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Monday, July 24, 2017

Thoughts on Bright, Low-Income Students Who Are "Counted Out" of Gifted and Advanced Classes

From the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer
via the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute

By Mary Ruth Coleman
June 24, 2017

In this op-ed, FPG's Mary Ruth Coleman explains the importance of focusing on inequities in the placement of bright students from low-income homes in programs intended to challenge students identified as academically and intellectually gifted.

Zaman Timmons and Ethan Rivers, fifth-graders at Montlieu Academy of Technology
in High Point , participate in a math class for intellectually gifted students. Montlieu
is a 95 percent minority and 98 percent free and reduced lunch school
yet places a high percentage of students in its gifted program.

The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer are to be commended for their recent series, “Counted Out,” for focusing on the persistent inequities in the placement of bright, low-income students in programs intended to challenge students identified as academically and intellectually gifted.

The stories correctly argued that our failure to meet the needs of these students shortchanges them individually and also the state and nation, which depend on the success of all – regardless of race, ethnicity or income level.

Education in North Carolina and elsewhere remains a work in progress; whether the focus is on students who struggle to master basic skills or those who are outpacing their peers. The achievement gaps across student populations continue as an injustice and a challenge to schools everywhere.

These gaps are also a test of political will for individual communities, our state and our nation. Success in closing these gaps demands committed leadership, sufficient resources, effective strategies and caring and capable educators, as well as strong partnerships with families.

The data reported in the series presents a troubling picture, and it is also a clarion call to collective action.

We in North Carolina are well positioned to answer this call. We have clear and supportive laws, policies and leadership. We have exemplars of where things are working well, and we have knowledgeable, committed individuals at all levels who can help bring these practices to scale.

Our legislature provides a broad definition of giftedness, and it is unequivocal that “outstanding abilities are present in students from all cultural groups, across all economic strata, and in all areas of human endeavor.”

The N.C. Board of Education goes further – explicitly setting standards to guide local school districts:

“Gifted learners from under-represented populations are often overlooked in gifted programming; therefore, they require purposeful and intentional support to ensure that their potential is recognized, developed and served.”

North Carolina’s policies supporting gifted education were cited in a 2015 national report, “Equal Talents, Unequal Opportunities” by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, among those of just six states to earn the highest awarded score (a B-minus) for strong state-level guidance and leadership. While we are proud of this recognition, it’s time now to move to an A-plus.

Strong, statewide laws and policies provide the foundation for practice. Fully implementing these, however, is more challenging. North Carolina’s gaps in gifted education programs are clear and sobering evidence that significant hurdles remain. What must we do now?

We must identify what is working. Where have we seen success in nurturing, recognizing and responding to our high-potential, underrepresented students to safeguard their access to gifted programs? Identifying these “pockets of excellence” allows us to understand how the problem is being solved around the state so that we can bring these practices to scale.

Some effective practices, currently being used across identification, programing and policy, include ensuring there are not multiple hoops for identification, but that multiple criteria are used as evidence of a student’s strengths. Supporting the specialists’ who work with Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG) students in collaboration with regular classroom teachers and including students in advanced classes who may not necessarily be identified as AIG but who would benefit from advanced content.

Mary Ruth Coleman, Ph.D. is senior scientist emerita at the FPG Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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