Joseph S. Renzulli &
E. Jean Gubbins
University of Connecticut
Over the years a large amount of theory, research, and practical strategies for identification and programming has accumulated in our field; and many of the field’s senior scholars have integrated this material from their respective areas of interest into what becomes the “wisdom base” of gifted education. One of the goals of The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented is to bring this accumulated wisdom to practitioners and other scholars in a format that is economical in terms of both readers’ time and cost. The result has been publications prepared by our Center, in addition to the major research activities that have been carried out over the years at the University of Connecticut, Yale University, the University of Virginia, other collaborating institutions, and the several hundred schools that make up our Collaborative School District partnerships.
The most recent set of publications in this genre is entitled the Senior Scholars Series, and it focuses on bringing to the attention of practitioners, other researchers, and/or policymakers the thoughts and recommendations of persons who have dealt extensively with important topics in the field. The monographs are intended to reflect the mission statement of the Center, which reads, in part, to provide the field with products that are theory and research driven, problem-based and consumer-oriented.
The Senior Scholars Series is intended to “push forward” thinking in a way that will give direction to the field in the years ahead. The series takes into account the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Education Program, which gives highest priority to identifying and serving high potential students who may not be identified through traditional assessment criteria, including individuals of limited English proficiency, individuals with disabilities, and individuals from economically disadvantaged groups.
For this newsletter we are presenting Dr. James J. Gallagher’s perspective on public policy and Dr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska’s views on identifying and nurturing promising students. Their monographs on public policy and curriculum, respectively, are part of the Senior Scholar Series. Other current Senior Scholars monographs highlight the work of Dr. Nicholas Colangelo, Dr. Donald Treffinger, and Dr. Nancy Robinson. Information about the Senior Scholars Series can be found at www.gifted.uconn.edu. The abstracts and findings from the Center’s publications are on our web site can be downloaded and reproduced without permission.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC
Why write or read a book on educational policy and gifted children? What purpose does it serve? How does it get us closer to our goal of maximizing educational opportunities for gifted students? Many people have to be reminded that these policies often place boundary lines around the program and determine what is permissible and what is not in the education of such students.
Identification. Change existing standards and rules that do not reflect the multidimensional approach. There should be acceptance of different sets of eligibility standards for different programs (e.g., math, creative writing). (Administrative rules, professional initiatives)
Placement. Professional standards should make clear the importance of cultural diversity in programs for gifted students. Districts should explain why there is a lack of diversity in their programs. The Office of Civil Rights has sensitized local school systems regarding the importance of diversity of participants in such programs. (Court decisions, administrative rules)
Differentiated Programming. Financial support from state or federal government sources should be made available to support curricular development at various age levels. There should be a recognition that without such support sophisticated curricular differentiation will not take place. (Legislation, professional initiatives)
Program Evaluation. There should be regulations at the state and local level calling for programs for gifted students to generate periodic reports on their results. Local district plans would be required to include measurable objectives and methods for evaluating the plan and the services offered. The test of such programs would be student performance on high level tasks. (Legislation, administrative rules)
Professional Support Systems. Support systems should be available for general education (e.g., Professional Preparation, Technical Assistance, Research, Program Evaluation, Comprehensive Planning). There should be explicit rules that include expertise in gifted education in all of these support elements. State budgets should include funds for preservice and inservice personnel preparation for teachers of gifted students. (Legislation, administrative rules, professional initiatives)
Public policy for gifted students, like policy for any group of students, comes from four main sources: legislation, court decisions, administrative rules (at local, state, or federal level), and professional initiatives.
Legislation. By far the largest amount of legislation concerning the education of gifted students is at the State level. This is largely true because the states traditionally are considered to have the major responsibility for education in this country. Practically every state has some language in their education legislation that deals with gifted students (Karnes, Troxclair, & Marquardt, 1997; Stephens & Karnes, 2000). In 22 states, gifted students are included in the broad category of exceptional children (Baker & Friedman-Nimz, 2000).
Court Decisions. Other major sources of policy statements, or clarifications, are court decisions. There seems to be a general assumption that there has not been major court activity in gifted education, but this is because the disputes have mainly been handled at the state level, and are not very visible nationwide (Karnes & Marquardt, 2000, Zirkel, 2003).
The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has been drawn into various actions against school systems based upon the observed limited participation of children from minority groups in programs for gifted students (Gallagher & Gallagher, 1994). More than half the findings made by OCR were in favor of the local schools when the charge was discrimination against minority students and families.
Administrative Rules. Another major source of policy statements are the administrative rules established by local schools or by state departments of education. For example, a rule that states that no child can enter kindergarten prior to his/her fifth birthday. Such a rule would interfere with the early admission to school of a 4-year old gifted student who had clearly shown the intellectual capabilities and social maturity of a much older child. Rules about identification or placement in school programs for gifted students can be a source of difficult relationships between parents and schools.
Professional Initiatives. These include setting professional standards, conducting research, designing curriculum, conducting evaluations, etc. One example of an NAGC policy statement is on inclusion:
So what is this social policy that is so important to parents and educators? The definition of social policy is as follows:
Social policy creates the rules and standards by which scarce resources are allocated to meet almost unlimited social needs. (Gallagher, 1994, p. 337).
An effective social policy should answer the following questions:
- Who receives the resources? The first question deals with the issue of eligibility. Which children will be identified as gifted students and become eligible for available special educational services? This will determine who will receive needed differential services.
- Who delivers the resources? The second question in the definition concerns teacher qualification. Who has the credentials necessary to provide a special educational experience for gifted students? Should they have sophistication in content such as mathematics or should they be experts in using instructional strategies such as problem-based learning, or both?
- What are the resources to be delivered? The third question deals with the special resources that would be provided. Would you provide for this student an advanced mathematics program, special computer lessons, or an advanced creative arts curriculum?
- What are the conditions under which the resources are delivered? The fourth question describes the limits or parameters to the resource delivery. Can the resources be delivered in homogenous or heterogeneous settings, in a special class or a special school, or a Charter School? Could these resources be delivered at home?
Taken together, the answers to these four questions should provide a portrait of who the gifted students are, who their teachers are, what the nature of their special programs are, and where their programs are being carried out.
Let us see how such a definition can affect two gifted students and their families. Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins are concerned about their child, Julie, who has shown superior educational aptitude since she was very young. The policies in their school district will determine whether she is identified as gifted, what the qualifications of her teachers will be, and the kind of program in which she will be enrolled. The Jenkins are now faced with a series of decisions. Should Julie join a special class, enroll in an accelerated mathematics program, think about taking Advanced Placement courses, be moved ahead a grade? Above all, Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins and Julie must ask who made all of these rules and regulations that govern all of the activities, where did these rules comes from, and what justification do they have as applied to Julie’s needs?
Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez have a different problem. They know their son, Juan, is a bright boy who learns quickly, and is bored by the slow pace of lessons. They worry about whether he will qualify for all of the special opportunities that might be given to Julie. Since English is a second language to Juan, will he be able to do well on the tests that seem to determine admittance to these opportunities? The Alvarez family, too, wonders who made the rules, and for what purpose?
The truth is that, in many cases, these rules or policies were constructed some time ago, and the existing staff might not even know where they came from or the assumptions upon which they were based. Yet these policies will shape a great deal of what happens to Julie and Juan, so it is important to understand why and how they were constructed and whether they should be continued or changed.
There are general agreements in the professional community that we should abandon the single dimension of eligibility such as IQ test score, and adopt a multidimensional approach.
Policy. This would mean changing any existing standards that didn’t reflect the multidimensional approach, and the specification of just what the dimensions are that should be included, and how they would be combined. Also there would be acceptance of a different set of eligibility standards for different programs, such as accelerated mathematics as opposed to creative writing. These changes would likely appear in Administrative Rules and Regulations, and some consensus on this language could be pushed by organizations such as Council for Exceptional Children, The Association for the Gifted or National Association for Gifted Children.
Policy. It should be made clear through various professional standards that there is the expectation for a diversity of participation in these special programs that local schools would likely be asked to explain why there isn’t cultural diversity if such turns out to be the case. The Office of Civil Rights has sensitized local school systems to set up rules of their own about diversity of participation in special programs.
Policy. There is a clear need for a much-increased level of support for the development of differentiated curricula at various age levels. This would mean either substantially increasing the funding for the Javits program and/or greater support for state initiatives in this direction, either by states themselves, or through the federal government providing funds that would allow the states to take such initiatives.
Policy. At the state and local level there should be specific expectations that the programs for gifted students generate periodic reports on their results. This would mean that plans would include measurable objectives and a method to evaluate the plan and services offered, and that such evaluation shall focus on improved student performance on high level tasks.
Professional Support Systems
Policy. When there are support systems put into place for general education (e.g., personnel preparation, regional service centers, data systems), there should be explicit expertise in these support system elements devoted to gifted education. We know that the needs of gifted students are often overlooked in such systems (gifted is a “cool” problem) and must be mandated if it is to happen. Thus there should be provisions in the state education budget for funds for preservice and inservice personnel preparation for specialists in gifted education and a visible presence in communications and data systems for gifted education.
Support systems should be available for all of general education. This special plea to pay attention to gifted education is not meant to suggest that these support elements should be available exclusively for gifted students, but merely to ask that the special needs of gifted students should be specifically included along with that of general education.
The College of William & Mary
There is little disagreement in the field of gifted education about the need to have a broader diversity of students in programs for the gifted, especially those representative of low socio-economic backgrounds and minority students. However, our track record has been less than sterling. In a 30-year history of emphasis on this as a major issue in the field, dating back to the first national conference on “disadvantaged gifted” in 1975 in Atlanta, we have espoused more rhetoric and less action than on many other issues. Why is this one so intractable? For the sake of argument, I submit the following ideas for consideration:
- We have not developed strong identification systems that are flexible and dynamic enough to ensure the use of nontraditional measures routinely in the service of improving our “hit” rate for identifying these students. Moreover, the selection approaches we have employed are also flawed in respect to making school-based individual decisions about the optimal matches of students to program that would allow us to examine profile data rather than group data. Decision-making is still done with an eye to expediency rather than reflection on the merits of individual children, with an eye to finding “well-rounded” students rather than those with “peaks.”
- As a field we have been unable to afford individual psychological assessments carried out by qualified personnel. Instead, we are often patching together tools for identification that have no validity or reliability data such as performance-based tasks selected out of workbooks and handmade teacher checklists. Portfolio assessment as an identification tool has limited and questionable application for school districts to implement because of a lack of equitable processes used across the student population in the development of such products.
- We often refuse to acknowledge the importance of traditional standardized tests as a part of the process for finding such students, often preferring to concentrate on finding the right alternative test rather than finding new ways to combine the use of both types of measures.
- We refuse to address this problem intensively at the program level, which means we do not create fulltime self-contained classes for these learners where they have a comprehensive and integrated learning experience from kindergarten on. Studies of significant growth by these populations suggest that more, not less, grouping is facilitative of their overall cognitive and affective development.
- We have not learned from urban models of working with critical masses of these students over the past 20 years with respect to programming options that work and successful curriculum and instructional interventions at the classroom level, all of which require multiple years to show success and significant progress. In these settings, low income students are in the majority (albeit not at the same representational level as in the school-wide population). Places like Chicago and San Diego have deep insights to offer us as a field if we would pay attention about what works and what doesn’t.
- We have not focused sufficiently on these students’ strength areas in respect to program intervention, especially as it relates to accelerated learning in key domains. Appropriate doses of content acceleration also have a positive effect on self-esteem, genuinely earned through high level performance in a given area.
- We have not sufficiently recognized and cherished individual differences within the gifted population. While we have emerged as a field based on the individual differences literature, our programs and services that are labeled “gifted” are too frequently one size fits all. Accommodating differences in rate of learning, domain of aptitude, cognitive style differences, and multicultural backgrounds should be the model of excellence we are displaying to the rest of education within our pull-out and self-contained programs. Too rarely is this the case, making it difficult to serve underrepresented populations well.
- We have not taken seriously the need to provide programs that match students’ level and domain of aptitude. For many students from low income backgrounds, the lack of bridging experiences that give them a headstart or allow them to catch up to more traditional gifted students are not routinely provided. These are especially crucial at the transition points of schooling for these learners—early childhood, middle school, high school, and college. While models are available for such programs, they are available only in isolated locations rather than seen as a routine part of a value-added education for these students.
- Teaching in gifted classrooms has not routinely built on the “creative positives” so well-articulated by Torrance and others in work with these learners. Using analogical reasoning, oral and expressive activities, collaborative learning groups, and open-ended tasks that stress creative thinking should characterize our classroom-based work with these special populations.
- While we understand the importance of social support mechanisms for these students, based on over 20 years of research suggesting that personalizing the educational process through ongoing relationships with tutors, mentors, and teachers matters, we do not have the resources to mount specific value-added services to our programs for these learners. Thus, we fail to provide the counseling glue that is needed to keep them in gifted programs even when they are identified, to counsel them into advanced courses at secondary level, and to prepare them and their families for the reality of college preparation, application, and acceptance.
- We have not routinely engaged learners in assessing their own abilities, aptitudes, interests, and values. Consequently, our most at-risk young people many times lack an appreciation for who they are and how they might fit or develop a niche in the larger society. This problem is but one of many that highlights our lack of resources to address the social-emotional development of gifted learners, regardless of background.
- Underachievement problems are common in low income learners for a variety of reasons. Just as we know that programming for these students cannot be done using the same interventions that we use with achieving gifted students, so we should be cognizant of the dual problems of low economic status and underachievement when we design program options.
- Parent communication, involvement, and education about the “accrual of educational advantage” has not been a routine part of our parent development agenda. Consequently, the needed home-school collaborative relationships have not been activated with these families.
- We have not disseminated our success stories with these students. Many of the successful programs have been written up, but are part of a fugitive literature, buried in research and evaluation offices at local, state, and federal levels instead of in our journals and magazines informing the educational and lay community.
- Create a strong local and state gifted program infrastructure that can provide the cohesive services needed by underrepresented groups.
- Create collaborative relationships and structures with other agencies and departments whose major mission is to serve these groups.
- Create more models of excellence in meeting these students’ needs collectively and individually.