George Mason study lauds Fairfax County schools’ gifted programs

Academic programs for Fairfax County’s brightest students met or exceeded national and state standards, according to a George Mason University report scheduled to be presented to county officials Thursday.

The study, which the school board commissioned, concluded that the county’s gifted education curriculum is “highly successful” and that it “serves as a national and global model.” A panel of George Mason education experts presented no major critiques and recommended no significant changes as a result of the study.

The experts compared Fairfax County’s Advanced Academic Program to best practices identified by the National Association for Gifted Children and to similar course offerings in other school districts around the country. The panel also examined how students were selected for the programs, including how the school system ensures that the enrollment includes underrepresented minorities.

Fairfax County parents and students described the Advanced Academic Programs as very effective and reviewed the experience positively, according to survey results cited in the study.

Beverly Jurenko, president of the Fairfax County Association of the Gifted, said she was surprised to see so few recommendations for changes to the program.

“I think most people in Fairfax County are very happy with the Advanced Academic Program and many people move here because they are attracted to FCPS in general and see the quality of services that AAP offers for children that are eligible,” Jurenko said. “But there are always things to improve and go deeper. There’s no endpoint.”

Louise Epstein, a former president of the gifted association and a longtime advocate for gifted education, said that because the study was conducted for the schools, it lacks the credibility an independent study might have had. She said the study “was not even remotely critical of anything” and thus was not particularly valuable.

One recommendation in the study calls for Fairfax County to require all advanced academic program and honors teachers to earn a gifted education endorsement either through the school system or the state. More than half of all gifted education teachers do not have either endorsement. The George Mason experts wrote that the endorsement is not required by the Virginia Department of Education but pointed to a 1999 study that showed a low percentage of teachers with endorsements can affect the quality of the gifted program.

The George Mason experts are scheduled to present the findings to the school board at a work session Thursday evening.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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