Exceptional kids: gifted education is like special education

Parents of children with #disabilities often ask about inclusion and how much of the school day will be spent in the mainstream setting. Research shows that exposure to typically developing peers has academic and non-academic benefits for those children. Please provide more general education you say; well, it is not a place without its own challenges. 'Gifted' education for students with high ability, or performance, also comes with familiar failures to provide differentiated instruction. Here's a couple of observations why the grass is never really greener, wherever your child receives instruction.

1) Specialized instruction is only as good as the instructor

A great #IEP can fall apart if there is no fidelity to the instructional methods stated in the program. Instruction provided to students who are doubling up on honors/AP classes is no different. I have heard of AP teachers, who hope the students will self-teach, accept the rigor and not be too eager to ask questions. The justification for this may be that the AP course is considered college-level and therefore, the student should demonstrate independent study skills. Developmentally, the student is very much an adolescent and not ready to transition. In one client story, an AP Science teacher reached out to the parent after realizing that her son had failed to hand in an end-of-course final exemption by the deadline. All students taking the AP exam were exempted, but he had forgotten to hand in the form. She asked the parent to talk to administrators because she had not anticipated writing a final exam.

In special education, some students need modification of the curriculum which usually means a reduction in the state curriculum objectives. Students with Dyslexia may be moved along in the offered multi-sensory program, ready or not. Just like the students in gifted programs, there are problems with tailoring the instructional material to the individual need. Both Gifted and IEP students should have differentiated instruction to "compact" or modify the curriculum. In practice educators often don't know how to do this.

2) Placement concerns & test considerations are problematic

For students who have large gaps between their present levels and grade-level, lowering the passing mark for state assessments doesn't help with developing more ambitious goals in an IEP. Parents are in the position of trying to minimize the importance of their child passing tests that have a low passing mark. I have often heard: "he is doing so well, he passed the STAAR (The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness)." The STAAR is one piece of data and the passing mark was 25%. Most parents of children with disabilities and average ability, are dismayed that mastering 25% of the curriculum is celebrated in an IEP meeting.

#Gifted students, on the other hand, might have to rely on external learning sources and standards, through programs offered through the Davidson's Institute or Northwestern University's Center for Talent Development. While some school programs cater to children that need enrichment or subject-matter acceleration, those students with very superior IQs, typically have limited carve-out opportunities. In local schools, the gifted programs are an elective class for Robotics and online programs offered in a computer lab. Students who are reading the classics in 4th grade have few options for enrichment or acceleration. Perceived social difficulties are used as the rationale for telling parents that grade acceleration is a bad idea. What are the learning standards for children who grasp concepts at rates that may mean mastering K-5 in 1 year?

For anyone who is reading this information in another state, this probably isn't your experience. Some states include "Gifted" in their IDEA eligibility criteria. Here in Texas, the relative contributory factor of high cognition needs to be incorporated into an IEP, especially if behavior problems are due to academic boredom and frustration. For kids who are just very bright, their parents should look for external guidance as to whether the public school system is a good fit.

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