Sunday, September 20, 2020
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Better to accelerate the gifted & talented

Maryland will honor 10 schools next month with the Excellence in Gifted and Talented Education (EGATE) School award, which recognizes top elementary, middle, and high school programs, the Maryland State Department of Education announced today in a press release.


A quote on a wall at Crofton Elementary in Md. (school via Twitter)

Now in its seventh year, the EGATE awards spotlight gifted and talented programs aligned with the Maryland Criteria for Excellence: Gifted and Talented Program Guidelines and state regulations for gifted and talented education. Each EGATE school submits a comprehensive application which provides documentation of 21 criteria of excellence under four program objectives: student identification, curriculum and instruction, professional development, and program management and evaluation.

The 2016 EGATE schools are:

  1. Crofton Elementary School, Anne Arundel
  2. Piney Orchard Elementary School, Anne Arundel
  3. Severna Park Elementary School, Anne Arundel
  4. Cecil Elementary School, Baltimore City
  5. Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School, Baltimore City
  6. Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle School, Baltimore City
  7. Dr. James Craik Elementary School, Charles County
  8. William B. Wade Elementary School, Charles County
  9. Chevy Chase Elementary School, Montgomery County
  10. Whitehall Elementary School, Prince George’s County

In the seven years of the award’s existence, 44 different schools from 10 school systems have earned the EGATE status.

This, while new research from Northwestern University suggests that gifted and talented students are best served if students are grouped, and taught, based on their ability level.

Schools should use both ability grouping and acceleration to help academically talented students, say the authors of the study, which examined a century of research looking at the controversial subject.

Ability grouping places students of similar skills and abilities in the same classes. Acceleration, most commonly known as grade skipping, subject acceleration, or early admission into kindergarten or college, gives students the chance to access opportunities earlier or progress more rapidly.

The widely debated educational techniques effectively increase academic achievement at a low cost and can benefit millions of students in US school systems, according to the study, published in Review of Educational Research.

“Although acceleration is widely supported by research as an effective strategy for meeting the needs of advanced learners, it’s still rarely used, and most schools do not systematically look for students who need it,” said study co-author Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, director of the Center for Talent Development at the Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy.

Proponents of ability and acceleration point to benefits for children who are under-challenged in their grade-level classroom. With a more homogeneous learning environment, it’s easier for teachers to match their instruction to a student’s needs and the students benefit from interacting with comparable academic peers.

Critics argue that dividing the students can mean the loss of leaders or role models, greater achievement gaps, and lower self-esteem for struggling students.

But the research indicated that students benefited from within-class grouping, cross-grade subject grouping, and gifted and talented programs, although the benefits were negligible for between-class groupings.

Accelerated students performed significantly better than their non-accelerated same-age peers, and comparably to non-accelerated older students, according to the study.

Others have said education should “avoid trying to teach students what they already know,” the authors wrote. “Based on the nearly century’s worth of research, we believe the data clearly suggest that ability grouping and acceleration are two such strategies for achieving this goal.”

Though hardly the final word on such a hot-button issue, the new study helps clarify the academic effects of ability grouping and acceleration.

“The conversation needs to evolve beyond whether such interventions can ever work,” they wrote. The bulk of evidence over the last century “suggests that academic acceleration and most forms of ability grouping like cross-grade subject grouping and special grouping for gifted students can greatly improve K-12 students’ academic achievement.”

The authors reviewed 172 empirical studies on the efficacy of ability grouping as well as 125 studies on acceleration.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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