Questions for Montgomery County Education Decision Makers

A white paper submitted by the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County

March 2012

(See below to download PDF version)


Imagine a child entering school for the first time, who has taught him/herself to read and who can read at the fourth grade level with comprehension. In some Montgomery County public schools, he/she may be able to have reading and language arts with other students who have the same knowledge level, even if they are not the same age. In other public schools in Montgomery County, the educators “don’t believe in” grouping students for instruction, and that child may spend his/her time helping other students or reading alone.

Imagine a child who is able to quickly absorb mathematical concepts and who is forced to sit through repetitive math worksheets assigned for students who need repetition, when s/he could be mastering more than a year of curriculum within the space of one school year.

Imagine a student reading at a high school level and attending a middle school with only one level of science and social studies classes.  Those classes may have a mix of reading with comprehension levels ranging from below grade level to four or more years above grade level.  The advanced student in that class is more likely to sit passively or be a helper to other students than to be challenged and learning new material at his/her own pace. 

A child is in school to learn, not to sit quietly unchallenged or to tutor other students.  The Montgomery County Board of Education and Montgomery County Public Schools have the responsibility to provide education programs that will Challenge Every Child, including the gifted and talented/advanced learners from all socio-economic backgrounds, every day. [1]

On February 28, 2012, the Maryland State Board of Education adopted COMAR 13A.04.07 Gifted and Talented Education, which requires local school systems to identify and provide services for gifted and talented students. [2]  MCPS Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr is seeking community input on directions for MCPS.  This is a good time to ask MCPS education decision-makers, including the Montgomery County Board of Education, about their views of the future for MCPS provisions for GT students.

 

This paper presents six questions and background for each question.  Please join us in asking MCPS education decision-makers and educators, including teachers and administrators and union representatives, these questions.  (Joshua_Starr@mcpsmd.org)  (boe@mcpsmd.org) (dprouty@mcea.nea.org)

 

Question 1: Do you support continuation of the MCPS Grade 2 global screening of all students for giftedness and making the results available to parents and educators?

 

MCPS has had for some years a process for screening all 2nd grade students for giftedness.  The word “gifted” as used in MCPS is a short hand way to refer to students defined as “gifted” and entitled to be served with “different services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program” under Maryland law and under MCPS Policy.  The word alerts educators and parents to the fact that a student has particular education needs that must be met if the student is to reach her/his full potential.  The word “gifted” also serves as a key to unlocking access to online and other resources/information parents and educators can use to help these students.

 

Question 2:  What specific steps would you take to address the fact that African American, Hispanic, English Language Learners, lower income and students with learning differences are underrepresented in the numbers identified as gifted and talented and in gifted and talented programs in MCPS?

 

Identification of a proportionate number from all subgroups of students who are “…performing, or showing the potential for performing, at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with other students of similar age, experience or environment” has been a challenge not only in MCPS but also across Maryland and nationally. [3]  MCPS has found that the impediment is not the regime by which students are identified. MCPS has long had a program to nurture and increase identification of these  students. MCPS does not eliminate disproportionality in other programs by eliminating the programs themselves (e.g., Calculus B/C, AP).  [4]

 

Question 3:  What specific steps will you take to ensure that all gifted students in their home schools will receive the education they need to reach their full potential?

 

MCPS has a number of application magnet programs for highly gifted students at the elementary and secondary level and is to be commended for this.  However, these magnet programs do not serve all MCPS gifted students.  Many choose to remain in their home schools or are forced to do so by the limited number of available spaces in the magnet programs.  At present, there is wide variation in the ways local schools provide or do not provide for gifted students.  Appropriate instruction must be provided in all local schools for all gifted students from all demographic groups.  This is an equity issue.


Question 4: Do you support flexible grouping for instruction within and between classes and grade levels in schools so that students are taught core subjects with other students who have a similar mastery of the material? 

 

Most gifted education includes a variety of flexible grouping options where students can move in and out of specific groups both within and between school years. [5]  Flexible grouping maximizes the amount of  time teachers can spend with each student.


The notion that “differentiation in heterogeneous classrooms” can meet the needs of all students, including   the gifted and talented, is a fallacy that has been discredited by both research and experience. [6]

 

Question 5:  Do you support content and grade level acceleration as options for meeting the needs of gifted students?

 

Acceleration is an option for meeting the needs of gifted students that has been used successfully for  decades and is one of the “appropriately differentiated programs and services” mentioned in COMAR13 A.04.07, section .03 A, and required by MCPS Policy IOA.

 

Question 6:  Do you support MCPS Policy IOA Gifted and Talented Education (1995) as a road map for MCPS implementation of COMAR 12A.04.07 Gifted and Talented Education?

 

Policy IOA was designed to ensure that all gifted and talented students in all schools in MCPS would be identified and would receive the education services they need to develop to their full potential.  The policy was designed to ensure that “accelerated and enriched curricula will be provided to all students who have the capability or motivation to accept the challenge of such a program.”  (§ C.2.a).   Policy IOA reflects today, as it did when it was adopted, national standards in gifted and talented education.

 

Conclusion and a Call to Action

 

Decades of research and experience have demonstrated that gifted and talented students need educational services that go beyond what is normally provided in the regular school program in order to be appropriately challenged and develop their full potential.

 

Gifted and talented students, like all students, need to be challenged and need to learn something new every day if they are to reach their full potential.  This is a legal requirement as well as a moral imperative for public schools in Montgomery County and in Maryland.

 

Are you ready to help improve gifted and talented education in MCPS?

 

We urge you to join the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County, Inc. (GTA) in asking MCPS education decision makers the questions outlined in this paper.  It is important that MCPS education decision makers and educators, including teachers, administrators, hear these questions often and from many people across the county.  The more times these questions are asked, the better the chance will be to strengthen provisions for gifted and talented students in all schools in MCPS.

There is strength in numbers!  Become a member of GTA, a 501(c) (3) organization that advocates for meeting the instructional needs of gifted and talented and higher-achieving students in Montgomery County Public Schools and serves as a resource on giftedness for parents, educators, and other interested parties in the community.  We invite parents, educators and community members who support appropriate programming for gifted and talented students in Montgomery County Public Schools to join us.  More information is available at http://www.gtamc.org/ . 

Challenge Every Child is a guiding maxim of GTA.  More than 800 people have already signed the GTA petition:  Challenge Every Child.

Sign the Challenge Every Child Petition at http://www.gtamc.org/challenge-every-child




[1] The Maryland Annotated Code §8-201 defines “gifted and talented” for Maryland:  “…gifted and talented student means the elementary or secondary student who is identified by professionally qualified individuals as:  (1) Having outstanding talent and performing, or showing the potential for performing, at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with other students of similar age, experience or environment; (2) Exhibiting high performance capability in intellectual, creative, or artistic areas; (3) Possessing an unusual leadership capacity; or (4) Excelling in specific academic fields.”

Maryland Annotated Code §8-202 states that:   “(1) A gifted and talented student needs different services beyond those normally provided in the regular school program in order to develop the student’s potential; and (2) Gifted and talented students are to be found in youth from all cultural groups, across all economic strata, and in all areas of human endeavor.” 

[2] This COMAR, which has the force of law, requires that:

·       .02 A.  Each local school system [LSS] shall establish a process for identifying gifted and talented students as they are defined in Education Article §8-201, Annotated Code of Maryland.

·       .03 A.  Each school system shall provide different services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program in order to develop the gifted and talented student’s potential.  Appropriately differentiated programs and services shall accelerate, extend or enrich instructional content, strategies, and produces to demonstrate and apply learning.

·       .06.  Local school systems shall… report in their Bridge to Excellence Master Plans their goals, objectives and strategies regarding the performance of gifted and talented students along with timelines for implementation and methods for measuring progress.

[3]  However, using disproportionate identification in subgroups as a reason to abandon entirely the effort to identify/recognize highly able learners would only serve to increase the number of gifted students who do not receive the education they need to develop their full potential, including the very students the opponents of identification say they are trying to protect.

[4] The importance of identifying and providing services to help all gifted and talented students, particularly those from historically underrepresented subgroups, including minorities, English language learners, lower income and students with disabilities, including GT/LD students, reach their potential cannot be overemphasized.  For example, a 2007 report found that many academically talented students from lower income backgrounds fall behind their higher income peers because education systems do not provide them the support they need to do well.  Wyner, Joshua S., Bridgeland, J. M., and Diiulio, J. J., Jr. (2007). The Achievement Trap: How America is Failing Millions of High-Achieving Students from Lower-Income Families. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and Civic Enterprises.  Available at http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Resources_id_15614.aspx

[5] Flexible grouping for instruction is not the same as arbitrary “tracking,” a practice long deemed unacceptable.  Fiedler et al state  “…tracking results in students being assigned full-time to instructional groups based on a variety of criteria, including presumed ability derived from achievement test scores and teacher observations of class room performance….Once students are in a certain track, there is very little movement between tracks during a school year or from one school year to another.”  [Fiedler, E. D., Lange, R. E., & Winebrenner, S. (2002). In search of reality: Unraveling the myths about tracking, ability grouping, and the gifted. Roeper Review, 24, 108-111.]  With flexible grouping for instruction, students are grouped to allow teaching to a common instructional level, and there are frequent reevaluations and opportunities for movement from one group to another as needed.  MCPS guidelines indicate that eight is the minimum number of like-ability students necessary for successful cluster grouping within a multi-instructional level class.  However, random heterogeneous class assignment practices rarely achieve this.  If a minimum eight-student critical mass of highly-able students cannot be placed in any classroom, then alternate instructional arrangements, such as cross-class groupings or grade-skipping, must be made to serve these students.

[6] The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) 2008-09 State of the Nation in Gifted Education summary found that “Only 10% of teachers report that advanced students are likely to be taught with curriculum and instruction specially designed for their abilities (compared to 51% who report struggling learners receive such curriculum).   Available at http://www.nagc.org/uploadedFiles/Information_and_Resources/State_of_the_States_2008-2009/2008-09%20State%20of%20the%20Nation%20overview.pdf. 

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GTA Administrator,
Mar 16, 2012, 8:28 PM