How to fix K12 gifted programs a new report calls ‘mediocre’

More than three-fourths of districts with K8 gifted programs screen all students, a new report finds. 

K12’s methods for identifying gifted and talented students are improving but the overall pipeline into advanced classes has some substantial “leaks,” a new report declares.

While more districts are following the research that recommends using standardized test scores to universally screen students for gifted and talented programs, other promising practices are less common, according to the “Broken Pipeline” report by the Fordham Institute’s Adam Tyner.

“There’s a sizeable leak in the pipeline after early elementary school, when students are identified for advanced services, and the high school grades, when they gain more exposure to advanced courses,” write the authors of the report’s introduction. “Not nearly enough is happening in between.”

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More than three-fourths of districts with K8 gifted programs screen all students based on assessments, a survey conducted for the report found. However, only about one in five schools are comparing prospective gifted students’ performance to their classmates or peers in the same school or district.

“Applying local norms—such as identifying students performing in the top 10% of their school—helps to detect a wider swath of advanced and potentially advanced children, especially those in high-poverty schools, and deserves more consideration,” the report says.

Still, districts are doing a better job identifying gifted and talented students than serving those children. Many schools offer only “in-class differentiation” and do not pull students out of class for enrichment activities with groups of other advanced students. Also, students don’t have sufficient access to gifted-level classes in higher elementary grades and in middle school.

That changes in high school, when students can choose from a wider range of honors and Advanced Placement classes, including online courses.

Growing gifted and talented

The report recommends that districts expand the “on-ramps” to gifted and talented programs. Screening should be done in more grades and the top 5% to 10% of performers in each school should be steered toward advanced classes. Districts should also drop some prerequisites that block access to AP courses and allow more students to start kindergarten early or skip grades.

Finally, administrators should develop a curriculum specifically for advanced students and consider moving students into full-time gifted programs or even creating specialized schools. “Broadening access, particularly in elementary and middle school, not only helps more students who can benefit from greater challenge, but disproportionately expands opportunities for students from low-income communities and students experiencing other disadvantages,” the report concludes.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of District Administration and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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