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D181 Parents: Emphasizing Gifted Means Overlooking Everyone Else

The gifted program, which will soon be reviewed by an outside consultant, is private education for a few, paid for with the taxes of the many.

The following is a letter to the editor from District 181 parents Kristy Brindley and Rebecca Wear Robinson:

On Monday night the District 181 Board of Education heard . The programs to be reviewed have been identified as the ACE program and the advanced courses for high-achieving students in math and language arts. An internal committee was formed that included two gifted specialists to prepare and review the Request For Proposal (RFP). The RFP specified that candidates must have a strong background in gifted education.

All were appropriate actions to review a gifted program.

As two district parents, our primary concern is not whether the existing gifted/talented program is serving the needs of the children who qualify. Instead, we're concerned about whether the program has the effect of lowering standards for the remaining 70 percent of children and we're concerned about the indisputable negative effect that the labeling is having on those children.

Our concern is that the continued focus on assessing the gifted programs is allowing the bigger and more concerning issues to be overlooked.

The district’s stated goal is, “To be a school district where all children experience success.” This goal is admirably supported by our excellent Social Emotional Learning for Academic Success (SELAS) program, and is undermined time and time again by the district’s focus on high-achieving children through a program that has been skewed by pressure from a small group of parents in favor of their children.

It’s private education for a few, paid for with the taxes of the many.

While recently speaking with fellow fourth-grade parents, the topic of our kids' curriculum night letters came up. One fourth-grade parent said her child, who is in advanced math, wrote to his parents in his curriculum night letter, “I hope that I do OK in math this year.” Another child, who is learning at grade level, wrote, “I am good at math, but not as good as other kids.” Children refer to “smart math” (advanced) and “dumb math” (grade level). Nine years old is too young for children to doubt their ability at math—a skill they will need their entire life.

We are suggesting that the truly gifted children, defined as the three to five percent of children who not only possess extraordinary intellectual capacity but who also have social and emotional needs that differentiate them, receive both the intellectual challenge and the additional help they may need in channeling those skills effectively.

We are suggesting that the children at the other end of the spectrum who have learning disabilities, or social and emotional needs that require additional help, have their needs met.

We are suggesting that children who possess exceptionally strong intellectual capabilities be challenged appropriately.

We are suggesting that the remaining 70 percent of students also be challenged and given the resources to reach a high level of accomplishment academically that is supported by the emotional satisfaction derived from being challenged and succeeding.

We are suggesting that District 181 truly be “A school district where all children experience success.”

We request that in reviewing the work of the outside consultant, special attention be paid to recommendations that focus on a system of differentiation in the classroom, which would allow our excellent teachers to do what they have been trained to do and are paid to do—bring all of our children to the highest level of academic achievement within their capability.

We request that all of our children be put first.

District 181 Parent October 06, 2011 at 04:45 PM
A group of parents flooded the caucus, propelled their chiefs on to the school board, ordered up a one million dollar education program during a budget deficit and then made cuts affecting everyone else to pay for it. If there is a D181 million dollar sports program, where do I sign my kid up? I spent $450 for my kid to play volleyball and track and had to drive the team all over DuPage County because the sports buses were cut. What are you people talking about?
Educator October 06, 2011 at 06:02 PM
We are not talking about programs for the 2-3% percent of any given population that is typically identified as gifted. Our district has identified 20-25% of its students as gifted/talented. The district currently tests second grade students, pulls the top 20% - 25%, isolates them, accelerates them and gives them a gifted specialist to further enrich their curriculum (costing the tax payers over a million dollars to fund). The identification tests use scan-tran answer sheets which experts agree are inappropriate for 7 and 8 yr olds. Many second grade students lack the fine motor skills and multi-step ability to complete these types of tests. Once placed on a track in THIRD GRADE, based on these out of norm tests, there is very little movement in or out. Year after year on subsequent tests students not in the program test higher than those students in the program. In one year (looking at a particular grade level) district data shows that approximately 35% of students not in the program tested higher than students in the gifted/talented program. If the district cannot accurately and consistently identify students for this type of enrichment, it is not a needs based program. You cannot have a program like this in a competitive/wealthy district like ours. It has led to parents tutoring their young first and second grade children to ensure they will be among the 20-25% given not only a better education, but a false mindset that they are smarter than the rest.
Craig Hoffend October 24, 2011 at 02:47 AM
In response to Mr Raymond's comments to Proud Teacher, I find it disturbing that a teacher is not allowed to voice her opinion without being attacked. The extensive criticism of her beliefs (and abilities) is unnecessary simply due to her decision to speak out. In D181, this program carries extensive benefits to a select number of students during a time when we are facing an extensive budget crisis. Somehow, other Districts (in the North Shore for example) provide appropriate services to gifted children without a program of this type. We commend Kristy Brindley and Rebecca Wear Robinson for speaking out in the proper arena and in a professional manner. I may not agree with Mr Raymond's opinion, but I refuse to attack him for stating his opinion. A shame he could not do the same.
Joshua Raymond October 24, 2011 at 03:30 AM
Mr. Hoffend, I've dealt with too many teachers like "Proud Teacher". Most parents of gifted children have. When we try to get appropriate education for our children, we are told we think our kids are better than others, we don't want our kids mixed in with kids of average academic ability, or social skills outweigh academic skills. (Studies show that gifted children improve social skills more when placed with children of a similar academic level.) These teachers tell us to provide academics for our kids at home because they refuse to. Sorry, but it is a teacher's job to educate and if the children already know it, teaching it to them again is not educating. Students should not be assigned to a teacher that will refuse to educate them. Give 'Proud Teacher' students that she actually will help and put the bright ones elsewhere. Or better yet, leave teaching to the educators who understand what education is. You seem to have no problem with 'Proud Teacher' attacking 'Concerned mother of a gifted child'. It doesn't bother you that a teacher openly ridicules parents who want what is best for their children? Why the double standard? Do your standards of courtesy only apply to people who disagree with you? I stand by my opinion, even if you don't like the manner in which it was expressed.
Steve Woodward October 24, 2011 at 03:12 PM
The relevant issue is once again overshadowed by our growing American obsession with "personal attacks". These formerly were known as spirited debates. Today, if an individual dares to call into question an opposing view, he has "attacked". Get over yourselves. Back to the issue: The concern is not that we should ignore "what is best" for our children. The gifted education controversy centers on whether all taxpayers should be expected to subsidize "what is best" for another parent's so-called gifted child.
Joshua Raymond October 24, 2011 at 04:27 PM
Mr. Woodward, that is a good question that could be asked about many aspects of education. Should funds from other students subsidize athletics, theater, special education, busing, band, or after-school clubs? Perhaps the answer would be to designate a certain portion of the education grant to subsidize activities of the student's choice. Most parents of gifted students aren't asking for more than their 'fair share'. However, many of us have long felt we are getting less than our fair share. If our children enter a grade knowing 80% of the curriculum for that grade and the teacher will only teach that grade's curriculum, our children are only learning 20% of a full year's academics. All we are asking for is education aimed at our children's level. If our children are in fourth grade but doing math at a sixth grade level, we are asking that our children be given sixth grade level math. Unfortunately, when gifted children are placed in a typical heterogeneous classroom, they usually receive little or no differentiation. Teachers have many students and often simply don't have time. Or they don't believe that differentiated academics is important. Or don't believe 'so-called' gifted children exist. That is why we ask for environments where gifted learning is supported. Often this means magnet schools or magnet classrooms. Sometimes these do cost extra money. Take it out of what we use to subsidize activities our kids don't participate in.
District 181 Parent October 24, 2011 at 07:29 PM
Mr. Raymond, you do not understand D181's program. These kids are not gifted. Seven year-olds take a test. If they score at a certain point, they advance one year in math, receive an enriched reading curriculum and have personal access to a gifted specialist. A child who scores one point under the cutoff gets none of this and the gap between the two grows every year. Subsequent tests scores fluctuate but only no one moves. Unless you believe in tracking based on second grade tests you cannot defend D181's program. Can you tell me what it is about a cutoff point on one MAP or SCAT test that translates to a need for advancement, enrichment and a gifted specialist? Do you believe 25% of a district is gifted?
Joshua Raymond October 24, 2011 at 08:19 PM
25% gifted would be extremely high for any district, but it approximately the percent of children who would benefit from advanced education. Nationally, about 5-7% of the population is gifted, but as intelligence is partially hereditary, there will be areas with higher percentages. Many school districts identify the top 25% as high-potential learners. I don't think a 25% rate for advanced and gifted studies is indefensible. It is unfortunate, but necessary to have a cut-off. While it sounds like this program has some issues, such as regular re-testing and possibly not enough differentiation between levels of giftedness, it probably also helps your schools by retaining students who would move to private schools and attracting families to your district, increasing housing values and decreasing empty houses. I've known families who have moved to other districts because my district does not have a gifted program except "differentiation" in the classroom. Many districts your size have athletic budgets equal in expense to your gifted program. Are schools supposed to be in the business of creating students who excel or athletes who excel? Does our country need more Thomas Edisons or Mark McGuires? To do either requires an investment. If your district has chosen to spend more on gifted education than gifted athletes, it is to be commended!
Joshua Raymond October 24, 2011 at 08:20 PM
To all those who would end this program, what would you put in its stead? What is your solution for providing that every child receives an academically aligned education?
District 181 Parent October 24, 2011 at 09:32 PM
25% would be acceptable if they were significantly and consistently above the next 25%. They are not. Year after year test scores show fluctuations in up to 65% of students. If a district cannot identify its "high performers" you do not have a need for a million dollar program. Keeping third graders from an advanced and enriched curriculum given to their programed peers is indefensible. Most high performing districts advance and enrich all of their students. Yes, It is necessary to have cut-offs when a separate class or track exists such as AP classes in high school. We are discussing seven and eight year-old children. It is very unfortunate and unnecessary to have cut-offs for second graders who are taking placement tests for third grade classes. Many seven year-olds do not have the executive functioning skills to take tests. Abilities can fluctuate in young children over a summer. Giving a child a label "gifted","high achiever", "average", or "low achiever" in second grade is unhealthy and strongly advised against by experts in education. Studies show children reach their perceived potential and the gap widens. Our country does not decide who at age seven the next Mark McGuire will be. Nor do we choose at age seven the high school football team. Making decisions on who will be our country's high achievers at age seven is just as ridiculous. Many parents I have met have wanted to move out of this district because of this program.
Joshua Raymond October 25, 2011 at 02:56 PM
I come from a high-performing district. Based on looking at your profile, it is very similar to yours. My district also has a number of high-performing districts around it. Perhaps 1 of the 10-15 closest districts has a program that adequately differentiates for gifted students. Most of them focus on the average student making sure that they will pass our version of the ISAT. Kids who enter second grade already multiplying are given single-digit addition problems to work on. Differentiation within the standard classroom just doesn't happen in most schools. Experts in education vary widely. Many recognize that schools will not provide academically-aligned education for unlabeled kids. Struggling kids are labeled so they they will receive extra assistance from a learning consultant. Special needs kids are labeled so the school can receive extra funding to help them. I don't like the labels 'gifted' and 'high achiever' but they are more recognizable than 'highly academically able' and shorter when there is a character limit imposed. If advanced & gifted children aren't labeled, they won't receive appropriate education.
Joshua Raymond October 25, 2011 at 02:56 PM
Gifted education should always be on a spectrum. Some kids need just a little higher curriculum than grade level. Others need much higher. But any program will require a cutoff and D181 is using accepted standards. Unfortunately, adult egos on both sides are getting in the way of what is best for the students. One adult demands her child be in the gifted program because she just barely missed the cutoff. Another doesn't want his child dropped from a gifted program even though the standard classroom is now a better fit. A good gifted program re-assesses each year to determine which students should be in it and focuses on the student's needs, not the parent's ego. Kids do change throughout the years, but even kindergarten isn't too early to figure out which students currently would benefit from a gifted program. Add and remove children later as is best for them. Ability grouping also provides some great benefits for children not placed in the top ability group. They are given the chance to be the academic stars in their classes and gain confidence. A teacher who does differentiate can spend more time with their academic level instead of splitting among five academic levels. This helps some of these children move up an academic level. Isn't that to be desired? Again, what is your solution for providing that every child receives an academically aligned education?
John Public October 25, 2011 at 04:39 PM
This whole thread leaves me dumbfounded. I would think it is pretty obvious that kids working above grade level benefit from instruction geared for them. It benefits those kids, and benefits our whole society eventually. Is this some sort of expensive "private education" for those gifted kids? Well, why not object then to what 181 spends on special education? I don't know the figures, but I'm sure it dwarfs what is spent on the gifted program. What this discussion lacks, and what the consultant will surely look at, is what does 181 spend relative to other school districts on gifted education?
District 181 Parent October 26, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Oak Brook; $3000 on five children deemed gifted. Deliver an advanced and enriched curriculum much like our G&T program for all students. Western Springs: $0, no G&T program. They have differentiation specialists that pull kid that are ahead and below the class. Glenco; $0. Differentiation within the class with an advanced and enriched curriculum Wilmette $0. No G&T program. Winnetka $0. No G&T program. Hinsdale $1,000,000 on a G&T program for a group of kids who test at certain point on a MAP test.
Joshua Raymond October 26, 2011 at 05:38 PM
How many students does Oak Brook have in their schools? 100? If so, their GT program is missing many students. Has anyone asked parents of GT students in Western Springs, Glenco, Wilmette, and Winnetka if their children's needs are being met? I live in a district that has "differentiation" and it is far from sufficient. In discussions with other gifted education experts and advocates around the United States, their experiences with "differentiation" have been similar.
Educator October 26, 2011 at 05:45 PM
While districts such as Winnetka and Oakbrook revamped their Language Arts and Math curriculum to enrich and advance all students, D181 put millions into revamping the curriculum to advance and enrich an arbitrary 25% of "high achieving students". The district CANNOT accurately identify high achievers - period. There is no reason why this district cannot provide this enriched curriculum for everyone. The sad fact is that people moved to this district for the excellent public education. Similar high achieving schools (public and parochial) in wealthy districts similar to ours use the same curriculum our advanced classes use, the only difference they use it for ALL students. More importantly, they are providing this enriched education without tracking and labeling children.
Joshua Raymond October 26, 2011 at 06:15 PM
SHOULD all kids do it? COULD all kids do it? WOULD all kids want to? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then it isn’t differentiated.. – Harry Passow’s test for a differentiated curriculum Until differentiation is understood, placing gifted students back in the standard classroom would be a disaster. And looking at your test scores, students are getting an excellent public education.
District 181 Parent October 26, 2011 at 06:34 PM
Joshua, why is this so hard for you to understand. The 800 kids benefiting from the million dollar program are not gifted. Nothing about D181's identification measures gifted or talented or high achieving. We have spent over $6,000,000 on gifted specialists working with kids who have no more need of enrichment than any other child. It is a ridiculous advantage for a group of non gifted kids. Oak Brook has 500 and has a higher percentage of kids in Central's honors classes. D181 spends $300,000 on their RTI program for kids that struggle and $1,000,000 on a gifted program for kids who do well on a second grade test.
District 181 Parent October 26, 2011 at 06:43 PM
Oak Brook has 5 children deemed gifted out of 500 total students. 1%
Educator October 26, 2011 at 07:08 PM
Hinsdale spends $960,000 on gifted specialists. Districts such as Winnetka do not have gifted specialists, they have differentiation specialist that work with all students, which makes it possible to provide an enriched curriculum for all students. Joshua, our test scores were even higher 6 years ago before this tracking program began. Our strong D181 teacher obviously understood how to differentiate then and are more than capable of exceptional differentiation now. Turning the NINE gifted specialist in our district into differentiation specialists for all students should be done immediately – we do not need an expert to tell us that.
Joshua Raymond October 26, 2011 at 07:48 PM
Oak Brook's numbers are way too low. The National Association for Gifted Children classifies 5-7% of the population as gifted. This should be a minimum of 25-35 of Oak Brooks' 500 students. For an area with a higher than average college education, this number should also be higher as intelligence is partially hereditary. The top 25% are often identified as "High potential learners" and require differentiated service experiences to further develop their interests and abilities. It is great that your school district has recognized this and is doing something about it. Many don't. But if you prefer to compare your district against ones that are not using best practices for gifted students, that is your right. You've already stated that these students are tested for the program, yet now you claim that they are no different than any other student in giftedness. Please explain. Are the IQ scores of this group the same as the average student population? D181's K12 special education is $6.2 million. And yet you gripe about less that 1/6 of that being spent on gifted. "kids who have no more need of enrichment than any other child." And if you get rid of this program, no enrichment will probably be what gifted students get. And it doesn't sound like that would bother you.
Joshua Raymond October 26, 2011 at 08:31 PM
What does Winnetka spend on differentiation specialists? Those still have a cost. How do D181's and Winnetka's top 10% of students compare when tested? How many grade levels ahead are the top 10% of each district? How have achievement and test scores changed for D181's top 25% in the past six years? What I did see was that D181 was ranked ninth in the state in 2006 and third in the state in 2010. Seems like an increase to me. And obviously the average student in your schools is not receiving a mediocre education. Is this program a failure or just an expense? There are plenty of gifted programs that are simply pulling students out for a bit of fun but don't provide any acceleration. D181 Parent recognizes there is acceleration going on. That is better than what many districts do. I've never understood why public schools insist on killing successful programs so that they can be like other districts that don't have them. It should be a race to excellence, not a race to mediocrity. I find it astonishing that not one of the people who want to kill this program suggested putting a program in the typical classroom that provide strong enrichment there also. Isn't it better to build up your own instead of tearing down someone else's?
District 181 Parent October 26, 2011 at 08:56 PM
Id rather not have a race but a well rounded education without exclusivity and absurd disparity in resources for the top second grade test takers. Of course acceleration should be delivered to the typical classroom as they do in every high achieving district.
Joshua Raymond October 26, 2011 at 09:15 PM
Acceleration should be delivered in the typical classroom, but it usually is not, even in the high achieving districts. The district I live in can be considered the best in my state according to some measures. There is very little differentiation in the classroom. If differentiation in the typical classroom was sufficient and practiced widely, there would not be so many gifted education advocacy groups out there. However, teachers aren't prepared for gifted students. The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented found that 61 percent of a national random sample of third and fourth grade classroom teachers had never received any training whatsoever about teaching gifted students. A recent national study found that a large percentage of these students have already mastered between 40 and 50 percent of curricular material before the school year even begins, and often spend large amounts of time being asked to do work they already know, or waiting for some accommodations to be made. My eldest daughter had 78% mastery in her grade's math curriculum before the school year began, yet gets the same instruction as every student in her class. The teacher gives out a worksheet with an easy section and a hard section and lets the students choose which to do. That is her idea of differentiation. It is no wonder that top students from other countries kick our top students' butts in achievement and we have to import our top doctors, scientists, and engineers.
District 181 Parent October 26, 2011 at 10:04 PM
Its a world economy. We could have this race to the top with India but until we are a country of one billion people motivated to overcome unfathomable poverty, we are not going to win. I would rather have happy healthy kids who can play and enjoy life than one who is being pushed by his own school district to be ahead of the top math student from India.
Another D181 Parent October 27, 2011 at 12:24 AM
Building up your own at the expense of the majority of the students is exactly what happened in this district. A small group of parents pushed through their own agenda to benefit their children. What we are left with is a program that is social and emotionally damaging to children and has lowered the standards for the majority of students in D181. This is a public school district where every child should be challenged, not just a select few who happen to meet a test score cut-off when they are only seven years old. The program in this district is not a gifted program and is not a program based on needs. It is a program that has negative effects on so many children. It is a program that is leaving the students in the grade-level classes at a distinct disadvantage. It is a program that is not even meeting the needs of the truly gifted children. In a the spring of 2011 D181 reported that 41.5% of students on MAP tests fell into the category "below typical growth". Catering to a few at the expense of many.
Craig Hoffend October 27, 2011 at 02:13 AM
Mr Raymond, please excuse me if I am wrong - but I believe you aren't even from the D181 area. Rochester, MI? Do us all a favor and stay out of our affairs and education. I am left to wonder what your motivation is... Could it be that you are involved promoting programs such as this? Since you are the founder of SAGE (Supporting Advanced & Gifted Education), I believe your view point to be highly biased and unwelcome. If you don't know about towns like Wilmette or Winnetka, you obviously aren't from this area. By the looks of the postings, you are completely out numbered and uninformed. Please keep to your own affairs and out of a situation which you know nothing about... Especially when you are promoting your own self interest and not the interest of our children.
John Public October 27, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Joshua, you truly are the voice of reason (and logic) in this debate. I gotta laugh when I read statements like "The 800 kids benefiting from the million dollar program are not gifted."
chet everett October 27, 2011 at 09:58 PM
The notion that Mr. Hoffend would put forward, that the view of experts should be set aside because they are not from around these parts / outnumbered is exactly what is wrong with the discourse in so many of these online "communities" -- the know-nothings shout louder and demean the well reasoned arguments of the minority. The fairy tales that people make up are not amusing. To arrive the that fictitious sum of "$1M" the story tellers multiple the 9 teachers by $100k and those in some equally poorly documented transportation data. Well that sort of horseshoe tossing budget make believe does not work by a long shot. That would be like saying given the total district salary and benefits expenditures of $43M there must be 430 teachers. Not even close: http://iirc.niu.edu/District.aspx?source=About_Educators&source2=Teacher_Characteristics&districtID=19022181004&level=D The foolish whining of angry tax payers and uninformed parents is an embarrassment...
Another D181 Parent October 28, 2011 at 12:02 AM
What is really embarrassing is that D181 has 41.5% of students showing "below typical growth".

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