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Questions Parents of Gifted Students Should Ask Schools

by James Gallagher 

Many parents dread the times they must meet their child's teacher. The thought of meeting the principal or superintendent sends chills up their spines. To many parents, the school is a "castle on the hill," distant and foreboding, a feeling that can prevent parents from interacting with the school system on a constructive basis. However, there are questions that parents of gifted students should ask of their school system regarding the program or services for their children. Their right to ask such questions matches the right of any parent.

 

What services are available for gifted students in this school and school system, and what are the goals of such services? 

The representative of the school should be able to speak at length on the nature and purpose of the program or services the school and school system provide. The school system should have a comprehensive K-12 set of services for gifted students and some special opportunities available to advanced students in all major content fields (math, social studies, etc.). He or she should be able to tell you why and how your child has been deemed eligible for these services and what they hope the outcome will be for your child. These statements should be more specific than "we hope to improve her thinking skills." Be sure to ask, "How do you propose to do this? With what resources?" 

How much time each week will my child spend in the gifted education program or receive services? 

This question is key since there is great variation among schools regarding the time provided for gifted students. Time allotted to these programs can extend from one hour a week to all day or something in between. Most specialists believe that anything less than five hours a week is unlikely to have a strong positive impact. If the school explains that the child's needs are being taken care of in the regular classroom, they should be able to detail what differentiated services are being applied in that setting, and by whom. 

Have the teachers in the gifted education program received specialized training?

All too often, teachers are assigned to gifted programs without any specific preparation. If they have not received training in educating gifted students they should at least have advanced training in the content field they are teaching. The school should also have a viable, articulate plan for helping teachers receive additional preparation if they are not currently certified or otherwise prepared. The regular classroom teacher should also have some special preparation, particularly if the primary responsibility for educating a gifted student depends on him or her. 

Has my child received an assessment?

Since individual assessments cost schools money, some administrators would rather rely on general or group tests or on teacher judgment to decide who should be in a gifted education program. The school should tell you what test instruments or procedures are used in assessing your child and what has been learned from them. How far is the child's achievement from the average for his or her grade? Are the results of the assessment being used to develop an education plan tailored for your child?  

Are there specialized materials (e.g., software) used in the gifted education program or services? 

The school representative should be able to name any special curricula or advanced materials that are being used. These materials should be easily accessible to the student, and the media room should have samples of materials available for parents to review. 

How will the school know if the gifted education program or services are working? 

Too few school systems are following a specific evaluation plan designed to tell the teacher what is working and what is not and for which children. The school representative should be able to state specifically what they will do to demonstrate the benefits of the program for your child. Findings (test results, analyses of portfolios, or student projects, etc.) should be available to parents and shared on a regular basis. 

How can I help the program? 

Parents can be valuable adjuncts to the special instruction schools provide, and schools should be able to make specific suggestions as to how parents can help. There may be times, however, when a school is reluctant to accept your input, and your best efforts to be cooperative are rebuffed. It is important for you to know that you are not alone. There are probably other parents who feel the way that you do, and they may already be in an organized group. (You can check with your state gifted education association for names of other interested parents in your area). Groups of parents are invaluable in convincing school administrators that gifted and talented students have special education needs. It sometimes requires repeated efforts. 

Parents often do not realize the various pressures that school administrators and teachers are under. Schools must deal with unruly students, students who are failing or are unmotivated, and the school day is often filled with a variety of immediate crises that may keep them from a full appreciation of the needs of your child. Under such circumstances you must remain vigilant. In order to ensure that your child's educational needs are met, you should interact personally with the school. A vigorous parent involvement and inquiry has been one of the best ways to develop a comprehensive, appropriate educational programs for your child.

 

Dr. James Gallagher is Kenan Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina and has worked over 30 years in the field of education for exceptional children. He has served as the President of the World Council for Gifted and Talented, President of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and of The Association for the Gifted (TAG), and President of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). A prolific author in the field, Dr. Gallagher was editor of the Journal for the Education of the Gifted for eight years. His textbook, Teaching the Gifted Child, is now in its fourth edition.