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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Potential in Search of a Spark

In the past two weeks, national publications have confirmed what Quest Academy parents and other gifted education advocates have always known to be true – the needs of gifted students have taken a backseat, particularly as the No Child left Behind (NCLB) legislation took effect almost ten years ago. That’s nothing new as far as asserting that gifted kids don’t get what they need – but what is new in these articles is a) concrete research that shows that high-performing students lose ground as they reach higher grade levels; and b) tying the neglect of meeting gifted students’ needs to the economic strength of our nation.
Each publication posed two eerily similar questions. The Christian Science Monitor asks: “By leaving no child behind, do we drag down the best and the brightest …?” For the complete CSM article, entitled “Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling,” please see The most recent issue of Education Week, reporting on a Thomas B. Fordham Institute study,  simply asks: “Is helping kids at the bottom improve hurting kids at the top?” For the complete Education week article, please see
This type of questioning is not new. Advocates of gifted education, including my colleagues at the Illinois Association for Gifted Children (IAGC), have long pleaded for greater attention and care to meet the needs of gifted students. Indeed, IAGC executive director Sally Walker and immediate past president of the National Association for Gifted Children Ann Robinson come right out and state that “top students  need proper funding, too.” For a link to that article, please see
I will say it again – there is nothing new in pointing out that the best and brightest students are the ones who actually are being left behind.
The key to reversing this blatant neglect of gifted students is to provide actual research that shows how students who excel and achieve early in school eventually lose ground. Quest Academy families and students will be happy to learn that the developers of MAP testing (the testing that was introduced at Quest Academy two years ago), have tracked high achieving students early in their school years only to discover that by middle and high school that once-early achievers become average. By tracking scores of 82,000 students, “the study found, for example, that of the students who scored at the 90th percentile or above in math as 3rd graders, only 57.3 percent scored as well by the time they were 8th graders.” From our experience with MAP testing here at Quest Academy, we know that the test adapts to student answers and thus removes any grade-level ceiling of achievement – the test can adapt to maximum standards as opposed to being confined to minimum standards. It seems to me that the study’s sample size is sufficient enough to conclude that indeed a significant number of early achievers lose ground – I believe this is due to kids losing interest and motivation as a result of insufficient challenge and inspiration. In other words, we are talking about potential that has not been ignited.
It is this loss of potential on which the Christian Science Monitor story focuses. “It might seem that the country has bigger problems to worry about than smart kids who are bored silly. But student success is linked to the success of the national economy…” Citing a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the article points out that improving the overall academic performance to a level of attaining the 15th rank worldwide on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) assessment would increase the US gross domestic product by more than $40 trillion. While I cannot vouch for the accuracy of such economic modeling, I intuitively know that fostering our nation’s best and brightest students would spur economic growth. I think we all understand that the loss of gifted students’ potential results in fewer discoveries (patents), fewer solutions, less creativity…in short less growth. Speaking of this potential that our gifted children offer, the article concludes that “it’s potential…that the U.S. can’t afford to waste.”
Who will champion the cause and mission of gifted education? How many more arguments must be put forth that a focus on gifted education is ethically and strategically the right thing to do? It seems to me that we had committed as a nation to leave no child behind – let us apply that mantra to gifted students as well.