Gifted and Challenged

Mankind has been blessed with gifted individuals who have helped to shape the world as we know it. We applaud the works of Einstein and Mozart. We admire those with the ability to speak multiple languages. Picassos hang on museum walls and medals around our athletes. These gifted individuals, however, were lucky enough to be served opportunities in life that facilitated their ability to realize their potential. Unfortunately, many gifted students slip through the cracks. Not only is that a problem for the student, but it is also a problem for the community. Providing opportunities for gifted students to further develop their talents is essential. Schools should work to properly identify gifted students, train staff, and provide meaningful learning opportunities.

The first step in meeting the needs of gifted students is to identify them. During the reign of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal government granted states the power to decide how public schools would address the education of their brightest minds. Even though President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to replace NCLB, uncertainty lies in how our gifted and talented youths will be affected by this major change in our educational system. Being a bipartisan-supported bill sheds hope on the situation. Under ESSA, states will gain more control over the mandates to be placed on their districts. Much as before, the states will decide the levels of courses to be offered. The process of identifying student potential may continue as it has for decades with a reliance on various skills tests, teacher advocacy, and parent persistence. Students from low-income families are still at the greatest risk of never being identified.

Unfortunately, even when students are properly identified, there is no guarantee of their schools' abilities to provide the right opportunities. The National Association for Gifted Children found common challenges facing schools across the nation. In the 2014-2015 State Advisory Committee findings, time consumption and a lack of both teacher training and funding inhibit education for the gifted and talented. Beginning an enrichment program is time consuming. Manpower is needed for technical assistance, responding to parents, professional development, committee service, and the development of related policies and guidelines. Although a school may have the means to offer advanced learning opportunities, few laws exist that require educators to have specialized training. Frequently, new teachers are given course assignments for which they must teach material they themselves do not know. Likewise, new teachers may not be ready for the management of a classroom filled with accelerated learners. Veteran teachers are not immune to these issues either.

Challenges are prevalent, but building a successful gifted and talented program is not impossible. In addition to finding common obstacles among schools, the State Advisory Committee reported on schools with existing gifted and talented programs. States cited the use of a wide range of opportunities, such as: College Board AP courses and exams, concurrent enrollment in college courses, on-line learning modules, and academic competitions. Schools interested in building a new program will find help readily available. The following are a few examples of what could help districts enhance the educational opportunities for exceptional learners.

National Association for Gifted Children

The National Association for Gifted Children believes that "there are children who demonstrate high performance, or who have the potential to do so, and that we have a responsibility to provide optimal educational experiences to fully develop talents in as many children as possible, for the benefit of the individual and the community." Membership with this association is available for individuals (mainly, teachers and administrators), parents, and graduate students. For an annual membership fee of $119, teachers will receive newsletters and publications focusing on gifted children. (Fees differ for parents and graduate students.) In addition to receiving printed copies of Gifted Child Quarterly, members have access to an electronic library featuring every article in the periodical's history. Teachers also receive the publication Teaching for High Potential. Another major benefit is gaining a network of experts who are ready to help educate you and your school's staff about teaching high-ability students.

College Board

A not-for-profit, the College Board is an organization that advocates for higher learning in the United States and in several nations abroad. Probably best known for the SAT and AP programs, the College Board has helped to prepare high-ability students since 1900. Many people are familiar with the SAT program and its high-stakes test, a test often used in the admittance process to post-secondary schools. In the AP (Advanced Placement) programs, high school students experience the rigor a college course demands. Near the end of the school year, an AP exam is administered to students. Their success on the exam may allow them to be eligible for credit from numerous universities and colleges.

Along with providing students access to all kinds of college prep material, teachers and administrators benefit, too. Invaluable professional development workshops are offered throughout the year across the country. Day-long workshops and extended-study workshops provide teachers with strategies and activities for educating high-ability students. Educators can participate in forums and attend conferences hosted by the College Board, too.

Membership is required for schools to administer College Board programs and receive their benefits. To join, a school must meet membership and eligibility requirements. Those teaching an AP course for the first time will need to create a syllabus that must be approved by the College Board; no extra training is required to instruct an AP course, but workshop attendance is highly recommended. Additionally, a school must pay a membership fee of $325 required annually for dues. Expect fees for workshop tuition and conference attendance. Students are also charged for exams, but exams are not mandatory.

National Academics Quiz Tournaments, LLC (NAQT)

In a quiz bowl, teams go head to head as they answer questions about science, fine arts, history, sports, current events, and other topics. Competitors vary in age. While there are teams from elementary and middle schools that participate, most competitions are held at the high school and college level. With NAQT, schools have the power to decide how involved they will be. Major tournaments at the state and national level exist, but a school can host a local tournament for its own students.

For $99, NAQT provides schools that will be participating for the first time with question banks and study guide access to help prepare students for competition. To help in their endeavor to "glorify learning," NAQT can provide assistance to those who will be involved with the quiz bowl. They also offer creative advice on how to use quiz bowl tournaments as fundraisers for school items and scholarships. Depending on the area and level of involvement, schools may open teams to any student, not just those who are "gifted."