Archive for Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Critics: ‘No Child’ law neglects gifted

November 28, 2007

Advertisement

Montgomery County, Md., elementary school teacher Sheila Etzkorn works with Immanuel Sagastume, left, Sandy Alvarenga and Tony Lizama in a class for gifted students. Nancy Green, director of the National Association for Gifted Children, criticized the No Child Left Behind law: "Because it's all about bringing people up to that minimum level of performance, we've ignored those high-ability learners."

Montgomery County, Md., elementary school teacher Sheila Etzkorn works with Immanuel Sagastume, left, Sandy Alvarenga and Tony Lizama in a class for gifted students. Nancy Green, director of the National Association for Gifted Children, criticized the No Child Left Behind law: "Because it's all about bringing people up to that minimum level of performance, we've ignored those high-ability learners."

— Some scholars are joining parent advocates in questioning whether the education law No Child Left Behind, with its goal of universal academic proficiency, has had the unintended consequence of diverting resources and attention from the gifted.

Proponents of gifted education have forever complained of institutional neglect. Public schools, they say, pitch lessons to the broad middle group of students at the expense of those working beyond their assigned grade. Now, under the federal mandate, schools are trained on an even narrower group: students on the "bubble" between success and failure on statewide tests.

Teachers struggling to meet the law's annual proficiency goals have little incentive, critics say, to teach students who will meet those goals however they are taught.

"Because it's all about bringing people up to that minimum level of performance, we've ignored those high-ability learners," said Nancy Green, executive director of the D.C.-based National Association for Gifted Children. "We don't even have a test that measures their abilities."

A study published last month by two University of Chicago economists, analyzing fifth-grade test scores in the Chicago public schools before and after enactment of the law in 2002, found that performance rose consistently for all but the most and least advanced students.

"We don't find any evidence that the gifted kids are harmed," said Chicago economist Derek A. Neal. "But they are certainly right, the gifted advocates, if they claim there is no evidence that No Child Left Behind is helping the gifted."

Giftedness is a catchall term for children with abilities beyond their years.

Much debate about gifted education centers on the concept of "differentiation," an education buzzword that describes how teachers, particularly in the elementary grades, are supposed to serve students of mixed abilities in a single classroom.

In recent years, school systems have gradually embraced the notion that all students, including the gifted, should study in regular classrooms. Alternatives, such as putting gifted children in separate classrooms or schools, or pulling them from regular classes for bursts of enrichment, are widely rejected as undemocratic.

"Gifted education is not something that should be done by another teacher down the hall; it should be done by every teacher in every classroom," said Marty Creel, who oversees gifted education - and works with a particularly vocal community of parent advocates - in Montgomery County, Md.

Education leaders say that differentiation is effective when done correctly and that any capable teacher can do it. Research supports the practice, although studies show gifted children can also thrive in programs that group them by ability in separate classrooms.

Robert Slavin, a Johns Hopkins University researcher, found that achievement can rise for all students when teachers "regroup" students by ability within a classroom or in separate classrooms. Grouping students across grade levels - with children sorted by ability, regardless of age - is particularly effective. The challenge to educators, Slavin said, is to avoid "the negative aspects of ability grouping": low expectations for students in low-ability groups.

Some gifted education scholars are leery of the trend toward serving gifted children in mixed-ability classrooms. They consider the mixed-ability classroom a particularly difficult way to teach gifted children because students might span a wide range of abilities and because gifted students learn differently than other students.

"You have now made every teacher a teacher of the gifted, whether or not they're trained to do it, whether or not they have the ability," said Joyce VanTassel-Baska, executive director of the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. "I would be remiss as an educator to not suggest it's a very challenging kind of model to deliver on."

Comments

number3of5 7 years, 5 months ago

The parents of a gifted child can and should add the additional challenge a gifted child needs to be able to reach their potential. I helped two of my daughters learn to draw and paint simply by making sure they had the supplies to use. Art classes were not offered in our county schools at that time. One of my grandsons was interested in electrical repair and we allowed him to take apart old electrical appliances and try to repair them. We expect teachers to do all of the educating of our children, when in fact the parents sould be doing the major part.

woxy 7 years, 5 months ago

number3of5, What you did for your children and grandson are great examples of what every parent of every child should do to help educate their own children, not just parents of gifted children. That being said, that doesn't mean that we should continue to allow the bar to be set too low for high-ability students while at school.

This paragraph in particular struck me: "Robert Slavin, a Johns Hopkins University researcher, found that achievement can rise for all students when teachers "regroup" students by ability within a classroom or in separate classrooms. Grouping students across grade levels - with children sorted by ability, regardless of age - is particularly effective. The challenge to educators, Slavin said, is to avoid "the negative aspects of ability grouping": low expectations for students in low-ability groups."

I cannot for the life of me understand how the grouping of children solely by chronological age is the best way to educate children, except that it is the most simple (and politically correct) way of categorizing large groups of children. There are the occasional exceptions, but the fact that they ARE exceptions make them stand out more as "weird"-either those children held back or those who have skipped a grade or grades. If all children were ability-grouped and all groups contained students of various ages, it would no longer be "different" to be a different age than the others in your group. Implementation, however, would require fundamental change. (cont.)

woxy 7 years, 5 months ago

I don't have a problem with everyone in a grade level being expected to reach a certain minimum level of performance. What I do have a problem with is that it should be realized that it is a MINIMUM for the class, not the highest expectation for each child.

The Lawrence school district is currently employing (at least) two testing systems-the state assessments, which are required for NCLB, and MAP tests. The state assessments are defined by grade level, and have a definite ceiling. There are kids who could, for example, walk in the first day of fifth grade, take the 5th grade assessment, and score the 95% required for an "exemplary" rating. What have these children gained by being taught at a level required to get "passing" all year long? The MAP tests, while they do have a ceiling, do not have a grade-level ceiling for each grade. The tests adjust themselves to the test-taker and the questions get more difficult with each correct answer, and back off a little with wrong answers, until they have reached each individual child's level of proficiency. They are given in the fall and spring, and what each parent should want for their child is for the spring score to be significantly higher than the fall score. However, if the children are not being taught at above the level the scored in the fall, how would that be possible?

I can appreciate how your daughters, after having no art all day, would appreciate some after-school art (not that I don't think there should have been art at school), and your grandson, after being stuck at a desk all day, would appreciate having a project suited to his interests. However, after a day of doing math or reading below the level they can achieve, what kid wants more reading and math? It relegates school to the role of "busywork" and the real learning is happening outside of school.

SettingTheRecordStraight 7 years, 5 months ago

Here's an idea. Completely eliminate the Department of Education. Then, return all those wasted taxpayer dollars to communities. They, not government bureaucrats, know best how to allocate education dollars.

Once that has occured, allow parents and students true school choice by allowing kids to attend the accredited school of their choosing, not necessarily the failing government school they may find themselves stuck with.

gr 7 years, 5 months ago

The government has decided that the purpose of education is to get above a certain score on tests. If that bar is met, schools get money. The actual process of learning anything is not important - only getting that score. Therefore, smart kids contribute nothing to getting that money, and so are of no importance. The government has spoken.

Classifying students by abilities rather than ages would not work. Some may do better in math than reading, so there wouldn't be a "5th" grade and therefore no way of knowing whether to give the schools money or not.

Of course, there is one way smart kids could become "smarter" or be challenged. Since the government has said the purpose of education is getting money, they could have some fun with them dictating the game. Assuming the tests for getting the money only counts for a small part of their grades, they could score high enough on the rest of their tests and assignments to pass the class. When it comes to the government test time, they could ask the school, "what's in it for me? You pay up or I just might not test well." If the booty is not high enough, they could make sure no answer is correct. This could result in the smart kids studying as hard as possible so that they can make A+ on the rest of their classwork and then zero the government test. If there's enough smart kids doing this, it could seriously change the class average on the test.

I'm surprised this hasn't already happened. The government has set it up to encourage this.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.