Leave No Gifted Child Behind
Tuesday, December 27, 2005; Page A25
Conspicuously missing from the debate over the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is a discussion of how it has hurt many of our most capable children. By forcing schools to focus their time and funding almost entirely on bringing low-achieving students up to proficiency, NCLB sacrifices the education of the gifted students who will become our future biomedical researchers, computer engineers and other scientific leaders.
The drafters of this legislation didn't have to be rocket scientists to foresee that it would harm high-performing students. The act's laudable goal was to bring every child up to "proficiency" in language arts and math, as measured by standardized tests, by 2014. But to reach this goal, the act imposes increasingly draconian penalties on schools that fail to make "adequate yearly progress" toward bringing low-scoring students up to proficiency. While administrators and teachers can lose their jobs for failing to improve the test scores of low-performing students, they face no penalties for failing to meet the needs of high-scoring students.
Perhaps these schools, along with the drafters of NCLB, labor under the misconception that gifted students will fare well academically regardless of whether their special learning needs are met. Ironically, included in the huge body of evidence disproving this notion are my state's standardized test scores -- the very test scores at the heart of the No Child Left Behind Act. Reflecting the schools' inattention to high performers, they show that students achieving "advanced" math scores early in elementary school all too frequently regress to merely "proficient" scores by the end. In recent years the percentage of California students scoring in the "advanced" math range has declined by as much as half between second and fifth grade.
Many gifted students, of course, continue to shine on standardized tests regardless of the level of instruction they receive. But whether these gifted students -- who are capable of work far above their grade level -- are being appropriately educated to develop their full potential is not shown by looking at test scores measuring only their grade-level mastery. Nor do test scores indicate whether these students are being sufficiently challenged to maintain their academic interest, an issue of particular concern in high school. Shockingly, studies establish that up to 20 percent of high school dropouts are gifted.