If Districts Aren’t Responsible for the Growth of Gifted Students, Who Is?
Last month I had the opportunity to testify in Akron before the House Finance Extended Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education. This is the subcommittee that will be exploring ways to overhaul school funding in Ohio. The topic for the evening was categorical and weighted funding. As each witness was provided only six minutes to speak, much of what I wanted to share with committee members was included in written testimony. Despite the short length of time to testify, I was gratified that the subcommittee member questions were quite thoughtful. One question in particular cut to the core of why gifted students are so poorly funded and served in Ohio — as well as in many states across the country. The question was how can we dispel the myth that gifted education is elitist and that gifted kids can “get it on their own?”
It is more than a little discouraging that we are still asking this question. There are decades of research about the distribution of gifted students across the soci0-economic and racial spectrum as well as research on impact of quality services for this population. Unfortunately, the public-at-large and general educators, in particular, are loathe to take responsibility for the needs of gifted students largely because they do not see any need to do so. While I could have answered the question several different ways, I chose to answer with what I truly what believe will help gifted students the most: data — more specifically –performance growth data.
Ohio, like many states, has dumbed down expectations of our highest achieving students by maintaining a singular focus on achieving low levels of proficiency. Almost 60% of our districts are rated as “Excellent” or above within an accountability system that appears to be created solely for the benefit of making districts look and feel good about student performance. (See OAGC’s Grading on a Curve for more details). Meanwhile, true student performance continues to stagnate or decline on international benchmarks. If are we only going to judge district performance on the basis of proficiency, that is all we will achieve. This approach works largely for adults in the system, but not so much for children – especially gifted children.
As Ohio overhauls the district report card, we have a rare opportunity to look not just at performance and value-added growth of all students as a whole, but of student sub-groups as well. Ohio’s initial ESEA waiver (click on Full Wavier and go to page 62) included information about breaking the performance and growth of gifted students as a sub-group. Unfortunately, the Ohio Department of Education has done little if anything to move forward with this promise, but that is a blog post for another day…
Are there potential problems with measuring the growth of gifted students? Yes, there may well be. We may have issues with low population sizes and low test ceilings. And we surely will need to determine a better method for assessing accelerated students. However, until we actually move down the growth data path, we can never begin to resolve these issues. The truth is that for far too long in Ohio, as well as other states, districts have had a free pass when it comes to accountability for gifted students. We know that is has had a negative impact on gifted student performance, and smart coordinators gathering data at local districts can show just how negative the impact has been. But this data is largely hidden from the public. We need to begin collecting the data at the state level, and shine the light on the issue. Until we do, gifted kids who can hit proficiency level scores in their sleep will continue to languish in schools across the state. Growth data on gifted students as a sub-group could eventually give us a tremendous amount of information about the types of services that are most effective, the value of gifted coordination at the district level, and the impact of service or lack thereof especially with gifted students in high poverty areas. So back to my title: if districts are not responsible for the growth of gifted students, who is? Without state-level growth data to show what is or what is not happening for gifted students in this state, the answer is “no one.” And we simply cannot let that continue to be the case.