Gifted and Talented?

Following on the footsteps of yesterday’s post, I’ve been waiting for the time to write about a parent letter that was published in the Washington Post a couple weeks ago about tracking. Jacqueline Morgan is a parent of an 8 year old who recently had two friends tracked into the school’s ‘Gifted and Talented’ program:

It was heartbreaking to see that our 8-year-old child was already being tracked in the “average” group and knows clearly that she is not part of the “smart group” (her words, not ours). Why are these children being tracked at such a young age? How much of this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? It’s unbelievable to see the level of pressure from parents to get their children into the GT program. Of course, if our child were in the magnet program, maybe we would be perfectly content with the tracking.

There are far too many issues here to get into in one post. So to concentrate on only one – WHY DOES THE PROGRAM NEED TO BE CALLED GIFTED AND TALENTED??? Is there any reason that students who are not in this program should come to any conclusion other than “I am not gifted and I am not talented?” What effect will this have on students? I think one of these effects can give some explanation to the information on yesterday’s post.

The gifted and talented program runs from 3rd-8th grade. I teach 9th grade, where there is no longer any official tracking. Any student can take any class. In core subjects, classes are offered as ‘Regular’ or ‘Honors’ (or AP). However, all my students in my ‘regular’ class refer to the ‘honors’ classes as ‘GT.’

Let’s juxtapose this with a couple statistics:

  • From yesterday’s post: While 91 percent of Fairfax’s white students demonstrate proficiency in English, only 66 percent of its African American students reached this level of achievement last year. As The Post noted in an editorial last November, African American students across Virginia demonstrate higher levels of learning than similar students in Fairfax (Washington Post).
  • In the 4 ‘honors’ classes I teach, I have a total of 90 students, 7 would be visually identified as African-American. In my 1 ‘regular’ class of 28 students, I have 11 students who would be visually identified as “African-American.”

So, having a ‘Gifted and Talented’ program is teaching students that if they are not in the program then they are neither gifted nor talented. Significantly higher percentages of African-American students are ‘choosing’ not to take 9th grade honors history. Is it any surprise then, that African-American students are performing at a lower level on state tests?

I am not denying that there are many other issues that explain these discrepancies. At the same time, I cannot understand how these facts do not cause more outrage.

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