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October 18, 2009

Last week, the New York Times published “Students Held Back Did Better,” an article referencing the Rand Corp. study: “Ending Social Promotion Without Leaving Children Behind: The Case of New York City.” The study analyzed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s effort to end social promotion in New York City schools, holding back students who scored at the lowest level in state English and math tests. The bottom line results:

“The RAND report, released Thursday, found that students who were kept in the fifth grade for an additional year showed significant improvement in standardized tests over the next three years compared with low-performing students before the policy went into effect.

The policy requires schools to give extra help to lagging students. The RAND study found some positive results from these interventions. Frequent attendance at special Saturday classes had no effect on English performance, but some benefits for math. The results were similar for summer school.

“What is really important to understand is that we find these short-term benefits for the students who receive the extra services as well as those who are retained,” said Jennifer Sloan McCombs, a lead author of the report. “The important policy question is whether they go into the long term.”

The study also surveyed teachers and students and found that students said that they had no less confidence after they were held back.”

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to join hundreds of other gifted education advocates and educators on a free OGTOC (Our Gifted and Talented Online Conferences) Ning Group webinar “Five Levels of Gifted: School Issues and Educational Options” featuring Deborah L. Ruf Ph.D. Dr. Ruf addressed the five different levels of giftedness and spoke to an important piece of the education puzzle: readiness. For the gifted student to be kept with age peers in the regular classroom is to ignore that child’s readiness to learn more challenging material at a faster pace. And, according to A Nation Deceived:

“America’s schools routinely avoid academic acceleration, the easiest and most effective way to help highly capable students. While the popular perception is that a child who skips a grade will be socially stunted, fifty years of research shows that moving bright students ahead often makes them happy.”

Fifty years of data. Yet nationally we continue to believe the mythology that “grade skipping” is a bad thing to be avoided at all costs. Yet nationally we continue to believe that holding underperforming students back would damage their confidence.

If school reform is going to serve the needs of all student populations it will have to abandon the strictures of the age-specific classroom. I can’t think of a better time to explore this issue than now – with some states considering lengthening the school year or the school day to meet the needs of students who require additional seat time to meet standards. How devastating for the high ability student!

Fortunately, in Ohio, our State Board of Education adopted a plan for credit flexibility “designed to broaden the scope of curricular options available to students, increase the depth of study possible for a particular subject, and allow tailoring of learning time and/or conditions. These are ways in which aspects of learning can be customized around more of students’ interests and needs.” With the plan for high school students – which will phase in during the 2009 – 2010:

Students may earn credits by:

* Completing coursework;
* Testing out of or demonstrating mastery of course content; or
* Pursuing one or more “educational options” (e.g., distance learning, educational travel, independent study, an internship, music, arts, after-school/tutorial program, community service or other engagement projects and sports).

Credit flexibility is intended to motivate and increase student learning by allowing:

* Access to more learning resources, especially real-world experiences
* Customization around individual student needs
* Use of multiple measures of learning, especially those where students demonstrate what they know and can do, apply the learning, or document performance

Meeting each student at the place where they need to be – at the point where they are ready to learn – should be our national goal. Not holding back the high ability student because they didn’t sit through a year’s worth of lectures and activities on topics already mastered – nor pushing the struggling student ahead when they may need more time to master content.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2009 12:33 am

    We’re in Illinois where gifted education is scattered. Our school district doesn’t start until third grade, which leaves our kindergarten, but reading at a second-grade level twins doing the standard kindergarten work. It’s so frustrating because all our resources are for “struggling” children. Guess what? Our girls are struggling too now because they HATE school. Every day they ask if they can stay home. I’m just frustrated and it’s only the beginning of the school year.

  2. October 20, 2009 4:20 am

    I’m a gifted education teacher in Illinois. Deep down, I’m hoping that our district’s approach to “response to intervention” will give enough weight to meeting the academic needs of the higher end. We’re fortunate to have a student services director who sees needs as needs; hopefully we’re on the right track. But it’s still an uphill battle convincing folks that it’s okay to teach children what they’re ready for, even if it doesn’t fit neatly into the plan…

  3. November 17, 2009 1:53 am

    I was in an Enrichment Studies Program back in the 70s. That’s what they called it for us “gifted” kids. I think if we didn’t have a separate program to go to, it would have made me so bored. The projects and assignments we were given called me higher.

    • November 17, 2009 1:08 pm

      There are some great resources for adults who are gifted (like you, Daniel!) – designed to help them cope with giftedness in the real world. One you may be interested in: @DeepWatersCoach blog – here

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