So, let’s take a closer look at the document released hastily by the Office of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction on December 24th, shall we?
The document entitled “Montgomery County Public Schools is Not Eliminating Gifted Programs: Questions and Answers” seeks to provide answers and reassurance on the following questions:
- What is the current process for gifted and talented identification?
- What plans are under development to change the global screening process?
- How would this new screening, articulation process work?
- Will MCPS continue to have gifted and talented programs?
- What is the timeline for any changes and how will public input be gathered?
Let’s start with the title. Pay close attention to the use of the term “Gifted Programs.” The only “gifted programs” in MCPS are the Centers for the Highly Gifted, the elementary magnet at Takoma which is basically non-existent at this point, the application/test-in middle school magnets, and the application/test-in high school magnets.” Outside of these programs there is no “gifted program” in MCPS schools! There is no “gifted curriculum.” GT middle school classes follow the same, standard MCPS grade level curriculum. What’s more, there is in fact a move afoot toward heterogeneous classrooms, with one-size-fits-all curricula, particularly at middle school. The use of “gifted program” is to assure parents with kids in those special programs–most other people read it and think/assume this means GT programming in local schools…which is non-existent outside some acceleration in math. For all the students remaining in “regular” schools, the operative word is “services” which is as ad hoc and opaque as it sounds.
To the first point, the current situation. The paper states that “after making recommendations for instruction, the AEI committee uses the multiple criteria to identify students as gifted and talented. Decisions not to identify cannot bar any student from receiving accelerated and enriched instruction.” Well, actually they do. That second grade screening identifies which students should be tested still further for admittance to the Centers for the Highly Gifted. And you can be sure that a student not identified as GT cannot receive that accelerated and enriched instruction. In fact, many kids who ARE GT can’t get into the Centers. Same with the magnets. Now as for any other class…well the policy is that any parent can ask that their child be placed in an more challenging class and has the final say. But as many parents know, easier said than than done.
The next point. The paper states that “Contrary to reports in a recent Washington Post article, there are no plans to discontinue labeling of students for this school year.” Note the wording: for this school year. Clearly this has already been decided. It’s coming. It’s just a matter of when, according to AEI. So much for “robust discussion with parents and community stakeholders.” Kabuki.
The new screening process that eliminates labeling in favor of services is described as a huge advance for parents (I can just hear Kay Williams’ soothing tones). Parents would be “provided the recommendations from the screening so that they are fully informed of their children’s readiness to excel at a higher level. Students are then provided advanced work based on the results of the screening process, consultation with parents, and the ongoing assessment of the students’ needs.” Sounds lovely, no? But anyone who has been in a parent-teacher meeting, anyone who has gone through an EMT or tried to get an IEP enforced knows how much “consultation” happens. And if the use of MAP-R data is any guide, why should anyone believe promises of “providing recommendations from screening? (MCPS has collected–and closely scrutinized–MAP-R data for something like five or six years and to my knowledge no school currently routinely shares that information with parents. Why? Because all holy hell would break out if parents knew that their kids are reading several grades above level and would start demanding “services.”) So how does this new proposed regime, which gives parents even less information make things better?
As one mom wrote in the comments section of the Dec. 16 Post article:
[A]t our no-label school, we get test scores with virtually no information about what they mean. Without the label, it is hard to hold the school accountable for meeting the needs of our kids. It gives us parents less information to work with and makes being our kids advocate that much more challenging. “Gifted” labelling may not be politically correct, but explain that to the smart kid who is bored all day because schools are being held less accountable to differentiate lessons for him.
How would the articulation process work? “Rather than a one time screening that results in a label, a systematized, ongoing process of screening would be implemented. Beginning in Grade 2, students would be recommended for advanced level work in reading language arts and mathematics based on a similar set of data used in the global screening process.”
What is “a similar set of data?” They already use teacher and parent input, resulting in crazy high GT identification rates. What more could they use that they aren’t using already. Or is it everything but the Raven and InView? And what is “advanced level work?” Does that mean out of grade level acceleration for all subjects? What of social studies and science? Oh, those aren’t important for NCLB.
AEI protests that “Reducing programs that serve students ready for challenging coursework would be counterproductive to the MCPS strategic plan’s goals to increase the number of students successfully performing at high levels.” Secret is, the strategic plan’s goals are not high-level goals. In other venues AEI has asserted that its “Star Trajectory benchmarks” are both GT objectives and objectives intended to be achieved by 80 percent of students. So how does that address gifted students? To quote one of my favorite movies, “when every one is super, no one will be.”
My take-away? MCPS is redefining the gifted population to the 3-4% of students in the special gifted programs. MPCS will be in compliance with state law in terms of screening for those students and providing them “services.” It will “label” what many typically think is the “right amount” for identified giftedness versus the ridiculous 40% we have now.
Meanwhile, “Gifted” will cease to exist in “regular” schools…not only in name (witness the whole “no labels” issue), but in practice (hello hetergeneous classes!) as they talk up “rigor” and “high standards for all.”