Continuing from our Winter newsletter, we would like to carry on the conversation about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to further inform and inspire advocates of gifted and talented education to do what they can in their respective roles as parents or educators to insure that the educational needs of all gifted children are met within their schools.
The ESSA, signed by President Obama on December 10 last year, has provisions that support high-ability learners. But the law needs more input and collaboration from all the parties involved to make it work. We can’t underscore enough the fact that we – policy makers, schools, gifted learning institutions, education advocates, teachers, and parents – must work together, demonstrate motivation and commitment, and strive toward talent development for all.
In this issue, we speak with an influential and experienced gifted education advocate to dig deeper into what ESSA means for the development of gifted and advanced children, and how the provisions address their needs as compared to the No Child Left Behind policy prior to the change.
We also speak with an attorney, who, as a mother of gifted children herself, presents her perspective on why parents should take up the baton in the race to help bridge this excellence gap. Only when this gap is closed will there be hope to narrow wide disparities, break the cycle of poverty, and nurture more children to reach their potential.
With globalization happening at a rapid pace, the greater diversity in our schools offers a tremendous opportunity to help students become global citizens and prepare them for success in the 21st century. We believe that changing demographics are calling for schools to adjust to better serve students with very different needs.
Let’s collaborate to be impactful influencers for the sake of our future generations!
The latest big educational policy change, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which President Obama signed into law last December, is creating a buzz among educators and administrators. For this issue, CTD reached out to Jane Clarenbach, Director of Public Education for the National Association for Gifted Children, to find out why ESSA is a "win" for gifted education advocates.
Can you provide a brief overview of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)?
ESSA, signed into law in December 2015, updated the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is the foundational federal PK-12 law focusing primarily on disadvantaged students. The last update was in 2002 with passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
Although ESSA maintains the traditional federal role in supporting at-risk populations, the new law transfers many responsibilities back to the states. For example, ESSA eliminates the annual yearly progress requirements for student achievement, leaving it to each state to formulate plans that will hold districts accountable for student achievement. However, ESSA retains the requirement that states regularly test students in reading and math (and in science at certain points) and report how students perform on the tests, breaking out the data by student “subgroups” (minority, low-income, children with disabilities, and English learners). The new law also retains a focus on teacher learning through Title II funding for in-service professional development and continues programs that address magnet and charter schools and provides districts more flexibility through block grants that consolidate dozens of individual programs, such as Advanced Placement®, school counseling, and education technology, into one funding source. It is likely that teachers and families will notice differences in program funding from district to district.
How does ESSA address the needs of gifted students?
Thanks to the longtime efforts of gifted education advocates, ESSA goes beyond the Javits program in addressing gifted education. The new provisions resulted from concerns that (1) there was no accountability under NCLB for the achievement of our advanced students; (2) that we need to do more to ensure that disadvantaged students have access to gifted education services and other advanced opportunities, and (3) a related concern that we need to address achievement gaps at the advanced level between populations of students; and (4) that more teachers need to be trained in identifying the indicators of giftedness and have effective strategies for how to respond and support those students.
In response to these concerns, congressional supporters successfully added several specific provisions to ESSA:
What might these requirements look like at the district level?
With the new report card requirement, student achievement data will be reported at the advanced level (or even above “advanced” in some states) from the state tests in math and reading/language arts (and science, when it is tested). The annual data will be disaggregated by student subgroup, which means that schools and the public will know the percentage of low-income, minority, English language learners, and children with disabilities that are scoring at the top of the state tests. The data may be just what the community expected to see. Or, the data may indicate changes are needed in curriculum offerings or assessments for the gifted education program so that more children in one or more groups are able to reach advanced achievement levels.
There is a persistent assumption that there are no – or few – gifted children in low-income settings. The myth is based on a view that struggling or grade-level achievement means a child is not gifted. Gifted education advocates know that there are children in every population who have high potential, but for various reasons are not yet high achievers. Now that gifted and talented children are specifically included in Title I, advocates can educate local officials about how to identify low-income, high-potential students and to deliver increasingly challenging curriculum to meet their needs and help them become high achieving.
Some schools might use Title I funds to enable gifted specialists to support classroom teachers. Other districts might develop a gifted education “preparatory” program for disadvantaged students in the early elementary grades that focuses on developing language, critical-thinking, and creative-thinking skills so the students are ready later on for referral for gifted education programs, or other advanced curriculum opportunities.
For professional development, the new law does not specify what districts must do to address the needs of gifted students. This flexibility allows districts to tailor the professional learning to its specific needs. One district might decide to use its funds to add components to existing plans on differentiation or on social-emotional needs of gifted students. Another may use its funds to focus on raising teacher awareness of giftedness in underrepresented student populations to increase referrals to gifted programs.
Changing the law was the first win. Using the law to implement needed changes at the district level will be the real victory.
In what ways can advocates for the field of talent development and educators in schools implement these new standards meaningfully?
The federal legislative victory for gifted education advocates is not the end of a years-long effort, but rather, it marks the beginning of new opportunities, which will require continuing advocacy. Now is an excellent time to ask questions and offer to gather information the district might need. For example, “Federal law now requires districts to include the needs of gifted students in professional development offerings. What are the district plans to ensure that teachers are receiving this important specialized training?” and “Now that Title I funds can be used to identify and serve our low-income gifted students, does the district expect to make changes so that these students also will be part of the gifted education program?” If there is a gifted advisory or parent group in the district, you might want to bring information about ESSA to them first so they can coordinate advocacy and education efforts.
There are several key access points in a district regarding the new changes in ESSA. For example, the local school board typically posts a schedule of public hearings. Sign up to ask a question about implementation of some of the new provisions in ESSA. Or meet directly with the superintendent, the district’s Title I director, or director of professional development/learning with the same questions. Asking questions is the first opportunity to raise awareness, but note that you will be most effective if you are prepared to offer assistance so school leaders have some idea of what might be possible. Each conversation will be different because each district is different, but you might suggest one or two ways that Title II funds could be used in your district so that more teachers would learn about gifted student needs over the course of the next year or two. For example, you might suggest a three-year professional development plan on the needs of gifted and talented students. The plan would systematically provide learning on the nature and needs of gifted students for all general and special education teachers in the district to ensure that they are able to spot the indicators of giftedness and provide support to the students. Or, you might suggest adding a segment on differentiation strategies specifically for gifted students, taught by a gifted education professional, to an existing set of professional learning modules on differentiation. You could mention concerns about opportunities (or lack of) for the district's high ability, low-income students. If the district has an ESSA planning group, volunteer to serve on it if you can; suggest a group if one hasn't been launched. What is most important is that you do not leave this important work to others. It will take the continuing efforts of gifted education advocates to turn the promising changes in ESSA into reality for our gifted learners.
As state legislators, lawmakers, and education advocates plan for how they will comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA by the start of the 2017-18 school year, Carolyn Welch, an attorney at law and ardent education advocate based in Illinois, says that there is no better time to bring up questions and concerns about the issue, and urges parents to take an active role in ensuring that their voices are heard by those who are putting the laws in place.
“Gifted education advocates, and parents who feel that the needs of their high-ability children are not being met, can start asking state policymakers and their school districts questions,” says Welch. Parents might start by asking:
Welch also provides suggestions on actions that parents can take:
When the new ESSA gifted and talented provisions are fully and effectively implemented, Welch believes that the talent pool will increase as underserved students with high potential can be equitably identified and supported, and top performers from all backgrounds can be educated at the level required to compete with top performers in other states and other countries.
According to Welch, in states without a mandate to identify high potential students or with minimal funding for gifted programs, and even in many other states with some provisions and funds, there are pronounced excellence gaps in education. The following statistics, using Illinois as an example, help explain the current state of education:
The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for grade 8 mathematics results show that 12% of Illinois students not eligible for free or reduced price lunch scored at the advanced level, whereas just 2% of those that were eligible scored at the advanced level. The figures comparing the performance of white students to black and Hispanic students are similar. This is because many high-potential disadvantaged students do not have access to challenging coursework and teachers who are trained to meet their needs. While more affluent families may be able to provide their high-ability children with supplemental enrichment outside of school, low-income students are often more dependent on the schools to meet their needs.
The gaps among advanced scores (based on income level) on the 2013 NAEP math test in Illinois.
Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS): a measurement on how far the U.S. is behind other countries in terms of number of advanced scorers in grade 8 math.
A comparison of the US states and where Illinois stands in terms of nurturing talent in schools.
A snapshot of race- and income-based excellence gaps over time.
The 2012 PISA International Test results show that the U.S. ranks 36th out of the 65 countries and economies that participated. Only 8.8% of U.S. students qualified as “top performers” on these tests, compared to the average percentage of top performers from each participating country (12.6%). The top 10 countries on these tests had an average of 31% of their students rank as top performers.
Findings are similar for states throughout the country. Welch says that the new provisions in the ESSA provide great opportunities for states, and in essence the entire country, to be on par with if not exceed international standards in the area of gifted and talented education. In light of this potential, Welch urges parents to take an active stance in making the ESSA work for the benefit of their children.
*Graph images courtesy of Jonathan Plucker, Julian C. Stanley Endowed Professor, Johns Hopkins University.
For more on the ESSA and Carolyn Welch’s insights into how parents can capitalize on the opportunities this new legislation presents, read her article in the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)’s Winter 2016 issue of their magazine Parenting for High Potential.
Copyrighted by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). This article first appeared in Parenting for High Potential, (Winter 2016), a publication of the National Association for Gifted Children, Washington, DC.