As the demographics of our nation change, increasing the numbers of poverty students within our schools, we must look deeply at the structures of how we educate students. These structural changes must include how we identify and serve our most gifted and talented students, especially those of poverty, English Language Learners, and students of color. Our traditional methods of identification often have a bias that benefits mainstream students. This under-identification of minority and poverty students leads to their not receiving services that develop their abilities. However, even with bias-free identification methods, we must provide services to nurture the gifts and talents of our high ability students.
In too many poverty schools, the emphasis is on remediation and passing the state assessment. Enrichment and differentiation become additional tasks placed upon overwhelmed teachers. Training often focuses on intervention strategies and data collection rather than differentiation. Teaching to the middle and supporting the struggling students is a matter of survival for educators in our lock-step system.
We must change our paradigm. We must set aside our deficit mindset as we look at poverty and minority students. Our high ability students must all have the opportunity to develop their full potential. In order to do this, we must have an inclusive mindset when it comes to enrollment in advanced classes.
Because research shows, many of our poverty students enter school already behind their wealthier peers, we must be willing to provide acceleration for our poverty and minority students to close the achievement gap so they are prepared for advanced academic options. A focus on acceleration must be a priority at the state, district, and school level. Teachers must embrace an inclusive mindset which supports the preparation and enrollment of more students in high level courses. Districts must be prepared to provide additional teachers in order to keep classes sizes small enough for teachers to provide individualized attention. The state must fund schools so that differentiated learning experiences can be provided.
Equal Talents, Unequal Opportunities is a 2015 report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation on high ability, low-income students. Citing statistics that show how well individual states are doing to identify and serve these students, the report calls this the “excellence gap” and recommends changes to insure low income high ability students achieve at the same rate as their high income peers.
The report recommends:
- Make high-performing students highly visible – meaning collect data that reveals the economic status and performance levels of all students. Are our poverty students excelling…not just passing state and national assessments?
- Remove barriers that prevent high-ability students from moving through coursework at a pace that matches their achievement level – meaning dual enrollment, acceleration, early entrance options.
- Ensure that all high ability students have access to advanced educational service – training teachers and administrators, monitoring gifted programs for quality, increased enrollment in AP and dual enrollment courses
- Hold LEAs accountable for the performance of high ability students from all economic backgrounds – states should disaggregate data for high ability, low income students and measure their growth on state assessments.
- In most states, attention to advanced learning is incomplete and haphazard
- In the absence of comprehensive policy support for advanced learning, economic conditions appear to drive outcomes
- Although some states have impressive outcomes for their high-performing students, no state can claim impressive performance outcomes for students from low income backgrounds.
- Data describing advanced performance are not readily available.
- All states could do more to support advanced learning.
The EXCELLENCE GAP is costing our country its future…with increasing numbers of poverty students, we cannot as a nation ignore the potential of the gifts and talents of these children.