The “gifted and talented” label is on the way out in Baltimore County, reports Liz Bowie for the Baltimore Sun. The district eliminated accelerated classes for the brightest elementary students last year.
Replacing “gifted and talented” with “advanced academics” isn’t popular with parents of high achievers, writes Bowie. They fear their gifted children’s needs will be ignored.
Teachers say it’s challenging to meet the needs of high, average and low achievers in a single classroom.
One fifth of Baltimore County students have been chosen as gifted in third and fifth grades “based on achievement and other, more subjective criteria, including personality, creativity, curiosity and ability to concentrate,” she writes. (Most districts designate a much smaller percentage of students as gifted.)
In the elementary grades, teachers now teach different levels of students in the same classroom. They break students into groups by ability, and then work their way around the classroom, instructing each of the groups according to its level. Educators say the small-group model allows them to move students in and out of groups more easily.
Advanced students are placed in separate classes for fourth- and fifth-grade math and in middle and high school.
“Baltimore County school officials say too many children, particularly minorities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, were relegated to lower-level classwork” under the old system, wrote Bowie earlier this year.
“If you got the golden ticket, you would ride the train from third grade to 12th grade. If you didn’t, then chances are you weren’t going to step onto it later in your academic career,” said Wade Kerns, the school system’s coordinator of advanced academics.
However, the new policy hasn’t qualified more disadvantaged students for advanced academic work, writes Bowie.
In the 2012-2013 school year, before the program change, 21.15 percent of black children in the sixth grade were labeled gifted. Last school year, that declined to 19.69 percent. The percentage of Latino gifted students increased slightly.
For economically disadvantaged children, the percentage of sixth-graders labeled gifted declined from 19.41 percent to 18.73 percent.
Jeanne Paynter, a former head of gifted-and-talented education in the Maryland State Department of Education, told Bowie teachers may not recognize children with high aptitude or know how to differentiate instruction for very bright students.
She also said high-achieving black and Latino students often attend struggling schools with inexperienced teachers focused on raising low achievers’ test scores. “Generally what happens is the advanced group is going to wait and wait and wait until the teacher gets to them,” she said. “Every child should have the right to be instructed and grow and learn.”