By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 25, 2005
In Montgomery County, where many high school graduates move on to top-notch colleges, a proposal to do away with the designation "gifted and talented" might be seen as blasphemous.
But members of the Equity in Education Coalition, launched a few months ago by concerned parents and community activists, are calling on Montgomery County public school educators to do just that.
They say children suffer when some are labeled gifted and others are not. Evie Frankl of Silver Spring, co-chair of the Montgomery County Education Forum, one of the coalition's member groups, said such designations can give some students an unfair advantage over others.
"It sets up a system by which certain kids head off on a track that prepares them for [high level] courses by giving them an enriched curriculum,'' Frankl said. "But kids who are not ID'd as gifted and talented take a much more remedial set of courses, so they're not prepared for honors and AP courses in high school."
Added Denise Young of Silver Spring, another member of the coalition, "You don't need to stamp kids [gifted and talented] in order to figure out what they need."
The group plans to host a forum this fall to discuss these equity issues.
At their start-off rally in June, coalition members carried signs declaring "No Labels, No Limits." Speakers said that if children are to be given an equal shot at excelling in honors and Advanced Placement courses, they all must be taught with an expectation that they can succeed.
School system officials, pointing to new test scores that show black and Hispanic students making significant progress in reading and math, said the county offers all children the same quality of education. They say that while there are achievement gaps between white and Asian students and their black and Hispanic counterparts, those gaps are narrowing.
The Equity in Education Coalition is a collection of community groups, including the NAACP Parent Council, African American Parents of Montgomery County, the Montgomery County Education Forum and Progressive Maryland.
Although the groups worked separately in the past, members saw benefits in coming together and pooling their resources and know-how.
Frankl said it's important the community understand that the group is not calling for an end to gifted and talented programs but for an expansion of the programs' reach.
"What we want to do is incorporate the gifted and talented program into what every child gets,'' she said.
In Montgomery County, educators begin identifying students as gifted and talented at the end of second grade, using what they call global screening, a process that includes parent and teacher input and test scores from specially designated exams. If a child is not identified as gifted and talented at that time, parents can appeal the decision. They also have the option of asking that their child be reevaluated at any time during his or her school career, said system spokesman Brian Edwards.
Edwards said the county does everything it can to ensure that all students have access to the programs. He noted that Montgomery is one of the few systems that screens all students for eligibility, rather than just a select few. He said that while there are proportionately fewer black and Hispanic students in the program than there are white and Asian students, educators have worked to devise strategies to identify children who might not fit the traditional definition of gifted and talented.
Frankl said that the system has made strides but that it can do more. "Now is a good time to get rid of the label and think about kids as kids,'' she said.