The days of “senioritis” are numbered! The last year of high school can no longer be considered a time to relax before adulthood. Instead, it should be, says the National Commission on the High School Senior Year, a “time to strengthen skills, enhance preparation for postsecondary programs, broaden experiences to include service or demanding work-based learning, or culminate earlier classroom experience in a senior project.”
Those who can meet the standards for high school graduation in fewer than four years should be encouraged to do so.
The commission’s recent report, Raising Our Sights: No High School Senior Left Behind , calls for a “Triple A Program”: improve alignment, raise achievement, and provide more rigorous alternatives. Although some of the report’s statistical information may suggest diminished national performance (e.g., the U.S. college graduation rate is no longer the world’s highest), many of its recommendations have exciting implications for the gifted.
The commission calls for a “seamless system of education” aimed at creating a “P–16” rather than a K–12 system. A P–16 system extends from preschool through the fourth year after high school graduation. Currently, the K–12 and postsecondary education systems have little to do with one another. The commission believes that a P–16 system could help “align” and integrate the two systems, thus preparing students better for college. Thus far 18 states have created P–16 systems.
The commission believes that every student should have access to high-quality coursework that prepares them for success in an “increasingly complex and interdependent world.” Career exploration should begin in middle school, and middle school students should develop a formal “learning plan,” updated annually, that details their education, work, and service goals. Furthermore, college preparatory courses should be, the commission believes, the default curriculum for all students.
The commission has no interest in creating a “rigid lock-step system.” Students should be encouraged to complete high school at their own pace, and their schools should make it easier for them to enroll in courses at nearby colleges. In addition, there should be more opportunities to take advantage of Advanced Placement, distance education, and Internet courses. Other alternatives may include service and work-based learning for credit, virtual high schools, mentorships, and the development of portfolios to highlight students’ talents.
Implications for the Gifted
The flexibility recommended by the commission regarding the pace at which students move through our educational system has perhaps the greatest implications for gifted students. The current system often prevents students from advancing at their own pace. It appears that the commission is proposing a continuous-progress curriculum that meets the unique learning needs of all students by giving them the appropriate amount of time to master the high school curriculum, whether it be three years or five.
In addition, if college preparatory courses are to be the default curriculum for all students, high schools will have to collaborate with postsecondary institutions or seek other means of providing enrichment and acceleration to ensure differentiated learning experiences for their brightest students.
Hopefully, the commission’s recommendations will help create high schools that enable gifted students to move at their own pace, explore their own interests in greater depth, and experience college early, all through a truly “seamless system of education.”
—Kristen R. Stephens, PhD
Kristen R. Stephens is support services coordinator at the Duke University Talent Identification Program and adjunct assistant professor in the Program in Education at Duke University.