Gifted Students: What are the Coming Changes for Seattle Schools' Students?

I came across two articles recently on gifted students.  One is quite good, the other somewhat useful but over the top (and the tone is distracting from the content, in my opinion).

NOW, to start, if you don't agree that there are gifted students or the need for gifted education, please don't comment.  Because many readers here already know that conversation.

Tomorrow we will find out what the Advanced Learning Taskforce has to say about how Seattle Public Schools might view these students and their programs.  This work may or may not guide what changes the Board approves district staff to do.

I offer these articles as both educational and thought-provoking.

Nearly every "gift" that a child has can come with/have a double-edge to it.  For example, athletes are only as good as their health/lack of injury.  Gifted kids have the ability to go faster and farther but often have behaviors that backfire on them from this ability.

No one has a better child or a perfect child; we all have children with gifts, flaws and struggles.

In the first article, the authors point out that states that do well overall in testing, usually have better scores on BOTH the high end and the low end.

A rising tide lifts all boats. 

The first article comes from Education Next and it's called Ending Our Neglect of Gifted Students by Chester E. Finn, Jr.  Mr. Finn has co-edited a book with Richard Sousa called "Educating Smart Kids, Too".  (Yes, I am aware that the book is published by the Hoover Institution Press and they are a right-wing think-tank.)

Yet gifted youngsters are widely neglected. Because they’re already above the “proficient bar” in academic achievement at a time when most federal and state policies are fixed on boosting low achievers over that bar, schools and teachers have little incentive to focus on their educational needs or to devote resources to their schooling. And if we can extrapolate from the Ohio data—that state accounts for about 3.7 percent of all K–12 students in the land—the United States may contain as many as six million high-ability youngsters whom it is not educating to the max. (The National Association for Gifted Children estimates about half that number. The fact that nobody really knows also attests to the vagueness of these definitions and to disputation even among advocates as to what exactly qualifies as giftedness.)

Sousa and Finn say this neglect takes four forms:

1) We’re weak at identifying “gifted and talented” children early unless their parents push for it. 

2) We don’t have enough gifted-education classrooms and specialized schools (with suitable teachers and curricula) to serve even the existing demand, much less what might be induced by more thorough talent identification. Faced with budget crunches and federal and state pressure to close achievement gaps and turn around awful schools, many districts are cutting their advanced classes. In political, policy, and philanthropic circles alike, educating high-potential children ranks low on the priority list. It seems faintly elitist—and there’s a widespread belief that “these kids will do fine anyway.”

3) Surprisingly little is known about what strategies, structures, and programs work best in educating high-ability youngsters. 

4) When students finally reach high school, especially if they live in poor neighborhoods, they may find just a smattering of honors or AP classes, nothing like the ample course offerings of well-resourced suburban districts and elite private schools. 

It’s time to end the bias in American education against gifted and talented pupils and quit assuming that every school must be all things to all students, a simplistic formula that ends up neglecting all sorts of girls and boys, many of them poor and minority, who would benefit from more challenging classes and schools. Smart kids shouldn’t have to go to private schools or get turned away from Bronx Science or Thomas Jefferson simply because there’s no room for them.

I think #2 is what we will see from Seattle Schools in the coming years (unless the Board suddenly takes gifted education seriously).

One issue that both articles point out is that many of the strides our country makes to get ahead - in science, engineering, medicine, etc. - come from gifted people.  This is NOT to say that you have to be gifted to be a good doctor but the great changes come from great minds. 

The second article, from an interesting gifted education website, Crushing the Tall Poppies, is called Suffering in Silence: Who's Really Paying the Price for the Neglect of our Gifted Children? by Celi Trepanier. For me, using the word "suffering" in relation to gifted education is somewhat hyperbolic but then again, when parents think of education and their own child, it is a central issue to both parent and child.

The article echoes much of what is said at this blog when the attempt is made to discuss this issue:

Our gifted children and their families have been suffering silently because giftedness with its inherent emotional and social issues is a contentious and touchy subject to address within society and also with our schools.

Most often, schools fail to understand and recognize giftedness and all of its characteristics and behaviors.

In a separate article, the author says:

My child is gifted which means he is not automatically academically successful.  It means his thinking and learning seem to transcend what goes on in his regular classroom.  And when specialized gifted programming taught by teachers who understand his way of thinking and learning is not available to him, he stops paying attention in class, he may get fidgety, he will likely start talking when he shouldn’t, and often becomes disruptive in class by asking a lot of questions that go further and deeper than his teacher’s lesson plan was prepared to go.  I could go on, but my kid just doesn’t fit into this regular class no matter how hard he tries.

That sounds a lot like what I have heard from AL parents here.

While I found what the author had to say less interesting, I found her quotes from parents familiar and sad:

“My 9yr old son had so many challenges in the classroom that the teachers wanted him on Ritalin and were offended when I suggested he might be gifted. It took me having a “come to Jesus ” meeting with the principal to be heard. He went through the rigorous gifted testing and was classified as highly gifted. It is a struggle every day. People who don’t deal with this, don’t understand.”

“Other kids (and parents) don’t understand his intensity and label him weird. I have “friends” who tell me “something is wrong with him” and others who wonder snidely how I “got” him in the gifted program.”

“I have long since stopped talking about my PG son to people outside my immediate family. To numerous to count the times that I have gotten the side-eye or passive aggressive comment about my son’s abilities. With those abilities comes the out-of-nowhere anxiety, and the asynchronous emotional behaviors.”

“After winning the spelling bee every week, the teacher gave her a hard word that wasn’t on the study list and when she got it wrong, the whole class laughed at her. Then when she started getting the hard words right, she wasn’t allowed to participate in the spelling bee because it “made the other kids feel bad about themselves”.(2nd grade).”

This blogger has numerous links at the end of the article to different articles and posts.   


Anonymous said…
According to the AL website, there was an AL Task Force meeting this past Friday, 8/8. Was this to discuss and finalize Task Force recommendations? The Curriculum and Instruction Agenda references only the highly capable grant application, not Task Force recommendations, so what is the actual timeframe for any recommendations or changes?

Waiting, yes, Friday's meeting was to discuss their recommendations. I was then told by district staff that those recommendations would be presented at the C&I meeting.
Shannon said…
Thanks Melissa. It is a great relief to hear these views aired. The intense hostility to gifted programs from some has made me a little crazy over the years. Now, on the eve of having my APP kid in high school, I have started to feel it is elitist to expect my child to get educated publicly. The thing is, as an ex-gifted child who went through a traditional excellent public school I think that the emphasis on style of education is a critical piece here. Its not just rigor or acceleration.
Shannon, that's a great point.

All kids have gifts and then emphasis should be on finding and growing/expanding/encouraging them. And, all kids have a natural love of learning but how it grows/dies can be that "style" in a school.
Po3 said…
I think that in this country the group of students who have the likelihood of the best outcomes are the middle of the road students, whose parents have the resources to provide enrichment. Schools are designed to teach to the kids in the middle, so these kids get their needs met in the classroom. If parents can provide the enrichment, these kids are able to excel.

There are never enough resources for gifted and special ed students. So parents, with means, have to spend their enrichment dollars shoring up deficits.
Anonymous said…
An entire post about APP with a caveat play nice... And only 5 post. Of course it is just flipping incredible out there so who can blame anyone in this city for getting vitamin D verses vitamin CRT.

What I heard is Staff, experts and TF members unanimously decided on a plan that may make Seattle the leader in effective and equitable gifted learning. I'm excited to hear more!

Po3 - it's even worse for kids who are both gifted and special needs.

Sun matters
Anonymous said…
What recommendations did the task force make? And what did the board do? I'm in the dark.

Sun matters, you are wrong. The entire post is about Advanced Learning and how others view gifted learning.

I will report back on what the C&I committee is told by the Taskforce.
Anonymous said…
Melissa, what you and Charlie and the other occasional posters have put together is tremendous! Those who comment too. I am however lost in the distinction/error you are trying to identify so here is what I tried to say:

-It is an all APP post
---I welcome this discussion
-Your caveat says play nice
---I welcome the caveat
-there are many other post which are not about APP at all that just mention APP in the comments and things get heated and there are a few higher responses ;-)

You must see now based on my clarification and original comment to say I am "wrong" is wrong. I probably should be singing about "tomatoes" and "we should call the whole thing off" but where would I get such dedicated understanding of what is going on at SPS.

Keep up the great work and I welcome caveats that keep the communication on topic. Sorry to be the distraction. I just thought the reaction to your post was surreal.

Sun Matters
I didn't say you were off-topic.

You said "An entire post about APP." I said you were wrong because about that point:

1) I didn't even mention APP in the thread.
2) gifted education, Advanced Learning in Seattle Schools is NOT just APP.

In my mind, you erred in your thinking about what this thread is about. If you think that's nitpicking, that's up to you.

Also, great that you went to the AL meeting on Friday and it seems like a unified group response to give to the Board. I suspect those recommendations will include all parts of AL.

The Board may not have to approve any AL changes as the Superintendent makes the call on how the AL program works but I suspect that he would like the Board to agree to what the Taskforce says.

Then again, the Board didn't agree the MAC committee and look how that turned out.
Charlie Mas said…
There is nothing on the C & I agenda about a report from the ALTF, so it would be HIGHLY inappropriate for them to add that.

There is also nothing on the C & I agenda about an Advanced Learning Policy.

The agenda only mentions an update on the iGrant application.

If you will recall, the iGrant application was due in the summer. This application requires Board approval. The Board, however, could not approve it because it wasn't complete. It wasn't complete because - are you ready for this? - as of the application deadline the OSPI had not yet made the application available.

Yeah. Take a moment with that.

You know how I'm always saying that no one in the entire public K-12 education industry cares about rules? Perfect example. The OSPI can't very well require people to submit their applications on time if the OSPI can't even make the application available before the deadline.

Of course the OSPI has NEVER required school districts to submit the application on time and this is not the first time that they failed to even make the application available before the "deadline".

From the agenda that was made available to the public, all I'm expecting at the C & I meeting is a brief update from Advanced Learning about whether or when the OSPI will make the application available and when the District's application will be ready for Board approval.

Anything else would be a surprise and, possibly, a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Charlie Mas said…
While we're on the topic, I would like to remind everyone that the District does not have an Advanced Learning policy. It has never had such a policy.

The District did have a policy that governed APP, the Highly Capable Students Program policy, D12.00, but, as I have repeated stated, that policy was suspended on January 29, 2009 and was never un-suspended.

At the same time that the Board voted to suspend the policy they also voted to direct the superintendent and staff to recommend revisions to the policy. It has been over five and a half years and those recommendations have yet to come forward.

I don't know about you, but if the Board votes to direct the superintendent to take a specific action I would expect that action to come within five years. Apparently the Board had no such time limit in mind. Not one Board member has ever asked for the recommendations.
Anonymous said…
Melissa said, 1) I didn't even mention APP in the thread.
2) gifted education, Advanced Learning in Seattle Schools is NOT just APP.

True, and true, yet it's my understanding that the task force is addressing students that fall into the APP category, because they are the students considered "highly capable" by SPS. In order to be compliant with state requirements for "highly capable," the current focus of district is APP, or whatever they will call it.

Highly Capable Program Requirements for All Districts

Anonymous said…
From Friday, June 13, Latest on Advanced Learning in Seattle Public Schools

As for the AL recommendations, well kids, they are only about APP.

Anonymous said…
Notice how the state is focused on advanced learning, rather than labeling children as "gifted". Much of the academic literature is about "giftedness" because it originated as a study of special education and not performance. Many truly gifted children are low performers in general education, which is why they became a study of special education.

Advanced learning is designed to meet the needs of children who are performing significantly above the norm of their peers. They may or may not fit the criterion of giftedness--whose category encompasses a rubric of behaviors, emotional responses and cognition that are significantly atypical.

Totally in agreement with nitpicker's assessment of this thread.

--enough already
Robert said…
Since we don't have a lot of comments yet, would it be okay to expand this a bit?

One thing I've been wondering about is the extent to which the problem is that the Board and the district staff are not focused on educating all the children of Seattle.

It seems to me that, if the Board and district saw their primary mission as educating all the children of Seattle, they would have to focus on the outliers as well as the middle. They would have to see the goal of the schools to educate every child, whether that child is ahead, behind, disabled, gifted, poor, wealthy, immigrant or US citizen, and native English speaker or not. Teaching to the middle wouldn't be enough. Providing every child with a good education would be required.

I wonder if a large part of the problem is that the Board and the district don't care about the percentage of kids who go to private school. They don't care why people leave the district. They don't survey or interview people who leave to figure out how to retain them. They don't talk to people in private to figure out how they could get them back into public education. They aren't measured by how many children in Seattle go to and succeed in public schools. And one of their primary measures, the achievement gap, actually improves every time an outlier student, such as a child way behind or ahead, leaves Seattle Public Schools.

So, getting back to the topic, to what extend are problems in gifted education, such as the low priority districts place on them, due to districts ignoring anything but teaching to the middle? Is it that districts ignore gifted education? Or that districts ignore any children that require anything unusual or differentiated to educate?

If that is true, could the problem be solved if the Seattle Public Schools Board and Superintendent explicitly focused on how many children in Seattle go to public schools and succeed in public schools?
Charlie, I missed that on the agenda. I was told directly by staff this would be at the C&I committee so I have no idea what is going on or when these recommendations will be released.

Robert, good questions. I think SPS would say they do care about all students. But, they also have never shown interest about who leaves for private school or why.

I have to wonder about this going on about what this thread is about. Let's just talk about gifted education and SPS.
Anonymous said…
...not much to discuss (that hasn't already been said in umpteen other threads) until the Task Force releases their recommendations and the District then does what it does.

Lori said…
Robert's idea makes sense. There should be some sort of goal to attract and retain families in public schools. In fact, historically, gifted programs were designed to do just that.

But, given the capacity crisis, I can't see how the district would make student retention a metric right now. There just isn't space to make this a goal!

As an aside, I will be curious to see what the attrition from APP to private school is this fall. In the midst of the chaotic middle school process last fall, I toured many private schools and saw many familiar faces at each tour, including families who are active public school advocates who felt they had no choice but to create options for their families given the swirl and uncertainty. And, after admissions season ended, some of the private schools around here have said that they saw a surge of applications from APP students. I know at least one school that has admitted a larger than usual number of students because they offer spots based on historical trends. In the past, some small percentage would decline admission, but that didn't happen this year and now they will be overenrolled.

Ultimately, this attrition from SPS will be a drop in the bucket and I suspect it will be barely felt at individual schools. But I have wondered for a few months now whether the district tracks attrition and how they feel about it. They do need to know that the exhausted families who leave and now have to struggle to pay private school tuition may not be easy "yes" votes on future levies. That's another reason I've read in the education literature to try to retain and attract families to public schools - happy families vote for schools. Disaffected families may not.
Benjamin Leis said…
It was pretty much inevitable that some number of additional parents would go with private MS this year given the opening of JAMS. It also fairly likely that this will subside after its been open a year or two and is a known quantity.

I think retention is important but by the metrics I'm pretty sure SPS is actually succeeding and driving up the capture rate. And as someone said above the system would collapse if we saw a huge additional influx of students. So I don't think this is a high priority stat versus all the normal priorities already floating around.

Anonymous said…
Someone once told me that when a disagreement arises, sometimes it is because both sides are not speaking the same language, even though they think they are. It might help if we go back to brass tacks and clarify what the words we use around "gifted education" mean in the SPS and WA state context.

There has been repeated confusion of Advanced Learning/Highly Capable/Gifted/ and the accelerated progress program (APP). The language around these things IS really confusing, and people use terms interchangeably.

The district describes its “Advanced Learning” programs on the website. APP, Spectrum and ALO are 3 different programs within Advanced learning. APP is very specifically designed to serves the kids in above 98th%ile in cognition and 95th%ile in achievement. In essences this program is supposed to serve those kids that are both VERY high IQ and VERY high achieving (working several grades ahead). Spectrum was designed for kids above the 86th%ile, or APP kids that felt that program met their needs sufficiently.

Who is gifted and what that means has lots of controversy around it, and I really appreciate the articles that Melissa pulled up to talk about this because I think they are right on.

And, the state uses the term "Highly Capable" for a now state required service (it is now part of BASIC EDUCATION) for these kids who are often called gifted. If folks feel like reading through the language that OSPI uses it is here:
AND, yet in Seattle and SPS, the confusion about WHO we are talking about continues. WHO are identified as "Highly Capable" in SPS? IS it only those kids identified for APP? Or is it also those kids identified for Spectrum? (and who decides?)
The WAC leaves the definition of "Highly Capable" up to each individual district, but requires that they have BOARD APPROVED policy about it, and a number of other things. The SCHOOL BOARD is supposed to set these policies and in the OSPI igrant on the C&I agenda today requires confirmation that:

“The district has written HCP policy and procedures for Grades K-12 for Nomination, Assessment process, system for the selection of the most highly capable, and appealing the multidisciplinary selection committee’s decision.”

And, regardless of whether or not D12 is in place (as Charlie keeps mentioning), D12 does not actually meet the requirements as set by the WAC. SPS DOES NOT currently HAVE these policies and procedures in place. SPS, in effect, has NOT defined how "Highly Capable,” kids are identified/selected.

No wonder there is confusion all around. The State now requires that each "highly capable" kid get services in every district as part of basic education, but each school district is responsible for specifically defining WHO those kids are and how they are selected for "services".

Charlie's continued concern about the lack of a policy is right on, but not just because "D12" may have been rescinded. "D12" doesn't actually say the things it is supposed to say.

With a Policy, these details would help make sure that we are actually all speaking the same language. And, this is important for today, because the iGrant which is on the agenda for today's C&I committee meeting requires that the district state whether or not it has the policies in place. And they don’t, so the district shouldn’t be checking the boxes on the form saying that they do.

These policies require SCHOOL BOARD ACTION, and these policies DO NOT EXIST YET, regardless of D12’s existence.

I'm looking forward to hearing the discussion about how they will address this challenge, and for further updates on this important policy work.

Lori said…
I don't think so. Many people slated for JAMS are very excited. The district hired a great principal, and I've heard very good things about many of the teachers that have been hired. In my albeit biased sample, no one was trying to avoid JAMS.

Plus, I didn't see or talk to just JAMS-bound families on private school tours; people slated for HIMS have opted out too. People paying attention to the numbers saw the middle school situation coming for years, and now they see the high school situation coming. I know very few people who think that APP will still be at Garfield in another few years, for example. At some point, I think it's fair to say that some families just want predictibility and stability for their kids, and many people don't see that on the horizon in SPS for their particular family.

I bet this fall, if the district can't answer questions about how the WilPac MS opening will happen (is a roll-up prior to 2017 still in the works? will kids have to leave HIMS to go to an interim site for the roll-up? are more splits coming?), and every year until there's some decisions around high school, we are going to continue to see increased interest in leaving SPS. This isn't about JAMS. JAMS is going to be a great school.
I received word from the district that the agenda item on Highly Capable Program iGrant will incorporate the Taskforce recommendations.

I appreciate Eden fleshing out this issue. One interesting thing is that many other districts used the name "Talented and Gifted" which would cover kids who have a talent for math or other subject but may not score in the top tier.
Anonymous said…
I’ll also had that because of all of this language confusion, I think that people are also confused about the Task Forces and what they were working on, when they started, who is actually on which Task force and so on. The docs published on the website are really confusing to me, and I’ve been following the whole thing really closely.

The simple fact of being accurate and consistent when the DISTRICT talks about things might be really helpful in the future, IMHO.

To be clear, there were two separate Task forces that were convened this past school year. The first was convened without a written charter and selection process and began in October 2013. The second (ALTF2) n was begun in February, after a more comprehensive selection process (including an application and charter!)

I’m admittedly a bit of a nerd about these things, but I think that language DOES matter.

The “ALTF2” AKA the “Highly Capable Services Delivery Model Task Force” has been interchangeably using the terms Highly Capable and Advanced Learning, though it's charter very specifically states that it is focused on the delivery model of the Accelerated Progress Program (APP).

AS THESE TERMS ARE THREE VERY SEPERATELY DEFINED THINGS, using the terms interchangeably just leads to confusion. “Highly Capable Services” is the WA state language for gifted education. Advanced learning is SPS’s terminology for all of the advanced learning programs and services, including APP, Spectrum and ALO’s. APP is a specifically defined Advanced learning program. All interconnected and related, but NOT THE SAME THING.

And, since the ALTF2 actually had a written charter, anyone can read it and see that they were working only on the service delivery model for APP. It is here:

But, look through all of those minutes, and let me know if you aren’t completely confused about what and who was being discussed. All of the minutes of both of the TF’s are listed in chronological order, even though there were two separate groups.

And with the label of AL for the meeting minutes, it would be very easy to thin that these TF’s work looking at all of Advanced Learning. Which kids are we talking about? What services? It is confusing, except for the fact that the ALTF2 had a very specific charter written up that says that it is focused on APP.

And this is exactly why we need a Highly Capable Services Policy drawn up and adopted basically yesterday. We can’t keep it straight without having it defined who the “highly capable” kids are that are required by state law to have services.

Language is how we communicate, and when we can't even speak the same language because there is no agreement on what the words mean, it is, well, challenging to say the least.

The other thing is that the original AL taskforce - the one Charlie and I served on - it's as if it never happened.

It was a waste of time and money but at least I got to see some staff in action so that's useful.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Melissa,

I was at the ALTF2 where the recommendations for the "service delivery model" were finalized. The new communications persons for Teaching and Learning really did a great job of finessing the language to appropriately communicate the TF's recommendations, IMHO. I will say that I was impressed with the final result, though I was a bit worried last week with the draft I saw. But in the end, it seemed to be an accurate reflection of the ALTF2 will, IMHO.

But, it is still really important to know that these recommendations are ONLY as related to APP service delivery model and those kids that are currently designated as Academically highly gifted. This means that Spectrum was NOT the focus of this work.

AND, many of the same members were on the ALTF2 and the first AL TF, though there they are 2 different TF's, and I haven't heard the recommendation from the first TF, which was related to identification.

I'm really curious to see what they say about the identification of Highly Capable kids. Will the first TF recommend it to be the same criteria and process it is now which is called AHG (98th/95%) or will be it be something different to include Spectrum qualified kids as well?

BUT most importantly, BOARD ACTION IS REQUIRED TO APPROVE SOME of these things, including:

written HCP policy and procedures for Grades K-12 for Nomination, Assessment process, system for the selection of the most highly capable, and appealing the multidisciplinary selection committee’s decision.”

This is not just something that gets changed at will with change overs in staff etc. It requires BOARD ACTION.

And, before there is a Highly Capable policy in place that actually meets the WAC requirements, I would think that Dr. Nyland might find that inappropriate to implement changes without the required policy in place.

Yes, approve the iGrant, but it needs to be corrected to acknowledge that these required policies don't exist yet. And there is still wide spread confusion among all of the stakeholders about who we are talking about.


Anonymous said…
I agree that the articles Melissa linked to are pretty much in line with what most of us know. That may be why there's been little discussion of them here--it's preaching to the choir, for those of us with these type of kids. I'm sure folks don't want to hear more stories about how our kids have experienced these same things.

I'm not sure, however, that these articles or any others will have any bearing on what SPS decides to do. They haven't yet, and I don't get the sense that there is suddenly some political will to serve these kids effectively. To me, these articles are just one more reminder of why we have to take control of our own kids' education, while also still fighting to hopefully, against all odds, effect changes so that HC kids whose parents can't/won't advocate for them can also have better opportunities in the future. It's depressing.

I wholeheartedly agree with Eden that the igrants application needs to be accurate with regard to what is or isn't in place. We can't say we have a policy if we don't. Let's say we'll have by x date, then get the *@&#%$^ working on one! And I'd like to see some genuine discussion of what's included in the application--to verify the accuracy of the rest of it. If the past is any example, it's likely to include a lot of BS. Let's make staff explain what all those checkmarks really refer to, so we can see where they are overreporting services. It's time for some truth in advertising.

Benjamin Leis said…
Also on the subject of the articles, I've seen the crushing tall poppies site linked from other sources and scanned some of it before. Besides being highly repetitive, I found it fairly troubling from a privacy perspective. The author shares a lot of personal details about her teenage son. I thought it would be fairly easy for his peers to find this link on the internet and for it be a source of trouble. Personally when I was 13-14 and has blogs existed this is the last kind of thing I would have wanted my mother to be doing. Maybe she discussed this with him and he was OK with it but I didn't see any acknowledgment of this anywhere.

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