Readers of this column have produced some of the most cogent and thoughtful questions and comments regarding the proposed gifted and talented education paradigm. The following is a compendium of some of those questions, paraphrased, and answers.
Would the preparation of the Parent Letter that replaces the label result in teachers having to devote time that they could put to better use? Preparing the Parent Letter won’t involve teacher time. MCPS has a data-warehouse and their Information Technology division can have the letter prepared using the data available in MyMCPS. Teachers comments/observations entered under the student’s name in MyMCPS can be reflected in the report.
Would training teachers in differentiation drain needed funds from the public school budget? Presently, the school system does have a program on differentiated teaching and, does practice differentiation in the classroom.
Does scrapping the label save money? Scrapping the label is not an effort to save money. It is an effort to meet the needs of all children according to their abilities and motivation. The label is currently misused by claiming ~40% of second-graders are gifted and talented. Furthermore, there are no realistic GT services associated with the current label.
The Parent Letter will have a detailed recommendation of services for each child. The final decision will remain with the parent. To put it succinctly, the school system recommends and the parent decides. Furthermore, the recommended services will be directly linked to the student’s performance data. This will provide the parents a powerful advocacy tool and ensure parents don’t make unreasonable demands on the system. Furthermore, the Parent Letter will assure parity between services provided to students from disparate socioeconomic classes by ensuring parents can’t “game” the system.
Aren’t high ability learners best accommodated by homogeneous grouping? In other words, isn’t the grouping of learners by ability the best way to address the needs of high ability learners? Grade-skipping and subject-skipping are well established means of addressing the needs of advanced learners with demonstrated mastery of subject matter. Skipping is a de facto means of grouping advanced learners with students with similar mastery of subject matter.
Isn’t homogeneous grouping a far more well-established intervention compared to acceleration? Acceleration is a well-researched and established intervention in both the United States and abroad. In some Asian countries it is called “double-promotion,” etc. Acceleration, i.e., grade and subject-skipping was also featured in the well known report on gifted education published by the Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. Acceleration is an intervention that must be carefully implemented and, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has shown excellent skills in implementing the intervention. Subject acceleration, particularly in math, is already well-established in the system.
It takes exceptional teachers to deliver truly differentiated instruction. MCPS has already chosen to go down this road. It is imperative that MCPS monitor the performance of students at all levels and transparently demonstrate that the implemented strategies work. The school system routinely amasses a vast amount of data on each student (examples seen here). Consequently, data on each student, collected before and after the intervention, is readily available to the system. Furthermore, MCPS has a department dedicated performing data analysis to determine the efficacy of an intervention. An excellent foundation to provide a robust evaluation of any program is in place. One could argue that all we require is community insistence that such an evaluation take place.