Choosing a High Ability Program

Before we explore the academic issues affecting high ability students, consider the following information detailing common myths people (including educators) may have regarding the high ability student population. Keep these in mind as you continue to examine the provided material.

Myth #1: High ability students will achieve in school without guidance.
Fact: Without guidance and support, high ability students may lose motivation or underachieve.

Myth #2: High ability students should be given a large quantity of work at the average grade level.
Fact: High ability students need a high degree of educational challenge, not more work at an average or repetitious level.

Myth #3: High ability students are “teacher pleasers” and easy to teach.
Fact: For high ability students to maintain high levels of achievement, teachers must make curricular adjustments. Without appropriate modifications, high ability students may develop behavior problems.

Myth #4: High ability students will make straight A’s.
Fact: High ability students will not always perform well in school, especially if unmotivated.

Myth #5: High ability students are nearly always from upper-middle-class professional families.
Fact: High ability students are from diverse racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Myth #6: High ability students are socially popular with their peers.
Fact: High ability students are often ostracized socially, especially at the secondary level.

Myth #7: High ability students learn best on their own.
Fact: High ability students benefit from being grouped with their intellectual peers for a significant part of their instructional day.

Myth #8: Extra attention given to high ability students fosters snobbery and is likely to lead to an elitist class.
Fact: Giftedness is fragile. Every child deserves an education that is appropriate to individual needs. Children at both extremes of the ability spectrum need special education.

Myth #9: High ability students are best served when tutoring.
Fact: When high ability students consistently tutor others, often they are not learning anything new. This can create unhealthy self-esteem issues for both the tutored and the high ability student.

Key Steps In Identifying a High Ability Program

What should you look for to know if your child’s school is appropriately identifying high ability students?
  • *Does the district have an Identification Plan in place? Check the school’s website or ask the principal or high ability coordinator.
  • *Do identification and programming begin early? (Ideally, these should be in place for Kindergarteners.)
  • *Do they use multifaceted assessment? In other words, does the school rely on several sources of testing data when considering students? Are these assessments based on both ability and achievement as well as performance and/or behavior?
  • *Is there a committee (rather than an individual) in place for the identification process?
  • *Does the district allow nominations to the high ability program from a variety of sources? (e.g., parents, teachers, school personnel other than the child’s teacher, etc.)
  • *Are teachers and parents informed as to the characteristics of being high ability?
  • *Does the district continue identifying students throughout the school career?
  • *Does the district allow for further testing for those who request it or for students who are considered “borderline” regarding meeting the requirements for high ability programming?

If your school district has a high ability program in place, this is a significant step towards meeting your childʼs academic needs. However, you may want to consider some of the following questions which can help you evaluate the program and know if itʼs in line with best practices in high ability education.
  • *Once students are identified, how are they served?
  • *Are services provided only in core content areas or other areas as well?
  • *How often are services offered? (Once a week; once a day; all day?)
  • *Are there self-contained classrooms/honors sections for high ability students or are they pulled out?
  • *Are the teachers who work with high ability students specially trained to work with this population? (Do they have licensure in high ability education or at least some professional development training?)
  • *What type of curriculum is being used with high ability students? Are they expected to “go deeper” and use more critical thinking, or merely do more work?
  • *Is pre-assessment a standard tool used to determine needs and readiness?
  • *Are open-ended, student-directed activities a common part of the learning process?
  • *How is the high ability program evaluated within the school system?