Golczewski: “Access to [Gifted & Talented] Programs Should Not Be Dependent On Zip Code”

The following public comments were made to the Harford County Board of Education by parent Yvonne Golczewski on October 24, 2011. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication.

Good evening Dr. Tomback and members of the Board. My name is Yvonne Golczewski and I am the parent of two twice-exceptional Harford County students.

It is my belief that it is the basic right of every child to experience the joy of learning each day. In order to further that objective, I am here today to ask board members to consider the concerns of parents of gifted students in Harford County in response to the need for equity, advanced curriculum, and educator training, as they support the goals and objectives of the 2011 Master Plan.

Equity and Standards for Gifted Education Programs

There are wide discrepancies across Harford County in programming for GT students. Some schools identify and provide a significant number of appropriate services for their gifted and talented students, while others do not. The inconsistent availability of appropriate services for these students is an equity issue. Access to GT programs should not be dependent on zip code, with programs available to some County students and not to others. There is a wide variance from school to school in what is available to help these students develop to their full potential.

One way that [the] Board can support GT education is to adopt research supported curriculum standards for gifted programs. Our schools need guidance as to what constitutes an effective program, the same guidance that they have for almost all other educational programs and all other special populations, including English Language Learners, students living in poverty, and Special Education. We know that giftedness cuts across gender, ethnicity, social and economic background, and geographic location. There are even gifted students with learning disabilities.

Advanced Curriculum

The myth prevails that these students will make it on their own regardless of intervention or appropriate instruction. This is a myth that research has repeatedly shown to be erroneous. Research has consistently demonstrated that gifted children who are not appropriately challenged may not develop to their full potential.

Research has also found a disproportionate number of gifted students among high school dropouts. According to a 1991 study, between 18 and 25% of gifted and talented students drop out of school. Gifted dropouts were generally from a lower socio-economic status family and had little or no access to extracurricular activities, hobbies, and computers (SENG).

If we are to increase the graduation rate, increase the number of students earning college credit at institutions of higher learning prior to graduation, and prepare every student for success in postsecondary education and a career, the special needs of this exceptional group cannot continue to be ignored.

Some of our schools do provide enrichment opportunities. But, an hour or two of challenge is not much relief for a severely under challenged child. If it doesn’t include a faster pace and higher level of work, enrichment is not effective as an intervention. For example, there is no academic benefit to a specially grouped math class that is not doing advanced math.

To be more effective in the education of these children, a formal policy of acceleration must be added to the availability of enrichment opportunities. A challenge listed in the GT section of the Master Plan states: “There still appears to be reluctance in accepting acceleration as a gifted service three years after developing acceleration guidelines.”

According to the National Association for Gifted Children, acceleration is founded on a solid research base established over the last 50 years and clearly deserves greater use in practice than has been the case. Voices in the field of gifted education and psychology, spurred by current and relevant studies, have consistently sustained support for acceleration.

Besides being effective, this is also a very budget friendly policy.

Educator Training

HCPS Strategic Plan: 2nd Belief: We must embrace the differences among our students and train our staff to meet their individual needs.

Continue to provide professional development opportunities to educators serving students with diverse learning needs.

Teacher training is critical to the success of these students. Just as one would not expect a star athlete to reach his or her potential without the guidance of a coach, the same is true for GT learners. Students with high abilities need gifted education programs and services led by trained educators in order to enable them to make continuous progress in school. Without properly trained teachers, students cannot excel to their highest potential, and often find themselves bored and frustrated in school.

One of the goals in the master plan is to “Provide training for elementary teachers in the implementation of G&T services. Students who attend Harford County Public Schools must receive the support they need to grow academically and socially.”

Additionally, more work must be done to ensure identifying students for gifted services is done equitably. While much has improved, constant vigilance is necessary to ensure the maintenance of equity. Particular attention must be focused on identifying services for African-American students. In reviewing a geographic distribution of G&T students receiving services, it appears that minority students in areas of high poverty are under identified.

Many gifted students, regardless of ethnicity or background, do not fit our preconceived stereotypes of a gifted student. Educators must be trained to understand and identify the true traits of gifted learners.

I believe that these simple steps will give us an exceptional return on investment towards promoting excellence in instructional leadership and teaching for the 21st century.

Thank you for your time and support of all learners in Maryland’s schools.