Not everyone is likely to embrace the increasing rigor of a curriculum. That is a practical reality that every educator must face.
Honorific titles matter. That is also a reality educators must realize. For example, the New York Times chronicled a schoolwhere “educators and parents are re-examining the role of honor societies, which started out as an academic distinction reserved for the top 5 or 10 percent of a class but have become a routine item on college résumés.” Nearly “a third of the 1,200 juniors and seniors belong to honor societies,” with the “average among those students [of] three apiece.”
Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit educational policy group in Washington, D.C., is quoted as saying that such devaluation of standards “cheapens the currency,” of the once prestigious honor.
Things are no better in the Fordham Institute’s own backyard, Montgomery County, Maryland. Here, the public school system hands out the gifted and talented (GT) label to an average of about 40% of second graders to the catcalls of the Washington Post and the incredulity of some GT advocates. According to the Post’s Daniel DeVise, “The label of gifted, [is] as prized to some parents as a “My Child Is an Honor Student” bumper sticker.” The Washington Examiner joined the mêlée, asserting “Toss a piece of chalk in a local classroom, and chances are strong it will land on the desk of a budding genius — or at least one labeled as such.”
In December 2009, the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews wrote, “Saying your kid is gifted makes us parents feel good, if we ignore the fact that the lowest-scoring gifted child and the one who just missed getting the designation are pretty much the same, yet one gets special attention and one doesn’t. Many school districts are trying to eliminate this inequity, but very quietly because so many parents love the label.”
Inexplicably, MCPS does not publicly disclose the criteria used to select students for the GT label. However, this columnist has obtained the screening manual through a public information act request.
The first MCPS pathway to the gifted and talented (GT) label requires that a student possess at least three (3) of the following five (5) indicators:
1. Reading above grade level (level P or above while in second-grade. NOTE: this is based on the Fountas-Pinnell Guided Reading Levels.);
2. Above grade level in math (one or more years);
3. Parent Survey score;
4. Obtain a requisite score on the Staff Advocacy Survey; and
5. Staff advocacy by staff members, “other than the classroom teacher.”
The second MCPS pathway to the gifted and talented (GT) label, the quantitative pathway, requires a second grader to satisfy two (2) or more of the following three (3) test based criteria:
1. Score at the 75th percentile or higher on the Raven based on age;
2. Score at the 90th percentile or higher on the InView Level 1, Analogies subtest; and
3. Score at the 90th percentile or higher on the InView Level 1, Quantitative Reasoning subtest.
MCPS does not mention the labeling program on its GT webpage.
In neighboring Fairfax County, Virginia, gifted and talented education has taken a completely different approach.
Fairfax is forthright in maintaining a website that boldly states “Each spring, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) uses the results of the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) and the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT) to select a second grade pool of candidates for the Gifted and Talented (GT) center program or Level IV gifted services. Each year the benchmark score for students in the second grade pool is 132 or higher on any subtest of the CogAT or 132 or higher on the NNAT. Parents of these students receive a letter of notification that their child will be screened for possible placement in a GT center program. Each year, approximately 67 percent of students in the second grade pool are found eligible.” The website continues “However, it is important to note that the second grade pool is merely a starting point and any parent of a child in grades 2 through 7 may submit a GT referral form and request that their child be screened. Referral forms are available on the GT website http://www.fcps.edu/DIS/gt/ (under Forms) and, are due to the local school according to published timelines (also available on our website). Of all students who are referred and screened for the GT center program each year, approximately 52 percent are found eligible.”
Loudoun County, Virginia, takes a similar approach to their Fairfax counterparts. The Loudoun GT website states, that all second grade students take the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT), while all third grade students take the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT). The Loudoun Screening Pool is composed of students with a score of 97th percentile or above on the NNAT or scores of 97th percentile or above on two subtests of the CogAT.
Clearly, the counties in Virginia have adopted a higher threshold for their GT programs. Then again, Montgomery County has seemingly acknowledged that the GT label is a means of addressing the needs of students who are ready to work above grade level. With a lower threshold, and a stated goal of addressing the needs of students ready to work above grade level, the GT label may have cheapened the currency of the label coveted by many.