Programs for gifted criticized

Pupils not challenged, teachers overworked, group tells board

`Fall through the cracks'

Parents suggest separating children by ability levels

January 06, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Frustrated with the gifted and talented programs in the elementary and middle grades, parents told the county school board yesterday that their children are not challenged by the school system's offerings for academically advanced pupils.

Teachers are overworked -- and sometimes untrained -- and don't have the time or resources to give gifted and talented children the extra attention they need, the parents said. They also said the existing programs are too narrowly defined.

"They [teachers] have choices to make, and the gifted and talented students are the ones that fall through the cracks," said Elizabeth Bernsten, who has a fifth-grader at Georgetown East Elementary.

"Fellow parents have said, `What are they trying to do, push our kids down?' " Bernsten said.

Some of the six parents who spoke at yesterday's board meeting belong to the Gifted and Talented Association of Anne Arundel County, an advocacy group formed in September by parents Lynne Tucker and Debra Curro.

Tucker, who said the group has about 60 members, urged the school board to create a task force of students, parents, administrators and teachers to develop short-term solutions for the 2000-2001 school year.

The parents' comments came after school officials gave a presentation to the board on the in-school gifted and talented enrichment program for second through fourth grades. Called "prototypes," the programs are units on different themes that have been developed to complement the existing curriculum. The units are taught to all pupils, but teachers can expand the "prototypes" for more advanced pupils.

Other programs

Diane Sprague, the gifted and talented program coordinator for county schools, said the prototype program is only one of the offerings available to gifted elementary pupils.

Other options include after-school activities and enrichment programs in partnership with Anne Arundel Community College and Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

All 77 elementary schools offer the prototypes for second and third grades. Sprague said the fourth-grade prototype is in 28 schools and will be in 30 more within two weeks. The prototype for fifth grade will be completed in the summer and will be in 30 schools by September, she said.

Parents were critical of the prototypes for several reasons. They said that it's up to individual teachers whether to design additional lessons for advanced pupils, and the curriculum is not properly evaluated to determine if it meets the needs of advanced pupils.

Stretched too thin

Parents said that separating pupils by ability levels would better serve the needs of all children. They said it's unrealistic to expect teachers to work with three ability groups: average, special education and advanced pupils.

"The teachers are doing as much as they can, given the constraints, but they say that having three levels stretches them too thin," said Shirley Bors, who has a son in kindergarten and a third-grader who was identified as gifted and talented through teacher observation.

"My children love to learn, but they tell me they're bored at school," Bors told the board. She said her older son told her that his teacher repeated a math lesson after Christmas vacation, but he didn't need the second lesson.

"They need a faster-paced curriculum and less repetition," Bors said.

Flexible grouping

In response to parents' concerns about grouping pupils by abilities, Sprague said, "What we believe in in Anne Arundel County is that there should be flexible grouping."

"Sometimes it's important that you have a variety of different kids," Sprague said. "Sometimes it's important to be with your ability peers, and we practice that."

Sprague said county school officials have hired resource teachers to help teachers develop lessons and activities for gifted pupils and, in some cases, work with pupils directly.

Positions restored

The program restores 18 enrichment positions that were cut from the school system's budget in 1998 to save $950,000. Instead of placing one enrichment teacher at each middle school, the teachers will work on a "cluster" basis at middle and elementary schools in the six instructional regions. The enrichment teachers visit schools in their region, acting as consultants to classroom teachers in gifted and talented instruction.

Sprague said 13 resource teachers have been hired and 12 are working in schools. She hopes to fill five remaining positions by the end of the month, but couldn't say when the resource teachers would be in classrooms.

"It depends on finding replacements," Sprague said.

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