What You Might Say

During the course of your correspondence or conversation, you are likely to be asked a plethora of questions. These inquiries frequently center around the age-old question, “Why should gifted children receive special services?” Here are few sample questions backed by well-informed answers provided by Professor of Gifted Studies at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, MN, Dr. Karen Rogers.  Reprinted with permission.

Rogers, K. (2002). Re-forming gifted education: How parents and teachers can match the program to the child. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

They Say…
You Say…

Ability grouping isn’t a “picture” of the real world. Students need to learn to get along with others at all levels of ability.
Actually, as adults, we are grouped by the jobs we take, the amount of education we acquire, and we are most likely to group ourselves with others who are about as smart as we are and who share common interests with us. We rarely experience “mixed-ability” grouping in the adult world.

Ability-grouping is elitist and undemocratic.
If careful placement in groups has taken place, such
that one’s actual level of ability or performance is the major criterion for placement, then it is an equitable strategy. The point of being grouped is to be learning at the level one is capable of. One group is not “better” than another, just more appropriate for meeting specific educational needs. If one group gets a reputation as “better”,  then the school needs to deal with this additional issue.

The “good” teachers get the “good” students. The lower ability students get the “bad” teachers.
Being in the high achieving group does not mean the students are “good” or “better” than others-just different. Teacher selection is at issue here not grouping itself. Administrators should match teachers to the students with whom they work best. Why are inadequate teachers allowed to even be in the school system?

Ability grouping removes role models that “at risk” students need to succeed.
Schunk and Bandura have shown that a person chooses a role model from those who they perceive to be similar to themselves in capability but who are experiencing some success. Rarely does a low achieving student choose a gifted child as his or her role model.

Ability grouping is racist.
The general tracking research has documented that there are significantly fewer than expected minority children (except Asians) in higher achieving groups and significantly more than expected minority children in lower achieving groups. This is not the fault of grouping or placement, but may reflect how identification is being done. It may be more important to change the identification measures and procedures than to eliminate the groups themselves.

It’s rigid; once you’re in one group level, you can’t move up.
This doesn’t have to be the case with grouping by ability or achievement level. Regular monitoring of students’ progress can allow them to move from group to group within the school year as topics and units of instruction change.

Low-level students’ self-esteem is damaged, sometimes irreparably.
The Kulik studies have established that just the opposite is true. In low track classes, low ability students are less likely to be intimidated by the fast thinkers and will be afforded more chances to be called on and to answer questions.

Grouping is espoused only by the politically and socially powerful parents of high ability students.
Actually, the parents of gifted children are a lot less well-trained and less well-organized for advocacy than are parents of special education children. Parents of gifted children are often regular volunteers and supporters of the school and therefore may be seen to have a direct influence on school decisions. They have very little political power, as shown by the number of states in the U.S. which have no mandate that gifted children be served and which don’t require specialized training for teachers who work with children.

Without brighter students in a class, the quality of discussion goes way down.
Bright children are sent to school to be fully educated, not to act on behalf of the teacher or make a teacher’s life or discussion quality more positive. Their needs to learn are every bit as important as the needs of other children. To prevent them from leaving a classroom so that they can receive special needed services is an exploitation of their abilities for the benefit of the teacher and the rest of the class.