Monday, March 16, 2009

The facts about the GT “pilot” program

Burning Tree and Georgian Forest elementary schools are participating in a pilot GT program. In these schools, “the multiple pieces of data collected during the global screening process are used solely to recommend appropriate accelerated and enriched instruction, and not to assign a label. All other schools use the multiple pieces of data collected during the global screening process both to recommend appropriate accelerated and enriched instruction and to assign a label. ”

These “pilot” programs are evaluated by “Advanced” MSA results in reading and in math; mathematics benchmarks such as the number of students enrolled in and successfully completing Grade 6 mathematics or above in Grade 5. Qualitative data from principals, teachers, and parents about any concerns are part of the evaluation as well .

Thus, the “pilot” programs use the existing global screening process to identify students for accelerated and enriched programming. The only difference is that, once identified, students are not assigned a label.

The Washington Post quoted, Marty Creel, who directs the school system's Department of Enriched and Innovative Programs, as saying that the aim of the pilot was "to get away from this idea of putting kids in boxes and saying, 'You're gifted, and you're not.' "

Children were identified using the global screening process. Parents received a letter recommending appropriate accelerated and enriched instruction. They just didn’t get the label.

The January 2009, Burning Tree Principal’s Newsletter, stated:

“There has been a great deal of interest regarding whether Montgomery County Public Schools should continue to label students as gifted and talented. Burning Tree is one of two MCPS schools that does not label its students. Our students go through the same “global screening” process as all second graders in MCPS, and we gather the same information regarding our students’ abilities as every other MCPS school. The only thing we do differently is we do not label our students. Instead, we use the global screening information to plan appropriate instruction and to identify hidden potential. Below is a summary of “how we do business” every day at Burning Tree and how we are meeting the academic needs of every student.

How does being a “no-label” school affect instruction?
Being a no-label pilot school really does not affect instruction at Burning Tree. It truly does not matter whether a student is labeled gifted or not; what really matters is that students receive access to advanced instruction when they are ready for it, or when we see that they have the potential for it. …”

Once the parents receive a letter recommending appropriate services, the perfunctory addition of a label is unnecessary. The label truly does not matter. The kids were assigned to “specific boxes” in the letter and any parent would know if their child was gifted.

The letter should be leverage for appropriate services, if any are provided.

Consequently, the only viable data point of the “pilots” is complaints by parents and/or staff. As MCPS informed me, this past fall, “principals, staff, and parent representatives from both schools voiced satisfaction with the no label process and felt no need to alter this approach.” Indeed, this would be the outcome one would reasonably expect.

Since the schools are identifying students for accelerated and enriched instructions, the number of students thus identified must be available to MCPS. The failure to report this data, simply because the label was eliminated is cause for concern.

Eliminating the label will create the appearance of ending “tracking,” thereby appeasing some detractors.

Eliminating the GT ID data will eliminate a means of assessing a very embarrassing program and its shortcomings, not the least of which include “gaming,” lower than national standards, and non-uniform implementation. Using the “no labels pilot” as an excuse to suppress the GT ID data will also solve a host of potential legal problems.

Changing the language of the policy, in secret, will simply be the final nail in the coffin of GT education as a legally enforceable, publicly accountable, transparent educational option.

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