Marcia A. B. Delcourt and Jay A. McIntire
The University of Virginia
What are the characteristics of effective school programs for high ability students? Investigations of cognitive and affective outcomes for gifted students have been reported in the literature (Cornell, Delcourt, Goldberg, & Bland, 1992; Feldhusen & Sayler, 1990; Goldring, 1990; Vaughn, Feldhusen, & Asher, 1991), however, these studies have not focused on the perceptions of school personnel, parents, and students across several types of programs.
We had available a national sample of third, fourth, and fifth grade students from four program arrangements: special schools, separate class programs, pull-out programs, and within class programs. Each type of program was represented by three or four school districts. All students had been in their respective programs for one year. The focus of the survey was to understand what impact members of the school community felt the program had on its clientele.
Parallel forms of the survey were developed for students, parents, teachers of the gifted, program coordinators, and school principals. Survey questions for parents, teachers, and administrators addressed the areas of achievement, challenge, social development, self-concept, curriculum, communication about the program, and general attitudes concerning the program. Respondents were instructed to complete the survey about their particular program. Survey questions were worded to reflect the roles of the respondents. For example, parents were asked to assess the program’s impact upon their own child, while teachers and administrators were asked to assess the impact of the program for both gifted and non-gifted students. Each of these survey versions consisted of seven to nine multiple choice items with four possible responses ( i.e., very important, somewhat important, of little importance, not important) and one or two open-ended questions. The student version included four items about course content, challenge, enjoyment, and social relationships. Students responded to the questions by circling one of three choices: most of the time, sometimes, never.
The student sample was selected to include individuals who were identified as disadvantaged (receiving free or reduced price school lunch) and who represented diverse racial/ethnic groups. From a sample of 300 students, 43 were categorized as disadvantaged and 91 were non-Caucasian. The sample was selected from 57 schools across the four program types. All students and their parents were surveyed anonymously about the particular program operating in their school, as were the teachers of the gifted for each student, the program coordinator, and the school principal.
Parallel items across all four survey versions were analyzed; therefore, only items relating to course content, challenge, enjoyment, and social relationships are included in this report. Survey results were analyzed using a Chi-square procedure. These calculations were based on a comparison between the expected number of responses for each survey question and the actual responses across each program type. The .05 level of significance was employed interpreting these results.
- When compared to responses from students in pull-out programs, separate classes, or special schools, students from within class programs reported less frequently that their programs presented them with new content or challenging work.
- Students in special school programs reported significantly greater enjoyment of their relationships with peers in the gifted program than did students in separate class or within class programs.
- Students in pull-out programs reported significantly greater enjoyment of their relationships with peers in the gifted program than did students in within class programs.
Since no significant differences were found between teachers and administrators on any variable, these groups were combined.
- Teachers and administrators in special schools and in schools with separate classes reported greater increases in student attitudes toward school, greater student achievement increases due to program participation, and greater increases in student self-confidence than did teachers and administrators in schools using pull-out or within class models.
- Teachers and administrators among the four program types did not differ significantly in their perceptions of the level of challenge offered by their school’s gifted program, nor did they differ in their perceptions of viewing their gifted program as an appropriate model for their students.
- Parents of children in separate class programs reported greater increases in student attitudes toward school than did parents of students in pull-out or within class model programs.
- Parents of children in special schools, separate classes, and pull-out programs viewed the program as offering more challenging work than did the parents of children from within class programs.
- Parents of children in separate class programs attributed greater achievement increases to participation in the gifted program than did parents with children from within class programs.
- Parents of children in separate class programs reported greater gains in self-confidence due to participation in gifted programming than did parents with children in within class programs.
- Parents of students who participated in homogeneously grouped instruction for the gifted at least part of the time (separate school, separate class, and pull-out programs) attributed greater achievement increases to participation in the gifted program and reported higher levels of self-confidence in their children than did parents of children who were in full time heterogeneously grouped classes (within class programs).
- Parents with children attending within class programs were less likely to see these programs as beneficial as compared to parents with children in each of the other program types.
For this sample, parents, students, teachers, and administrators from the within class model for high ability students seemed less satisfied with the program than did individuals from districts employing other models. Since his survey focused on perceptions, these results are a product not only of what happens in the program, but the information individuals receive about it. As a follow-up investigation of parent attitudes, we examined their comments regarding the question, “Do you think this program has been beneficial for your child?” Parents of students in the heterogeneously grouped model were the most likely to respond that they did not know enough about their child’s overall program. Teachers and administrators employing this design should be certain that their school personnel and parents are fully informed about how the curriculum is differentiated for the students and how the program operates. Content and design for all types of programming arrangements should be evaluated on a regular basis to ensure an appropriate fit with the students’ needs. For additional information about classroom practices for high ability students and differentiating the curriculum for the gifted, refer to research by Westberg, Archambault, Dobyns, and Salvin (in press) and Reis and Purcell (in press), respectively. A review of evaluation techniques in gifted education can be found in an article by Tomlinson, Bland, and Moon (in press).
Each of the four programs in this study employed a different student grouping arrangement (special school, separate class, pull-out program, within class program). The models selected by each community were based on their philosophy and needs. While one type of program may be more beneficial for a particular child than another type, the way that the program is implemented determines its satisfaction rating, no matter the type of program.