Gifted and Talented: The Children Left Behind
Barbara is Alice’s mother. Barbara is also a middle school teacher for Lee County Schools and has a rare understanding of special needs laws and regulations because of her role as teacher. She has not taught her own daughter, but has encountered students of a variety of disabilities and abilities. Barbara states that when Alice was in K-8, Alice received excellent supplementary instruction for her gifted and talented label; however, now that Alice is in high school, the resources are not being used.
Barbara had Alice enrolled in all gifted classes in her K-8 school and feels that those years were valuable with challenging work, teachers who met Alice’s needs and that Alice’s academics thrived. Upon entering high school, Barbara gave Alice the choice to opt out of gifted/honors courses and to take the classes that Alice wanted to take. Therefore, Alice is in a mix of honors and general education classes. Barbara has noticed that now that Alice is in high school, her grades have slipped. She believes that Alice is not being challenged and that boredom is causing Alice to stop caring about working hard. She also expressed concern that Alice has dropped out of the elective classes that she enjoys so much, such as drama and music. She says Alice doesn’t always want to go to school. However, that being said, she also feels that the mix of general education and honors classes is a benefit because in the early years of Alice’s educational experience, Alice did not have a chance to interact with general education peers. The integration that began in fifth grade is now fully established and this integration, regardless of academic performance, is a social benefit to Alice fitting in with peers of all abilities and levels and talents.
Barbara was reluctant to say anything negative about any of Alice’s teachers, but seemed confident that the teachers cared about her daughter’s progress and as a parent, Barbara will stay as active participant as she is able to ensure that Alice succeeds. Barbara has attended all of Alice’s EP meetings in the past, but this year, Alice has opted out of attending the meetings and so the meetings have tapered off. Barbara is kept apprised of Alice’s progress through regular progress reports and teacher contact she initiates. Barbara feels it is relatively easy to communicate with both Alice’s general education and gifted teachers and has added that this year, she feels especially blessed to have a guidance counselor who has worked incredibly hard to make sure that Alice is appropriately placed and is transitioning well between gifted and general education classes.
Barbara is hopeful that the future will improve because Alice is dual enrolled next year in honors classes and college credit courses. She feels this work will be challenging enough to keep her active, bright daughter engaged and eager to explore more in-depth the academics she excels at. Barbara is also hopeful that Alice will take time to re-enroll in the creative elective classes that Alice enjoys so well. Her daughter placed at the State level in Junior Thespians in both the acting and playwriting categories and has placed in Band Solo and Ensemble events. She needs a blend of the creative outlet as well as the challenging academic environment to truly thrive.
 Parent has requested that her name not be released for the protection of her child and her position in Lee County Schools.
 It must be noted that the parent gave email permission for me to interview her and her child, but she elected not to sign a consent form for me to turn in with my research because she did not want a record of her name or her child’s in any documents that may come back to affect her or her family negatively.
Case Study 2010
Alice is a 10th grade female who has been labeled as gifted and talented. Alice was recognized as gifted in the second grade and moved into the gifted and talented program at her K-8 Lee County School Corporation Art School. Alice’s gifts are communication-based. She is an excellent presenter in the realms of eloquent public speaking, well written work, musicianship, theatre arts, and interviewing skills. As her drama teacher from 2004-2008, I had the opportunity to read some of her plays and she writes with wit, insight, and depth that most young people do not attain. When one of her plays won a local thespian competition, she had to defend her work, and she was able to hold her own with confidence, poise, and a well spoken defense with three adults knowledgeable in playwriting. Her weaknesses are a lack of focus and motivation, at times. Now that she is in high school, the gifted program has dropped off and has become Honors classes. She is taking a mix of both general education courses and honors courses.
Alice has not spoken to her teachers about her goals because she feels there are no opportunities to be heard. Although she has attended EP meetings in the past, she admitted that she doesn’t often pay attention to them enough and now that they have stopped meeting, she isn’t even sure if her teachers are aware that she is “gifted”. Alice believes the Honors teachers equate gifted and/or honors classes with more work and not necessarily more enriching or in-depth work and that this extra work is piled on. Despite the amounts of work, Alice feels that she is learning twice as much as she learned the year before and that her teachers are working hard to give her the information she needs; however, she does get bored and loses focus easily. Alice is ambiguous about liking school at the moment. She enjoys her social times with friends and some of her classes, but is falling behind in other classes and struggling with boredom, so she relates that it really depends on the day what her given mood will be. She feels that some of her teachers are concerned about her progress and others don’t appear to be concerned. In spite of the highs and lows of her tenth grade experience, she says she does like school, for the most part. Like most high school students of any ability or disability, Alice is finding that high school is very different from middle school and elementary school.
Alice is now a successful college student majoring in journalism. Her work has been published in college publications and she is active in her writing community.
 Name of student changed to protect privacy.
Ellen is a former teacher of Alice’s. Ellen teaches gifted science and was Alice’s science teacher for two years in middle school. Ellen has a Bachelors’ in Science and is certified in science education with a gifted endorsement. She has taught for nine years, eight of those years being in gifted education. Ellen feels that she has sufficient training and knowledge to meet the needs of her gifted students and says that having a science degree instead of an education degree is beneficial because she has a deeper understanding of her field and is able to create deeper lessons with more content, more meaning, and more value. She is a strict teacher who keeps the students working from bell to bell and she works her students hard, but understands when to put in a moment of humor and when to allow the students to stop and breathe. She has excellent classroom management skills and says that is extra important for teachers of gifted children.
On any given year, she will have 30 gifted students in her class, and of that group, 4-5 will have ADHD, ADD, Tourettes, and various special needs. Gifted students who are not challenged rebel, act out, disrupt and cause problems. She has to be aware of their fervent need to be engaged, which all students have, but also of their need for more enriching lessons that will delve deep into science. She has to keep them busy and engaged in order to maintain order and interest. Ellen feels her training in gifted endorsement was vital and that it gave her the exact perspective and training she needed to know why gifted students behave the way they do, how to rein in their behavior, and how to teach them most effectively. She has established relationships with the parents of her students and believes that all parties must work together for student success; however, she feels that the administration is so concerned about State testing and AYP that the focus is on catching whatever the latest theory is and riding it, hoping it will be successful. Teachers are given more work, less time, and not enough resources. She does not receive any additional money to enrich her lessons and says she could teach so much better if she had the funds and resources to buy the supplies for hands on experiments that gifted students need. The science department needs more higher level equipment for the gifted students, but the money is not there.
Ellen is an active participant in EP meetings. She happens to be the organizer for the meetings, so she takes part in every EP meeting for grades 6-8 gifted students. She is confident that she is a valuable member of the team and of the teaching staff. She loves coming to school to reach out to her students.
Teaching Alice for two years gives Ellen a unique insight into Alice as a gifted student. Ellen says that Alice is incredibly creative and gifted in all areas of communication. Alice expresses herself well in writing and in speech and music. “People misconceive gifted (students) as well behaved and hard workers. But that’s not true. Some are lazy and they have to be motivated. It can be harder to get work out of them than a general education kid,” Ellen says of Alice and other students, past and present. Other teachers have expressed their judgment that Ellen is “so lucky” because she teaches gifted and that it must be such an easy job; but Ellen knows that she has to maintain clear boundaries and feels that gifted students, more than general education students, need clear boundaries.
When Alice came to Ellen’s class, an interesting event had occurred in the school. In Alice’s fourth and fifth grade combined gifted class, the teacher felt that the class must be in chaos for true learning to take place. The teacher made excuses for bad behavior and allowed many freedoms that general education students did not receive. Observing her class was nerve-wracking. Students ran wild, were talking, many were not working, and the teacher said something along the lines of how they were learning in their own way and own pace. When Alice’s group moved up to sixth grade, the gifted team had the same lackadaisical approach to teaching gifted students. Students were allowed out of class frequently, were in the hallway without passes, were in the library unsupervised working on independent study, and had frequent celebrations. It appeared that there was minimal learning going on and test scores revealed a drop in almost all of the students’ reading and math scores. Science scores were abysmal. The gifted team was reorganized the following year and the new team had to struggle to create order, structure, discipline, and even cover material that should have been covered the prior year, but was ignored for various reasons. They had to work doubly hard, but they were up to the challenge. When Alice came to Ellen’s class, she was an average science student who did “only what she had to do to get by.” She was underachieving, according to Ellen. Alice and her classmates were a challenge to motivate because of previous teachers. Ellen says gifted need more structure because they have to be able to hear the teacher and hear each other. Their learning must occur beyond direct instruction and through discussion and exploration and in chaos, it is too difficult to hear. Ellen’s daughter is gifted with ADD and in a loud classroom, she cannot focus to take tests. Ellen’s little girl had the same elementary teacher that Alice had and Ellen expressed her own dissatisfaction with the chaos of that classroom for her daughter’s ability to learn.
Ellen shared that Florida schools had recently been audited for special education and gifted and talented programs and that gifted and talented resources must be provided. Despite the audit, monetary resources, technology, and other resources are farmed out to help special education students who are not labeled as gifted and talented. Teachers lack the necessary resources and have to find creative ways to enrich lesson plans on a limited budget. According to Ellen, gifted students have a high drop-out rate so in high school, the guidance staff hold seminars and special meetings to encourage the students to stay involved, give them coping mechanisms, and find ways to keep gifted students in school. The problem, according to Ellen, is that the students get bored easily and this boredom in combination with parent pressure becomes overwhelming. As a result, students drop out. She feels that with proper resources and support, gifted students will stay in school because they are engaged and interested.
 Teacher has requested a name change because of the tenuous position of employment in Lee County Schools. Her name has been changed to protect her identity.
 Alice’s high school teachers were contacted, but none of them elected to speak with me, so I used a past teacher to give information.
Advocacy Organization for the Gifted Interview
Indiana Association for the Gifted is an advocacy organization that serves the K-12 community of gifted students in Indiana. They work to educate and implement ways to meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of gifted youth. According to Kristie L. Spiers Neumeister, a representative for IAG, gifted children are a special needs population who are primarily overlooked. “With No Child Left Behind, the focus is on the other end of the spectrum.” There is minimal to no accountability in schools for teachers to meet the varied needs of gifted learners. “Dr. Karen Rogers did a review of the research in gifted education and found that gifted learners know 40-50% of the curriculum being taught for their grade level on the first day of school! In addition, they learn in one to two repetitions what takes the average learner seven to eight repetitions. That translates to a lot of wasted time in school. People mistakenly believe that gifted students will be fine and do not require anything to stimulate them. That is not true. Without appropriately differentiated curriculum and instruction, many gifted students skate through school without ever needing to learn study skills. When they finally do hit a wall -- maybe it is an AP class, or college, or even graduate school -- when they do encounter a challenge, they are often ill equipped to handle it without study skills.” The Indiana Association for the Gifted works to circumvent these challenges.
The biggest service this organization provides is the annual conference in gifted and talented education that they put on in partnership with the Indiana Department of Education. Spiers Neumaster said that teachers and parents could learn more about the organization by searching the IAG website, www.iag-online.org, Also, there is some communication with schools as to what services are provided by IAG.
I asked Spiers Neumeister how could a teacher identify a student as gifted? She replied that “The Indiana definition of a gifted student is one who performs at or has the potential to perform at an outstanding level of accomplishment in at least one domain compared to others of the same age, experience or environment and is characterized by exceptional gifts, talents, and motivation.” This definition definitely fits the student, Alice. I asked Spiers Neumeister how students like Alice could be reached. Her reply, other than checking the website, was that resources must start being distributed to the gifted and talented students. Gifted and talented receive less support than other special needs students. “Federally, gifted students get two cents per one hundred dollars of education money.” The IAG wants to find ways to educate the community about the special needs that gifted students have, and that those special needs must have resources, creative and differentiated instruction, challenge, financial input, and administrative support.
What I Learned in the Process
First of all, I did not know that gifted and talented meetings are called EP’s and not IEP’s. The EP, or Educational Plan, is a document that focuses on the child’s strengths, rather than weaknesses and sets the learning goals for that child. Aside from this new fact, two issues grabbed my attention in this process. First, the lack of clear communication between all parties instigates a definite detriment to the student’s ability to reach his/her highest potential. Secondly, I was unaware to the extent of which gifted and talented is ignored by administrators and other professionals as an area of special needs. In the case of Alice, Barbara, and Ellen, I believe they had some beneficial communication at times, but it appears now, that Barbara is allowing Alice more freedoms, and that this freedom is an obstacle. However, this could be a double edged sword. If Barbara forces Alice to stay in full time gifted, Alice might rebel, act out, or drop out of school. Barbara seems to feel that the social and intrapersonal benefits outweigh the academic pitfalls as her daughter learns to function in a world of gifted and non-gifted people. Alice has a record of success, bored or not. Knowing Alice as I do, having taught her theatre for four years, I know that Alice is the supreme ruler of quick grade turn-arounds. She may start strong and start to falter, but by progress report time, she is able to pull herself up by the proverbial bootstraps in order to maintain an A or B grade. This didn’t happen as much in theatre because she loved my class, but there were certain daily writing assignments she let slide because she deemed them unworthy. At the twilight hour, though, she would hand in a stack of late work and ask for credit. Knowing her desire to succeed, I don’t think Alice will be one of the students who will drop out, and knowing Barbara as I do, I cannot see Barbara allowing that. However, I do feel more communication is necessary from all parties so that Alice can have greater success.
I was completely unaware that gifted students were ignored by administration. I was surprised by the seemingly blatant disregard for professionals, administrators, school boards to provide financial support. I would have thought that administrators, in their quest for higher standardized State testing scores, would be shoving resources towards the gifted kids; however, I find from the organization and teacher interviews that gifted and talented is mostly ignored because of the assumption that smart kids will succeed regardless of resources. This lack of attention towards gifted was also made apparent in class during our lecture on IDEA, and seeing that gifted and talented is the third category, but being told that we would not be discussing it at all. This was upsetting to me because I am not a special education teacher, nor do I plan to be one. I am a general education music and theatre teacher, and my classroom has had to, and will have to, meet the needs of a diverse population: socioeconomic, ethnic, special needs, general education, gifted and talented, college bound, career bound, varied motivations, varied needs, and all students being special and gifted in some way. Knowing as much as I can about gifted and talented, as well as other special needs, helps prepare me to greater meet the needs of my students.
What Steps Could Improve the Educational Experience
In my opinion, I feel communication is the key to Alice’s future success. Alice needs to communicate her needs with her teachers, both her general education and honors classes. Barbara needs to encourage Alice to re-enroll in classes Alice enjoys, such as theatre and music and creative writing, allowing Alice to thrive in a non-academic setting so that she revives her love of learning and her love of being in school. Communication must take place between educators, support staff, guidance counselors, Alice and Barbara so that Alice can reach her highest potential.