Group tries to halt new rules for gifted education

A proposed regulation governing gifted education in Maryland has come under criticism from opponents who contend it would identify students for the program too early and limit opportunities for minorities and low-income students.

A group of education advocates from Montgomery County is petitioning the Maryland State Board of Education to hold off a vote planned for Tuesday on the new rules for gifted education.

The group says the rules would encourage schools to label students as gifted when they're as young as 3 years old and wouldn't ensure that minorities and low-income students have the same opportunities to be enrolled in the classes.

Maryland's school board has been working on the regulation since 2006 and has received positive responses to the proposal since it was made public, according to Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education. After the regulation was proposed, 185 of the 197 comments the board received were favorable, according to Reinhard.

The new regulation, he said, would put in place some minimum standards for ensuring gifted students are identified and given the opportunity to have more challenging material in their classes. "We think it is important to provide opportunities for those students," Reinhard said.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, attention was particularly focused on underperforming groups of students, including special education, minorities and students whose first language is not English, but gifted students have not received the same attention, Reinhard said.

The state board will have to decide whether to approve the regulation or change it.

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, a Montgomery County Democrat and president of the Montgomery County Education Forum, opposes the regulation. She said minorities and poor children tend to be under-represented in classes for gifted students, a result she blames in part on how tracking is done.

"What we know is that with tracking, you get winners and losers in schools. You get kids that are going to get rigorous, rich courses, and then you get the other kids."

Gutierrez doesn't believe there are reliable assessments that can identify gifted students as early as pre-kindergarten. She said the new regulation could lead to an increase in achievement gaps between minority and poor students and the rest of the population.

She would like to see all students divided into classes without regard to ability. Teachers, she said, should differentiate the lessons in a classroom, so that each student gets a slightly different lesson depending on their ability level.

Gutierrez said her group has been working for more than a decade to persuade Montgomery County schools to change the way gifted education is handled.

Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties all have programs for gifted students beginning in third grade. Many have separate classes that allow gifted students to move through the curriculum more quickly and in greater depth. For instance, gifted and talented math students in some counties take algebra in seventh grade, instead of eighth or ninth grade. Baltimore City is beginning to introduce some classes for gifted students.

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