I'll say that again; there are children - especially those of color - who are not being found and served. THAT is the real issue.
(Editor's note: we are going to have a calm discussion here, looking for solutions. If your solution is to dissolve the program, certainly say that but please have a real reason why.)
There are other threads where we could rehash history but let's go to the Cliff Notes and then onto discussion. (I do plan another thread on race and equity in this district as the issue of HCC seems to be some kind of uniform rallying cry around equity which I find odd. Like many other issues, it seems to be a confluence of both timing and focus.)
Here are my beliefs right up front:
- I think the premise that seems to feed this discussion over HCC (but which doesn't really get said out loud) is the belief that giftedness in academics for children does not exist. I'm sure most people will agree that there are "off-the-charts in intelligence" students but that those students are few and far between and certainly not the population of HCC.
I'm hoping no one is going to deny this because it is the subtext I hear over and over and I reject it. The reasons I reject it are :
1) I think there are off-the-charts intelligent kids, across the racial spectrum and,
2) I think that there are very bright kids - across the racial spectrum - who need that talent to be nurtured.
But I will say, there is no child so bright that he or she will always easily learn everything and will not struggle in a particular subject. Children only truly learn when challenged (unless you count rote learning and I don't for this discussion.)
Because you can be a bright child but still have academic challenges. In fact, I think this is one of the hardest issues for some of these students is that academic work comes very easily to them and when they do get challenged, they aren't ready to rise to that challenge.
- just like many other challenges, this district struggles with getting it right. Compare this info from the Bellevue School district to the FAQs from SPS. Now, Bellevue's is not trying to pack everything about the program in this document but you learn a lot more key facts from Bellevue than SPS.
One item that stands out to me right away is that Bellevue says anyone - a parent or teacher or staff or even community member - can nominate a student for its gifted program. SPS only allows parents. Right there you immediately shut out some students who would benefit from the program. It wasn't like that in the past but somehow, that's what it is now.
- This fallacy that somehow these kids are getting "more" or "better" teaching/curriculum. (I cannot speak to the issue of whether schools/districts pick the strongest teachers to lead gifted classes. My experience is that it is more the teachers who believe in gifted programming. That commitment is important. Naturally, professional development for any kind of teaching is important.)
- There has never been a champion for gifted students in this district from top leadership in the many years I have been a public education advocate. When you don't have that, you are unlikely to have a well-designed program that teachers/principals respect and has the broadest reach.
I do applaud Director Geary for saying she thinks this should be one of the SMART goals for the district but I am saddened that the Board seems to think taking two years to review the program is okay. It's not. But again, no champion, no attention.
- I agree with many readers - HCC is being held up as the worst program for equity when, in fact, the reason it is not a good program is being it is not serving all the students it could.
I'm sure some might read that sentence and say, "But Melissa, isn't that the same thing?" No,because of the latching on by key staff and a subset of teacher voices who somehow seem to think that putting a scarlet A on the program is the way to make it better. But that won't help and I think they know that.
The equity issue is a red herring to use for a bigger change that many who don't believe in gifted education at all. You hear complaining about the lack of diversity in the program but almost no solutions except more teachers of color. (That is a valid complaint except for the fact that there are many fewer teachers of color and so the competition for them is fierce throughout the country. It has nothing to do with SPS not hiring them - it's finding them. Of course, teaching has been so denigrated over the last five+ years, why would a young person choose it as a career? It's a vicious cycle that needs to change. But getting rid of gifted education programs is not going to create more teachers of color.)
And let's get to another real issue that needs to be said out loud - why does district leadership talk about institutional racism - that happened in the past - when 1) it seems to be continuing today and 2) they represent that institution. It's almost as if they want to avoid accountability and culpability for the very thing they decry.
- My last belief is that the Advanced Learning department has done some things to reach more students. From the SPS AL webpages:
- It has been said here by some commenters that all second graders in Title One schools take the CogAT Screening Form. I only find this: All referred students in grades K – 2 will be scheduled to take the CogAT Screening Form. The Bellevue Gifted Advisory Committee Minutes from December, 2016 says this: All K and new 1st grade students have completed the CogAT Screener and received scores.
- Children whose referrals for Advanced Learning Testing indicated needed accommodations (IEPs, 504s, or "Other") will NOT receive an email regarding testing. Each family will be contacted individually.
- Students needing accommodations will not be tested on Saturdays and most will be tested at their home school, during the school day.
- The SPS testing is done in every quadrant in the city. Bellevue has four locations, all Title One schools. Teachers at these sites have helped in notifying families and recommending to parents that they apply for testing. I have no idea if SPS Title One schools are notifying and recommending the program to parents.
- For families who choose to appeal and who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, SPS will provide in-house testing during the appeals process free of charge.
- Private assessments are not accepted as the basis of initial eligibility; all students MUST participate in the district testing cycle.
- I also know that in the past the AL office itself made phone calls directly to families of color with a student whose state test scores/classroom performance made it appear that child might benefit from AL programs.
Background on Gifted Students
There are over 3 million academically gifted students in the United States alone, yet there are no federally mandated requirements for gifted and talented students.
Currently, the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act is the only federal program for gifted and talented children. This program does not establish rights for gifted children (as IDEA does for Special Education); instead, it focuses on research and advocacy for gifted children in underserved populations. This program funds the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented and is awarded approximately $7.5 million dollars per year. According to the NAGC, funding for the Javits program is “in jeopardy each year.” It is the responsibility of state, local and federal programs to “develop new policies supporting gifted education, to remove obstacles, and to ensure adequate funding.”
These students demonstrate an outstanding or above-average aptitude and/or competence in one or more areas.There is an excellent article that goes further from the Rhode Island Advocates for Gifted Education:
General Intellectual AbilityHigh IQ scores, a wide-range of general knowledge and high levels of vocabulary, memory and abstract reasoningSpecific Academic AptitudeOutstanding performance on achievement and/or aptitude tests in one specific content area, such as math or scienceCreative and Productive ThinkingSynthesize new ideas by bringing together seemingly abstract, independent or dissimilar elements. Student characteristics include preference for complexity, positive self-image and openness to experienceLeadership AbilitySuccessfully direct individuals or groups to a common goal or decision and capable of negotiating in difficult situations. Student characteristics include self-confidence, tendency to dominate and ability to adapt to new situations.Visual and Performing ArtsDemonstrate special talents in art, music, dance, drama and similar studiesPsychomotor AbilityKinesthetic learners with strong practical, spatial and mechanical skills
A new definition of giftedness that highlights the complexity of raising gifted children was developed by The Columbus Group in 1991. The Columbus Group asserts that the contemporary tendency to define giftedness as behaviours, achievement, products or school placements, external to the individual, necessarily misses the essence of giftedness – how it alters the meaning of life experience for the gifted individual. Consequently, the Group offers the following preliminary attempt at a phenomenological definition, which at this point, may apply best to the highly gifted:From the Rhode Island article:
Giftedness is ‘asynchronous development’ in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.
(The Columbus Group, 1991, in Morelock, 1992)Asynchronymeans being out of sync, both internally and externally. "Asynchronous development" means that gifted children develop cognitively at a much faster rate than they develop physically and emotionally, posing some interesting problems.
Why is it Important to Know Whether or Not a Child is Highly Gifted? The child of 160 IQ is as different from the child of 130 IQ as that child is from the child of average ability. The kind of educational program developed for the highly gifted child of 160, 170, or 180 IQ often differs markedly from appropriate programs for most gifted children, but usually these programs are designed for the moderately gifted.A challenging article here from the Calgary Herald, The Dark Side of Being the "Gifted Kid."
It may be nearly impossible for highly gifted children to conform their thinking to the ways in which others think. Some do not ‘group’ well. Some have difficulty developing relations with others. Some argue continuously because that is the way they learn. Some are intensely sensitive. Some have major discrepancies between their intellectual maturity and motor coordination and so appear ‘immature.’(Silverman)
What Can Be Done especially around equity issues?
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions including teachers and principals. However, in general, the overwhelming majority of school districts in this country recognize that these students exist. They have created programming for them as has Seattle Public Schools. Teachers and principals - no matter their own personal beliefs - have a responsibility to enact and fulfill the programming for gifted students that their district sets out. If they believe not enough students are being found who would benefit from the program or it creates hardships for schools, they can advocate for changes to support those issues.
What they should not do is try to thwart the existence of programs. Our district has apparently decided, via site-based management, that principals can undermine the AL programs. Of course, it does not help that the program specifics for ALOs and Spectrum are vague and that makes it easy to do so.
What is not said out loud but is absolutely the truth is that many teachers and principals fear losing top learners.
If those students leave the school, there go their scores.
If those students leave the school, there goes academic leadership in classroom via students who are eager learners. (Note I said "eager" - any honest teacher will tell you that it is a huge help to have students who can drive discussions and ask questions that other kids might be too shy to ask.)
In these heavy-on-testing times, I cannot fault teachers and principals for these feelings. But it is not their right to make determinations about programs that students could benefit from for those students' parents. They should (and must) inform parents and help parents to seek out those programs.
I think this is one very big reason that you see fewer students of color leave their neighborhood schools - the lack of information/encouragement from staff. Because of this, you will not build a cohort for students of color where they find a comfortable space in a gifted classroom. Without a cohort, many parents of color would reject that program in favor of staying in their neighborhood.
Naturally, it should go without saying that if each school had a clear ALO/Spectrum program (whichever you want to call it), you would not even need students - except for the HCC students - to leave any school. But the district has not made that a priority and because of that, you see the uncertainty in enrollment which then affects capacity. Kind of a vicious cycle.
Looping at schools
Because the staff felt strongly that the wonderfully diverse culture and acceptance of all students was part of the school’s fabric, and should not be lost, initial energy was spent on educating teachers about how giftedness might be identified among students of poverty, those learning English as a second language, and those from different cultures. At the same time, teachers began book studies, article discussions, and team conversations about how to differentiate instruction for all students.Another article on looping:
Given the school’s highly mobile population, it was essential to have an ongoing talent identification process that was applicable to linguistically and culturally diverse as well as mainstream students. TAG staff screen all second-grade students with a nonverbal reasoning instrument that has helped identify students who ordinarily might have been overlooked.
Although the looping schedule helped accommodate the population surge and facilitated the creation of a master class schedule, it has had a far greater impact than anyone imagined. Becauserelationships build over a three-year period, students in the program are able to develop close friendships with their same-age peers.
They also begin to realize they are not expected to know everything the first time it is presented. By looping over three years, students become familiar with the program’s atmosphere, rules, procedures, and routines, and appreciate that there is no repetition of unnecessary class content.
We also asked parents of current and former students to complete a brief survey on their experiences with looping.
The results were enlightening. Asked if looping was a positive experience for their child, 100 percent replied in the affirmative. They also affirmed that the program met their child’s academic
needs (99.3 percent), emotional needs (92.9 percent), and social needs (93.6 percent).
From the Equity Alliance at Arizona State University:
- Addressing lower expectations of CLD (culturally and linguistically diverse) students through professional learning and teacher preparation that is grounded in multicultural and culturally responsive pedagogy and practice. The National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems has many tools principals can use.About testing:
- Building systemic evaluation of under-representation of CLD students into evaluation of all gifted education programs and services. Principals should continuously assess, on a year-to-year basis, the
racial, ethnic, gender, and linguistic demographics of students accessing gifted instructional programming, as compared with the demographics of all students.
-Broadening definitions of giftedness to include those students who under-achieve as well as those who achieve at or above comparison groups. Giftedness should not be reserved only for those students who are achieving high grades or test scores.
- The district began using the Javits Gifted Characteristic Checklist for Underrepresented Students as part of its process of assessing multiple criteria in order to create a“thick picture” (Castellano, 2003) of students’ skills and abilities. This check-list moves beyond collecting evidence of individual academic achievement in school settings by focusing also on students’ abilities to work collaboratively in groups, to question and challenge routine procedures, and to relate well to peers and adults in informal settings and with informal language.
To note on the CogAT test from their webpage : Proven by research studies to identify more English Language Learners and minority students as possibly eligible for gifted and talented programs.
From Psychological Testing: Principles, Applications, and Issues by Robert M. Kaplan, Dennis P. Saccuzzo, page 314:
The CogAT was specifically designed for poor readers, poorly educated people and people for whom English is a second language.
The test authors of the CogAT took special steps to eliminate irrelevant sources of test difficulty, especially those pertaining to cultural bias. All items were scrutinized for content that might be biased for or against any particular group. Statistical tests were then performed to eliminate items that might predict differentially for white and minority students.
However, they have found that black and Hispanic students score lower than white students on test batteries and grade levels. Therefore, great care should be taken when scores on the CogAT are used for minority populations.
Is there a perfect test? No. But an effort was truly made to balance this test. That said, I wish that there was emphasis on teacher and parent observations especially for children of color.