Students in a summer enrichment program in Montgomery County prepare for accelerated and gifted programs. Photo: Emma Howells/ New York Times
“Gifted” programs are becoming “enriched studies” in Montgomery County, Maryland, reports Dana Goldstein in the New York Times. The goal of the huge school system, which is both high performing and diverse, is to qualify a broader mix of students for advanced work.
In hopes of closing “the excellence gap,” Montgomery County has turned its elementary magnets for “highly gifted” students into Centers for Enriched Studies, which are supposed to enroll “students who are outliers at their neighborhood schools” rather than those with the highest abilities countywide.
Every third grader in the county was considered for admission this year. In addition, the district gave more weight to classroom performance, less to the Cognitive Abilities Test.
Parents can no longer submit private evaluations attesting that their children are gifted — statements that can be secured by paying hundreds of dollars to a psychologist. Teacher recommendations, too, now play a smaller role. (Research has found educators are less likely to recommend low-income students of color, even when their performance is identical to middle-class and white peers.)
The demographics changed.
In 2016, 23 percent of students in the county’s elementary school magnet programs for the highly gifted were black and Hispanic, in a district where half the students belong to those groups. This year, 31 percent of the students selected for the Centers for Enriched Studies were black or Hispanic. A fifth came from low-income families, nearly double the percentage who were accepted two years ago. The white share of the accepted population increased, too, by 3 percentage points. But the Asian share of the population admitted to the special schools dropped 8 points.
Affluent whites and Asian-Americans complain the process isn’t transparent, writes Goldstein. They also worry that “the level of instruction at the magnet schools will fall as students are accepted from lower-performing elementary schools,” writes Goldstein.
At a magnet that piloted the changes, not every students performed above grade level, said Kimberly Petrola, a fourth-grade teacher. Teachers gave simpler assignments to some students.
There are lots of kids who’d benefit from an enriched curriculum and higher expectations. But then what do we offer the “highly gifted?”