Blending Gifted Education & School Reform
ERIC Identifier: ED371520
Publication Date: 1994-06-00
Author: Hanninen, Gail E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.
School reform initiatives have resulted in many changes in American education during
the past decade. The complexity of the process has presented numerous challenges for
every educator. Juxtaposed against the reform climate are several other changes that
have affected American classrooms: changing demographics, increasing diversity of
student populations, and limited fiscal resources. It is within this broad context that the
needs of our most capable youth must be challenged. This digest provides a process for
assuring that the unique needs of students who are gifted are addressed within the
context of systemic reform. Several key elements guide the process: creating belief
statements, clarifying the issues, and designing strategies for implementation.
CREATING BELIEF STATEMENTS
Belief statements define systemic parameters as reflected in a district's vision statement
and expected outcomes. For example, what is believed about students who are gifted is
based on what is believed about all learners. Creating belief statements about all
learners is guided by the following questions:
Processing these questions generates a set of district or school level belief statements,
vision statements, and expected outcomes that will affect the entire community.
Discussion should include educators and parents of students who are gifted and
talented as well as other representatives from various special interests groups. By
working individually, in small groups or as a whole, each person generates belief
statements. The general discussion provides an opportunity to examine beliefs
individuals hold about students who are gifted and talented. Through a process of
narrowing down the statements, each small group lists five most strongly held
statements. Later, when groups combine their statements, a list of 10 to 15 strongly
held belief statements provides an organizational profile. A second list of belief
statements may also be generated around the question, "What do you believe about
programs for students who are gifted/talented?"
- What do we believe (about all learners)?
- What do we know?
- What do we want?
- What do we do?
CLARIFYING THE ISSUES
To understand elements of systemic change, each educator needs to clarify the issues.
Again, a key question guides the process: "As you reflect upon what you know about
education reform, the best practices in education, and your experience with students
who are gifted/talented, what are the critical issues that come to your mind?" Identifying
the five most important critical issues helps narrow the topics of concern and focus
Developing a successful relationship between education reform efforts and gifted
education is linked to five key strategies:
The acronym "ALIVE" means that each strategy incorporates valuable information
gleaned in one of the other strategies and does not function in isolation.
- Analyze the language.
- List key decision makers, stakeholders, and risk takers.
- Infuse gifted/talented into several school policies.
- Visualize the desired direction.
- Enact equitable access to resources.
By using these five key strategies, a healthy relationship with the different education
reform efforts becomes possible. Each education reform strategy can be accepted by
educators of the gifted as an opportunity rather than a barrier.
A Gifted Leadership Conference in the state of Washington demonstrated one way that
using this process can generate strategies for blending gifted education and school
reform. Participants identified eight education reform efforts affecting services to highly
capable students. The resulting product, created by the 41 participants, was entitled:
"The Reform Movement: Where Do Gifted Students Fit?" (Fascilla, Hanninen, &
Spritzer,, 1991). The following reform strategies, excerpted from the original publication,
illustrate how bridges in thinking can be built between education reform and gifted
- ANALYZE THE LANGUAGE refers to interpreting what is really being said. For
example, the concept of inclusionary programs sounds very altruistic, but might mean
"inclusion of special education students only" in the regular school setting. In this
example, students such as those being served by Chapter 1 programs, gifted programs,
or English as a Second Language (ESL) programs may continue to be excluded from
inclusive schools because the terminology has multiple meanings.
Language in vision statements, district policies, and expected outcomes can also be
used to benefit students who are gifted. The following statement of purpose uses
several helpful words and phrases: "The purpose of the British Columbia school system
is to enable learners to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge,
skills, and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy society and a prosperous and
sustainable economy" (Ministry of Education, 1991). Words like "individual," "each," and
"potential" are inviting. Collective words such as "all," "they" and "everyone" can be
misleading. Finding terms that are links to systemic parameters is crucial to embedding
special services in policy, linking a school system with the community, and developing a
- LIST KEY DECISION MAKERS, STAKEHOLDERS, AND RISK TAKERS
means identifying individuals and groups who are strategic influencers. The people
most affected by school system changes need to be included in discussions from the
beginning. The number of persons needs to be manageable. The group should
represent a broad range of constituencies, including students, parents, teachers,
administrators, and members of the community. When choosing community members,
keep in mind that key individuals who have credibility with and the respect of their
colleagues will influence support for change.
- INFUSE GIFTED/TALENTED INTO SEVERAL SCHOOL POLICIES implies that
well-written local district policies provide a basis for developing quality program services
for all students, including those who are gifted. Although services for students who are
gifted need to be defined in a specific program policy, they should also be interspersed
throughout broader policy statements on curriculum, instruction, counseling, special
populations, parent involvement, and staff development.
The following excerpt from a local district policy statement reflects that community's
beliefs and priority for programming: "Challenge their multiple intelligences and engage
students with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds." This example depicts a
connectedness to the whole district and supports the district's need to address "multiple
intelligences" and "diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds" of all students. Thus,
infusing services that meet the needs of students who are gifted/talented into local
policy statements can work two ways.
- VISUALIZE THE DESIRED DIRECTION means that within the context of the total
school system, design a clearly stated and concise framework for delivering services to
students who are gifted. Such a design should challenge the future and illustrate not
only a relationship of such services to the total system, but also provide accountability
for a continuum of services from kindergarten through 12th grade.
- ENACT EQUITABLE ACCESS TO RESOURCES means using the first four strategies
to build equitable access to resources in a defensible manner. The notion that the
"squeaky wheel gets the grease" is often true because special interest groups have
gained an audience and power. Comprehensive quality services to students are not
developed by squeaky wheels, but instead are the result of well planned efforts
reflecting the beliefs and commitments of several constituencies. Equitable access to
resources also implies that resources are based on the needs of students and not solely
on the needs of teachers or administrators.
GROUPING: STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS WITH GIFTED STUDENTS
Six guidelines to use when considering grouping options (Rogers, 1991):
OUTCOMES-BASED EDUCATION: STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS WITH GIFTED LEARNERS
- Students who are academically or intellectually gifted and talented should spend the
majority of their school day with others of similar abilities and interests.
- Cluster grouping of students within an otherwise heterogeneously grouped classroom
can be considered when schools cannot support a full-time gifted program.
- In the absence of full-time gifted program enrollment, students might be offered
specific group instruction across grade levels, according to their individual knowledge
acquisition in school subjects.
- Gifted students should be given experiences involving a variety of appropriate
acceleration-based options, which may be offered to gifted students as a group or on an
- Students should be given experiences which involve various forms of enrichment that
extend the regular school curriculum, leading to the more complete development of
concepts, principles, and generalizations.
- Mixed-ability cooperative learning groups should be used sparingly, perhaps only for
social skills development programs.
Within each education reform strategy, ideas were presented that respect the integrity
of the research and assure appropriate learning opportunities for students who are
- Maintain programs for gifted until acceptable options are available, that is,
acceleration, self-contained classes, or advanced classes.
- Educate all staff so that they are able to identify and provide appropriate curriculum
for gifted students.
- Pretest before initial instruction, and provide gifted students credit for prior learning.
- Provide an enriched curriculum for all students and acceleration and/or in-depth study
for gifted students.
- Ensure opportunities for flexibility in scheduling so that students can be appropriately
grouped and regrouped.
- Provide gifted students the opportunity to work with their academic or intellectual
- Match new learning experiences that capitalize on the students' strengths and
interests to the expected student outcomes, and provide appropriate assessment
- Match the curriculum to the student's learning rate.
- Eliminate the ceiling on learning (i.e., if a student is ready to learn algebra in 5th
grade, the system must not only permit it, it should support it).
- Extend the depth and breadth of the lessons.
All students in our schools, including those who are gifted, deserve the best education
we are capable of providing. On the one hand, education reform efforts reflect those
approaches deemed necessary to accomplish that goal. On the other hand, gifted
education has frequently been perceived as being the best in education provided only
for "the best." If the aim of education reform is that all students should experience
"gifted teaching," then the expertise and support of educators of the gifted should be a
part of those efforts. Concurrently, all educators need to acknowledge that "gifted
teaching" does not necessarily mean effectively "teaching the gifted." Knowing the
difference depends upon understanding the nature of a student's gifts and talents. It
also means placing greater value on each student's strengths.
The keys to successful education reform for students who are gifted results in educators
and parents who can continually:
Education reform is an opportunity for professionals in gifted education to recognize
what works, what does not work, where "hitchhiking" on the ideas of others is wise, and
to understand the changes that are needed to assure excellence in learning and
character development. An inevitable outcome will be better schools for all students.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the education reform strategies used in their districts.
- Review the quality and clarify the relationship of educational services for students
who are gifted.
- Understand the complexity of the "big picture" as different education reform strategies
are institutionalized in schools and beliefs about services for students who are gifted are
Gail E. Hanninen, Ed.D. is Director, Student Learning and Assessment, Chimacum
School District, Chimacum, WA 98325-0278. She also has served as CEC-TAG
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated.
This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. RR93002005. The
opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of
OERI or the Department of Education.
Fascilla, P., Hanninen, G. E., & Spritzer, D. (Eds.). (1991). THE REFORM MOVEMENT:
WHERE DO GIFTED STUDENTS FIT? Olympia, WA: Gifted Leadership Conference, c/o OSPI.
Ministry of Education (1991). SUPPORTING LEARNING: UNDERSTANDING AND ASSESSING THE PROGRESS OF CHILDREN IN THE
PRIMARY PROGRAM. Province of British Columbia.
Rogers, K. (1991). THE RELATIONSHIP OF GROUPING PRACTICES TO THE EDUCATION OF THE GIFTED AND TALENTED LEARNER: AN EXECUTIVE
Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
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