When I was in first grade, I spent a lot of time waiting around. After completing addition and subtraction problems or reading passages to myself, I waited for the teacher to finish helping other students before she turned her attention back to me and the rest of the class. Eventually, I realized that if my teacher thought I needed additional help completing a task, I would be allowed to play educational computer games. So, instead of waiting, I decided to jettison my own progress for the stimulation of the games. Then my teacher called my parents to inform them I didn’t appear to be challenging myself in the classroom. By the next year, my problem with waiting was solved when I tested into Plano Academic and Creative Education (PACE)—my school’s gifted and talented program that gave me the opportunity to challenge myself with my peers on a weekly basis. Although PACE gave me access to additional activities and challenges that I didn’t have in the classroom, I worry that PACE and other programs like it are reaching fewer and fewer students that need them.
Federal legislation implies that schools are obligated to make sure that “no child is left behind.” Unfortunately this focus has caused many schools to neglect a significant group: gifted and talented students. Many gifted students are bored in class, are overlooked by teachers, and often there is a lack of school programming specifically catered to their needs. The National Association for Gifted Children found that 73 percent of teachers agree that “too often, the brightest students are bored and under-challenged in school,” and that “We’re not giving them a sufficient chance to thrive.”
Schools promise to challenge every student. By failing to acknowledge the necessity of gifted and talented programs, we are breaking that promise.
According to a study by the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, 50 percent of gifted students have already mastered the average curriculum by the time they enter the classroom. The study also states that these students were then exempt from certain tests or class discussions after showing proficiency in a topic. Since most gifted students have already mastered the curriculum, many teachers divert their attention towards students with greater needs, leaving gifted students deprived of a stimulating curriculum and to their own devices to challenge themselves.
While many schools have gifted and talented programs, there is not a federal law that requires schools to identify gifted and talented students. Without this federal guidance, many states are not requiring that these students have access to the programs they need to thrive. Of the 44 states that responded to a National Association for Gifted Children’s survey about the provision of gifted and talented programs, only 31 indicated that they require schools to provide gifted and talented services. Only four of these states fully fund that requirement.
Fortunately, emerging research shows that there are ways for challenging activities to be embedded into the traditional classroom without requiring expensive pull-out programs. For example, new curriculum models that call for small groups in the classroom would decrease the need for separate staff, classroom space, or a copious amount of resources. Similarly, some districts are having success by letting students take classes based on their mastery of material, rather than waiting to the end of the year to promote them. But these kinds of gifted and talented programs cannot be implemented wholesale without making significant changes to our current education system.
Turning around low-performing schools and targeting struggling students are crucial to improving student outcomes. We shouldn’t forget, however, that there are gifted and talented students who are being “left behind” just because they SCORE “proficient” on a test. Our goal must be to improve outcomes for all students, and that means investing time in gifted and talented students as well.