Friday, February 24, 2006

Schools abandon gifted programs because few blacks and Hispanics were being admitted

Lori Aratani:

Middle school magnet programs in Montgomery County have traditionally operated as schools within schools, offering specialized curriculum to a few select students -- who have been mostly Asian and white.

But this fall, educators decided to try a different approach. Instead of selecting a few hundred students for traditional school magnets, officials opened magnet programs at three middle schools to everyone.

In doing so, county educators -- like officials of a growing number of school systems across the country -- are trying to find a more diverse pool of students. They are experimenting with new ways to reach out to students who might have special abilities but may not have been recognized through traditional screening methods.

"In the future, where we want to move is where it's not so much identifying children as gifted and talented so much as getting them the services they need to reach their potential," said Martin Creel, director of the accelerated enriched instruction division.

In Fairfax County, educators have created the Young Scholars Program, aimed at identifying kindergartners from underrepresented populations who have potential but might need extra support. The school system also has added expanded honors classes at its middle schools in hopes of giving a broader spectrum of students more opportunities, said Carol Horn, coordinator of gifted programs for the school system.

"We've changed from labeling children to labeling services," Horn said. "It's not whether you're gifted, it's what's appropriate for you."

The approach has its critics -- those who fear that curriculum will be watered down because too many kids with varying abilities are being thrown together. But Montgomery and Fairfax officials -- like those undertaking similar efforts across the country -- insist that the quality of education will not be diminished. Key to the task is offering high-quality training that helps educators understand how to reach all students, Creel said.

At two elementary schools, Georgian Forest in Silver Spring and Burning Tree in Bethesda, that means piloting an approach in which students are not formally labeled "gifted and talented" solely through traditional testing. Instead, teachers spend more time watching how individual students perform and place them based on those observations. The change doesn't necessarily mean that all students will be in the highest-level reading group, but it is a strategy for reaching out to kids who might have been overlooked in the past, said Georgian Forest Principal Donald D. Masline.

Educators hope that the new approach will help them address why black and Hispanic students continue to lag behind white and Asian counterparts in achievement and why so few take advanced classes or are admitted into accelerated programs.

Evie Frankl, co-chairman of the Montgomery County Education Forum, one of several groups pushing educators to do away with the gifted and talented label, said she applauds the school system's efforts.

"We would never be naive enough to think it will be easy, but these pilots are exciting because teachers have a chance to work out the kinks," she said.

During the spring, Montgomery officials came under fire from a group of black parents who were concerned about the low numbers of blacks and Hispanics who were being admitted to middle school magnet programs. They were also alarmed by how few of them were being labeled "gifted and talented" by the school system's second-grade screening process, which uses a variety of yardsticks. School officials said they were working diligently to narrow the gap between students but acknowledged that they have more work to do.

Turnaround starts with stats

The Black and White Testing Gap

An educational challenge

I'm Not Really Talented and Gifted, I Just Play One for the PC Crowd


At 6:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such dishonesty is really sad. And is one more reason why home-schooling is booming.

"students with special skills not recognized by testing methods"

However, a new euphemistic phrase is born.

At 3:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So basically we are dumbing down our educational system to make blacks and Hispanics feel good about themselves.


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