What do you do with a 4-year-old who already knows how to read and write? Or a third-grader who easily tackles books at a sixth-grade level? Or the fifth-grader who understands algebra?
Education experts likely will tell you: Put the 4-year-old in kindergarten. Let the third-grader and the fifth-grader take a reading or math class above their grade level, or even skip a grade.
Gifted students need more of a challenge so they don’t get bored by school — and potentially disruptive in class, as most teachers will warn.
In 2017, state legislators took note of what parents and experts had been saying for years: Illinois was neglecting the educational needs of gifted students. Lawmakers passed the Accelerated Placement Act, requiring school districts to create formal policies for providing advanced classes and programs to gifted students.
Chicago Public Schools still is working on its plan, two years later, and we urge the district to be ambitious and inclusive in its final proposal. It is a matter of social equity. There’s abundant evidence that students of color and low-income children, who might well qualify as gifted, have been falling through the cracks.
Consider this: Black students are much less likely to be identified as gifted compared with white students even when their test scores are the same, a major national study by researchers at Vanderbilt University found.
In CPS, Latino children are 46% of all students but just 25% of students in gifted programs, a 2016 report by the research and advocacy group One Chance Illinois found. Low-income and black students also were underrepresented.
CPS recently unveiled its draft plan for gifted children to groups of parents across town, and the district is on the right track. Based on test results and other criteria, 4-year-olds could earn early admission to kindergarten at their neighborhood school, children in third through sixth grade could skip a grade, and children in third through seventh grade could take higher-level classes in reading or math.
Some parents, however, rightly point out flaws, as the education news outlet chalkbeat.org reported. For one, the proposal doesn’t call for much of anything, as yet, to open up more seats in gifted schools or to expand gifted programs in general. What’s the value of skipping a grade in a school that is low-performing overall?
And where’s the plan to make sure that more parents from low-income communities sign their children up for testing to get into gifted schools, since testing rates are lower in poor communities?
The plan is not scheduled for a vote until the June meeting of the Board of Education. CPS has time to get it right.
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