Marcia A. B. Delcourt
The Learning Outcomes Study was a nationwide longitudinal investigation of 1,010 elementary school children who had just entered programs for gifted learners in grades 2 and 3 when the study began. The primary purpose of the project was to assess student changes during their first two years across four types of program arrangements: Within-Class programs, Pull-Out programs, Separate Classes, and Special Schools. These types of programs were selected because they are the most frequently used classroom arrangements nationwide. The Learning Outcomes Study was extended by adding a qualitative dimension focusing on an “exemplary” model from each of the four program types. These programs were identified and studied with the intention of providing educators and policy makers with valuable information on how these programs were perceived and implemented. This study was not intended to determine whether one type of program was better than another, but rather to fully comprehend the prevailing circumstances that influence the impact of a certain type of programming arrangement in a given community.
The purposes of the qualitative study were threefold: (a) to formulate a system for selecting “exemplary” program models; (b) to further contribute to the knowledge base of gifted education by conducting in-depth examinations of outstanding elementary school gifted programs; (c) to examine ways in which outstanding programs address the needs of students from diverse cultures. All three objectives were fulfilled. Through the program selection process, two evaluation tools were created, the Program Profile Form and a set of Program Satisfaction Surveys. The forms are useful for documenting the key components of a program. They can be used to design a model or to compare several programs. Four versions of the Program Satisfaction Survey were created for students, parents, teachers, and administrators. They contain parallel items which enable an evaluator to compare responses across similar concepts.
The proposed benefits of this project also included a profile of four types of programming models commonly employed in gifted education, and specific criteria for assessing program models. In addition to descriptions of each program’s setting and general procedures (identification process, curricular options, staff selection, school demographics), program profiles included the following five criteria: leadership, atmosphere and environment, communication, curriculum and instruction, and attention to student needs. All selected programs addressed the needs of diverse populations of students in three different ways. First, all selected programs focused on the identification of underrepresented populations of students in their written policies. Second, by focusing on the individual needs of all students, teachers took into consideration specific characteristics related to children from traditionally underserved populations. Third, teachers and administrators stressed parental and community partnerships with schools, thus encouraging families to become involved with the education of their children.
Qualitative Extensions of the Learning Outcomes Study
Marcia A. B. Delcourt
- A strong program begins with an administrator who is an advocate of gifted education. The administrator must be able to describe the needs and characteristics of gifted children and elicit support from the district and community.
- Staff development on the special needs of gifted and talented children is essential for all faculty members. Program planning should involve staff members from many disciplines.
- The entire school environment should emanate a positive attitude regarding the program. The program is an integral part of the school and can add to the learning atmosphere within the building.
- Gifted and talented children have special characteristics that require different strategies. Teachers need to be aware both of the needs and of the various options available for meeting these needs.
- Flexibility is a key ingredient for the success of any program. Students’ needs and interests vary and both the teacher and program should be able to accommodate individual differences.
- Identification and program activities should be sensitive to the needs of diverse populations of gifted and talented children. Culturally diverse and economically disadvantaged students should be actively recruited.