In February, the Washington Examiner chose to highlight what this column has repeatedly insisted, the gifted and talented (GT) label has possibly become the new “average.” The penchant for labeling nearly forty-percent of second graders as gifted and talented is what this column dubbed the Potomac River Effect. The truly gifted, it is generally agreed, make up about 5% of the population. The bottom line is that the Potomac River Effect, if indeed a bona fide academic phenomenon, mitigates in favor of ramping up the rigor of the elementary school curriculum.
What happens to the average of 40% labeled gifted and talented? Are they placed in special GT classrooms that feature project based learning and the likes? With the exception of a very small minority of students who qualify for admission to the few Elementary Centers for the Highly Gifted, most are simply accommodated in the regular classroom. Yes, according to a publicly available MCPS presentation, the GT labeled child simply gets placed in a higher grade level class in reading and/or math. Clearly, the label is not a gateway to classes with “more rigor and more depth.”
Not only has the school system acknowledged that the GT screening process, known as Global Screening, identifies above-grade performers in math and or reading, it has demonstrated that those who qualify are then placed in the appropriate class in the higher grade. In other words, the GT label is a means of rectifying the consequences of a curriculum pitched below an average of 40% of second-graders.
For the unconvinced, MCPS maintains a webpage on “College Readiness.” One of the keys to “College Readiness” is performing “advanced” in reading and “advanced” in math by grade 5, etc. It could be interpreted as saying, that to be ready for college you must be too advanced for the MCPS curriculum.
In 2008, the then director of MCPS gifted and talented programming, Marty Creel, asserted “We’re not identifying these kids as geniuses, but as ready to work above grade level.” Squarely equating the gifted label with the metric of above grade performance, Creel, perhaps unintentionally, has drawn attention to the reality that the Montgomery County Public Schools curriculum, at the very least in elementary grades, lacks the rigor for a significant population (actual reports are available here and here). It also points to another reality—the gap between white students and minorities is very much alive. It could bring into question the credibility of claims that MCPS has “raised the bar and close[d] the gaps” (see here as well). The 2009 report, obtained by this columnist, shows that an average of 38.7% of second graders was performing “above grade level.” The “gap” between the percentage of white students and African-American students identified was around 30 percentage points in 2006-2007, 2007-2008, and in 2008-2009. No, there has been no gap closing even with a curriculum that the system claims an average of about 40% of second graders find unchallenging.
“Does the ‘Gifted’ Label Get In the Way of Developing Real Potential?” asked the New York Times, and Education Week argued “’Gifted’ Label Said to Miss Dynamic Nature of Talent.” Montgomery County Public Schools, in Maryland, seem to have demonstrated that sometimes there are other reasons the label serves no one well.
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