Recent educational initiatives have focused on raising the academic ceiling for all students, including the minimum expectations in each subject area at each grade level. State tests assess whether minimum competencies are met, and curricular resources help schools and teachers address each standard and reach established goals. The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Virginia recently undertook a two-year study of the implications of such initiatives for the education of gifted youth.
K–12 teachers across the country were administered a survey of their instructional practices as they related to state testing initiatives. In the second year of the study, classrooms at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in California, Texas, and Virginia were observed during the first and second thirds of the school year, one month prior to the state test, and then following the state test.
Gifted learners experience a lack of academic challenge and consequently suffer unintended psychological effects.
The results suggest that as schools and teachers focus on state test preparation, gifted learners experience a lack of academic challenge and consequently suffer unintended psychological effects. Since teachers and schools feel pressure to ensure that their students perform well on state tests, curriculum often includes only content covered on those tests, and instruction looks a lot like test preparation. The survey indicates that regardless of grade level, there is an increasing focus on test preparation, often in the form of worksheets, during the period leading up to the test and an immediate decline in such activities following it. By failing to organize content in meaningful ways around overarching themes, such instruction denies gifted students the opportunity to acquire deep and enduring knowledge. Often such students are also denied the opportunity to study subjects that are not assessed on state tests, such as foreign languages, fine arts, and advanced mathematics and sciences. The lack of academic challenge and exposure to all disciplines, coupled with intense pressure to obtain high test scores, can have several social and emotional effects:
- boredom in school
- disengagement from school and the learning process underdevelopment of coping skills
- physical illness
What to Do If This Sounds Familiar
Because this system of assessment equates student learning with test scores, the parents of gifted children need to share their concerns with those who serve their children. If your child is experiencing the lack of academic challenge, first speak with the teacher or with school leaders. Volunteer at the school and support the teacher by guiding different groups of students, gathering resources that can be used in the classroom to extend learning, or helping with clerical work so the teacher can focus more on addressing the students’ academic needs.
To supplement their children’s educational experiences further, parents can seek extracurricular or cocurricular learning experiences, which are widely available at colleges and universities. Independent learning through mentorships with college students or faculty, distance education courses, and summer or Saturday enrichment programs are some of the ways to engage gifted youth in academically rigorous material.
Parents should remember that they have a say in the educational options open to their gifted children. Private schools, charter schools, magnet schools, or schools with specialized curricula may be the avenue to follow if efforts in their current school fail.
The Importance of Advocacy
Advocacy at the local, state, and national levels is another important means of ensuring that gifted children are academically challenged. To raise the public’s awareness about the educational needs of the gifted, parents can attend school board meetings, build alliances with PTA/PTO organizations, and become involved in state and local gifted associations.
In short, the days of minimum competency are difficult for gifted students in public school settings. However, parents have many options for improving the situation so that all students, including the gifted, are academically challenged.
—Tonya R. Moon, PhD