A Five-State Analysis of Gifted Education Policies
By Brown, Elissa; Avery, Linda; VanTassel-Baska, Joyce; Worley, Bess B II; Stambaugh, Tamra
A paucity of research exists regarding the relative strengths and limitations and effects on practice in gifted education state policies. The purpose of this five-state study is to shed light on selected states’ gifted education policies. Four data sources were probed and comparisons were made within each state and across the five states. Additionally, a deductive analysis was conducted of each state’s written policies against the National Association for Gifted Children program standards (NAGC, 1998), which serve as benchmarks for evaluating policies and services. Suggestions are given for policy development and research, based on five-state findings of existing gifted programs, services, and student accountability systems and the way in which selected policy components are integrated within state school reform efforts.
State policies in gifted education have never been a cohesive, comprehensive, or consensual enterprise because, fundamentally, their development is nested within each state’s governance. Coupled with the fact that since the field of gifted education has no federal mandate, the structure that holds gifted programs together rests in the policies that individual states have enacted. Additionally, gifted education, like other fields of education, has not been exempt from the wide-spreading political and popular pressures on the ways in which curriculum, assessment, teacher preparation, finance and governance of school programs are interpreted and ultimately, implemented. As a result, the local administration of gifted programs becomes increasingly diffuse and idiosyncratic.
Gifted education policy is tied to the rules, statutes, codes, and regulations adopted by state legislatures, interpreted by state school boards of education and state departments of education, and implemented by local school districts. Therefore, the importance of coherent and comprehensive state policy in gifted education cannot be overstated because it is not only influenced through all policy levers, but it affects the daily lives of gifted students and those who work on their behalf. The ultimate test of any educational policy document is the extent to which it improves the lives of students, and the effectiveness and efficiency of schooling (Hannaway & Woodroffe, 2004).
Since the 1993 National Excellence report (U.S. Department of Education, [U.S. DOE), 1993) many programs for the gifted in states without mandates have been eliminated although some have managed to survive, but even mandated programs have seen a decline, documenting that gifted programming is typically less comprehensive in states without a mandate (Landrum, Katsiyannis,& DeWard, 1998). And even if a state has policies tor gifted education, the extent to which the policies support and integrate with each other is not documented in the literature. A paucity of research exists regarding the relative strengths and limitations and effects on practice in gifted education state policies. Ideally, policy in gifted education that is binding on local school districts would address the following areas in an integrated and coherent fashion: (a) identification, (b) program services, (c) curriculum and instruction, (d) assessment of learning, (e) program design and management, (f) teacher preparation, and (g) program monitoring and evaluation (VanTassel- Baska, 2006). Additionally, these policy components should be integrated within the larger state school reform efforts (Brown, 2001). Therefore, the direction and continuity of local gifted programs, then, is heavily influenced by the state one resides in and the strength of the policy initiatives in that state.
This five-state study sheds light on selected states' gifted education policies and the relative strengths, limitations, and effects on practices. Ideas are suggested for new policy development and research, based on the five-state findings of existing gifted programs, services, and student accountability systems.
Review of Literature
Based on the government structure of education, states are responsible for the education of children. However, many states boast localized control and delegate the authority of schools to the local districts. This structure leads to fragmentation in decision- making, implementation, and practice (Cohen & Spillane, 1993). While this type of system allows for checks, balances, and autonomy, the incoherence, interpretation of policy, and funding mechanisms (or lack thereof) differ among states and individual school districts, making it less cohesive. Therefore policy initiatives may or may not be implemented according to policymaker intent. Consequently unintended outcomes are unavoidable. Reform attempts made to reduce fragmentation actually perpetuate them (Cohen & Spillane, 1993). Leadership consistency, understandings of policy, at least 5 years of sustained implementation, and commitment to reform efforts and policy implementation have been found to contribute to school reform, student growth, and policy implementation (Borman, Hewes, Overman, & Brown, 2003; Carnoy & Loeb, 2002; Furney, Hasazi, & Hartnett, 2003).
Special education policy research aligns with general reform findings. Federal legislation such as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 1997) mandates that states or local educational entities meet specific requirements. Even with such legislation in place, states do not necessarily meet even minimum compliance standards (National Council on Disability, 2000). Many districts allege that state requirements and current reform initiatives such as high stakes testing and accountability contradict national policies or do not include special populations (Johnson, Stodden, Emanuel, Lucking, & Mack, 2002). Challenges continue to exist for the special education population regarding coherence, policy fidelity, collaboration, intended and unintended consequences, sustainability, and coordination of services (Furney, Hasazi, & Hartnett, 2003; Johnson et al.).
Policy and Gifted Education
Gifted education faces similar issues noted in school reform policy and special education policy. The issues, however, are exacerbated due to the lack of mandated initiatives. Policy development in gifted education is typically confined to initiatives focusing on identification and limited programming features (Passow & Rudnitski, 1993; Shaunessy. 2003; U.S. DOE, 1993; VanTassel- Baska, 2003). While all 50 states cite some form of legislation for gifted and talented learners, a broad range of accountability systems and policies among individual states exist (National Association for Gifted Children [NAGC], 2003b; Passow & Rudnitski; Swanson, 2002). The variance of policies makes national reform in gifted education less cohesive, comprehensive, and inclusive. Given the emphasis on high-stakes testing and scarcity of funding, many states without strong policies in gifted education have seen the elimination of programs (Landrum et al., 1998).
The No Child Left Behind Act neither excludes nor includes gifted learners (NAGC, 2003a), encouraging many states to compromise services for the gifted in order to focus on specific mandates addressed in the legislation. The lack of policy for gifted students at the federal level is not new. Federally commissioned reports empirically document the need for gifted services (U.S. DOE, 1993), without providing the necessary resources. Findings from the U.S. DOE cite research noting that gifted students spend the majority of the school day in the regular classroom without curricular modifications or accommodations to meet their special needs even though they have already mastered 35-50% percent of the material to be taught prior to the start of the school year. More localized studies have found that gifted students are also at a greater risk for dropping out of high school or underachieving if their needs are not met, with 20% of high-school dropouts identified as gifted and more than 30% underachieving (Russo, Harris, & Ford, 1996; Stambaugh, 2001 ). The Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) indicates that even the brightest of students in the United States do not attain the same academic standards as their international counterparts (U.S. DOE, 1997). Instead of strong resources and policies, gifted education has received only discretionary and limited federal funding for demonstration, state- capacity building, and research initiatives through the Jacob K. Javits Act (1999; U.S. DOE, 1993).
Consequently, specific policies and funding mechanisms are typically left to the advocacy efforts of interested stakeholders in state and local governments, causing great diversity and inequity in funding and services among and within states (Baker & Friedman- Nimz, 2004; Baker & Mclntire, 2003; Passow & Rudnitski, 1993; Purcell, 1992; Shaunessy, 2003). While states with greater fiscal health boast more mandates and programming initiatives (Purcell, 1995), there is a variance among funding mechanisms employed within certain geographic or specific socioeconomic regions, causing inequity of resources among certain groups (Baker, 2001; Baker & Friedman-Nimz; Russo et al., 1996). Regardless, the impetus of state gifted policies, with or without funding, is reli\ant upon advocacy efforts, with a knowledgeable and persistent “champion” to spearhead the process (Robinson & Moon, 2003). The majority of states that have mandates, have identification mandates (Passow & Rudnitiski; Stephens & Karnes, 2000), and approximately half of the states boast a mandate or partial mandate for gifted services, with the remainder of states citing no service mandate (Shaunessy, 2003).
While the studies in gifted education are few, there are two consistent findings that are noted. First, mandates matter. States that do not mandate gifted education have experienced significant cuts in programming or the elimination of programs (Brown, 2001; Landrum et al., 1998; Purcell, 1995). Although mandates do not guarantee meaningful education (U.S. DOE, 1993) or cohesive implementation as noted in the special education literature listed earlier, states with accountability systems enjoy higher academic results (Carnoy & Lobe, 2002). Second, perceptions matter. When policies make sense to those who implement them, the likelihood of systemic change is greater (Brown; McDonnell & Elmore, 1987; Rand Corporation, 1978). State policies can legitimize the perception of the need for gifted services and set the stage for dispelling misconceptions associated with giftedness.
The comprehensiveness of gifted programming and services is less documented in policy literature and is not evident in many states (NAGC, 2005). However, the need for further policy development is suggested in the literature (Bleske-Rechek, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2004; Gallagher, 2002; VanTassel-Baska, 2003). Gallagher specifically lists four recommendations to incorporate into gifted policy that will better educate gifted students. The suggestions include: (a) multi-dimensional identification; (b) more inclusive placement procedures, especially for International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs (also Bleske-Rechek et al., 2004); (c) differentiated programming of content; and (d) a greater level of program evaluation and accountability to include how gifted services make a difference in the lives of gifted students. Nested within these findings are equity issues surrounding the identification and inclusion in programming of disadvantaged, low socioeconomic, and minority populations (Fithian, 2003; Russo, Harris, & Ford, 1996).
VanTassel-Baska (2003) illustrated the need for curriculum policy that includes curriculum flexibility to better meet the needs of diverse learners; curriculum differentiation that specifically addresses the selection of high-level materials and worthwhile curriculum; articulation and alignment throughout the child’s K-12 experience; grouping policies based on best practices (Kulik & Kulik, 1992; Rogers, 2002); and teacher development to support the necessary training to implement effective strategies and high-level curriculum for gifted learners.
While a documented need for stronger policy in gifted education exists, the evidence for its presence in the field is scarce. Specific policy in or related to gifted education such as Advanced Placement (Bleske-Rechek et al., 2004), identification (Stephens & Karnes, 2000), and self report documents from all 50 states (NAGC, 2005) are available and have been examined as a backdrop for this study. However, a comprehensive study of intended policies, impact on student populations, and how policies are translated to practice as evidenced by stakeholder perceptions and actual policy documents is currently not available. Based on issues of translation, practice, and coherence of policy initiatives within the larger educational reform and special education literature, this is an important issue that warrants further exploration if positive implementation and student achievement are to be positively impacted.
Purpose of the Study
In the spring of 2003, The Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary contracted with the Ohio Department of Education (ODOE) to conduct a policy review study across five states to determine the nature, extent, and relative success of policies governing programs for the gifted. The study was to include an in- depth review, interpretation, and comparative analysis of state policies that pertain to or impact gifted education, followed by on- site interviews with state officials and a focus groups session with state advisory boards in gifted education. A comparative analysis across states was conducted using document review data, NAGC standards analysis, and focus group and interview data. Key themes were derived based on a triangulation of these data sources (Patton, 2002). The several procedures and strategies outlined in this section support the trustworthiness and authenticity of the findings (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Patton).
The following research questions guided the design and implementation of this study:
1. What is the nature, extent, and intent of policies in gifted education in the targeted states?
2. How effective have the policies been in moving gifted education forward in the state?
3. How does gifted education policy interact with other state policies that impact gifted students?
4. In what ways are the policies aligned with the NAGC program standards?
5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of these policies?
The Center for Gifted Education (CFGE) at the College of William and Mary is an institution with over 15 years of research and evaluation experience in the areas of curriculum development, curriculum effectiveness, program evaluation, and identification and assessment within the field of gifted education. Four of the five researchers have 65 years of combined experience in administrating gifted programs at the local and state levels, with two of the researchers having 8 years of experience as gifted program directors at the state level. The team also has experience in implementing policies in gifted education in five states. Three of the researchers have been involved in program evaluation for the past decade and a fourth researcher has participated in program evaluation over the past 5 years. The combined experiences of the research team provide the study with an appropriate level of investigator credibility (Patton, 2002). During this study, different members of the research team engaged in different stages of data collection/generation and analysis, conferring as a team throughout, and reaching consensus on the interpretation of the findings, thus diminishing the presence of researcher bias.
Selection of States
The research team from William and Mary and personnel from the Ohio Department of Education mutually selected several criteria for selecting states for this study, considering factors that fundamentally provide support structures for effective policy implementation. The criteria consisted of: (a) existence of a full- time state director, (b) state gifted education legislation and/or mandate in at least one area, (c) funding thresholds above $5 million, and (d) comparability to Ohio in respect to demographics, including local control. A review of data on state components was analyzed based on data available from the Tennessee Initiative for Gifted Education Reform (TIGER) report (Swanson, 2002) and the National Center for Educational Statistics ([NCES], 2001, Table 37). Additional data were collected from State Educational Agency (SEA) websites and through phone calls to SEA personnel. A matrix was created to allow easy comparison of the relevant information retrieved from state departmental resources available on the Internet and phone calls to departmental personnel (see Table 1).
The search resulted in nine states that met most or all five criteria. The final selection of states for the study was based on: (a) the number of criteria met, (b) the willingness of the state to be part of the study, and (c) the consensus agreement of Ohio on the choices with the specification that the sample include one geographically proximate state from the Midwest. The five states selected for this study were Indiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia (Brown, Avery, & VanTassel-Baska, 2003). Pennsylvania was selected because of comparability of the Average Daily Attendance (ADA). Indiana and Pennsylvania did not adhere to all criteria but were added because of similarity of population size and geographic proximity. The states not selected from the initial search of nine were not closely comparable in demographics nor did they have a full-time state director for gifted education. Data for the state of Ohio were also included for comparative purposes in the cross-state analysis. The six states included in the study represent the three different legislative models for identification and service delivery that are available across all 50 states: (a) permissive, (b) mandated, or (c) combination of permissive and mandated.
Although many states have similar structures for policy and governance, each state in the study differs in the exact approach to, and language used for, educational policy. Table 2 provides a comparison of the selected states according to their mandates, percentage of students identified as gifted, and the names and types of regulation documents that address gifted education.
Data Collection and Generation
Guided by the research questions, the investigators included four data sources. The most extensive was a document review of each state’s (a) regulations governing programs and services for the gifted, (b) guidelines for practitioners in administering programs at the local level, and (c) supplemental state policies that impact on gifted students. The documents were selected in consultation with each state director of gifted education, resulting in 9-15 documents or document sections for each state procured from the state education agency or the agency’s website. Content analysis procedures were used to assess these rel\evant state documents, using a schema that included the structure of governance, identification, and program services required or approved by the state. Each document was reviewed and analyzed according to these same schema. The document review for each state was then submitted to the state director for approval in terms of accurately reflecting the state’s policy and regulations for gifted education. Each state’s document review was revised based on this feedback and resubmitted to the state director for a second or third review until the document was deemed to be accurately reflecting the nature of the legislations, policies, and standards. This process represents a level of member-checking appropriate to document analysis to support the credibility of the findings and the trustworthiness of the study (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Patton, 2002)
A second data source consisted of structured interviews with each state’s relevant Department of Education personnel to probe important aspects of policy development and implementation. These interviews were conducted onsite at the Department of Education in each state with current gifted program administrators and a decision maker at the level of the Superintendent’s cabinet. These individual interviews lasted 45 minutes to I hour and probed perceptions around important aspects of policy development and implementation. Each interview was taped and then transcribed. Transcriptions were member- checked and narrative coding was conducted (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992). Questions for the interview focused on: (a) perceptions of effective policies in the state; (b) understanding of the current state policy for gifted education; (c) relationship of gifted education to general education policy, including incorporation of Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and dual enrollment policies; (d) strengths and weaknesses of gifted education policy; and (e) evaluation of policy effectiveness. Interview data were coded, using researcher-generated interpretive categories and themes derived from the study questions. Interview participants member-checked their corresponding interview summary for accuracy, according to established guidelines for qualitative inquiry (Lincoln & Cuba, 1985; Patton, 2002).
A third data source was a focus group conducted with members of each state’s advisory group overseeing the state gifted program. These groups consisted of 8-14 participants and were held during site visits by members of the research team. Questions for these interviews paralleled the questions asked of state leaders. Each focus group lasted approximately 1 hour and members were provided with structured questions from which to respond. Answers were written individually on index cards and then group responses were recorded on chart paper and immediately member checked for accuracy. These data were analyzed, using researcher-generated interpretive categories, and themes were derived based on the study questions as a type of analytic induction (Patton, 2002). Quotations were included to demonstrate support for these themes. The process of seeking emerging patterns and themes based upon the similarity of response meanings from qualitative sources was used to provide verification and further inquiry into the perceptions of state policy documents.
The final data source consisted of a deductive analysis of each state’s written policies against NAGC program standards (1998). This publication presents standards that serve as benchmarks for evaluating policies and services related to curriculum and instruction; program administration and management; program design; program evaluation; socio-emotional guidance and counseling; student identification; and professional development. This process consisted of a systematic comparison of each of the standards and corresponding criteria with the data from the document review of written state policy for each state. Determination of whether a state’s policy fulfilled the NAGC program criteria was achieved by evaluating the policy’s inclusion of terms and phrases (e.g., differentiated instruction, appeals procedure, differentiated guidance and counseling) from the program standards, or other similar terms and phrases with similar meaning (i.e., “at-risk” could also be “underserved” or “underrepresented”). A 3-item scale was used to determine whether the policy met all of the NAGC criteria stated in each principle (Y), met some of the criteria (S), or met none of the stated criteria (N). For example, regarding NAGC Program Evaluation principle 1, “An evaluation must be purposeful,” only North Carolina and Virginia include policy for program evaluation that includes identified purposes for the evaluation. The findings from this analysis were compiled into a state alignment matrix.
Overall within-state analytic methods were derived from stakeholder perceptions, state policy documents, and judgments made about the impact of policy implementation and the perceived relative strengths and limitations of state policy documents and the extent to which policy implementation was moving gifted education forward in the state.
Findings from Within-State Analysis
This section describes the key policy findings by state using review of regulations, onsite interviews, and focus groups as the basis for the discussion.
Definition and Identification. The Indiana Code 20-10.1-5.1 (1999) contains the laws governing education in the state, and the regulations for interpreting the rule on gifted education are found in the Indiana Administrative Code (1999). Indiana’s permissive policy for identification and service allows school corporations to decide what type of gifted learner is to be served and does not limit the numbers of gifted students who may be identified at the corporation level. The breadth of the definitional sweep across the six domains (general intellectual, general creative, specific academic, technical and practical arts, visual and performing arts, and interpersonal) permits tremendous latitude in the design of services and programs for gifted learners. The majority of respondents echoed concerns with the permissive nature of the definitional and identification structure: “The variability of identification throughout the state is a weakness in our state’s gifted policy.” However, one respondent perceived that the permissive definition “allows corporations to recognize student differences from others in the environment in order to signify the need for differences in instruction, and to develop potential.”
Programming. The Indiana Administrative Code (1999) contains requirements that each district’s (corporation’s) gifted plan include a component on program development and implementation, with specific plans for curriculum and instructional strategies, counseling and guidance, program assessment, and professional development. The option for a school corporation to have a gifted plan is a local decision. The Administrative Code does indicate that “services outside the school day may supplement, but not supplant, the levels of services provided” (p. 3). But the quality of these requirements is not monitored and the choice of program options (e.g., pull-out enrichment, self-contained) is up to local corporations.
Curriculum and Instruction. Local corporation plans must include specific plans for curriculum and instructional strategies, but a report by the Indiana Association for the Gifted (2000) states that the current mandate for gifted education does not require differentiation in the core curriculum, and the quality of these plans is neither prescribed nor monitored. The local plan must also include a component on student assessment, and gifted students are required to take the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP+). Concerns over Indiana’s state assessments are creating barriers for teachers to modify their curricular or instructional approaches. One respondent shared that, “Higher level curriculum is feared or not allowed because of the necessity of preparing for ISTEP testing. If off level testing were allowed, we could find out where students were functioning in relation to standards and target their instruction to their needs.”
Professional Development. Indiana does not have a requirement that addresses coursework in gifted education for initial teacher licensure. but there is an expectation regarding knowledge/ understanding of exceptionalities. Most university programs require completion of 15-16 credit hours for a standard instructional license and 18 credit hours for a professional license. There are several universities in the state that offer an add-on license for gifted and talented. The state’s approach to strengthening the licensing of teachers of the gifted represents a performancebased approach to licensure, linked to nationally recognized professional standards, such as The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). Local corporations are allowed to establish staff qualifications necessary to teach in the local gifted program. The Indiana Code 20-10.1-5.1 Article 36 (1999) for highability students requires local corporation plans to include a component on professional development but does not prescribe specific requirements for a professional development plan. The Department of Education provides money for teachers to receive their gifted and talented license through a reimbursement model. Much of the professional development on gifted students is conducted through the Educational Service Centers as expressed by one state-level respondent, “the work we do with the Educational Service Centers improves services in local school corporations, and they do on-going professional development; not a one-time workshop but ongoing throughout the school year.”
Program Monitoring. Indiana is a locally controlled state with a permissive rather than a mandatory policy ongifted and talented education. Local school corporations must develop and submit a local plan with broad-based community support and local school board approval for serving gifted students to secure state funding for services. School corporations will only receive state monies if their plan has been approved by the state department but no monitoring of local plans is implemented. Additionally, school corporations must voluntarily apply each year for state money for gifted education. Money is awarded to local corporations if plans are in compliance. Regional infrastructure through regional educational centers support local program development.
Supplemental Policies. No formal supplemental policy documents were available for review by the research team, but several were under development at the time of this study. No evidence existed of a state policy for weighted grades. Local corporations establish their own policies for early admission to kindergarten and early graduation from high school. Waivers may be granted to local corporations from the Department of Education to permit the exemption of gifted students from instructional time in lieu of performance assessments. The state has solicited federal funding to improve Advanced Placement (AP) access to students in rural and low- income areas. Additionally, the Indiana Code states that “each school corporation shall provide the College Board’s science and math advanced placement classes in secondary schools for students who qualify to take the advanced placement courses” (1999, IC 20-36- 3-5 section, 2b). Limited state funding exists for AP math and science exams.
Definition and Identification. North Carolina’s definition and identification of gifted students is tightly focused. The state mandate for Education of Gifted Students. Article 9B (North Carolina Gen. Stat. 8 115C-150.5, 1996) recognizes both performance and potential for grades K-12 but is limited to general intellectual and specific academic areas. Districts may serve other areas of giftedness, but state monies can only be used for the mandated group of gifted learners first. The state mandates that a three-step process involving screening, identification, and placement is in place, but there is not a state-level cut-off for identification so the parameters for identification rest at the local level. No accommodations for special populations are articulated in any state documents.
Programming. While the state mandates services, it does not delineate the level of specificity at the classroom level nor are services aligned to areas of giftedness identified. Local programs are required to develop student differentiated education plans (DEP’s) yet no parameters exist regarding contact time, student/ teacher ratio, or specific curricular approaches, such as acceleration. This concern was amplified through interviews and the responses of focus group members. “Historically, there’s been too much emphasis on identification and not enough on what’s going on in the program in terms of curriculum and teacher training. We need to continue beyond identification and look at what is happening with the students in the classes.”
Curriculum and Instruction. Gifted students are expected to master the North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study in core content areas, and state documents articulate that a differentiated education beyond the core should be provided in grades K-12. Yet the impact of the state’s testing component has restricted teachers’ desire to differentiate the curriculum. Focus group members shared, “Teachers’ concerns over testing and pressure on scores have overshadowed all other curriculum intervention approaches.”
Professional Development. Educators are encouraged to obtain a gifted endorsement, and currently a document is in draft form at the state level to revise the competency standards for an academically and/or intellectually gifted endorsement. Local plans for the gifted must specify plans for professional development with references to teacher preparation yet no state regulation requires teachers of the gifted to be endorsed. Teachers who are currently licensed to teach can obtain add-on licensure and/or credit toward a master’s degree in gifted education by completing 12 semester hours of circumscribed gifted course-work in conjunction with other university prescribed coursework; the local school system route requires 18 units. Both pathways require 180 instructional hours to complete.
State department officials saw professional development as a strong vehicle both for implementing the local plan as well as ensuring that a degree of differentiation for gifted would occur at the classroom level. According to the North Carolina state consultant for the gifted, “There has been a huge effort in this state to provide professional development opportunities for teachers on differentiation and the needs of gifted students.”
Program Monitoring. While local plans are required, the monitoring of local plan implementation is not. The state department reviews plans and provides technical assistance through the use of a peer review process, but “we have no authority for sanctions. We review and advise,” stated a department official.
Supplemental Policies. North Carolina has several supplemental policies that potentially could strengthen the quality of education for high-ability learners. In 1997, the General Assembly passed early entrance legislation for precocious 4-year-olds’ admission to kindergarten. North Carolina also has a community-college articulation agreement with high schools to offer dual enrollment credit to students while still in high school. Several other efforts are underway that show promise. While these policies exist at the state level the awareness, dissemination, and implementation across the state is spotty.
Definition and Identification. Pennsylvania has in place a mandate both to identify and serve gifted students, K-12. The Pennsylvania Code (|PA Code] 22-16.1-16.65. 2000) articulates the rules and regulations regarding gifted education. The definition of the gifted learner is a school-age mentally gifted student defined as “outstanding intellectual and creative ability the development of which requires specially designed programs or support services” (p. 1). Districts may not set the threshold for identification above 130 on an IQ instrument but may include students who score below 130 IQ, based on other factors and qualifications. Conversely, students who score 130 IQ or above also have to meet additional criteria to qualify for services. The determination of identification of mentally gifted must include an assessment by a certified school psychologist. Multiple criteria to indicate gifted ability may include: (a) a year or more above grade achievement level for the normal age group in one or more subjects as measured by nationally normed and validated achievement tests able to accurately reflect gifted performance; (b) an observed or measured rate of acquisition/ retention of new academic content or skills that reflect gifted ability; (c) demonstrated achievement, performance or expertise in one or more academic areas as evidenced by excellence of products, portfolio or research, as well as criterion-referenced team judgment; (d) early and measured use of high-level thinking skills, academic creativity, leadership skills, intense academic interest areas, communications skills, foreign language aptitude or technology expertise; and (e) documented, observed, validated, or assessed evidence that intervening factors such as English as a second language, learning disability, physical impairment, emotional disability, gender or race bias, or socio/cultural deprivation are masking gifted abilities.
Giftedness is modeled on a special education mandate and features Gifted Individualized Education Plans (GIEPs). Its major components echo a special education orientation, including sections on screening and evaluation, educational placements, and procedural safeguards. Focus group members shared that the code “takes the guess work out of who is identified. Additionally, having GIEPs provides a safeguard for these students.”
Programming. The regulations include limits on gifted class size (20 students) and student/teacher ratios (75 students per individual teacher’s caseload). A section of the rules and regulations identifies provisions for grouping students across grade levels, for gaining credit for coursework in alternative settings, and for gaining credit by examination. With regard to programming, one respondent commented, “The indirect benefit of [the code] is that more consideration is given to placement and programming because it’s explicit, but the reality is that most school systems do not actually put in place programming that really is in tune with students’ needs.”
Curriculum and Instruction. The PA Code has prescriptive intentions in regard to curriculum, instruction, and assessment and includes that gifted students’ educational placement must ensure that the student will benefit from the “rate, level, and manner of instruction” and that instruction go beyond the general education program.
Districts are further advised from state-level personnel that the “use of extra work, peer tutoring, or helping the teacher does not constitute gifted education” (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2004, p. 25). Further it suggests that academic standards and assessments may need to be reorganized across grade levels to allow gifted students to show mastery at earlier junctures in the system. Many respondents felt that although Pennsylvania is explicit in describing what is and is not appropriate for gifted students, the pressure of standardized test scores has focused teachers on teaching to the test and “bringing up the bottom rather than top- end learning.”
Professional Development. Pennsylvania does not require spe\cial training for teachers of the gifted and any teacher with certification may be hired in this capacity. In-service training for gifted and regular education teachers, principals, administrators, and support staff responsible for gifted education is required. Focus group members felt that without a state requirement for teacher licensure or preparation, the mandate’s effectiveness was undermined. Currently, no higher education institution in Pennsylvania offers an endorsement. Master’s or Doctorate in gifted education. “Some teachers are taking courses on-line, but we don’t have a handle on how many and which courses they are signing up for. It is a great untapped resource,” shared one respondent.
Program Monitoring. Although districts are required to create GIEPs for all identified gifted students, districts do not have to develop or submit program plans to the state for review and approval. However, when districts are monitored by the state, they must have evidence of written documentation for a number of program elements available for review. Focus group members shared that, “each school district is required to include gifted in their district strategic plan, so that may be one way to monitor program implementation.” In that way, local school board policy may be more influential than the state’s prescriptive regulations.
Supplementary Policies. The state has a written policy that permits, but does not mandate, local districts to establish policies for early admission to kindergarten. The minimum age cannot be less than 4-years old. It is not known how many districts have such policies in place. There are no state policies on Advanced Placement (AP); however, the Code does state that AP courses per se do not constitute gifted education. Additionally, the Code also addressed dual enrollment and tcsting-out accommodations in the context of graduation planning. Several supplementary materials are in development and one respondent commented that “the Secretary of Education in Pennsylvania issued a position statement in support of IB, AP, and dual enrollment so there may be positive implications for gifted from the secretary’s position statement, but it’s too early to tell.”
Definition and Identification. South Carolina has in place a mandate both to identify and serve gifted students, grades 1-12. The State Board of Education Regulation defines gifted as “high performance ability or potential in academic and/or artistic areas and therefore require an educational program beyond that normally provided by the general school program” (South Carolina Code 2002, Article 19 Instructional Program section, 43-220). The identification model is multi-step, multi-modal, and multidimensional and must find, access, and evaluate each gifted student for placement. Focus group members highlighted the clear definition of gifted as a strength, noting also the research-based nature of the identification protocols and the legitimacy promoted by this feature. “The revised identification procedures have resulted in increased efforts to identify minority students.” Students eligible for services in one district are eligible for services in any district in the state. Students are identified through at least two of three dimensions: ability, achievement, and performance tasks. No student is admitted to the program who has scored below the 90th percentile on an ability measure or below the 94th percentile on an achievement measure. Performance tasks arc reserved for students falling in the band of the 90th to 96th percentile on ability and below the 94th percentile on achievement.
Programming. The regulations include required plan elements of gifted programs, including: (a) curriculum, instruction, and assessment, (b) support services, (c) program models, (d) teacher/ pupil ratios, and (e) instructional time. The regulation also specifies maximum teacher/pupil ratios and minimum instructional time. Districts may offer programs during the regular school year or in the summer. The programs must be differentiated and meet minimum time parameters for the appropriate grade level: 4,500 minutes per year for grades 1-3; 8,100 minutes per year for grades 9-12. Summer programs must be 30 days in length and extend from 2.5 to 5 hours per day depending on the grade level served.
Focus group members shared, “having policy specifications around overall programs and service delivery, as well as the details of contact time and teacher/pupil ratios, have increased consistency and professionalization of gifted programs statewide.” While focus group members indicated overall policy support, they did comment that the policy is unevenly implemented across districts because of the flexibility districts have over allocation of resources. All respondents mentioned limited program accountability and the need for greater monitoring of policy implementation.
Curriculum and Instruction. The South Carolina regulations have a requirement that districts include specific explanations of descriptions of curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices in their plans. The focus is at the school rather than at the program level. Teacher/pupil ratios are capped at respective grade levels. For example, for resource rooms and pull-out programs in the elementary- and middle-school levels, the cap is 1:15. Another requirement prescribes minimum minutes per year of instructional contact time per program model. The state director noted that the teacher/pupil ratio responded to stakeholder wishes for small class sizes, and that the flexibility in administration is possible through the policy resulting in greater service delivery at the district level. While focus group members noted increased rigor in curriculum throughout the educational environment, they felt that more attention was needed, to “improving curriculum for students gifted in nonverbal areas.”
Professional Development. The South Carolina regulations delineate a few requirements for teachers of the gifted. Teachers must hold valid teaching certificates but only teachers of classes and/or courses for the academically gifted category must acquire endorsement in gifted education through a state-funded course or approved classes constituting 6 hours of graduate coursework. Newly hired teachers (assigned to gifted) have a year to meet the requirement. In addition to the 6-hour endorsement, the state department sponsors state-wide professional development opportunities for educators. Focus group members cited that while the required endorsement is a positive aspect of the state policy, “more depth and breadth of gifted study are needed for many teachers.” The state director noted that the wording of the policy necessitates that a large population of teachers achieve endorsement but “it really stresses our available resources in order to be able to provide the teachers with the needed coursework.”
Program Monitoring. While South Carolina maintains tight control over some aspects of gifted programming, primarily related to identification, other aspects are more flexible and allow considerable discretion for local school districts. Districts can decide, for example, how resources are to be allocated around program model options. Focus group members observed that allowing that kind of flexibility at the district level, “results in differential allocation of resources and uneven programs from one district to the next.” Conversely, the state director saw local flexibility of program options and fiscal earmarking as a strength, noting that “it does allow districts to serve more students ‘unofficially.’” South Carolina does not require that program plans for gifted education be submitted to the state department.
Supplementary Policies. South Carolina includes regulations surrounding AP coursework at the highschool level. The state requires that all districts serving Grades 11 and 12 offer at least one AP course. In addition, the state maintains a uniform grading scale policy, giving added weight to honors courses meeting specified criteria and to AP courses. This regulation also indicates that college credit may be applied toward dual enrollment options. The state pays for IB testing, but there is no specific policy around IB. One respondent commented that although interest in IB is increasing, “limited specific policy attention has been given to IB to date despite its viability as a gifted program option.” The state also does not have an early admission to kindergarten policy.
Definition and Identification. Virginia mandates both identification and programming for gifted students K-12 (Virginia Administrative Code, 1995). Although the regulations identify four categories of giftedness, school divisions are only required to identify and serve in one of the first two categories: general intellectual or specific academic. The four categories in the regulations are: intellectual aptitude, specific academic aptitude, technical and practical arts aptitude, and visual or performing arts aptitude. Since there is no state cut-off for identification, each school division must establish uniform procedures and criteria for screening and identification and employ the use of multiple criteria for such purposes. All qualitative sources shared that the identification system was effective and fair. “We are able to reach more diverse populations with the system we have,” commented one respondent.
Programming. While the state plan identifies 16 potential service options (e.g., special classes, mentorships) for gifted students, it is not prescriptive. The state regulations govern the development of local plans for the gifted, and each local plan must delineate the delivery of services and curriculum employed with the gifted. Yet, as one member shared, “the regulations around gifted establish the ‘what’; local divisions establish the ‘how.’” Some focus group members saw local discret\ion of services as a positive situation while others saw it as having a negative impact.
Curriculum and Instruction. Gifted learners are referenced in both of Virginia’s educational reform initiatives, providing some evidence that gifted is part of the overall general education reform agenda. One respondent remarked, “The [State] Board of Education in Virginia understands the importance of gifted education and included it in the regulations with a funded mandate.” Other respondents were less enthusiastic: “Much of the emphasis at the local level is placed on getting all students to pass the Standards of Learning (SOLs) and to show adequate yearly progress for No Child Left Behind (NCLB).” Each school division’s local plan must delineate a framework for differentiating curriculum including theory, instructional strategies, and assessment strategies by category of giftedness with the provision of appropriate levels of challenge. “The Department of Education reviews each local plan and looks at alignment, but the school divisions make the decisions about which curriculum package or approach they want to use with gifted,” shared the state consultant. Currently, the state does not have a mechanism in place for tracking the performance of identified gifted students on state assessment measures.
Professional Development. An addon endorsement in gifted education is available in Virginia. The state has several institutions of higher education that offer an endorsement strand of courses. Focus group members felt that teachers of the gifted minimally should be endorsed: “There needs to be an incentive for gifted teachers to be certified just like it’s expected for special education teachers.” Many local plans embed language to encourage any educator working with gifted students to receive some type of professional development and/or an add-on endorsement.
Program Monitoring. Every local school division in Virginia has a local advisory council for gifted, but “even though many school divisions are committed to gifted students, the extent to which the local advisory council has clout varies tremendously,” shared one respondent. The local plan, under the auspices of the local advisory council, must be approved by the local school board prior to submitting the plan to the state. The state department has the authority to approve the plan, but only on the basis of the plan’s compliance with the state regulation. There is no formal monitoring mechanism. Every local plan is submitted annually and reviewed every 5 years.
Supplemental Policies. Virginia’s supplemental policies include an agreement between community colleges and institutions of higher education through a community-college articulation agreement for dual enrollment credit, and the state school board has approved Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) assessments in lieu of the high-school End-Of-Course assessments. However, some school divisions still require students to take both the high-school tests and the AP tests.
Findings of Cross-State Analyses
This study of state policies in gifted education was quite revealing in terms of understanding the conceptual and regulatory frameworks of several states. Although it is inappropriate to make generalizations across states given the number in the study and the uniqueness of context, some synthesis of cross-state findings may shape state policy development more broadly. The syntheses are drawn from the content analysis of state regulations, the analysis of NAGC standards to state documents, focus groups with state advocacy groups, and interviews with state department personnel. A summary of key policy findings is outlined in Table 3.
Definition and Identification. The different states studied reflected different models for the distribution of power between state and local governance. Four of the five states in the sample required that all districts both identify and serve the gifted- student population. However, the definition of the population, the specification of parameters for identification, and the nature of the approach (special-education or generaleducation orientation or combination of both) varied. These distinctions often reflected at what level the control of the relevant decision was vested. Two states in the analysis (South Carolina and Pennsylvania) successfully employed cutoff score control on specific instrumentation types while others provided more openended guidelines for identification. States that were more stringent in their identification mechanism appeared also to exert greater pressure on other policy levers to control quality.
Attention to identification issues received the greatest emphasis in all state regulations as seen through the number of rules and regulations governing this process in comparison to other processes. This may be due in part to the process used for state funding and in part to the continuing debates over this issue in the field of gifted education. With the exception of Indiana and Virginia, identification parameters across states were fairly restrictive.
The attention that has been focused on identification since the release of the Marland Report (1972) and the National Excellence report (U.S. DOE, 1993) has clearly helped the field to narrow the definition of gifted, yet acknowledge and try to respond to concerns regarding diversity and under-representation of key groups. Increased and targeted attention is still needed, however, for states to continue retooling the identification process for all areas and populations of gifted students as well as to provide evidence of such efforts. Three of the states in the study do not uniformly track or report the numbers of gifted students identified and served according to demographics. Virginia and South Carolina were examples of states that were able to do this.
Programs and Services. Less prominent in these state regulations was an emphasis on appropriate programs and services to gifted students. Standards regarding service provision shared many of the same foci but were not dealt with in the same manner or even the same sequence across states. Although many important dimensions of service delivery were addressed, no clear template emerged to guide the articulation of a model service delivery policy. Also, the decision as to what belonged in regulation versus guideline or best practice manuals seemed particularly haphazard. Issues of grouping approaches, contact time, differentiated content-based instructional provisions, specialized programming for highly gifted and at-risk learners, and comprehensive articulation of services should all be explicitly addressed in program standards. None of the states reviewed had all of these components in place, suggesting the need for more comprehensive program development and service delivery policies.
Curriculum and Instruction. The impact of standards-based curriculum reform is clearly documented in this analysis showing that all states addressed the issue of core standards and the importance of curriculum differentiation, although three of the five did so in guidelines rather than regulations. Only South Carolina addressed grouping and scope and sequence issues in regulations. Pennsylvania was the only state to address acceleration and individualisation in state regulations. All states had language regarding the measurement of student learning, although this was not consistently linked to the state assessment instruments as a component of monitoring gifted student progress. Pennsylvania required that all students demonstrate at least a year’s growth for a year in the program. Only Indiana required academic and career planning, but the other states addressed this issue in varying degrees in guidelines.
Professional Development. The parameters outlined in policy documents on teacher preparation and staff development seemed underdeveloped and lacking in connectivity to issues of service delivery. Teacher preparation in the form of endorsement or certification was present in the language of all five states, but lacked specificity in respect to standards of preparation in line with NCATE and involvement with a state’s higher-education community as players in this area of policy development and implementation. Preservice regulations cited both in Virginia and Indiana regulations suffer from lack of enforcement as reported by state personnel and advisory groups in each state. Moreover, there was no policy language that linked staff development to improved teacher performance. Neither was there much recognition that regular classroom teachers and teachers of the gifted need far more tools for differentiating content curriculum for high-ability learners in light of the curriculum standards in each state. None of the states had policies delineating the issue of differentiation of the content standards for gifted learners, revealing a lack of connection to general education mandates.
Program Monitoring and Evaluation. The technical assistance and monitoring role of the state in gifted education was not defined in the five states analyzed. State personnel are the only individuals whose perspective by necessity looks across the sweep of programs so they are well positioned to suggest policy and program improvements at the local level. Yet if their role in this monitoring function is ill-defined or absent, it detracts from the capacity of a state to move a gifted-education agenda forward. While most state governments accorded responsibility to state personnel for the review of program plans, on-site monitoring expectations were not in evidence nor was annual accountability for gifted-student learning. Even if the model recommended is one that supports district self-governance, there still needs to be increased accountability for program quality through the mechanism of annual local plan review internally by a local education agency advisor\y committee. Similarly, in order for the state to deliver technical assistance, resources need to be allocated to support such efforts. A healthy tension needs to exist between the quality control mechanisms of monitoring and technical assistance, a situation not found in any of the states studied.
Supplemental Policies. Although all states referenced the state’s systemic reform agenda/platform in their gifted education documents, the focus of this connection varied greatly, and the converse was not always true. In other words, the state’s documents on systemic reform did not always contain references to gifted education or gifted students per se. The primary point of interface was in relation to core curriculum standards. In all cases, gifted students were expected to master the core standards, but Pennsylvania and North Carolina more strongly emphasized acceleration for the scope and sequence for these students. The connection with assessment testing was less pronounced. South Carolina referenced the use of PACT data in identifying gifted learners, but the potential for using state-assessment data as one indicator of program effectiveness was addressed in regulation only in Pennsylvania. In practice, only North Carolina and South Carolina made targeted use of this data source.
Three of the five states required the creation of local Advisory Councils that had some responsibility for gifted-program planning and review. These same states required the appointment of parents as well as other groups to these local councils. Four of the states also specified that the local school board had to sanction the gifted-program plan. One of the states, Virginia, required the creation of a state Advisory Council.
Four of the states also required local districts to produce a gifted-education planning document. The Pennsylvania model was tied to compliance with detailed program standards based on a special education model. In the other states, the nature of this planning document and the role of the state in “approving” its contents varied widely. South Carolina appeared to require the fewest components. Four of the five states addressed the need for a professional development plan for educators of the gifted, but in Pennsylvania, the gifted staff development needs were covered in the district’s evaluation plan, although only three made it clear that the annual evaluation report needed to be in writing in order to be communicated to relevant constituencies.
Due process was also handled differently across states, with Pennsylvania following a special education model and North Carolina incorporating modified aspects of this model. In other states, districts were expected to resolve disputes within their own district borders.
Consideration in states should be given to systematically identifying and connecting to supplemental policies that complement the interests of gifted students. States could incorporate references to these prescribed policies in the gifted-education mandate or regulatory base where they exist. Where they do not exist, gifted educators at the state level should create them. If states have delegated the responsibilities for such policy development to local districts, there needs to be a repository of information on what local decisions have been made as these choices significantly impact program development within the field. Specific policies regarding acceleration, weighted grades. Advanced Placement, testing out of standards, and dual enrollment are all areas highly relevant to appropriate gifted students. State policies are needed in each of these areas to complement existing gifted- education policy to maximize benefits to gifted students. Creating linkages through the leadership role assignments in the state department could facilitate this process.
The opportunity for integrating systemic educational reform ideas and gifted education has not yet been fully realized. Only two states showed evidence of disaggregating outcome data for gifted students on state assessments. North Carolina presented data that tracked the performance of identified gifted students on state assessment measures over time. Although state assessment testing practices are still struggling with the measurement of complex learning behaviors and there is unevenness across states in terms of the level of challenge embedded in curriculum standards, North Carolina’s attention to the value of monitoring these data is quite exemplary. South Carolina’s efforts to evaluate its identification policy also employed an analysis of state assessment data over a 2- year period.
As a field, we need to take more assertive steps in documenting and studying the relationships among standards, assessments, and the instructional pathways affecting such learning for gifted students. Such data may ultimately be valuable in supporting arguments for increased revenues. At a minimum, it is important information for program planning and development at both state and local levels.
The analysis revealed a dearth of documented evidence of the evaluation of policy effectiveness. Only two states had documentation to support such evaluation. In the case of South Carolina, a recent change in its identification system was being formally evaluated to determine what the impact has been on the types of students selected and the nature of services provided. Results from that report suggest that more low-income and African American students are being identified through performance-based assessment protocols than was the case under the old system of identification. Moreover, the performance results on state tests suggest that these students improve performance over 2 years and outperform traditionally defined students on the mathematics portion of the test. In the case of North Carolina, a report that examined the involvement of minorities and low-income students in advanced learning opportunities was shared. One of the findings in this report addressed the changes in gifted program composition