Parents, schools weigh Gifted and Talented' label
Some favor dropping the designation in favor of more advanced classes; others fear lowered academic expectations
Montgomery County school officials say they have not decided to remove the "Gifted and Talented" label for high-achieving students, though a non-labeling program in place at two schools is being considered.
Burning Tree Elementary in Bethesda and Georgian Forest Elementary in Silver Spring were selected for the non-labeling pilot program. The schools test second-grade students for GT like any other county school, but students are not labeled. The county Board of Education is considering implementing that policy, which was referred to in a board news release Dec. 16 as "services-based."
Any countywide changes could come next year when the school board's policy committee examines its labeling policy, the statement said. Label removal has been discussed by school officials, but there has been no talk of removing the GT program.
GT supporters and detractors agree that school system services are most important – labeling is just part of the picture.
Frederick Stichnoth, a parent of two children who took GT classes at White Oak Middle School in Silver Spring, said he would concede removing the label if increased services are provided to GT students. He said he thinks it's "a forgone conclusion" that the label is going away, partly because of the socio-economic stigma it carries.
"I think [the school board] wants to see the whole thing done away with [because] they don't want to see the disparity … the board feels that in that their gut," he said.
"I call it a shiny tin badge," Stichnoth said of the label. "It doesn't mean a thing."
What's important for Stichnoth is that the county implements a uniform class structure so GT parents don't have to cherry-pick offerings. At White Oak, GT courses are offered in English and math.
Evie Frankl, executive director of the Montgomery County Education Forum, said removing the GT label would be a positive step to evening disparity. She also wants to eliminate second-grade testing for GT.
"I think it would force us to look at the way teachers teach," she said. "It will force us to eliminate the results of the stigma that students carry internally."
For Frankl, the GT concept reduces opportunities for non-GT students. By high school, they are less likely to be in Advanced Placement or honors classes as GT students, who often come from more affluent backgrounds, she added.
To break the cycle, Frankl said there needs to be equal access to advanced classes for all students.
Parents in a Dec. 9 meeting at White Oak Middle School peppered school officials with questions about new middle school classes, alterations they say could reduce the distinctiveness of the GT program.
The 31 new classes, which were phased in this year, are already in Middle School Magnet Consortium schools. The offerings were recommended by the Middle School Reform Report.
While the changes would bring more advanced classes to middle school curriculum, those offerings would not just be for GT students; all students could be in those classes. That sparked debate from parents at the White Oak PTSA's monthly meeting.
The GT label becomes less important in high school, said White Oak Principal Virginia de los Santos. Taking advanced courses in middle school exposes students to classes they will take later, she added.
"Giving them credit for the course is labeling the course, not the student," de los Santos said.
Some parents said having non-GT students take other advanced offerings translates to lowered academic expectations, while some said discipline issues are more of a problem in classes with children of different learning levels.
Advanced classes scheduled for opening after the current school year are subject to budget approval, according to Stacy Gray, MCPS supervisor of Middle School Expansion.
This year, White Oak is offering an advanced sixth-grade science class to get all students exposed to that level of difficulty, de los Santos said. The class, "Investigations in Science 6," is one of the 31 new classes being taken by all White Oak students. Students would remain on the advanced track throughout middle school. By eighth-grade, some offerings would be for high school credit.
"Right now, the teachers are conflicted," de los Santos said. "Based on this year, we will make a recommendation for next year if we want to offer it again."
At White Oak, some students are grouped according to their learning level – one of those classes is "Investigations in Science," de los Santos said.
"They're answering rigorous questions where they have to make judgments," she said. "They're more engaged."