In her Sept. 24 letter, Leslie A. Braunstein took issue with Patrick Welsh for his criticism of so-called gifted and talented (GT) programs for high-achieving students in public schools {"Fast-Track Trap," Outlook, Sept. 16}. Unfortunately, Leslie Braunstein's defense of these programs is based almost entirely on a couple of commonly held misconceptions as follows:

She claims that children with IQs of 140 and over (a criterion used by Fairfax County for screening) have "special learning needs." Hogwash! High Otis-Lennon (IQ) scores are revealing merely as measures of children's general knowledge -- gained by and large from an intellectually stimulating home environment -- and proficiency in taking multiple-choice tests. As research has proven again and again, the IQ test does not measure innate ability; rather, this screening process succeeds mostly at identifying children who are already proven self-learners who should more accurately be called "bright, stimulated and motivated" instead of "gifted and talented."

Neither does a score of over 140 in itself indicate genius of such rare quality as to require "special" instruction outside the regular classroom. In fact, the presence of these eager learners in heterogeneous groupings benefits both the class as a whole and the high-achievers themselves who have the opportunity to grow academically without the stress imposed by highly competitive GT programs.

Although it may be true that the GT centers suffer the same budgetary constraints as mainstream classrooms, they are notable for the presence of other significant advantages: high expectations for students' achievement and the creative use of materials, content and instructional methods to make sure students perform up to these standards.

When my husband and I were considering the placement of our identified "GT" child, the guidance counselor at his Fairfax County middle school described the merits of the gifted program as classes where the students write more, do more projects, engage in class discussion, have essay tests as opposed to multiple-choice and study a coordinated, interdisciplinary curriculum. Stunned, I asked her if these things were not happening in the regular classroom. Her response: "It's the type of program the bright kids can handle." The obvious but unstated complement, of course, is that the unidentified kids cannot.

More Hogwash! And therein lies the greatest flaw of gifted and talented programs. It's not that these high-achieving students don't deserve the best learning opportunities and the highest expectations. They do. The error is in failing to recognize that all children deserve these same advantages. If in every classroom students wrote more, did more projects, engaged in class discussion, etc., the schools would probably find a rich vein of untapped gifts and talents in just plain kids. They would certainly succeed at what they are failing to do now: keeping all kids, not just the high achievers, interested in learning.

PATTE BARTH Washington The writer is editor of Basic Education.