By Mark Erlandson
Mark Erlandson, the parent of a gifted student who presently attends a boarding school out East, is a former lawyer and public high school English teacher from Wisconsin starting a new business as a legal writing consultant.
For a variety of reasons, considerable angst has been created among educators, academicians, politicians, and parents by the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by 46 states. (Some states are even in the formal process of revisiting that decision.) For now, the standards only apply to English/Language Arts and Mathematics. The impact the adoption of the CCSS will have on the education of gifted students is open to debate.
The CCSS were developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers to provide a clear standard of what students should know and be able to do at each grade level from kindergarten through 12th grade. The standards are aligned with college and career expectations and attempt to establish uniform goals across the US based on best practices.
For those looking at the glass as half full, the standards raise the bar for all students through their emphasis on more rigorous content and higher-order thinking skills. According to the NAGC, “Too many advanced students languish in today’s classrooms with little rigor and much repetition. With careful planning, the new standards offer the prospect of improving the classroom experience for high-ability students in significant ways” (2010). For example, reading levels for the various grades based on Lexile scores have been increased, and leveled text examples in the standards documents are significantly more complex than most states’ previous curriculum. Those advanced students in the regular classroom setting who have previously not been differentiated for should be significantly more challenged. Also, the establishment of clear grade-level standards should allow for the compacting of curriculum for advanced students.
For those looking at the glass as half empty, ammunition comes from both the words of the developers and the language of the materials written by the developers themselves that accompany the standards. According to the article “Common Core: Myths and Facts” on the US News website, Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University and a member of a Common Core K-12 Standards Development Team, claimed, “The Common Core is about raising the bottom half.” Other relevant comments in the supporting CCSS documents are the following:
- “While the Standards focus on what is most essential, they do not describe all that can or should be taught.”
- “The Standards set grade-specific standards but do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations.”
- “The Standards do not define the nature of advanced work for students who meet the Standards prior to the end of high school.”
Obviously, then, the CCSS do not directly address the specific needs and circumstances of the gifted and talented student. Furthermore, many advocates for the gifted community fear that the increased rigor of the standards will lead educators to conclude that no further differentiation is necessary for gifted learners. Others fear that some school districts will use the advent of the tougher standards to reduce or even eliminate the accommodations presently made for gifted children.
One question that remains to be answered is the impact of new grade-level assessments that are currently being designed in most states to align with the standards. As has happened in the past, assessments may still set the bar too low and not permit a proper measure of just how well the gifted learner can perform.
As a high school English teacher myself, I can tell you that the biggest problem in the next few years will be teachers’ ability to find the time to differentiate the curriculum for advanced learners when they are still learning the standards themselves, designing curriculum for the regular classroom to implement those standards, and then designing assessments that align with the standards (as well as all the other tasks we teachers currently complete like grading papers and contacting parents).
So what should parents advocating on behalf of their gifted children do? Come prepared when you meet with your child’s teachers. First, familiarize yourself with the new standards. They can be found at www.corestandards.org. The National Association for Gifted Children has published three teacher’s guides to differentiating curriculum: Using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts with Gifted and Advanced Learners, Using the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics with Gifted and Advanced Learners, and Rigor for Gifted Learners: Modifying Curriculum with Intellectual Integrity. Review the suggested activities, etc. in these books and then meet with your child’s teachers. These guides, in general, stress the importance of pre-assessments, tasks with greater complexity and creativity, interdisciplinary assignments that allow gifted students to meet several standards at once, and more open-ended assessments. Such assessments would allow for more than one correct answer and have real-world application, e.g., choosing which character in a novel would make the best friend and then explaining why.
While the CCSS does provide more rigor and aligns the new curriculum more closely with gifted education pedagogy, applied too rigidly, the standards could have the ironic result of reducing rigor and limiting learning. Working with your child’s teachers to differentiate will help to ensure the standards help rather than hinder. Parents will still need to advocate on behalf of their gifted child to ensure that he or she is sufficiently challenged.
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