School Board Questionnaire
Student access to resources and opportunities within the schools is an important value in the Wyoming community. According to the recent WCS Citizens Advisory Committee report on Gifted Education, a common challenge for US schools is that there is a lack of proportional representation in Gifted Education for groups differing in racial, cultural, linguistic, and economic factors. If you were elected to the Wyoming Board of Education, what steps would you take to ensure all high achieving/gifted students are appropriately identified?
Ensuring equitable identification of gifted students in Wyoming should require a holistic evaluation approach, considering academic performance, creative projects, and teacher observations, rather than relying solely on standardized tests. I believe there will always be a segment of gifted students who test poorly for a variety of reasons.
Professional development for educators is crucial to recognize gifted traits across diverse cultural, linguistic, and economic backgrounds. Redefining “gifted” criteria to encompass a range of talents, including artistic, leadership, and problem-solving skills, will capture non-traditional forms of giftedness. Instituting a regular review process for program demographics and identification strategies ensures ongoing commitment to equity and representation, allowing continuous adaptation and improvement.
Research from Ohio’s Fordham Institute makes it clear that gifted identification does impact long-term student success (see the report Ohio’s Lost Einstein’s). At the moment gifted identification in Wyoming is based on standardized test scores earned in the 2nd and 4th grades (the fact that this testing is universal is a good thing). Additional opportunities for identification are available bi-annually by parental request. An obvious first step is to more widely advertise these reassessment opportunities. Additional best practices from around the country include the use of multiple measures, for example, the use of teacher rating scales, but these must be implemented carefully and with sufficient training in order to be effective. Regardless of a Wyoming student’s gifted “status”, many of the learning opportunities identified by the CAC (e.g. internships/co-ops; corporate sponsored class projects, robotics clubs, and project-based learning opportunities) seem like they would be worthy of district investment and should be made widely available for any interested and motivated student.
As a member of the board I have had the opportunity to engage with Dr. Tracey Wurtzler (previously Quattrone) during her team’s presentations on Gifted Education in Wyoming, asking questions to understand why the State of Ohio and National data shows correlation between the demographics of individuals selecting students for gifted programs and the demographics of the students selected. We were informed that the selection is based primarily on students’ scores on gifted assessment testing. A few things I have inquired about to help every student be seen for what they can achieve: ensuring that every elementary educator engages with each of their students as if they are destined to be the valedictorian–to not let any unconscious bias impact what they call out in their students or how they constructively challenge them all to succeed academically, removing the race identification prior to students taking standardized tests because results show that A-A students who self identify prior to taking tests score lower on the tests because they have been helped to subconsciously believe that A-A are less capable academically.
Personally, I feel the term “gifted” carries baggage that steers us away from our stated goal to meet each child where they are. We can get bogged down in state identification guidelines. We must deal with definitions strictly connected to funding.
Yet, we need to focus on unique potential and achievement since we provide opportunities and challenges to students. We offer a wide variety of classes and experiences. We identify, in our local level evaluations, those students who belong in more advanced classes to reach their full potential. As a BOE member, I support the constant review and research I see with our current leadership on defining gifted and also on widening its breath. Currently we use a wide view of gifted in our grades 2-4 testing. Ongoing professional development for all staff, K-12, has been provided on topics of identification, and gifted services that can be incorporated in each classroom. Access to advanced classes, curriculum, and opportunities is refined each year. And the CAC study on gifted helps define ongoing change through a four step action plan. Still ongoing, but I see real effort.
“Gifted learning” programs pose both pitfalls and potentials. Gifted designations can inspire students by giving them recognition of their abilities and by providing students needing additional academic challenge with engaging lessons during the school day. But gifted programs also can stigmatize and discourage students, creating a sense of anxiety and disparity within our learning communities.
In my experience, these dynamics are more acute at the primary and middle school levels, where the ability of students to change their gifted designation is often determined by a standardized test. And like many other standardized tests, gifted assessments can fall short of measuring the full scope and abilities of some students.
The pathways to gifted learning open up a bit during high school, where students, regardless of their previous gifted labels, have more autonomy to take advanced classes, including Advanced Placement (AP) courses. As a result, students who were never officially identified as “gifted” can and do participate in advanced/gifted opportunities.
Obviously, different students are extraordinary in different ways and at different times. Not all students develop at the same pace. And a single test given at a single point in time provides only one view of our students. As a result, the standardized testing process used for some gifted learning opportunities should be monitored and assessed to ensure that it is consistent with the values and commitments of Wyoming City Schools.