Maryland considers new rules for gifted and talented student programs

February 26, 2012

The Maryland State Board of Education is poised to adopt regulations for gifted and talented education this week that instruct local school systems on how to identify gifted students, design programs and report progress.

Under the proposal, a school system could identify a child as young as 3 as gifted.

Maryland education officials said the regulations, to be voted on Tuesday, are the state’s first attempt to provide minimum standards for designing and implementing programs for gifted and talented students.

Jeanne Paynter, department specialist for gifted and talented education, said the proposed regulations were designed to ensure quality services for advanced students across the state.

“If there aren’t minimal standards, we see that as an equity issue,” Paynter said. “If I live in one area and I don’t have access to . . . someone who lives in another area, that’s an equity issue.”

The proposal covers, among other topics, the identification of gifted students, programs, professional development and reporting requirements.

Local school systems will be required to report timelines to measure progress and their goals and strategies for the performance of advanced students.

Each school system “shall provide different services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program,” the proposal says. It also says that the school system “shall consider implementing” programs for gifted and talented students from pre-kindergarten through high school.

The proposal drew criticism from a Montgomery County group that opposes the labeling of students as gifted and talented. The Montgomery County Education Forum contends that allowing local schools to identify 3- and 4-year-olds could have a negative effect on the achievement gap for black, Hispanic and English-language learners.

The forum last week submitted a petition — signed by 278 lawmakers, students, parents and advocacy organizations, including Casa of Maryland and the Montgomery County chapters of the ACLU and NAACP — urging the state board to delay the vote.

“When we saw pre-K, that’s when we went ballistic,” said Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery), president of the forum. “We already think second grade is too early. We’re trying to do away with that in Montgomery County. . . . When you label kids, you have winners and you have losers, and the losers are black, Hispanic and low-income.”

Paynter said critics have misread the proposal.

The regulations would not call for labeling or tracking, she said. The regulations say each school system “shall consider implementing an identification process that documents early evidence of advanced learning behaviors, Pre K-2.”

Paynter said: “This is the process of observing students, just like we do for students with disabilities. We’re asking systems to consider students’ abilities.”

The forum also asked the state board to form a task force to determine what changes are necessary to promote equity for all students.

Gifted education has long been a subject of debate. Gutierrez said her group has waged a “No Label, No Limits” campaign in Montgomery for 12 years.

Frederick Stichnoth, president of the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County, said he does not think that the new rules will help advocates for the gifted in Montgomery because the system already meets minimum standards under the proposal. Prince George’s County also meets the standards, state officials said.

Gutierrez said the state did not provide ample time for local school boards and parents to provide input.

State officials said they received 197 comments on the proposed regulations during a 30-day period for comment. Nearly all of the comments favor the regulations, they said.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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