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(Ohio) Gifted in the 21st Century Revisited — Finding 1

February 25, 2010

In April, the Ohio Association for Gifted Children (OAGC) has been invited to share  concerns/requests with the State Board of Education regarding the upcoming education budget.  As a prelude to this presentation, the High Ability bloggers thought it would be interesting to highlight the progress made on the seven findings in the “Gifted in the 21st Century” Task Force Report.  This report was released in 2002.

Finding 1: Policy: Policies at both the state and local levels should promote educational opportunities for children who are gifted.  Many local board of education policies present barriers to best practices in the education of children who are gifted.  Further, some state procedures and other policies may be detrimental to the provision of services for these children.

The most progress in this area has been related to academic acceleration.  Whereas in 2002 most districts had anti-acceleration acceleration policies, the adoption of an acceleration mandate in 2005 and the subsequent adoption of a state model acceleration policy in 2006 pushed schools and the state to reexamine policies on early admission to kindergarten, grade promotion and retention, prerequisite requirements, and high school graduation.  (Recent data, however, also shows that while access to acceleration statewide has improved, progress has not been universal.  This suggests that a strong pro-acceleration policy is an essential, but not sufficient, ingredient for progress.)

More recently, a provision in the Ohio Core legislation directing ODE and the State Board of Education to develop a credit flexibility plan and requiring districts to provide options for students to earn credit based on demonstration of mastery (vs. completion of “seat time.”)  While credit flexibility is not specifically a “gifted education” policy, it has great potential to benefit gifted students.  While the state and many districts have been “allowed” to provide “educational options” provisions on the books for years allowing students to earn credit through mentorships, internships, independent studies, educational travel, and online programs, few students been encouraged to take advantage of the flexibility allowed, in large part because state policies related to funding, assessment, accountability, educator qualifications, and data reporting were still based on the assumption that all students would learn in the same way in the same place at the same time (for the same amount of time), making it difficult even for schools that wanted to provide flexibility to do so.  The credit flexibility mandate is now forcing a (sometimes stressful) reexamination of the entire web of policies and assumptions that govern how we “do” high school.  Time will tell whether the credit flexibility initiative receives the attention and support it needs at both the state and local levels to be a transformational reform effort or merely a niche initiative benefiting a handful of students while leaving the “factory model” in place for the vast majority.  The credit flexibility policy mandate takes effect in the fall of 2010.

Educators concerned about gifted students have also struggled to gain attention given the powerful influence of the “No Child Left Behind” act of 2001 on state and local policies and priorities.  Because the incentives and penalties embedded in NCLB focused so heavily on schools leading students to basic “proficiency” and provided few rewards for schools that helped students go above and beyond the minimum standards, curricula and programs emphasizing acceleration and talent development became a lower priority, which contributed to stagnation in many districts and a scaling back of gifted services in many others.  On a positive note, ODE and the State Board deserve credit for lobbying then Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to allow states to replace school evaluation systems based on “absolute proficiency” with “growth models,” rightly arguing that the absolute proficiency models fail to encourage schools to help both students far below and already above the proficiency threshold.  State leaders should build on this going forward by enhancing and expanding tools that help educators use “value added” data to make informed program choices and better differentiate curriculum to meet the individual needs of students.

Note from Ann: Both the state acceleration policy and the credit flexibility law were initiatives that the Ohio Association for Gifted Children (OAGC) advocated for in the Ohio General Assembly.  OAGC believes the credit flexibility model would be further strengthened if state-set scores on national tests were used to allow students to show content mastery. While OAGC supports the growth model, it does not appear to be particular helpful in Ohio as the assessments do not measure above level growth and gifted student growth data is not captured or reported at the state level.

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