Well the new school year is certainly shaping up to start with a bang, isn’t it? Comes a story that could have significant impact not only on the discussion of gifted education in the county, but homeschooling too.
This week the Gazette ran a story headlined: Parent advocate says his daughter should be allowed to skip grades – School system would enroll her in advanced elementary classes. I’m actually acquainted with the parent in question through my involvement with last year’s AEI Advisory Committee meetings and have a lot of empathy for him. (You can relive the drama (referenced in the article) by trolling through my archives from the spring–or reading his own posts on the Parents’ Coalition blog). Here’s the situation:
Caitlyn, who has been home-schooled with the Calvert School curriculum since leaving Seven Locks Elementary School in first grade, has the certificates to show that she can handle middle school coursework. Yet, the school system will not allow her to enroll in middle school, mainly because of her age.
Caitlyn, who lives in Bethesda, would go to Cabin John Middle School in Potomac, if allowed, despite the fact that she’s of fourth-grade age.
Her Calvert School certificates, obtained by The Gazette, show that she has passed the fifth grade and completed math at a seventh-grade level. According to her father, a staff member at Cabin John told him personally that Caitlyn should be enrolled at the school.
“I have proof that my daughter is beyond third grade,” Kumar Singam said. “We took her out of the system, and we’re asking the school system to place her according to her grade accomplishment.”
Martin M. Creel, the school system’s director of Enriched and Innovative Programs, said that officials have offered Kumar’s daughter the opportunity to take advanced courses in elementary school.
Although Creel could not speak specifically about her case, he said that the system buses students to nearby middle schools for advanced courses. And, because Caitlyn is certified to handle middle school math, “that is something that we would certainly offer in this case,” Creel said.
Where to start? So many questions. But I’ll start with the one of most interest to GT advocates in the county: What exactly, pray tell, are the “advanced courses in elementary school” that Mr. Creel has offered?
It seems that they are willing to bus Caitlyn to a nearby middle school for math (she’s working 3 grades above her age grade level). Of course. They’re always willing to do it for math.
But what about everything else? What about science, social studies, language arts? Does MCPS propose 4th grade William and Mary and Jr. Great Books for a child who has completed 5th grade? Have they offered her a seat in a Center for the Highly Gifted program? A few days ago I asked Mr. Singam, and he stated, “I did press them for a clear articulation of “advanced” work they were proposing. No reply.”
There is precedent for grade “skipping” in MCPS. However the reporter gets it all wrong on two fronts.
While grade skipping can be useful for some children, it is not for others, said one parent on the GTALetters listserv, a forum that county parents use to discuss gifted and talented education. That parent asked not to be identified because his child finally was skipped after a lengthy battle with the school system.
First, by not citing any research on grade acceleration the reporter does a real disservice to readers, allowing the general bias against grade acceleration to hang out there. The parent in question (a mom I know) referred him to the Davidson Institute for an expert comment, but he failed to follow up. Second, the parent the reporter references did NOT have a “lengthy battle with the school system.” Her journey to grade skipping for her child was actually incredibly smooth: she asked for the grade skips, and got them, thanks to individuals in system who were willing to go do things other than the norm when they recognized that this was best for her child. Imagine that. (Her child is doing just fine, by the way.)
Regarding homeschooling and school placement, the Maryland COMAR says:
.04 Placement in Public School.
Upon application of a child for admission to a public school from a home instruction program, the local superintendent shall determine by an evaluation the placement of the child and any credits to be awarded toward high school graduation. The evaluation may include administration of standardized tests and examinations and interviews with the child.
However the Caitlyn was enrolled and warmly welcomed to middle school based on her school record and the judgment of the principal. And it needs to be pointed out that her “home instruction” wasn’t some potentially questionable, loosey-goosey, mom-grade homeschooling thing. Her parents were using the Calvert School homeschooling curriculum, a Maryland state accredited homeschooling program that has been around for 90 years.
MCPS is terrified of the precedent this case could set, which is why gifted advocates in the county are watching closely.
Caitlyn has completed 5th grade. She was warmly welcomed to 6th grade before MCPS higher ups got involved. She should be allowed to enroll in Cabin John Middle School. Meet her academic needs–that’s what schools are supposed to do–and let her parents and school work together on any social emotional concerns that might arise, as they arise.