Coalition seeks end to Gifted and Talented screening
The newly formed Equity in Education Coalition (EEC), an alliance of community organizations and activists in the Maryland area, and the Montgomery County Education Forum (MCEF) officially demanded an end to the second-grade global screening process for Gifted and Talented (GT) designation at the Sept. 26 Board of Education meeting.
Formed in June 2005, the EEC includes the MCEF, Progressive Maryland, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Parent Council and African-American Parents of Montgomery County.
The EEC aims to end the second-grade global screening process. "The goal of the Coalition is to get the county to reevaluate the whole idea of tracking because it's a disservice to the students both in GT and non-GT," said George Vlasits, a social studies teacher and sponsor of Students for Global Responsibility (SGR).
Denise Young, co-founder of MCEF, declined to comment on the EEC and its current actions.
The EEC's main concern is the global screening test, which is given to students in the second grade to assist schools in determining the appropriate instruction for each student. After that year, students who are in grades three through five, new to MCPS or recommended to be re-screened can be tested once each year. According to the MCPS web site, "All students have an equal opportunity to be considered for identification regardless of special needs, linguistic or cultural differences."
But Mark Adelman, treasurer of the MCEF, said that this MCPS policy does not hold true. Although MCPS claims that the county's GT system is flexible, "many parents with children in lower socioeconomic factions don't have the resources to advocate for their children to teachers and schools," he said.
The EEC's mission has gained the support of Diversity Workshop and SGR, which joined forces with the Coalition, according to an EEC press release. On Sept. 8, SGR hosted an after-school program to discuss potential inequities in the MCPS educational system with speakers Evie Frankl, who co-founded MCEF, and Board of Education member Valerie Ervin. "We have created a system of haves and have-nots," Ervin told students.
On Sept. 17, the EEC, MCEF, SGR and other organizations co-sponsored an event that featured education writer and critic Jonathan Kozol. He discussed his recent book and the growing achievement gap in American schools.
To help close this gap, rather than using a test to group students into GT and non-GT, Adelman suggested that teachers use test results to provide individual instruction.
GT education is a component of racial discrimination, according to Frankl. "Institutionalized racism means that there are institutions, systems and rules that hold racism in place," she said. "Second-grade global screening is a part of that. Undoing [the screening process] is undoing a piece of racism."
Both Frankl and Ervin stressed that they are not arguing to eliminate GT programs. Instead, they want MCPS to expand the programs to include all students. "People should have high expectations for every child," Frankl said. "We want everybody to be stretched."
Frankl and Ervin suggested that this could be accomplished by eliminating remedial programs and adding an extra period to the day for students who need extra assistance.
Although labels can be harmful if they are misunderstood, "there needs to be some differentiation," said Magnet Coordinator Eileen Steinkraus. Otherwise, she said, challenging each student properly would be difficult, because some children mature academically earlier than others.
If all students were placed in GT-level classes, some would fail because of the difficult course loads, said Jane Clarenbach, the director of public education for the National Association for Gifted Children, an organization that supports "ability grouping" rather than tracking. Ability grouping clusters students by subjects, she said.
In response to the EEC's call to stop categorizing students as GT or non-GT, Clarenbach stated that "labeling is a fact of life. [MCPS has] to figure out a way to sort its students somehow."
She added that it is not the label that is a problem; rather, it is when the label stops a student from learning and being challenged in school.
The EEC is planning a conference in early December to discuss inequalities in Montgomery County's educational system. The group will present a panel of GT and non-GT students who will describe their educational experiences and establish focus groups on different topics led by the EEC's affiliated organizations. Afterwards, the EEC plans to produce a symposium publication with their findings for the community.
Monica Huang. Monica Huang is finally a HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR in the CAP program and is ready to move on to bigger and better things in life. Counting down the days until graduation and summer, Monica can be found hanging out with friends, watching TV, and dancing. … More »