Update: The Maryland Board of Education adopted the new guidelines for gifted and talented students on Tuesday. The Post story is here.

Original post: The term “gifted and talented” is a loaded one. We all think our own children are gifted and talented, but very few of them receive the stamp of recognition from specialists.

Parents with extremely advanced children might privately admit it’s not an easy road (tears of frustration, risks of isolation and self-loathing). Still, the rest of us often want the “gifted” recognition for our own sparkling offspring.

At what age should a child’s gifted abilities be recognized? (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

Alas, we don’t live in Lake Wobegon, so more kids than not will be left off the gifted roster. That translates into controversy. How that roster is created and who creates it remains a matter of debate wherever there’s a gifted and talented program.

Today, the Maryland State Board of Education is poised to adopt new guidelines to create its own program. And, even as the proposal contains vague language, the complaints are rolling in.

According to Monday’s Post story by Ovetta Wiggins, officials plan to vote this week on the minimum standards across the state for identifying, working with and monitoring gifted students.

The proposal would mandate that each school system “shall provide different services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program.”

Pretty basic, right?

Here comes the tricky part: It goes on to suggest that schools “shall consider implementing” programs from pre-kindergarten through high school.

Identifying gifted students as early as pre-kindergarten?

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery), who is leading a group that opposes the new standards told Wiggins, “When we saw pre-K, that’s when we went ballistic. We already think second grade is too early. . . When you label kids, you have winners and you have losers, and the losers are black, Hispanic and low-income.”

Groups like the local chapters of the ACLU and NAACP are also pushing back against the regulations. Opponents fear that separating the youngest promising students — students whose skills at that age may be more a reflection of socioeconomic advantage than innate intelligence — will create a two-tiered educational system that will persist through high school graduation.

Supporters of the proposal say the language is intended only to allow teachers to begin monitoring the abilities of young students. They point out that this kind of monitoring is already done for students with disabilities. At the same time, the youngest rapid learners who aren’t engaged might act out or become withdrawn.

There are few over-arching agreements about the parameters of gifted programs, including when they should begin.

In Virginia, the state asks each school district to identify and offer services to gifted students beginning in kindergarten. In the District, a pilot program was just introduced in two middle schools.

The National Association for Gifted Children recognizes that gifted can come in the smallest of packages but can also reveal itself later in academic career. According to its Web site:

“The development of ability or talent is a lifelong process. It can be evident in young children as exceptional performance on tests and/or other measures of ability or as a rapid rate of learning, compared to other students of the same age, or in actual achievement in a domain. As individuals mature through childhood to adolescence, however, achievement and high levels of motivation in the domain become the primary characteristics of their giftedness.”

The best possible scenario would be if gifted and talented programs were fluid and flexible enough to accommodate students at every age. In reality, though, many educators and parents know that labels — good and bad — linger.

Is it better to implement gifted programs for the youngest students? Or is it better to group students together until later grades? What do you think?

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