Gifted Student Is Being Held Back By Graduation Rules

By Jay Mathews
Monday, October 5, 2009

Anyone who wants to appreciate how strong a grip high school has on the American imagination -- and how clueless some school districts are about this -- should consider the story of Drew Gamblin, a 16-year-old student at Howard High School in Ellicott City.

Drew, a child so gifted he taught himself to write at age 3, craves a high school education and all that comes with it -- debate team, music, drama and senior prom.

After a series of inexplicable decisions by Howard County school officials, such as requiring him to stay in a Howard High algebra class he had already mastered, his parents decided to home-school him and put him in college classes. But Drew insisted on his high school dream.

So he is back at Howard, although it's not clear what grade he is in, and the school district is making it hard to enjoy what the school has to offer. He is being forced to take a world history course he already took at Howard Community College and a junior-year English course he took at home, as well as classes in other subjects he has studied.

Drew said he hopes that school district superintendent Sydney L. Cousin will use a state regulation that would allow him to create an alternative way for Drew to graduate without so much course repetition, but it doesn't look good.

Drew could go to college right now. He passed the Maryland state High School Assessment test in sophomore English at the advanced level (Howard refuses to give him credit for the course) and did the same in American government. Two years ago, he scored in the 92nd percentile on the PSAT and placed in the top 4 percent of all African American students who took the exam.

But he wants those high school memories, and he wants the county to admit its mistakes. "If I've earned the credit, I've earned it," he said. "I'm fighting for what is already mine."

Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for Howard schools, said the district "spent an overwhelming amount of time" on Drew's case and offered him "numerous opportunities and accommodations, to no avail." Because of confidentiality rules, she said, she couldn't say more.

In a nine-page decision Aug. 19, the Howard school board denied the family's request for credit for courses taken in college and at home. The board's only hint of any regret at what it put the family through came in saying that "because of their persistence, the parents were able to persuade the administration to accept the Japanese language [two of Drew's college courses] in fulfillment of the modern language credit. It is unfortunate that situation took so long to be resolved."

His parents have appealed the Howard board's decision to the state school board, but that process will take months.

It didn't have to be this way. Some school districts have welcomed children as in love with learning as Drew is. His mother, Ellicia Chau, said the first clue about what her son could do came at age 18 months, when he put together a 50-piece puzzle.

At 21 months, he was sounding out letters on the sides of delivery trucks. During Thanksgiving dinner when he was 3, his mother wondered who had written the name Ike, one of Drew's uncles, on a napkin. Drew eventually convinced her it was he.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company