Friday, September 13, 2019

TAG & GATE Programs

If acceleration is not the primary focus, then there is little justification for most gifted programs. What gifted and talented kids need is acceleration, not grade-level material. Jonathan A. Plucker writes that high performing students learn much more when accelerated. Dr. Plucker is a professor at Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth and president of the National Association for Gifted Children.

Plucker takes issue with the claim that advanced programs don't work." "That's ridiculous," asserts Plucker, "but it has become increasingly common, often presented as a known fact. Advanced learning programs are effective, and we have reams of research to support that conclusion.(Dr. Plucker writes at Fordham Institute, "Do programs for advanced learners work?" 6-24-2020) 

Our best math students often go unchallenged and fend for themselves in mixed classrooms. To find talented youth requires above-grade-level testing for quantitative and verbal abilities, not grade-level testing. With a few lessons, my Teach Kids Algebra (TKA) program also shows which students grasp abstract ideas faster and better than other kids. TKA works best when students know traditional arithmetic, not reform math. My TKA culminating activities in the 1st and 2nd-grades after 6 or 7 lessons extract the best algebra students. 

Minority students are the bulk of the student population at an urban PreK-8 Title-1 school, where I volunteer as an algebra teacher for grades 1 to 4. The kids in the GATE gifted program are mostly minority children. The selection process is not transparent. Teachers are not given information on why their students made it into the program. There aren't many white kids in the school's general population, so there aren't many white kids in the GATE or gifted program, either. Each school is different. In my opinion, the GATE program, as it is implemented in the school where I volunteer, is at best a grade-level enrichment program, not an advanced learning program. Some of the students have low scores on the state test, yet they are in the GATE program. In my opinion, GATE does not work for advanced students who need a faster pace. 

TKA (2011-2021) has been a strong reaction against reform math. Kids need traditional arithmetic to learn algebra, not reform math. Sadly, today's reform math, which has been vigorously promoted by Jo Boaler, an influential "math education" professor at Stanford University, for decades, marginalizes traditional arithmetic that requires the memorization of math facts and the learning of standard algorithms. Under reform math, young children do not know enough arithmetic early enough, not if schools follow Common Core or common-core-derived state standards. In TKA, I fuse algebra ideas to basic arithmetic, so teaching traditional arithmetic is a curricular change (and challenge) for reform math teachers. Abstraction in algebra, I believe, is a measure of intelligence. 

"Above-grade-level testing identifies students who have the greatest need for advanced-level and fast-paced coursework." (Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth CTY)For example, students in grades 2-3 take the Elementary SCAT (School and College Ability Tests) designed for students in grades 4-5.) Many K-8 talented and gifted programs run by school districts are token programs of enrichment to please parents. Little if any above-grade-level testing is given to elementary students to assess quantitative and verbal abilities. For example, Algebra-1 in 7th or 8th grade is for average kids who are prepared, not advanced kids. Richard Rusczyk (the Art of Problem Solving) wrote the books for advanced students.  

Don't expect talented and gifted children to advance much by giving them grade-level math to pass a state test. Also, enrichment activities are not good enough, in my opinion.
"Academic acceleration — skipping grades or doing advanced coursework — doesn’t hurt gifted students’ social, emotional, or psychological well-being, conclude Vanderbilt researchers." (From Joanne Jacobs' blog, 9-18-2020) 

In my view, a talented and gifted program that is content-free or merely provides grade-level material with comparable (grade level) extensions (i.e., enrichment) is not a curriculum for high ability learners who are often two years ahead, both in verbal and quantitative skills and knowledge, which is how the Center for Talented Youth (CTY, Johns Hopkins) screens school students for its summer and online courses. 

The CTY assessment is the School and College Ability Test (SCAT). For example, 4th graders take the 6th-grade SCAT. Middle school 7th-grade students can take the College Board SAT to qualify. Students must reach the SCAT or SAT benchmark scores. Also, many talented and gifted programs are content-free, enrichment programs for smart kids. There are many smart kids in schools, but they don't advance much in enrichment programs

Furthermore, grade-level enrichment activities benefit average and below-average students, not just smart students. (LT 1980s)

Jill Barshay (The Hechinger Report) writes, "One of the big justifications for gifted-and-talented education is that high achieving kids need more advanced material so that they're not bored and actually learn something during the school day. Their academic needs cannot be met in a general education class, advocates say." 

Furthermore, according to the National Association for Gifted Children, "Many researchers consider acceleration to be appropriate educational planning. It means matching the level and complexity of the curriculum with the readiness and motivation of the student." In short, it means acceleration. Also, differentiation doesn't work in a mixed-ability classroom. 

But acceleration is not the priority in most talented and gifted programs. Students in many so-called talented and gifted programs are taught grade-level material if that. Some students are below grade level, either in math or reading or both. (How did they qualify for a talented and gifted program in the first place?)  

"One of these current notions is that lagging groups require a lowering of existing standards so that more of their members can advance via various forms of affirmative action," writes Thomas Sowell, a black scholar and noted economist. But Sowell adds that "many lagging groups have had their greatest success--especially sports and entertainment--[and other fields that are] notorious for severe competition in which even star performers whose performance begins to decline are ruthlessly cast aside." 

The reason that so many students lag behind academically is that they are not taught the fundamentals. The teaching isn't there. High school students read Harry Potter books or graphic novels (i.e., comics) instead of Silas Marner. Academics have collapsed over the years at all grade levels, including the 1st grade. The low achievement has become the norm with "inordinate attention to processes, strategies, and [thinking] skills in the past 50 years" rather than content, explains Sandra Stotsky (The Roots of Low Achievement, 2019).  

Jill Barshay (The Hechinger Report) writes that "gifted classes may not help talented students move ahead faster. A survey shows that the emphasis is on developing 'creativity' and 'critical thinking,' not acceleration above grade level." Say what?

"Everyone is creative but not equally creative. Everyone is driven to make things better to improve their lives. Thus, original thought is merely ordinary thinking. It does not take a genius to be creative. Don't confuse creativity with the generation of ideas or a high IQ. Creativity is the act of making something better, which is hard work," writes Kevin Ashton (How to Fly a Horse).

New does not always mean Better! New is often costly! 

Kevin Ashton writes, "So do better tools always lead to better a life? Does making better things always make things better? How can we be sure that making things better won't make things worse?" The problem in education is that we often jump into new things (called innovations) that actually make things worse. New does not mean better. Often, it can mean the opposite. Most of the innovative programs in schools have failed to improve reading and math scores. In fact, over 82% of the innovative programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education have been unable to improve test scores; yet, many of these programs prevail in today's classroom. 

Lastly, Ulrich Boser, founder of the Learning Agency, points out, "Many schools of education do not embrace the cognitive sciences." Teachers are not taught the cognitive science of learning. For example, teachers have been taught that memorization and drill are old-fashioned and poor pedagogy. On the contrary, memorizing facts is a good thing! I do not blame teachers who do what they had been taught. I blame the liberal professors at schools of education who miseducate teachers, promulgate myths, and promote progressive ideas without sufficient evidence. 

Critical thinking is the product of domain-specific knowledge. 

Barshay notes, "it's revealing that three-quarters of the schools admit that they don't use a separate curriculum especially designed for gifted students in reading or math." The gifted kids are given grade-level materials to score high on the state test to raise their school's average. Jill wrongly assumes that "kids are selected for these programs because they have high math and reading scores, yet they're not given much-advanced instruction in either subject." However, in some gifted programs, many students do not have above-grade-level scores in math and reading. Indeed, some children in gifted classes are barely at grade level if that or even below grade-level in math or reading or both.

Moreover, "Teachers and educators are not super supportive of acceleration," acknowledges Betsy McCoach, one of the researchers and a professor at the University of Connecticut. "But it doesn't make sense to pull kids together to do the same thing that everyone else is doing." Suppose some of the students assigned to gifted and talented self-contained classes are below grade level in math and reading, while others are barely at grade-level, which is the case in some schools? Only a handful of students earn "highly proficient" scores on the grade-level state test in math and reading. Then again, that's grade level material, not advanced stuff. 

After critical thinking and creative thinking, "the third most common focus in gifted curricula is to give students more projects and games, so-called "extension activities" that are tangentially related to their grade-level content," writes Jill Barshay. In elementary school, math or reading/writing/vocabulary acceleration is rejected or given little notice in the gifted curriculum. If acceleration is not the primary focus, then there is little justification for most programs. 

Also, elementary school teachers do not favor acceleration because they don't know how to teach advanced mathematics. Some students in 4th and 5th grade don't know nearly enough grade-level arithmetic, such as key factual and procedural knowledge, starting with the times tables, which should have been memorized in the 3rd grade, along with the mechanics of standard multiplication and long division algorithms.

It doesn't make sense for children in gifted programs to get grade-level materials rather than an accelerated curriculum. The curriculum for many talented students is not content-driven or advanced. Talented students would be better off in honors classes than in gifted classes. There are very few honors classes in math or the language arts at the elementary school level. 

The Standard: Center for Talented Youth
Lastly, elementary school students who qualify for advanced programs from the Center for Talented Youth (CTY/Johns Hopkins) are given tests (both verbal and quantitative) at least two grade levels ahead to discover advanced and gifted students. In contrast, school districts give grade-level tests to get more kids into their program. Most of the presumed gifted students would not come close to qualifying for CTY. The CTY programs are advanced and content-driven. They are not at grade level, like most district programs. In middle school, 7th-grade students must attain specific scores on the College Board SAT, both verbal and quantitative, to qualify for summer and online CTY programs. 

Don't expect talented and gifted children to advance much by giving them grade-level math to pass a state test. Most U.S. children are not learning nearly enough math content--not even the best students in so-called gifted programs.

According to the National Center for Research on Gifted Education, "Unfortunately, currently, almost half (44%) of low-income students who are classified as high achieving when they enter first grade can no longer be classified as such by the time they reach fifth grade (Wyner, Bridgeland, & Diiulio, 2009). Why is that? The students are not taught content. Without content knowledge, there is no critical thinking. 

I gave algebra lessons to 40 1st graders for 7 hours in the Spring of 2011 and quickly found the students who managed abstract ideas faster and better than others. In short, I identified high-achieving 1st graders--most were minorities. Unfortunately, the best math students I found in 1st grade were never placed in an honors math group for acceleration. They were held to grade-level materials, which did not stress enough content. 

Additional Information

"Content knowledge is crucial to effective critical thinking," writes Jill Barshay for The Hechinger Report.  "Critical thinking is all the rage in education. Schools brag that they teach it on their websites and in open houses to impress parents. Some argue that critical thinking should be the primary purpose of education and one of the most important skills to have in the 21st century, with advanced machines and algorithms replacing manual and repetitive labor."

"But a fascinating review of the scientific research on how to teach critical thinking concludes that teaching generic critical thinking skills, such as logical reasoning, might be a big waste of timeCritical thinking exercises and games haven't produced long-lasting improvements for students. And the research literature shows that it's challenging for students to apply critical thinking skills learned in one subject to another, even between different fields of science."
Critical thinking, such as problem-solving in trig, is domain-specific. You can't solve a trig problem unless you know some trig. You can't translate Latin unless you know some Latin. And, you can't work percent problems unless you know the arithmetic of percentages. You need content knowledge, lots of it. The more knowledge you have in long-term memory, the better thinking you can do. 

Gifted classes do not help talented students advance faster because "the teaching" in the classroom often contradicts scientific evidence that critical thinking is a product of knowledge. Thinking that is independent of knowledge is a myth.

What gifted and talented kids need is acceleration, not grade-level material. They need to be above grade level to begin with. 

To Be Revised: 9-17-19, 9-19-19, 6-29-2020, 9-19-2020, 10-22-2020, 10-25-2020

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