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Top 10 Issues Affecting Gifted & Talented Education in MCPS - 2010



October 25, 2010

            The Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County (GTA) advocates for the needs of gifted and talented students in Montgomery County Public Schools.  We are looking for people to join us, to improve and expand our work.  These are the most pressing issues affecting GT education in MCPS today:

  • The “Label” Controversy:  SIPPI and GT identification.  MCPS intends to replace its Grade 2 global screening for giftedness with a similar process that identifies and monitors appropriate placement for Grade 3 students in advanced or on-level Reading and Math.  While we support better identification and monitoring of appropriate placements, we believe that placement recommendations are meaningless if there are no accelerated and enriched curricula to offer advanced students; and the gifted label is objective evidence that a large number of students need accelerated and enriched curricula. We believe that global screening should continue until MCPS routinely offers higher-level curricula and instruction in all courses, including Elementary Social Studies and Science. 
  • Revision of MCPS’ GT Policy IOA.  MCPS has never fully implemented Policy IOA since its adoption in 1995.  Now, rather than finally insist on proper implementation, the Board of Education proposes to completely revise and water down Policy IOA.  Board President Pat O’Neill has suggested that this revision process will be revived after tonight, when the Board considers SIPPI.  It is important that MCPS retain a strong Policy providing for gifted and talented instruction and recognizing GT students as a distinct population, present in every school, whose needs cannot be met by curricula that MCPS describes as “appropriate for all students.” 
  • Middle School Advanced Curricula.  MCPS recently revised the Middle School curricula.  For many Middle Schools, these new “advanced” curricula are now the only curricula.  Together with MCCPTA, we wish to preserve on-level and “truly advanced” curricula in compliance with Policy IOA and so that of all students can have appropriately-paced classes.
  • Elementary School Curricula.  MCPS is formulating its K-5 online integrated curricula. These curricula again ignore the Policy IOA mandate to have separate GT curricula for every grade and subject.  We also are concerned with the continuing failures of the Science, Social Studies and writing curricula; we question whether the excellent William & Mary program is being implemented; and we are concerned with reports that elementary schools are ending their Math 7 offering. 
  • Ability grouping.  Learning with peers of similar ability supports more efficiently targeted instruction and peer support.  Ungrouped heterogeneous classrooms put an undue burden on teachers.  Nevertheless, MCPS opposes homogeneous ability-grouped classes except in mathematics, which they acknowledge cannot be taught through grade-level differentiated instruction, and in the magnet programs, where they acknowledge that highly gifted students (which they define as 98th percentile and above ability level) cannot learn at an appropriate pace in a heterogeneous classroom.  For everyone else, in every subject except math, MCPS encourages or requires heterogeneous classrooms and pays too little attention to assuring that each classroom will have the research-supported minimum of eight high-ability students to form a peer cohort.  This makes it impossible for teachers to provide appropriate instruction for high-achieving students.
  • Benchmarks for student performance.  Challenging but attainable student performance targets spur system, school, teacher and student achievement.  MCPS’ Seven Keys to College Readiness are mid-level benchmarks, appropriate for many but not all students.  Gifted and talented students and teachers are left without a target.
  • Data monitoring and reporting.  For the MCPS bureaucracy, an objective will be pursued if—, but only if— it is monitored and publicly reported.  MCPS monitors and publicly reports its mid-level Seven Keys benchmarks.  It must also report disaggregated, school and system data for higher-level benchmarks that measure the performance of higher-ability students.
  • Equity.  MCPS works toward equal Seven Keys performance outcomes for all demographic groups.  We believe that education all demographic groups should be assessed against higher-level benchmarks as well.  In addition, equity entails supporting each child fully, whatever his/her ability; and assuring that all schools provide appropriate educational opportunities to all students, even those already achieving at high levels.
  • Division of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction.  This office formerly was charged with facilitating gifted and talented instruction; now it is tasked with facilitating accelerated and enriched instruction for “all” students.  It is important that these two roles not be confused.  As its resources have been cut, AEI has been pressured to concentrate on providing some acceleration and enrichment to traditionally underperforming demographic groups and, to assist in closing the achievement gap.  Meanwhile, the provision of meaningful accelerated and enriched instruction to advanced students in local schools has taken a back seat.
  • Board of Education.  The Board’s Committee on Special Populations (Shirley Brandman, Chair) has oversight of gifted and talented students; it has not yet considered them.  The Board resolved to consider the Deputy Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Gifted and Talented Education 2006 Report, but has not yet done so.  The Board’s Policy Committee is prepared to downgrade Policy IOA solely on the basis of its distaste for the “label” and without ever having insisted that MCPS actually implement Policy IOA.  The Board must engage with the needs of gifted and talented students.  Finally, we call on the Board to end the continual budget cuts and policy changes that are gutting magnets and other specialized programs.  MCPS expressly recognizes the need for these programs in its continuum of appropriate services, but it has been making it increasingly difficult for these programs to accomplish their mandate.