It was pointed out that in our discussions of GATE/AIM looking at two categories of students – the high achievers who do well in their coursework and the underachievers who are intelligent but not fulfilling their promise in the mainstream classroom, we have left out a third class of kids.
Limiting AIM to only those underachievers leaves out some kids who are doing well in terms of their grades and tests, but not doing well socially in the regular classroom.
While admittedly not a huge class of kids, there are some in this category. The difficulty is in identifying which kids will or will not do well in the regular class. Teachers, while an important guiding factor here, simply do not see everything about a child.
Digging into the archives, we see a column from 2012 by Debbie Nichols-Poulos who wrote, “Some very highly gifted students fit the stereotype of ‘odd ball’ or ‘socially inept’ students. They have unique affective needs. These students stick out in the regular classroom and can be socially marginalized. These students are especially well served in a self-contained GATE class. Here they have a chance, frequently for the first time in their lives, to meet other students like themselves. They feel comfortable and blossom for the first time in their school careers. They embrace their intelligence and begin to soar.”
In her 2013 column she notes, “Many GATE students can have their needs met in their neighborhood schools. Teachers work to design differentiated curricula to meet the needs of these and other high-performing students who need more breadth, depth or acceleration. So there are GATE students in both regular classrooms and self-contained GATE classrooms.”
However, she writes, “Some GATE students have needs that are more difficult to meet in neighborhood schools. Here is where GATE students who are underachievers, learning-disabled or very highly gifted can have their needs met.”
As she puts it, “For some of these students, GATE classrooms are as much or more about social issues as about intellectual issues. The GATE student who may be marginalized, isolated and tuned out in a neighborhood program can find peers and feel ‘normal’ for the first time in her school career in a GATE classroom.”
She warns, “I believe some parents look at placement in the GATE program as a status symbol. This is true of parents of students who both qualify and do not qualify for GATE classes. These parents do a disservice to themselves, their students and other GATE and non-GATE students.”
She writes, “Conversations among parents about who did or did not ‘get in’ to GATE classes should stop. These conversations are fueling the fires of controversy over GATE and contributing to the notion that some students are ‘better than’ others. It is important for all of us to acknowledge that there are many GATE students in regular classrooms throughout the district. So being placed in GATE or regular classrooms should not be a status game.”
The point being raised here is that there are GATE identified students who end up in the mainstream classroom and do very well, but for others, “the self-contained GATE program is necessary.”
Ms. Nichols-Poulos writes, “It is important for all our students to find their niches, fit in with classmates and have their needs met. Parents are in the best position to make these judgments. They should not be made simply on the results of the GATE tests and the district’s arbitrary cutoff.”
She adds, “The district, too, should be looking at individual students’ needs, not just test score rankings, when determining whose needs are best met in GATE classes. An arbitrary test score cutoff diminishes the effectiveness of the district’s self-contained GATE selection criteria.”
As noted in yesterday’s column, there seems to be a strong push from reform-minded people to make GATE be more about underachieving children than the classic overachiever.
I have heard from a number of people privately that this is the direction they would like to see AIM go – smaller and serving the needs of kids that are not well-served in the current classroom.
The suggestion has been to identify those who are at the top of the intelligence scale and then match that to behavior and grades, in order to find out who needs the self-contained program and who is doing fine in the mainstream classrooms.
There is an argument that, by integrating all of these other high achieving and hard-working students into regular classes, it can only help benefit the rest of the school by putting many teachers back into teaching “regular” classrooms. The school would then have to make sure that the top students would receive the appropriate teaching in the same classroom.
However, as we continue this conversation, I think I want to hear more about the case for high achieving students in self-contained or otherwise accelerated classes. That seems to be the point of disagreement and, as of now, I have not heard enough along these lines.
—David M. Greenwald reporting