School Rules Stifle Gifted Student
Anyone who wants to appreciate how strong a grip high school has on the American imagination, and how clueless some school districts are about this, should consider the story of Drew Gamblin, a 16-year-old student at Howard High School in Ellicott City, Maryland.
Drew, a child so gifted he taught himself to write at age 3, craves a high school diploma and all that comes with it--debate team, music, drama and senior prom. When a series of inexplicable decisions by Howard County school officials--such as requiring him to stay in an algebra class he had mastered---led his parents to home school him and put him in local college classes, he still insisted on his high school dream.
So Drew is back at Howard High, even though the school district is making it hard to enjoy all the school has to offer. He is being forced to take a modern world history course he already had at Howard Community College and a junior year English course he took at home, as well as other subjects he has already studied. He hopes that school district superintendent Sydney L. Cousin will exercise his authority under the Code of Maryland Regulations and develop an alternative way for him to fulfill graduation requirements, but it doesn’t look good.
Drew could, of course, go to college right now. He passed the Maryland state High School Assessment test in sophomore English at the advanced level (Howard County so far refuses him credit for the course) and did the same in American Government. Two years ago, he scored in the 92nd percentile on the PSAT, and was in the top 4 percent of all African American students who took the exam.
But he wants those high school memories, and victory over his tormentors. “If I’ve earned the credit, I’ve earned it,” he said. “I’m fighting for what is already mine.”
Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for the Howard County schools, said school officials "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."
In a nine-page Aug. 19 decision, the Howard County Board of Education denied the family’s request for credit for courses taken in college and at home. The only hint of any regret for what they put the family through was recognition that “because of their persistence, the parents were able to persuade the administration to accept the Japanese language [one of Drew’s college courses] in fulfillment of the modern language credit. It is unfortunate that situation took so long to be resolved.” His parents have appealed the decision to the state school board, but that will take months.
It didn’t have to be this way. Some school districts have welcomed children as obsessed with learning as Drew is. Drew’s mother, Ellicia Chau, said the first clue to what her son could do came at the age of 18 months, when he put together a 50-piece puzzle. At 21 months, he was sounding out letters on the sides of delivery trucks on the street. During Thanksgiving dinner when he was three, his mother wondered who had written the name “Ike,” one of Drew’s uncles, on a napkin. Drew eventually persuaded her it was he.
A big supporter of public education, she put him in the Howard County schools. In the middle of third grade he was promoted to fourth grade. But when sixth grade became too slow for him, the district refused to move him to seventh. “It is not our policy,” an official said.
She pulled him out to home school him, but at his insistence enrolled him in Howard High for ninth grade in 2006. She said she tried to follow the rules, but school officials kept changing their interpretations. One agreed that Drew had mastered algebra, but it wasn’t until November that he was allowed to move to geometry. It took another month, because of red tape, before they would give him any assignments in that class.
This is no surprise to advocates of gifted education, who report clumsy handling of kids like Drew all over the country. Howard has been slower than other local districts to embrace acceleration, although it is getting better. Its participation rate on Advanced Placement exams in high school has doubled since 2002.
Most American high schools look hard for ways to give struggling students their diplomas. Maryland let 4,000 students graduate this year by doing special projects when they didn’t pass the required state tests. Meanwhile, Drew Gamblin is told he has to listen to old lectures and take tests he has already passed in order to achieve his goal of finishing high school.
“I don’t want to be 40 and not have these memories to look back on,” he said. In a way, he is getting his wish, because being bored to distraction often comes to mind when older Americans think of high school. But I don’t think that is what Howard County school officials intended when they decided to tell this bright student that their interpretations of the rules were more important than his education.
| October 5, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Metro Monday
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