Gifted Student Stifled--The School District Responds
Since the story of Drew Gamblin (see the column posted just below this item) does not put the Howard County schools in a favorable light, since the column in the paper had space for only a small part of the county's response and since here at the Struggle we have infinite space, I told Howard County schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan I would post the full text of the statement she sent me on Friday in response to the draft of the column I sent her. Here it is, followed by some comments from me:
First, let me stress how irresponsible it is to generalize about an entire school system’s commitment to meeting the academic needs of its students based on the alleged experiences of one child. Educators in Howard County are committed to providing all students with a rigorous, challenging education experience. And we are hardly “clueless” about the importance of the total high school experience in the student’s intellectual and personal development. By the tone of this piece, it is obvious that you have already determined that the information provided by the parent is accurate and that the school system is a heartless bureaucracy, rather than a group of dedicated professionals committed to serving the best interest of children.
Central and school-based personnel for the school system have spent an overwhelming amount of time working to address the needs of this particular student. The school system has offered numerous opportunities and accommodations to no avail. We respect the laws governing the confidentiality of student records and therefore, we will not comment further on this child’s circumstances.
Education involves more than simply scoring well on tests. The standards we have implemented are designed to uphold the integrity of the high school diploma; another responsibility we do not take lightly.
The Maryland High School Assessments are end-of-course exams. In order to meet the Maryland Graduation requirement a student is required to successfully complete the course as well. Howard County curriculum is far more extensive than the baseline knowledge required to pass the HSA in each content area. Class discussions, group work, research, and other activities that take place in the classroom enrich and enhance the educational experience.
Education also involves more than just intellectual development so when deciding whether to move a student to an advanced grade, educators consider (and discuss with the parents) the following factors:
· Academic achievement level
· Age of the student
· Previous accelerations
· Attendance record
· Parental concerns
· Developmental factors
· Health factors
· Emotional factors
· Report card
· 504 Plan
The HCPSS does award credit for home schooling and college courses provided those experiences cover the same objectives as a comparable course offered in our high schools and the student demonstrates mastery of the content. Credit will only be awarded if the student completes the college course.
We take great exception to the statement that “Howard has been slower than other districts in this area to embrace acceleration…” Grade skipping is not the only way to accelerate instruction. Since the early 1980’s the HCPSS has offered comprehensive Gifted and Talented programming and enrichment opportunities in all schools. Currently over 40% of our students participate in our Gifted and Talented program offerings across all grades.
In elementary schools, our GT mathematics curriculum is accelerated by at least two years. Other enrichment opportunities are provided through school wide enrichment programs general exploratory activities, instructional seminars, curriculum extension units, and research investigations. In Middle Schools the school wide enrichment programs continue and students also have access to advanced course work in Geography and World Cultures, US History, English, Science, and Mathematics as well as an after-school accelerated G/T Mathematics Program.
Our high schools address the needs of our most gifted students with G/T, honors and advanced placement courses, college-level independent research and a well-established Intern/Mentor Program.
Should you have need for clarification of any of the above information, please feel free to contact me.
Director of Public Relations
I didn't reach my conclusions based on the experiences of just one child. I have been reporting on Howard County's difficulties in providing a challenging environment for all students since 1998, through the annual Challenge Index ratings in the Post and occasional stories, like this one in the Oct. 24, 1999, Washington Post Magazine. (Sorry, the only electronic copy I could find was on encyclopedia.com.)
I also was not relying only on what Drew and his family told me. They provided many documents including emails from school officials and the text of the school board's detailed ruling against them. Everything they told me so far has checked out. I wish the county had been able to tell me more, but the family's story squares with what I have heard from other Howard County families and educators, and what the data show: Howard is doing much better on this issue than they did in the past, but there is still room for improvement.
I agree that education involves more than simply scoring well on tests. But it seems to me the Howard school officials failed to act on that principle and take the most sensible step---have a teacher in the field talk to the student and assess his knowledge of the subject matter before deciding that what he learned in college classes and home schooling was not sufficient. That is what good colleges do when they have new freshmen asking to skip the introductory course in a subject. They give a placement test, or have the kid talk to a professor. A district as well equipped as Howard should be able to do the equivalent. They DID do that with Drew when his family said he had already mastered algebra, but then, for reasons they do not explain, they disregarded for four months the recommendation from their own expert.
I am afraid I don't find very useful the long list of factors that must be considered in granting course credit. It leaves too much power in the hands of educators who, at least in Howard, appear uncomfortable accelerating students. If they have data on how many students they have accelerated, I would be interested in seeing it. The 40 percent of students participating in Gifted and Talented program offerings is also not a very helpful statistic. As many parents of gifted children have explained to me, and as Howard's own AP record shows, such classes often do not provide much of a challenge in those districts uncertain about letting kids jump ahead to the next step, like college level courses for high schoolers.
Howard has lagged in AP participation for some time for a district with so many affluent, well-prepared students. But it has, as I said, gotten better, from an AP participation rate of 0.649 (ratio of college-level tests to graduating seniors) in 2000 to a rate of 1.670 in 2008. That is still below the rate of 2.692 in Montgomery County, very similar to Howard demographically. Howard's willingness to accelerate math for some students by as much as two grades is also a good sign. I hope they keep it up, and think more creatively in the future about how to handle students like Drew Gamblin.
| October 5, 2009; 3:45 PM ET
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