Compare Madison, WI high school graduation rates and academic achievement data.

The Madison School District’s “Strategic Framework”.

2005: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before:

On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”.

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

2006: “They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!”