The achievement gap that leaves many black and Latino students' academic performance trailing behind that of their white and Asian counterparts continues to plague our school system. Current policies have failed to correct this problem; recently released SAT scores show the achievement gap widening, not closing. If MCPS is serious about reversing this trend, it ought to reconsider its decision to place Centers for the Highly Gifted in two new schools this year, including one in the Blair cluster.
The Center for the Highly Gifted that opened this year at Pine Crest Elementary School fails to address the real problems of area students. Any program designed to span several years will exclude those who most need the school system's attention.
This program, one of six now established in MCPS elementary schools, accelerates the regular fourth- and fifth-grade curricula for students who prove their ability during screening in third grade. The high mobility rate of local minority and economically disadvantaged students builds bias into the admissions process. According to county statistics, nearly one in five students at Pine Crest transfers out of the school annually, immediately disqualifying the significant percentage of Pine Crest students who move into area after third grade from entering the program because they cannot participate in the admissions screening. Although some of these students can test in fifth grade, by then "most of the programs are pretty full," according to Joanne Grant, Instructional Specialist in Gifted Education for MCPS.
The result is overwhelming racial disparities in admissions to the Pine Crest Center for the Highly Gifted. While Pine Crest's population is 40 percent Latino and only 13 percent white, the Pine Crest accelerated program is more than half white and has only one Latino participant. The racial segregation that seems to be an inevitable, however unintentional, product of this kind of accelerated program means MCPS provides a different quality of education to a group of primarily white students than it does to the general population of the Blair cluster, which is composed primarily of minorities.
Furthermore, because not every student is screened for admissions, inconsistent standards for recommendations for screening are a serious concern to many parents, including Denise Young, whose son is now at Takoma Middle School and who condemns the "subjective and unfair" admissions process. While any parent can insist that his or her child be screened, many parents are unaware of their right. Many more, especially low-income parents, do not have the time to advocate for their children. And while applications are reviewed without taking race into consideration, there is no way to prevent discrimination in recommendations for screening.
MCPS needs to stop offering an accelerated curriculum to the few students who have the good fortune to be in the Blair cluster during the screening process and then stay in our community long enough to participate. MCPS must account for the realities of our community and develop programs that allow all of our highly gifted students to participate.
Rachel Yood. Rachel Yood is a junior in the Communication Arts Program at Blair. She is excited to join Silver Chips as a page editor, but suspicious of the time the newspaper seems to take from her primary activity: sleeping. When not working or curled up in … More »