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Advocating for Gifted Students

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"If during the first five or six years of school, a child earns good grades and high praise without
having to make much effort, what are all the things he doesn’t learn that most children learn by
third grade?"

Susan Assouline, Ph D.
Assoc. Director, Belin-Blank International Center
University of Iowa

Take a moment to answer this question yourself. Or have your child’s educators and administrators
answer it. What isn’t learned when school is too easy?
  • Work Ethic
  • Responsibility
  • Coping with Disappointment
  • Self-Worth Stemming from the Accomplishment of a Challenging Task
  • Time-Management Skills
  • Study Skills
  • Goal setting
  • Decision-Making and Problem-Solving Skills
Every child has the right to learn new things in school!


Getting Started

As your child's parent, you are his/her first and best advocate. Here are some tips to getting started:
  1. Learn everything you can about giftedness!  Hoagies Gifted is a great place to start.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the Maryland and MCPS regulations on Gifted and Talented Education.  Likewise, familiarize yourself with the gifted education "players."
  3. Join GTA and get informed about gifted education issues and resources at the Montgomery County level. Also join the  MCCPTA Gifted Child Committee E-list - (One way, announcements only), and the GT Liaisons Listserv
  4. Familiarize yourself with your school community, its history, and politics.  Find out who the school's GT Liaison is.  Attend school meetings and Open Houses.
  5. Find out if there is a PTA GT Liaison (not the same as the MCPS/school liaison).  Every school should have one!   If there is no PTA GT Committee at your school, start one! 
  6. Post information about GT issues on your school listserv and in the school newsletter.  Identify other parents who share your concerns.
  7. Connect -- online or in person -- with other parents of gifted kids.  Advocacy can be lonely.  Build a support system for you and your child.  Remember, if you are in a school that is not parent-friendly, this is how you might be perceived:
    1. 1 person = A fruitcake
      2 people = A fruitcake and a friend
      3 people = Troublemakers
      5 people = “Let’s have a meeting”
      10 people = “We’d better listen”
      25 people = “Our dear friends”
      50 people = A powerful organization”
  8. Document, document, document. Keep records of all your interactions with school personnel.  Periodically request a copy of your child's entire school file.  You have a right to see your child's records!
  9. Learn from the special education community.  Gifted students are also a "special population"--but one without the legal protections afforded special ed.  The Wright's Law website offers many resources.  An excellent article to start with Tests and Measurements for the Parent, Teacher, Advocate & Attorney.
  10. Keep a list of books your child is reading.  A great way to do this is with www.GoodReads.com.
  11. Write that letter.  Many schools allow and even encourage parents to write a letter about their child at the end of the school year to assist in placement/articulation for the coming school year.  This is not a letter to request a teacher directly, but to describe the child's learning style, strengths and challenges.  Take this as an opportunity to reflect on and share what has and has not worked for your child.  This letter will not be retained in your child's file, and chances are very good that his/her teacher next year will not have seen it, so hold onto it.  If appropriate, share with the new teacher. 
  12. Prepare to deal with problems early.  The school year goes by very quickly.  By the time a decision is made to address a situation, the school year may be half over.  Don't allow undue delay.
The Davidson Institute for Talent Development offers an outstanding handbook entitled "Advocating for Exceptionally Gifted Young People" which contains excellent advice for parent advocates, regardless of level of giftedness.

"Magic Words"

Questions for the teacher:
  • Tell me your instructional goals for this quarter for my child.
  • Tell me what direct instruction he is getting towards meeting those goals?
Questions for the principal, if the teacher's answers are not  satisfactory:
  • Is it school (district) policy that all children receive direct instruction in reading every day?
  • Is it school (district) policy that all children have the same instructional goals?
  • Do you pretest to determine what needs a child has, and then craft instructional goals for that child?
  • What other options are there for my child to receive direct instruction by a certified teacher in reading within the school day?  
  • Can my child be moved to the next grade classroom for reading? Can s/he work with the reading specialist?  Can s/he use a different level of text/workbook?
More "Magic Words":
  • "Free and appropriate education"
  • "Accessible for learning"
  • “I believe that FERPA ensures me that I can view this document”

"Magic words" not to use:
  • "Bored"

FERPA - Know Your Rights

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. 
  • Parents or eligible students have the right to inspect and review the student's education records maintained by the school.

  • Parents or eligible students have the right to request that a school correct records which they believe to be inaccurate or misleading. If the school decides not to amend the record, the parent or eligible student then has the right to a formal hearing. After the hearing, if the school still decides not to amend the record, the parent or eligible student has the right to place a statement with the record setting forth his or her view about the contested information.

“I believe that FERPA ensures me that I can view this document” is a good phrase to have at the ready.