Back to school: Are we leaving gifted students behind?
Gifted students in US public schools can be overlooked and unappreciated. Parents, looking for better options, have begun to find some.
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In an early 1990s analysis of hundreds of studies of ability grouping, researcher James Kulik found that high-IQ students in accelerated groups outperform nonaccelerated students of the same age and IQ by the equivalent of a full year of academic gain on achievement tests.Skip to next paragraph
There is research on both sides of the debate, however, and detracking advocates say that's the better approach. What's needed, they say, is a high bar for all students – with teachers getting the support they need to engage both the strugglers and the high-achievers.
Rockville Centre, N.Y., began detracking its schools in 1989, ending a fourth-grade gifted program and offering the enriched curriculum to all fourth-graders. Eventually, all ninth- and 10th-graders were being taught what used to be the honors curriculum. Teachers offered support classes for students who needed extra help. Achievement gaps have narrowed, and test scores have increased, even among students who were already the highest achievers.
Can giftedness be taught?
In Project Bright Idea in North Carolina, teachers at low-income schools are trained to teach all K-2 students with curriculum and methods usually reserved for the top fraction of students.
"We try to change teachers' dispositions, to really get them to look at individual children, to look at their learning styles," says Margaret Gayle, director of the American Association for Gifted Children at Duke University in Durham, N.C. "Instead of trying to sort them by what they don't know, [teachers begin to] find out what they do know and what their interests are."
Teachers set up a variety of "performance tasks" so students can show what they're learning. They sometimes use ability grouping, but in a fluid way, with groups constantly shifting. The results show that, in a way, "giftedness" can be taught – or at least shifted from latent to blatant.
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Overall, the students improved on a range of test scores. But more important, an independent evaluation of Project Bright Idea found that, on average across three years of the study, 20 percent of the K-2 students taught with these techniques were identified as gifted – compared with only 10 percent of a control group. In other words, the number of kids who show up on the radar screen as gifted actually doubles because of the way they're taught in the early grades.
"There's just a lot we don't know," Ms. Gayle says, "about what we can expect if we really tried to nurture each child as if we believed they have a lot of unusual ability that can be developed."
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