Group to help gifted pupils; Parents say county needs to improve services in schools; Mandatory testing sought; Association wants to share information, will meet Tuesday


Lynne Tucker describes herself as a parent on a mission.

Worried that the Anne Arundel County school system is shortchanging gifted and talented pupils, Tucker and another parent have started an advocacy group to ensure that the needs of gifted children are met.

Tucker has concerns about the school system's approach to dealing with gifted children in elementary and middle schools -- and their parents -- and hopes that the Gifted and Talented Association can work cooperatively with school officials to improve services for these pupils.

"This organization isn't going to be a vent-and-gripe group," said Tucker, an Annapolis resident with a 6-year-old daughter at Windsor Farm Elementary School. "It's going to be a forum for information-sharing. We're not going to be marching on the school board or picketing."

"We want more [gifted and talented] services for our children," said the group's co-founder, Debra Curro of Riva, whose son is a fifth-grader at Edgewater Elementary School. "We feel that gifted and talented education needs to be mandatory and not up to the teachers' discretion as it is now."

The two parents want their new association to function as a clearinghouse for parents of gifted pupils. They plan to invite speakers, discuss the latest educational research on gifted children and exchange information about activities for gifted pupils.

The association has scheduled its first meetings at 6: 30 p.m. Tuesday and Oct. 19 at the county Board of Education, 2644 Riva Road in Annapolis.

"We want to tell parents what this county does, give them phone numbers for national organizations. We want to give them all the tools they need to become educational advocates for their children," Tucker said. "We're also trying to encourage older students to get involved so they can form peer groups for social and emotional support."

Tucker and Curro say the county's method of identifying gifted children through teacher observations should be replaced by mandatory standardized testing, and parents of children identified as gifted should be notified of the results of such assessments.

"They would never know if they don't ask, and that's the bottom line," Tucker said. "I'm a squeaky wheel and I'm going to get services for my child."

'She is bored'

Tucker began her investigation of the county's gifted and talented services when her daughter, Ryan, entered first grade this year at Windsor Farm.

She said Ryan had been tested at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and identified as "highly gifted." Tucker said she took Ryan out of a "prestigious private school" in Annapolis after prekindergarten last year, believing public schools use a greater variety of teaching methods.

Although she was satisfied with Ryan's kindergarten year in county schools, Tucker said she is disappointed with the offerings for gifted pupils.

"We have this thing called differentiated instruction, where classroom teachers give gifted students different materials that are maybe more in-depth, more complex, more challenging," Tucker said. "That's basically what the county has to offer."

Tucker said she would like to see magnet schools, one-on-one instruction or a more specialized curriculum for gifted elementary and middle school pupils.

"She is bored, that I know," Tucker said of her daughter.

Diane Sprague, who coordinates the gifted and talented program for county schools, said it used a "multi-pronged approach," including curriculum-based instruction and after-school activities.

She said some enrichment programs in kindergarten through fourth grade are required. But a teacher can choose whether to design lessons that meet the needs of gifted children in the class.

"That certainly is at the teacher's discretion, depending on the learner's needs," Sprague said.

She said teachers use a variety of methods to determine if a child is gifted.

"We use teacher recommendations, teacher observations, and standardized tests can be part of the formula," she said.

Also, Sprague said, the school system will begin this year sending letters to parents explaining the data gathered from gifted and talented testing.

Resource teachers

County school officials are in the process of hiring 18 resource teachers to help elementary and middle school classroom teachers develop lessons and activities for gifted pupils, and in some cases, work with pupils directly.

The program restores the 18 enrichment positions that were cut from the school system's budget last year to save $950,000. Instead of placing one enrichment teacher in each middle school, teachers will be assigned on a "cluster basis" to work at middle and elementary schools.

"We determined rather than just impacting 18 middle schools, it would be more effective to have an impact on elementary schools," said Ken Lawson, an associate superintendent with county schools.

Ten resource teachers have been hired, with six in place in schools, Sprague said. She said school officials will begin interviewing candidates next week for the remaining positions.

School officials say filling the positions is being delayed because some of the resource teachers are classroom teachers, and those positions must be filled as well.

"We weren't going to release them from classroom assignments until we had a satisfactory person to take over the class," Lawson said.

Curro said she's happy the resource teaching program has been revived.

"I'm very supportive of it, and I believe it's a start," Curro said. "I believe there needs to be one [teacher] in each school. Someone needs to be held accountable for that."

Information: Debra Curro at 410-956-3577 or Lynne Tucker at 410-974-0516.

Pub Date: 9/26/99

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