Now that the 2021 WATG Fall Annual Conference is “in the books,” so many thoughts have been circling around in my brain. I suspect, too, that I am not alone.
With about five decades in the field of gifted education, many of these thoughts have been circling in my brain for a long, long time. As our field has evolved, many of my understandings have evolved, and, because of our recent conference and my incessant curiosity and research, new and challenging ideas have emerged.
One persistent topic has occupied my thoughts over the years, and that is how to best get quality gifted and talented programming to more students, especially those from diverse backgrounds, diverse socioeconomic groups, and those for whom English is a second language. Our recent conference provided much food for thought on this topic.
The first-person testimonies from speakers such as Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, Dr. Donna Ford, and Alonzo Kelly highlighted their journeys, the depth of the problem, and the stark reminder that we have not made enough progress for our diverse students. The research of Dr. Jonathan Plucker and Dr. Scott Peters is giving us much food for thought about the instruments and norms that we use to prospect for talent, and the “boots on the ground” work of our colleagues in Milwaukee Public Schools, using the talent development model in their SEE US! and SURGE grants continues to inspire us.
Additional ideas shared at the conference suggested that there is much, much more that can be done to find traditionally underserved students. Some of the most promising include these:
Once diverse students have been identified for services, it is important to fully support them. Some ideas to accomplish this (and many of these ideas come from the students and families themselves) are:
In my recent reading, I also came across several articles that gave me additional food for thought. One of them, in an August 2021 NAGC blog by Dr. Jonathan Plucker entitled,
Automatic Enrollment is a Promising Equity Strategy for Advanced Education
was especially thought-provoking. Dr. Plucker describes automatic enrollment like this: “At its core, auto-enrollment is a simple idea: Students who show evidence of advanced achievement are automatically placed in advanced coursework (in contrast to strategies that put all students in advanced courses regardless of readiness evidence, such as requiring all students to take algebra in 8th grade). No referrals, no additional testing, no mandatory info sessions for parents and caregivers – you’re in the advanced course, period. Such a practice removes requirements, such as the need for a teacher recommendation, that often act as barriers to advanced learning.”
Though not a panacea for many reasons (e.g., few studies have provided convincing evidence about its efficacy yet, it doesn’t necessarily find students who are currently “at potential” but not yet achieving, and it may not, by itself, close achievement gaps), automatic enrollment has merit as a promising practice in conjunction with other practices. Above all, it ensures that students who score well in pre-requisite knowledge and coursework are not overlooked, especially by educators who believe they don’t have gifted students in their school population.
Once students begin in an advanced lineup of courses, the age-old criticisms of tracking are likely to emerge. These articles, Does Detracking Promote Educational Equity?
and Can Tracking Raise the Test Scores of High-Ability Minority Students? may help you think through this decades-long debate.
With recent attacks on gifted educational services, for example in New York City and California, as well as in some districts here in Wisconsin, those of us in gifted education must remain vigilant in removing barriers to learning for all students. We must be cognizant of the ongoing research, be willing to implement strategies that work, and discard those that are outdated, ineffective, or restrict access to vast groups of diverse learners. Only then can we provide defensible gifted education. For a great read on this topic, check out Colin Seale, founder of thinkLaw, in his opinion piece,
Stop Eliminating Gifted Programs and Calling It 'Equity'.
The WATG Fall conference, Leading the World into the Future, gave us all much to think about. Now begins the action. How will you lead the world into the future?
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President and Board Advisor
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.