Catonsville Middle program acknowledges needs of gifted students [Letter]

March 15, 2014

For too long, education policy and practice at large have perpetuated two myths: That we must prioritize service and support for struggling learners at the expense of high-performing students and that gifted students don't need much support because they can do just fine on their own.

Thankfully, officials at Catonsville Middle School are tearing down these impediments by offering a tutoring program focused on gifted and struggling students ("Program helps gifted as well as struggling students at Catonsville Middle," March 11). Such programs are particularly critical for those students who may not be identified as gifted until later in their academic careers as well as high-performing students who hail from underrepresented backgrounds.

A growing body of literature is casting new light on the achievement gap — dubbed the excellence gap — between subgroups of students performing at the advanced levels on state and national tests. In Maryland, data from the state assessment shows that we still have a long way to go to ensure high-ability students from all backgrounds become high achievers. For example, only 15 percent of 4th grade students eligible for free or reduced lunches reached advanced levels on the 2011 reading assessment compared to 42 percent of their more affluent peers.

Additional evidence, notably a 2011 report by the Fordham Institute, found that a significant percentage of students who are high-performing in the early grades go on to fall out of the top tier at some point during their academic careers. Our most talented athletes, musicians and artists commit countless hours to practice to hone their skills at the hand of master coaches and teachers. That we should not set similar expectations for our high-performing students makes no sense.

I hope the Catonsville program will be replicated by other schools and counties throughout our state and beyond. I also hope lawmakers — particularly state and federal legislators — will support programs and resources aimed at identifying, developing and supporting our high-ability and high-potential students whose success is key to the future vitality of our state and nation.

Nancy Green, Washington

The writer is executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children.

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