This week, there are more contributions to the lively debate on the gifted and talented (GT) program in Fairfax County:

Dear Extra Credit:

Could we celebrate and passionately embrace how well all schools (with curriculum support from the GT office) valiantly help students unwrap and develop their individual gifts? One just needs to open one's eyes, mind and heart to see the various levels and looks of gifted education in every classroom throughout the county.

A major gifted trait is risk taking, which includes trying new things and change. Using the cookie-cutter mold of a test score as the entrance criterion is just not fair. Giftedness goes way beyond the academic arena. In reality, few students are gifted in all areas of the curriculum. Most of us are paradoxes, a mix of strengths and weaknesses. Giftedness is demonstrated in infinite ways (artistically, on the court, in the boardroom, etc.).

The identification of giftedness is an extraordinarily difficult task. Compiling and interpreting data to present the complete picture is essential and time-consuming. Give the GT office a break. It has a monumental task to perform and deserves a standing ovation instead of criticism for all it does for kids, teachers, administrators and parents. That support contributes to unbiased learning opportunities.

Let's use our energy to volunteer, positively problem-solve and do whatever it takes to help all students fall in love with "thinking about thinking."

Maureen A. Culhane

Lynbrook Elementary School

teacher

Dear Extra Credit:

Bravo to Louise Epstein ["In Gifted Education, a Question of How to Choose, Not How Many," Extra Credit, Sept. 1] for having the guts to say what many GT center teachers have been saying for years: There is a real need for GT center programs, but the center today is not what it started out to be.

GT centers were created for students who are highly gifted, whose academic needs cannot be met in the regular classroom and who are significantly out of sync with other students. At least that is what the GT office still insists. Unfortunately, that does not describe too many of the GT center students in Fairfax County.

When my son entered the GT center program in the early 1980s, every child had an IQ of at least 140. There were no exceptions. There was one class at each grade level in his GT center. Today the number of classes has tripled at that center. Today there are kids in the center who read below grade level, not at least two grades above, which is the expectation.

Several years ago, many parents started to have their children privately tested. One parent told me that the psychologist who administered the IQ test to her son asked her what IQ she'd like for him to have. But instead of making private testing unacceptable for admittance, the entire process changed.

Screening for the center is now a subjective process, with a controversial test, the Naglieri, as part of that process. Letters from parents and teachers are part of the packet, as well as report card grades and the Gifted Behaviors Rating Scale, which is written by a group of teachers at the child's base school. The Naglieri is a nonverbal test, and children often score 30 points higher on the Naglieri than the Cognitive Abilities Test.

The center program is highly verbal, with instruction in language arts two grade levels above. Using a nonverbal test for entry into this highly academic program makes no sense.

Part of the blame lies with many parents in Fairfax County who feel that having a child in the GT center is a badge of honor. There are many who appeal over and over until their children are accepted into the center. I'm sure many are well-meaning, thinking that somehow if their children are exposed to GT teaching, they will succeed. The truth is that many of these kids do not succeed, which is frustrating and difficult for them. Putting a child in a situation where he or she cannot succeed is a terrible thing to do to a child.

As Louise Epstein said, there is less differentiation now between GT centers and regular classrooms. When I first started teaching in the center in 1987, my fourth-graders read between eighth-grade and 12th-grade level. In my last years, many were on grade level. Many teachers have changed the pace and content of instruction in order to accommodate kids who can't keep up with the demands of the center. As a result, the highly gifted kids, for whom the center was designed, are held back.

There will always be a need for GT centers for those kids whose needs cannot be met in the regular classroom, for kids who have no peer group and who are significantly out of sync with the regular program. Standards for acceptance into the center need to be raised so that they can fulfill their original purpose -- meeting the needs of highly gifted students.

Tina McElhatton

Vienna

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 4020 University Dr., Suite 220, Fairfax, Va. 22030. Or e-mail extracredit@washpost.com.