So, I have to say…I’m a little proud of our school district.
Recently the Washington Post highlighted Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) for a revolutionary policy started over a decade ago that rolled out universal screening for giftedness for every second-grade student. Previous to this policy, gifted testing was initiated at the recommendation of a teacher or parent.
Not surprisingly, universal testing led to a huge leap in the number of students identified as gifted across the county. More notable however, was the disproportionate jump of 180 percent among disadvantaged kids.
Naturally, the question that follows is, why was there such a disproportionate leap? Poor children, kids of color and English-language learners tend to start school “behind” on some measures and score lower on tests. This no doubt leads some teachers to assume these students would not be ready for more challenging lessons, and would therefore not need to be tested for giftedness. Some parents might assume the same thing, or they simply may not feel empowered enough to advocate for their child at school.
Knowing that, I say bravo to Broward for leveling the playing field by acknowledging the talents of all of our students.
Gifted Kids Exist Everywhere
My next question is, what happens next when you recognize that giftedness exists in every community, every neighborhood and almost every school? Do you move kids to a “gifted” school to better meet their needs?
That’s what I did. My daughter was among the universally tested kids identified as gifted four years ago in the second grade, and I requested a school reassignment. My request was granted and she was reassigned to a neighborhood school just two miles away that I heard had a much more sophisticated curriculum. The new school had long-established high-achiever classrooms staffed by skilled and experienced teachers, and the lessons were carefully planned and project based.
But why should my child have to move to experience a better curriculum? I recall her home school practically begging me to keep her there. Schools are not in the business of losing high-performing students who contribute to the school’s overall performance and learning environment.
Her home school was creating new classrooms for gifted and high-achieving students, and shifting teachers to accommodate the specialization. But these classroom techniques were all too new to her home school for me to feel assured that they would meet my daughter’s needs. The school must advocate for many kids, and I only have to advocate for one.
What if every parent was allowed to relocate their child like I did? What if the district created more “gifted schools,” likely pouring more innovative strategies into these schools to meet demand over other schools? Couldn’t this create brain-drain at the other schools? Why would any parent want their kids to attend the “non-gifted” school? And, I imagine that approach would also have a negative effect on the image of these “non-gifted” schools and on the students themselves.
I’m glad BCPS didn’t adopt that kind of policy. Instead, when they found themselves with gifted kids coming out of the proverbial schoolhouse woodwork, they chose to step up their game in every school. They continued to level the playing field for all our kids, advantaged and disadvantaged.
BCPS uses the gifted test scores as a catalyst to reinforce the often-ignored reality that giftedness exists in every population. In fact, BCPS is so committed to correcting this inequity that they look hard when gifted tests reveal fewer than average gifted students in a particular school. When they spot outliers, reinforcement teams from the district office are sent out to study scores, retest where needed and retrain the test administrators to ensure accuracy.
In response, the number of teachers with gifted endorsements grows year after year and gifted classes are swelling to capacity. My district also uses gifted test data to gather a great deal of information regarding student learning styles. This data is used to shape teacher training and differentiate class lessons for incoming third graders and beyond.
Rich, holistic, and challenging opportunities should come to our kids in every community and every classroom. Today, Broward schools seems to have moved past simply testing for identification, and is creating a culture of awareness around giftedness, varying talents and different learning styles.
In fact, my 6-year-old first grader was just nominated by his teacher to be tested—with no prodding from me. Maybe a few years ago my first-generation American daughter and son would have fallen through the cracks. But not today. And now that our neighborhood school has had a few years of practice and support, I just might keep my son there if he’s identified as gifted.