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Revisiting (Ohio) Gifted in the 21st Century — Finding 3

March 12, 2010

The Ohio Association for Gifted Children (OAGC) has been invited to share  concerns/requests at the April 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.  This week we will look at Finding 3.

Finding 3: Services and Identification: Currently, districts are not required to offer any services to children who are identified as gifted. A recent survey indicated that during the 1998-1999 school year, of the 236,804 children identified as gifted in Ohio, only 103,087, or 43.5 percent, were receiving any kind of service. Of those receiving services, only 41,245, or 40 percent, were receiving services through state funding. Without a system that supports acceleration, differentiation options and other appropriate services, the probability increases that children who are gifted will become alienated from school.

It is critical to accurately identify children’s gifted areas to know what services to provide. Ohio Administrative Code (3301-51-15) requires districts to identify in the areas of superior cognitive ability, specific academic ability, creative ability and visual and performing arts ability. Even though Ohio has mandated that districts identify children from kindergarten through grade 12, too little emphasis has been placed on the early identification of children who are gifted. In addition, many special populations go unnoticed in the identification process. Without attention to these underrepresented populations, appropriate services cannot be planned or provided.

While some progress has been made in the area of identification (approximately 50,000 more students are now identified as gifted in Ohio now than were identified a decade ago), the news on service is mostly bad.  In a recent presentation to the State Board of Education, Associate State Superintendent Jane Wiechel reported that today only about one in four students identified as gifted receives any form of service — a major step in the wrong direction.  Further, minority and economically disadvantaged students continue to face a “double whammy.”  Not only are they less likely to be screened and identified as gifted than White, Asian, and non-economically disadvantaged peers, those who are fortunate enough to be identified as gifted are still less likely to receive gifted services than non-minority and non-disadvantaged peers.  This is particularly troubling, as ODE data on OAT and OGT achievement clearly show gifted students who do not receive services perform at lower levels than students who are served, and as a recent report by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy featured in Education Week shows the achievement gap between Ohio’s highest performing Black and White students has grown substantially over the last decade.

The inclusion of language related to early entrance to kindergarten in the state acceleration policy has focused some additional attention on young gifted students, and ODE has recently made efforts to reach out to early childhood educators, day care providers, and parents to raise awareness of the needs and characteristics of young gifted children.  State law, however, does not recognize giftedness among students below grade K, and while educators and policymakers at all levels are increasingly recognizing the importance of enrichment for children from birth to the start of formal schooling, formal efforts to identify and cultivate talent have been limited in scope.  Some schools also remain hesitant to screen students in the early grades for gifted identification, arguing that early screening results in “over identification.”  Nonetheless, a handful of school districts (including State Superintendent Delisle’s former district, Cleveland Heights-University Heights) have found providing enrichment to young students and training to early grades teachers to be a promising strategy for reducing racial and economic disproportionality in gifted education.  As the “achievement gap” widens each year students are in school, waiting to begin serious identification efforts until students are in third or fourth grade means missing the best opportunity to identify students from many underrepresented populations.

Guidelines and procedures for identifying students in the visual and performing arts have also been streamlined since 2000, and a coalition of gifted and arts educators have been working to identify and develop curriculum resources for creatively and artistically gifted students.  There are some hopeful signs, however, that state leaders (including Governor Strickland) are recognizing the value cultivating creativity and artistic talent for students and for the economy.  The loss of funding for the Summer Honors Institutes for gifted students was another setback for arts-related opportunities, as several host universities offered immersion programs in theater, dance, music performance and recording, and multimedia production.  Hopefully this is another area where the credit flexibility initiative will be helpful.  Already, university-based and professional arts organizations such as the Wexner Center and BalletMet in the Columbus area are exploring ways to connect their outreach and education missions to credit flexibility opportunities.

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