Still Broken: Talented & Gifted Education

A number of recent things have got me thinking about Talented and Gifted (TAG) Education services in our school district again.

These thoughts started when we learned at the recent senior meeting that one of the high school counselors was now being called a career counselor and would be the contact person for TAG students, Advanced Placement (AP) classes, Acceleration, Youth Options, and Course Options. Students can visit him to get help with registration for the above opportunities. It sounds like he is popular since his other counseling responsibilities were alleviated by the hiring of an additional student services school counselor. I came home excited for our talented and gifted student population, taking this as a “win” for the students a group of us had advocated for some years ago.

But, my excitement did not last too long, perhaps a few days to a week.  Within a very brief time, I found myself instead thinking about who was being serviced by this counselor and exactly what services were being offered.

A number of years ago, our high school (HS) went to a self-selection process for AP classes, instead of referral or need for registration approval by an assigned faculty member.  Our family found this former system faulty,  and within the leadership of the TAG Parent Group, a group I co-founded with other parents, we pushed for self-selection and deleting the need for the so-called “approval”.  This action was far removed from helping my oldest son, who ended up leaving our resident district shortly after being denied the ability to take three AP classes as a junior (he had taken AP Calculus as a freshman and AP US History as a sophomore). He was ranked number one at the time with a 4.33 G.P.A..  There was no need to deny him the opportunity of three AP classes except to weld administrative power over our student.  Subsequently, the district lost its claim to our National Merit Scholarship winner, who ended up being valedictorian at his adopted, virtual high school, as well as a Phi Beta Kappa inductee as a sophomore at his University, and a national Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention winner for student research who has already presented at an international level science conference and published a paper.  They were short-sighted, then. And, I am afraid that their sight has not improved.

I have had two more students qualify for TAG services at both the elementary and middle school levels as they progressed in school. Yet, neither have received anything in terms of service from our HS.  My second oldest son, now a senior, received a letter as a sophomore from the counselor at the HS who was going to service TAG students as part of a newly expanded position, two years ago.  This is the same counselor who was now  servicing only TAG students and enrichment opportunities. Unfortunately, it then happened that our student went on to have some difficulties caused in part by an overloaded schedule (which, admittedly, we allowed) and more so, because of insensitive teaching practices such as being called stupid in front of his peers.  Unfortunately, the TAG counselor did nothing to help rectify the insensitive and unhelpful instructional situation our son found himself in.  We learned, through self-examination and reflection, but with no help from the school’s administration or guidance office,  that our senior learns “differently” than most.  That, and only that, is what he is guilty of.  Stupidity does not come into play.  At all.

And then, there is my youngest boy, who is a sophomore at the HS this year.  He has consistently tested in the 97-99th percentile in mathematics on standardized tests since being a young elementary student. He accelerated in math to the extent that he is now taking AP Calculus as a sophomore. He used to be a gifted writer, having published several times, and in at least one adjudicated compilation.  In addition, his artful origami creations, a former passion, were included in a national travelling library exhibit several years ago through Origami USA.  Yet, he has never heard from the so-called TAG counselor at the HS.  He did not even get the “letter” than my second son received.  It makes me wonder if he was even referred by the middle school personell for continued TAG service – something he had benefited from since second grade, which in, and of itself, is another story. My experience has shown me that gifted education is embroiled in the politics of education, with support of the these students and their needs being highly questioned by many – but, sadly, mostly by educators, themselves.

In the spring of his eighth grade year, my current sophomore student was provided an opportunity to “double up on English” credits during ninth grade which was mis-labeled and mis-billed as acceleration but was not.  After some consideration, we refused this course of action which really attracted many by casting a wide net, and by reports was not well tolerated by some of the students.  One of the reasons for our refusal was that he was already accelerated in mathematics and was only one of five students who took pre-calculus as a freshman.  Enough was enough. However, it does seem that we should have at least heard from this counselor at some point last year. We did not. It has made me wonder if the refusal of the “accelerated” English took him off the TAG list that was sent to the high school prior to his entering last year.  It would account for the TAG counselor not knowing of him.

Middle school TAG services were not favored by my boys, with one of them even opting out of them during his 8th grade year.  Content did not focus on their high interest areas and both were self-directed enough in their learning to continue to explore new subjects or deepen areas of learning on their own.  We did not make a big deal about it and let them drop the time spent with the TAG teacher.  Unfortunately, she was a friend at the time and this made for an uncomfortable situation.  But, we allowed it.   And, to give some credence to her effort, they were not the most willing students, shunning attempts she made at engaging them in the topics of her choice, like the law and philosophy.  Still, dropping the TAG course content did not change what they are capable of achieving – only, it seems, who might possibly know of their specific, and perhaps, niche capabilities.

So, can you understand my wondering about who is being serviced by the TAG counselor at our HS?  Of course, I could name a few students. I have a long history of advocacy in this area with local students. I have probably helped other students more than my own and that is something I somewhat regret.  Unfortunately, in addition, I do not see much improvement to our system of providing TAG services (beyond self-selection for AP, and other advanced curricular offerings) than we experienced when our oldest son was still a student at our resident district high school – that was seven years ago.  The players have changed but the scenarios have pretty much remained the same.  It is too bad we have not come farther in helping our most academically talented students to succeed. I wonder if they still feel as alone as my oldest son felt at times.  I hope, at least that aspect has improved.

What I have come to realize is that despite whether this counselor knows of my youngest son or not, he will be challenged and he will succeed.  He took an online math class over the summer through a highly regarded national university that specializes in offerings for talented youth.  We registered him for the course and set up his study schedule.  He finished on time and did well.  He is a talented artist.  He took care of setting up his own independent study in art this fall.  I am sure the experience will be enjoyable for both him and his teacher.  We really do not need the TAG counselor.  But, I still wonder …… if my son is not on the counselor’s list – a student who qualifies for service, without a doubt, by many definitions – who is on the list?  Or are they just not reaching out to students at all now?  I am not sure I want to know.  And, if he is not on the list – why not?  It is frustrating to realize that a system I knew was broken seven years ago, remains so.  It is also liberating to realize that I do not have choose to try to fix it again.

 

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