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Feb. 17, 2009

Pro/Con: Dropping the GT label

by Sophia Deng, Online Managing Editor and Julia Wynn, Online Connections and Food Editor
In the 1970s, amid parachute pants and anti-war demonstrations, "Gifted and Talented" (GT) labeling had just been introduced to elementary schools in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) as a tentative and undeveloped idea. Three decades later, 40 percent of MCPS second graders are labeled GT and receive accelerated instruction, according to the Washington Post.

GT labels designate that certain elementary school students are academically ready for the school's GT program, which provides students who excel more opportunities for advanced coursework in the fourth and fifth grades. The GT environment is one that "enriches, accelerates and extends the MCPS curriculum," according to the MCPS GT website. These extensions in curricula include higher-leveled sciences, mathematics, language arts and social studies.
Should Montgomery County get rid of its GT labeling system?
  • Yes
  • No
Discuss this Poll


Currently, MCPS is in the process of deciding whether all elementary schools with GT programs should eliminate GT labels. However, a timeline has not been set yet, according to the Division of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction. A decision may be made "some time during 2009," according to the division.

Many see the elimination of GT labels as an equalizing force, opening the doors for all students to gain access to a more demanding education. Others, including many parents, contest that removing GT labeling will lower academic expectations.

Georgian Forest and Burning Tree Elementary schools have already implemented pilot programs to test the elimination of GT classes, but should GT labeling be eliminated in all MCPS elementary schools?

Julia Wynn says yes: Besides being administered inconsistently, the GT label fosters discrimination and generates social segregation.

Schools are designed to be a haven for intellectual growth and challenge. But with elementary students performing at a wide range of achievement levels, assigning work of varying difficulty for each type of student is problematic. The GT program is one way that schools systems have accounted for this discrepancy. Although constructive in theory, the GT label is destructive in practice, compromising social stability for education achievable in other ways. Montgomery County should drop the label, and other school districts should follow this lead.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, the process for allocating the GT label discriminates against students. Black and Hispanic students are half as likely to be considered GT as white and Asian students, according to the Washington Post. This discrimination unfairly denies minorities accelerated instruction. Because GT students are marked as such on their permanent record, white and Asian students have an immediate advantage over black and Hispanic students when administrators look at their records if the student misbehaves or needs a schedule change.

To be designated as GT in Montgomery County, students must receive a high score on a traditional intelligence test administered in second grade, according to the Washington Post. In a 2004 study by Vanderbilt University, Dr. Donna Y. Ford, Professor of Education and Human Development, states that most of the time students have not had an equal chance to learn the information presented in these tests. Because cultural diversity is not adequately incorporated in the test group for GT exams, the content can mostly be based on the standards of upper-middle class society, according to Ford. So according the socioeconomic makeup of our country, non-whites, specifically black and Hispanic students, are at a disadvantage.

The label also has negative effects even within the elite club. Girls with the GT label especially consider performing at their high academic level harmful to their social profile because it allegedly exposes them as less physically or socially attractive, according to Gross. Young girls certainly don't need another factor contributing to their negative self-image.

The GT label is also applied inconsistently throughout the nation, and it can be detrimental to all students. With each state crafting its own definition of "gifted," students who qualify for advanced instruction in some states may not meet the criterion for GT in their own state. Denying these students the option of pursuing a more suitably challenging educational experience is unreasonable. While they are struggling to remain interested in average coursework, others at their same aptitude level are thriving in a more demanding environment. In some states, the opposite occurs. Lower achievers make the qualifications for GT and students of equal performance in other states don't get that same chance to take advantage of accelerated instruction. Because it is virtually impossible to equalize the qualifications for GT around the country, the label should be eliminated altogether and replaced with separate classes for high performers and low performers.

Forgoing the GT label does not mean relinquishing what it provides for higher achieving students. Schools certainly can implement a program that addresses the disparity in academic aptitude among students without labeling students and causing discrimination and social instability.

Teachers should meet and discuss on a case-by-case basis, to avoid test prejudice, which students should be placed in more challenging classes without outwardly handing out "gifted" labels. Arranging all students in separate appropriately demanding classes will not draw attention to any particular group of students. This approach will maintain a division between non-gifted and gifted students, but the students will not know which group is for higher performers so there will be no social tension.

Such a separation has been shown to increase productivity in gifted students, according to a 1995 study by the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented in the University of Connecticut. Isolated groups will also prevent the cooperation of GT and other students, which the previous study proved decreased non-gifted students' self esteem. Under this system, students of similar academic aptitude will be able to learn together so gifted students will feel comfortable performing to the best of their ability. Higher achievers will receive accelerated instruction without being categorized as better than their peers.

Considering it is 2009, school systems should be above and beyond enforcing a discriminatory and unfair label in elementary schools. The only educational option for gifted students should not exclude children with the same qualifications as others in the program, nor incorporate students ineligible in other states. To prevent further emotional, social and physical tension during the crucial transitional elementary years, the GT label should be abolished in Montgomery County.

Sophia Deng says no: The GT label appropriately identifies students' needs and enables all students to receive their respective levels of instruction.

As inspired as we may be, change is not the answer for Montgomery County's elementary schools. For over 30 years, Montgomery County has labeled students GT. However, for several years, two schools - Burning Tree Elementary School in Bethesda and Georgian Forest Elementary School in Silver Spring - have implemented pilot programs to eliminate GT labeling of students. Eliminating GT labels for all Montgomery County elementary schools may seem beneficial superficially, but in the long run, it can mean more harm than good.

In most Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), students go through a process called global screening in the second grade for labeling. Labels are assigned based on results on cognitive exams, parent, teacher and staff surveys and students' reading and mathematics levels, according to a December memo from the Division of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction. "If identified, a 'GT' label is attached to the individual student record," the memo reads.

In order to identify students who need more advanced coursework, these GT labels are essential. Just as there are identifications for students who have learning disabilities or need extra help in the classroom, there should be indications for students who want or need extra stimulation in the forms of higher math or reading education. Refusing to place GT labels on high-achieving students is equivalent to slighting and neglecting those students. By ignoring students who want advanced work, teachers and schools can make these brighter students bored and unmotivated and make their parents crazed.

For GT students, receiving different instruction does not mean elevation to a special and higher level. There is a general misconception that labeling students "Gifted and Talented" means that teachers will focus on the talented and leave the "average" students behind. By contrast, GT labeling actually enhances the services and attention that all students receive because teachers are better able to zero in on specific needs.

Although elementary schools have various educational structures across the board, in general, students receive group instruction with their entire class, and then divide into small groups of GT and non-GT clusters, according to Kay Williams, Director of the Division of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction. This structure allows the GT-labeled and non-labeled students to obtain specialized services based on their specific circumstances, such as on-level reading instruction for the non-labeled students or advanced College of William and Mary reading material for GT students. Temporarily separating students into labeled groups efficiently allows teachers to address homogenous groups at one time, creating more organized instruction. Separation also allows students of various levels to function in academically balanced environments.

This does not mean that GT labels promote segregation or favoritism; instead they allow teachers to address student needs accordingly, all within one classroom. The sense of stratification that causes uproar is not a problem with GT labels, so much as with the implementation of GT labels. Already, some of Montgomery County's elementary schools are "flexible," according to Williams, allowing students who were not initially labeled GT to gain opportunities to participate in the higher-level instruction if they perform well or show advanced thinking later on in the school year. This mobile system needs to continue for GT labels to be seen as informative and useful data, rather than a showy badge of honor or red stamp of rejection.

Labels are necessary in elementary schools in order to provide important bases for designating students. GT labels do not point out whether students are "good" or "bad" - they focus on academic characteristics that students share, enriching education for GT and non-GT students alike. Labeling has inhabited MCPS for over 30 years, and it should be here to stay.



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  • short story on February 18, 2009 at 1:31 PM
    remember that short story most of us have read, where a society, with the ideal of establishing "equality", dumbs everyone else down to the lowest common denominator?
    DING DING DING
    • haha on February 20, 2009 at 4:27 PM
      good point =P

      there are many many of those stories, all with the same basic moral
      • nGnT? on February 22, 2009 at 1:29 PM
        yep. my favorite was Harrison Burgeron (SP?).
  • Peter on February 18, 2009 at 1:38 PM
    Labeling kids GT fosters arrogance and segregation based on arbitrary skill level designations. I was labeled GT by third grade, and have been trapped in "special" public education programs and tracks ever since. Getting rid of GT is a necessary step towards implementing any kind of egalitarianism in education.
  • Concerned parent (View Email) on February 18, 2009 at 10:04 PM
    And why do we think egalitarianism in education is a good thing? We're fine with elitism in sports and just look how we dominate in the Olympics! America is failing its brightest students and if we want to remain a world leader we may want to consider educating every student to their highest potential. This way is the fair way and the one that offers all students equal opportunities in education. "No Child Left Behind" is flawed. We are lowering the bar so every child can jump over it and meanwhile our brightest children are being dumbed down and school is becoming a painful, unrewarding experience for them. Yes, maybe we need to look carefully at how these children are selected, but doing away with gifted programs is detrimental to everyone. What is really required is a complete overhaul of the GT programs, which for the most part are inadequate. These children have a right to an education.
  • Blazer 07, Penn State NAACP (View Email) on February 18, 2009 at 10:39 PM
    Ms. Wynn, you state that "Black and Hispanic students are half as likely to be considered GT as white and Asian students." You then state that labeling students based on whether they are GT or not (within the same classroom, mind you) will foster "discrimination and self-segregation."

    Why self-segregate when your school can do it for you?

    If there is a separate class for "GT" and "normal" students starting in elementary school, the difference between "them" and "us" increases the amount of discrimination exponentially. You imply that the "normal" classroom will have mostly African-American and Hispanic students, while the "GT" classroom will have mostly White and Asian students. Don't you think a difference between skin color is a little more visible than a whether a student can multiply or not?

    Coming from East Silver Spring Elementary (holla), I never noticed if the student next to me was working on addition while I was working on fractions, let alone the color of his skin. This is because he was my classmate. I ate lunch with him, I played with him at recess, and we worked on projects together. I saw no difference between skin colors, because in my eyes I was equal to all of my classmates.

    Had I been in a class filled with White students and Asian students, and the "other" class was filled with African-American and Hispanic students, I might've noticed a difference. What you are suggesting is a separating the "gifted" kids from the "normal" kids, not in middle school or high school (as is the norm), but in 1st or 2nd grade (when students are still learning about social interactions and social norms).

    What norms are we teaching the African-American and Hispanic "gifted" students if the majority of people in their class don't "look like them," but the people in the "not-as-smart" class do (real talk: just look at the "diversity" of the CAP and Magnet program)? What about the African-American and Hispanic "normal" kids who see no one who "looks like them" in the gifted class? They might not know the reasoning behind a separation, but they will most likely notice a separation.

    Although the current GT program has its flaws, I assure you that segregating classrooms based on a "smart" class and a "not-as-smart" class will pose much larger problems.
  • u wish u were smarter than a 5th grader on February 19, 2009 at 9:28 AM
    umm...doesnt this make people also want to try to strive to get good grades and prove others wrong? most of the people who are in gt aren't nerds or socially inhibiited, thats mainly and illusion. gettin rid of the label shows that people are getting lazier and don't want to show it
  • life isn't fair. it's true and you know it. on February 19, 2009 at 10:17 PM
    GT system is long been debated for as long as i can rememeber. Lets not look at the GT system as way of seperating people. lets look at it as a way to educated people. Not the cause but the corollary. Not how GT system cause seperation, but look at what it enables us kids to do. To learn, to grow, and to learn even more.
    But to learn, like everything else requires work. one must put in the effort to do so agreeable?
    life isn't fair but oppertunities are man made. agreeable?
    People aren't smart because they are born smart but mostly because they use their time to learn everything and become smart. Anyone and i mean anyone can do that. "GT" kids can do that so can "normal kids". That is one thing that no one or anything can take it away from kids and people.
    A so call 'normal' can work hard and learn their materials and become a 'GT' kids. GT is basically an oppertunity, an great oppertunity. who creates it? people themself, and themself deserve that oppertunity, because they work for it, they created it for themself.
    It's not the causes but the corollary.
  • Eli Barnett on February 20, 2009 at 11:24 PM
    @ "Blazer 07"

    So, obviously, because there is a racial achievement gap we shouldn't give smarter students more challenging education?

    That's a pretty flimsy argument.

    "Concerned parent" pretty much hit the nail on the head.
  • Bobby (View Email) on February 21, 2009 at 9:03 AM
    There are kids who are able to and willing to learn more than the others. The skills in math, reading, science, etc. are the keys for them to be successful and useful for the world. There is nothing wrong giving them more chances by having the GT program.
  • student on February 22, 2009 at 11:55 AM
    Race should have nothing to do with the GT label. Concern about racial issues when separating the students should be tackled separately. What we're talking about is what would be best for America's failing school system- what would produce the largest amount of highly successful individuals.

    Take that into consideration, and think about how, often, in high school, "dorks" are considered "lame". Wouldn't it be such a good idea to put those with common interests, aka academic success, together. You get competitive students, who work hard to be even more successful, because there are always people working just as hard as them.
    Contrast that to a nonsegregated environment, where one or two successful students are in each class, and they don't really want to work as hard, because tiny effort gives them an A. Then, if they work really hard, they don't get the respect they deserve, because of course, intelligence is "lame".

    You could say this is a generalization, but say you're a "normal" high schooler, and you meet two people. One is a star football player, attends parties every night, and is "hot". He also got straight C's on his report card, and doesn't care- laughs about it all the time.
    Then there's the shy guy, who speaks softly, doesnt joke too much, but led the science bowl to victory last year. He screws up the curve in your class every time there is a test, and doesn't let anyone cheat off of him.
    Who do you think has more friends? Who gets more respect? If we have different classes for these two people, with similar people in each class, everyone is respected for what they do best, and everyone works harder at what they enjoy.
  • blazer (View Email) on February 27, 2009 at 9:54 AM
    ESS did have a GT program....
  • Blazer 07 on March 6, 2009 at 1:26 AM
    I apologize if I was unclear in my argument. I am in full support of a GT system. I believe that students who show early progress should be supported according to their individual skills. With that said though, I believe that creating separate classes as early as early elementary school (as Ms. Wynn suggested) might cause additional problems to the current GT system in place.
  • Susan Joyce Thomas (View Email) on March 13, 2009 at 11:16 AM
    The MCCPTA Gifted Child Committee is holding a a forum
    regarding the global screening process involving students in second grade and the pilot programs being conducted at two elementary schools to provide services to students without labeling them as gifted.

    Participants will include the principals and other stakeholders from Burning Tree and Georgian Forest Elementary Schools and representatives of the MCPS Division of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction.

    The meeting will be on Monday, March 16, 2009, at 7:30 pm in the auditorium of the Carver Educational Services Center (CESC), 850 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, Maryland 20850. The meeting will be open to the public and ample parking is available.

    For questions, please contact Susan Joyce Thomas, Chair, MCCPTA Gifted Child Committee, susan.thomas30@verizon.net

  • Indiana Jones on March 16, 2009 at 4:45 PM
    to Blazer '07:
    Rose Wynn is arguing, for the sake of this article, not for early separation into GT and regular tracks, but against it.
    to Rose and Sophia:
    Great arguments all around. As a female, I cannot say that my participation in an accelerated program for the past 8 years has at all been "harmful" to my social life or self-image; on the contrary, I felt more at home when I switched schools to be in a more academically challenging environments as all my peers shared my interests. However, I did see significant tensions build and verbal abuse against the "gifted" students that persisted from elementary school through high school. I hope that students will learn to see this organization for their educational benefit and not as a label of inferiority or superiority.
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