Fostering Excellence in All Children: Why Seattle Needs HCC
Committees across the country are finding that gifted education programs (also known as Advanced Learning, Hi-Cap, or Highly Capable Cohort) are inequitable because they enroll and serve a disproportionately small number of students of color, particularly Black/African-American, Latinx and Indigenous students. As a result of these findings, there is a strong push in several cities, including Seattle, to dismantle gifted or highly capable programming. Seattle Public Schools (SPS) must reform the identification and referral procedure for its advanced learning services to counter institutional racism in education and increase access to students of color. However, it would be harmful to many students to destroy successful, low-cost programs that serve children of all backgrounds with atypically high cognitive and/or achievement abilities. Rather, SPS must ensure that all students, including and especially those furthest from educational justice, have equitable opportunities to access services that can help them reach their potential.
As stated in the Washington Administrative Code, “access to accelerated learning and enhanced instruction is access to a basic education” for highly capable students (WAC 392-170-012). Hi-cap students have the right to a public education that considers each student’s unique needs and capabilities (WAC 392-170-080).
So, who are highly capable students? Hi-cap students come from “all racial, ethnic, and cultural populations, as well as all economic strata” (National Association for Gifted Children, 2019). Often these cognitively atypical students will have logical and abstract thinking abilities that far outreach their emotional age (Morelock, 1992). Highly capable individuals are often characterized by asynchronous development. This asynchronicity can present as academic advancement with a lag in social-emotional development, or as high skills in some areas alongside one or more disabilities as defined by federal or state eligibility criteria — a situation which is referred to as twice-exceptional or 2E (National Association of Gifted Children, 2009). This population can also present with heightened sensitivity and awareness that can make it difficult for gifted children to find “peers who truly understand and appreciate their unusual … perceptions” (Lovecky, 2011). These differences make hi-cap students “particularly vulnerable and require modifications in parenting, teaching and counselling in order for them to develop optimally” (Gifted Development Center). Because of this, teachers, counselors, and staff serving this population of students require special professional development in gifted education (WAC 392-170-038).
Highly capable students must be given “consistent, progressively more difficult curriculum” that allows them “to feel they are making ‘progress’ in their learning” (Rogers, 2007). When forced to “sit year after year repeating what they have previously mastered,” these students can suffer from “reticence, cognitive risks, underachievement, lowered academic self-esteem, and social and behavioral maladjustments” (Rogers, 2007). Because of the accelerated, in-depth, and compacted curriculum needed to appropriately teach highly capable students, maintaining an independent HCC cohort model not only better serves this group of students, it also allows general classroom teachers to better focus attention and resources on the already wide-ranging needs of their class populations (Rogers, 2007). The National Association for Gifted Children writes, “grouping gifted learners tends to be the ‘least restrictive environment’ in which their learning can take place, and the most effective and efficient means for schools to provide more challenging coursework, thereby giving these children access to advanced content and providing them with a peer group.”
All students must be taught at their “zone of proximal development” in order to learn. In plain language, this is the level at which the student is challenged but can progress with the support of a teacher or capable peers. The general classroom curriculum, designed to teach typical learners, does not offer adequate opportunities for highly capable students to be taught at their zone of proximal development; consequently, for them, learning cannot consistently take place in that environment. Furthermore, “part-time pull-out options vary in their cost efficiency and effectiveness … and may cost more in the employment of a specialized teacher to provide direct instruction to the gifted children involved, while within-class grouping and cooperative grouping involve additional planning and materials development by individual teachers” (National Association for Gifted Children, 2014). Consequently, the cohort model is the most resource-, time- and cost-efficient way for highly-capable students to receive a state-mandated appropriate education.
Dispersing highly-capable education among the neighborhood schools is not going to remove institutional racism. Seattle Public Schools should be working to identify and support all children who have the potential to be highly capable learners in order to close the excellence gap, rather than axing the much needed, successful programs that already exist. When SPS has committed to striving for excellence in education, the result will be an expansion of advanced learning services and the growth and increased diversity of the populations served. It is essential that all of these programs, including the cohort model, be well supported in order to best serve students traditionally far from educational justice.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Does Cascadia or Advanced Learning receive more money than other schools?
No. Cascadia is funded below average on a per-student basis for Seattle Public elementary schools according to SPS reports. Cascadia PTA advocates for greater transparency around school finances across the district.
Brown Center on Educational Policy. March 18, 2013. How well are American students learning? (2013 Brown Center Report on American Education). Vol 3, No 2 .Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.: Tom Loveless. https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-resurgence-of-ability-grouping-and-persistence-of-tracking/
Gifted Development Center. (n.d.). The Columbus Group. Accessed September 23, 2019. https://www.gifteddevelopment.com/isad/columbus-group.
Lovecky, D.V. (2011). Exploring social and emotional aspects of giftedness in children. Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG). Retrieved from: https://www.sengifted.org/post/exploring-social-and-emotional-aspects-of-giftedness-in-children
Morelock, M.J. (1992). Giftedness: The view from within. Understanding Our Gifted, 4(3), 1, 11-15. Retrieved from: http://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10172
National Association for Gifted Children. (2014). Differentiating curriculum and instruction for gifted and talented students [Position statement]. National Association for Gifted Children, Washington, D.C. http://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Position%20Statement/Differentiating%20Curriculum%20and%20Instruction.pdf
National Association for Gifted Children. (2019). A definition of gifted that guides best practice. [Position Statement]. National Association for Gifted Children, Washington, D.C. https://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Position%20Statement/Definition%20of%20Giftedness%20%282019%29.pdf
National Association for Gifted Children. (2009). Twice-exceptionality [White paper]. National Association for Gifted Children, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from: https://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Position%20Statement/twice%20exceptional.pdf
Rogers, K.B. (2007). Lessons learned about teaching the gifted and talented: A synthesis of the research on educational practice. Gifted Child Quarterly, 51(4): 382.
Washington State Legislature. WAC 392-170 Special Services Program–Highly Capable Students. https://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=392-170&full=true