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May 12, 2008

Some of California's most gifted students are being ignored, advocates say

Carla Rivera:

If you reviewed Dalton Sargent's report cards, you'd know only half his story. The 15-year-old Altadena junior has lousy grades in many subjects. He has blown off assignments and been dissatisfied with many of his teachers. It would be accurate to call him a problematic student. But he is also gifted.

Dalton is among the sizable number of highly intelligent or talented children in the nation's classrooms who find little in the standard curriculum to rouse their interest and who often fall by the wayside.

With schools under intense pressure from state and federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind to raise test scores of low-achieving pupils, the educational needs of gifted students -- who usually perform well on standardized tests -- too often are ignored, advocates say.

Nationally, about 3 million kindergarten through 12th-grade students are identified as gifted, but 80% of them do not receive specialized instruction, experts say. Studies have found that 5% to 20% of students who drop out are gifted.

There is no federal law mandating special programs for gifted children, though many educators argue that these students -- whose curiosity and creativity often coexist with emotional and social problems -- deserve the same status as those with special needs. Services for gifted students vary from state to state. In California, about 512,000 students are enrolled in the Gifted and Talented Education program, which aims to provide specialized and accelerated instruction.

Linda Scholl @ Wisconsin Center for Education Research: SCALE Case Study: Evolution of K-8 Science Instructional Guidance in Madison Metropolitan School District [PDF report]
In addition, by instituting a standards-based report card system K-8, the department has increased accountability for teaching to the standards.

The Department is struggling, however, to sharpen its efforts to reduce the achievement gap. While progress has been made in third grade reading, significant gaps are still evident in other subject areas, including math and science. Educational equity issues within the school district are the source of much public controversy, with a relatively small but vocal parent community that is advocating for directing greater resources toward meeting the needs of high achieving students. This has slowed efforts to implement strong academic equity initiatives, particularly at the middle and early high school levels. Nonetheless, T&L content areas specialists continue working with teachers to provide a rigorous curriculum and to differentiate instruction for all students. In that context, the new high school biology initiative represents a significant effort to raise the achievement of students of color and economic disadvantage.

WCER's tight relationship with the Madison School District has been the source of some controversy.


Scholl's error, in my view, is viewing the controversy as an issue of "advocating for directing greater resources toward meeting the needs of high achieving students". The real issue is raising standards for all, rathing than reducing the curriculum quality (see West High School Math teachers letter to the Isthmus:
Moreover, parents of future West High students should take notice: As you read this, our department is under pressure from the administration and the math coordinator's office to phase out our "accelerated" course offerings beginning next year. Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

It seems the administration and our school board have re-defined "success" as merely producing "fewer failures." Astonishingly, excellence in student achievement is visited by some school district administrators with apathy at best, and with contempt at worst. But, while raising low achievers is a laudable goal, it is woefully short-sighted and, ironically, racist in the most insidious way. Somehow, limiting opportunities for excellence has become the definition of providing equity! Could there be a greater insult to the minority community?


A friend mentioned a few years ago that the problems are in elementary and middle school. Rather than addressing those, the administration is trying to make high school changes.

Thanks to a reader for sending along these links.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at May 12, 2008 10:33 AM
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