Saturday, July 10, 2010

Once Again, With Feeling

Corbett School District graduated 78 students in 2010. None of those students was involved in an explicit Talented and Gifted program. Because he had previously passed exams in AP Calculus (ab), Calculus (bc) and AP Statistics, one attended math classes at MHCC.

The top 10% of the graduating class passed an average of 8 Advanced Placement exams each with a score of 3 or better. They passed 65% of their exams. Using the Oregon State University rubric, they are eligible to claim 271 credit hours based on their exam scores. This is the equivalent of 6 full years of schooling, worth about $120,000.00 at current OSU rates. The District paid about $7000.00 for the exams, which are provided for free to all Corbett students. This represents about a 17-to-one return on the educational investment. These students earned the equivalent of two full quarters of university credit each.

Of course several of these students are not headed to public universities in Oregon, and that's part of the program as well. Their destinations include Baylor, University of Pennsylvania, New York University, George Fox, and, of course, OSU!

Among them, they passed 21 AP math exams (ab, bc and stats), 5 physics exams, and 11 English exams (both lang and comp).

Two things are important about these numbers. First, they represent astounding opportunities for students without regard for their standardized test scores. Nobody had to qualify to take these classes or to participate in the exams. They didn't have to pay. They only had to work.

I believe that this opportunity represents the most effective and least expensive Talented and Gifted program available anywhere. It is simple to replicate. It avoids the problem of under-identification of under-served populations, because identification is not a prerequisite for participation. It creates opportunities for acceptance at highly selective colleges and universities as well as scholarship consideration. It allows for advanced placement, either reducing the time and expense of an undergraduate program or creating space for more elective courses.

This programming should be universal.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

TAG. Really. No Nonsense

High School Students in Corbett, Oregon (there are about 300 of them this year) are in the process of taking 800 Advanced Placement exams during the first three weeks of May. They are taking exams in Calculus (ab) and (bc), Statistics, U.S. Government, U.S. History, World History, Human Geography, Spanish Language, Art History, Art, Environmental Science, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, English Language and Literature, Micro and Macro Economics, and Computer Science. Only 14 of these areas have full classes this year. Students are preparing for four of the exams (micro, macro, Art History and Computer Science) independently. We have had students pass all four independently in the past two years.

The AP participation rate in Corbett is about 98%. Last year, 60% of seniors passed one or more exams, and 40% were AP Scholars. We'll see what this year's seniors can do.

And that's the point, really. We'll see. We don't sprinkle TAG water on students and declare them to be of superior quality. We offer all students the opportunity to demonstrate their achievements, whether they be rooted in raw talent or just exceptional commitment. We let other people worry about the labels. We foster success.

In order for TAG kids to show their talents, perhaps the schools have to be talented and gifted as well.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

AP Report to the Nation

The College Board recently published its 2009 Advanced Placement Report to the Nation, which includes information on AP participation and performance by state.

In Oregon last year, 13% of all graduating seniors passed one or more Advanced Placement exams with a score of 3 or higher.

In Corbett, 13% of graduating seniors passed an average of 9.7 AP exams. 13% had passing scores in AP Calculus(ab), AP Calculus(bc) and AP Statistics. (not either or, but all three). 17% scored a 5 on at least one exam. 40% were AP Scholars. 60% passed at least one exam.

What about our juniors? 13% passed and average of 4.9 exams. 13% posted a score of 4 or higher on at least one exam. 14% were AP scholars. 32% passed at least one AP exam.

Sophomores? 14% passed at least one AP exam with a score of 4 or 5. 25% passed one or more exams with a score of 3 or better, nearly doubling the statewide rate for seniors! For the first time in three years, there were no AP Scholars among Corbett's 10th graders. That bears watching.

What about our TAG students? What about those 8% (according to OATAG) that are gifted or talented in one or another area? They were there. Right in the mix. They were working right along with those who weren't identified. And by all appearances, their performance was not hampered by the lack of an isolated program. Unless one wants to argue that passing from 6 to 13 AP exams represents a stunted effort, our TAG kids seemed to be just fine in spite of being in the company of non-TAG students. 8% of our graduating seniors passed an average of 10 AP exams each prior to graduation. All would have had the option to start college as sophomores had they selected colleges based on 'AP friendliness'. Some did. Others are taking full advantage of four years of access to some of the finest colleges and universities in the country.

Corbett pays for every AP exam taken by its students. The return on that investment is phenomenal, and it makes access to AP thoroughly democratic. At Corbett we don't pay much attention to who is and isn't gifted. Our gifted students are fine with that. They prove themselves with results, not with special events or secret handshakes. Even in Corbett, they are pretty easy to spot if one knows where to look. Look at their results. Look at the offers they get after high school.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

TAG and LiD

The Learning in Depth program is described in some detail on the Corbett Charter School blog that is linked to the right. It's a simple idea with profound implications for Talented and Gifted students. It provides structured support for independent learning that has no stop-point, no limit, no culminating gold star (no accompanying emptiness and feeling like one has yet again outstripped adult expectations). Students learn for the satisfaction of knowing, and they have organized outlets for sharing their knowledge with others. And the adults get caught up in it.

Yesterday Sheri and I were looking around a furniture store and she asked about wood samples. Why? One of her primary students has 'wood' as her LiD subject. The girl seems very taken with her topic, and frequently reports directly to me her discovery of a new species of tree or kind of wood. When the fellow at the store heard about her topic and her enthusiasm, he loaded us up with samples and invited us to bring her by the store (which has a furniture production shop attached) so that she could see how wood is put to beautiful and practical use around the house.

This fortunate student will never be expected to meet the second grade wood standard. She won't be held back for fear of trespassing on the third grade wood curriculum. If she sticks with it, she will have an expert's understanding of wood by the time she is 18. The cost of the program? Next to nothing. The potential benefit? Nearly limitless. Community connections rise up spontaneously. Experts in the field are anxious to share what they know. They are pleased that young people find their life's work meaningful. Teachers garner a wealth of information and understanding regarding all of their students' topics as they help to gather books and other sources of information.

Learning in Depth. LiD. A simple, effective, inexpensive program that can be implemented in every school in Oregon to the benefit of every student...and perhaps especially for the most gifted among them.

Friday, February 5, 2010

High School Credit in Middle School?

The central tenet of my own thinking regarding Talented and Gifted education is not complicated. It is as simple as the old saw about level and rate of learning. Students should never be pushed ahead or held back because of their ages. They should be allowed to pursue their own next steps across the curriculum.

Should Middle School students be allowed to earn high school credit? Of course. What would be the basis for believing otherwise? Granted, such a common sense approach raises certain logistical question, but they all have fairly simple answers.

FAQ's regarding High School Credit for Middle School Students:

Q: Won't students who pass Algebra or Geometry in Middle School be tempted to stop taking high school math classes as soon as they have met their graduation requirements?

A: Of course they won't, because while they have proven to have a bit of a knack for math, they are presumably under the age of 18 and will do what the significant adults in their lives expect of them. Corbett has seen dozens of instances (each year, in fact) of middle school students earning high school math credit, and not once has the result been that they skimp on math during high school. These are students who finish two years of A.P. Calculus, A.P. Statistics, and sometimes add courses at the community college to round out their senior years.

Q: What if they run out of math to take at the high school level?

A: It is a simple thing to offer two years of A.P. Calculus as well as A.P. Statistics in a high school of over 200 students. For those students who complete this entire series, there are options ranging from community college to correspondence classes. I have occasionally advised seniors to repeat A.P. Calculus(bc) in order that it be fresh for them upon entering college. Reports from the field indicate that this approach has been fruitful.

Q: What if we reserve Algebra I for 9th graders?

A: If students begin with Algebra I at 9th grade, then take Geometry and Algebra II, it seems likely that they will be seniors by the time they take Trig. (They can use their new-found understanding of right triangles to calculate the length of the canes that they will soon need!)

Q: What if we allow Algebra I in 8th grade?

A: Not much better, is it? So now Johnny takes Geometry in 9th, Algebra II in 10th and Trig in 11th? (I know that different programs use different course titles, but these seem to be the trend.) So one shot at a calculus class? Hmmm. Two shots would seem better. Three, better still. There are students (likely five to ten percent) who should be doing Algebra in grades 5 or 6 and reaching Trig by 8th. NOW there is room for an interesting high school math career!

The bottom line is that we need to quit thinking so much like rule-bound institutions and think more like caretakers of the next generation. It is too easy to find ourselves asking nonsense questions based on institutional needs. These children don't exist for the institution. On our best days, we exist for them.

One more FAQ:

Q: Is there such a thing as a dumb question?

A: You betcha.

The Golden Key to the Education of Talented and Gifted students? We need to quit wringing our hands and simply take care of the work that is right in front of us.
That, or read another book about curriculum mapping or the characteristics of gifted youth...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Talented, Gifted and The Academic Decathlon

Parents of Talented and Gifted students face a dilemma. They want the best for their kids, but the best is often difficult to locate. The 'Best' often consists of programs of various sorts. These programs abound, but too many are trivial. They are often anti-intellectual. They produce very little in the way of concrete results. And while they are ubiquitous in the lower grades, they nearly disappear at the high school level. But there are exceptions.

I believe that the Academic Decathlon is one such exception. Corbett's experience seems to bear this out. Far from being another 'quiz game' or 'bee', the Academic Decathlon consists in an ambitious interdisciplinary curriculum (this year's topic is the French Revolution) and students prepare for exams in Literature, Economics, Science, History, Music, Art, and Math. They prepare speeches and deliver impromptu speeches. They sit for an interview, and they compete in an essay-writing event. It's a pretty exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting!) experience. It's a chance to compete on a national stage, and last year we brought home Oregon's first national gold medal (in Literature)! Decathletes compete for individual as well as team recognition.

While Corbett's program is only in its third year (we got in on the ground floor when Oregon started competing again in 2008) we already have a group of Decathletes who have made a spectacular transition from high school to higher education.

Our first competitive team (comprised of the minimum number of students required to participate) was formed in the Fall of 2007, won a state championship, and represented the State of Oregon at the 2008 national competition. Of those six, four returned for a second year of competition and a second state championship. Over all, five of the original six have graduated and can now be reached at Oregon State University, Vassar, Willamette University, and Reed College. The sixth is working toward a three-peat at the State competition and a third trip to Nationals.

In the Fall of 2008, the returning four decathletes were joined by five new competitors. Two of them have since taken their places among the university crowd, one in architecture and the other in art. The other three are competing again this year.

Of these eleven decathletes, who were selected to meet the event requirements that one third be 'C' students, one third 'B' students, and only one third could be 'A' students, five posted SAT scores in the top 2%. Two more scored in the top 10%. The eight team members who have graduated thus far passed a total of 53 Advanced Placement classes. One was Corbett's first AP National Scholar (one of 53 in the State of Oregon), and another was our first AP State Scholar (one of two in the state).

This year the Corbett Academic Decathlon program has taken another leap, and it includes about 90 students comprising two full teams: one for The Corbett School and one for Corbett Charter School. It is our goal to win first and second at the state competition and to provide another opportunity to compete on a national stage. Having finished 31st in the nation in 2009 and 27th in 2009, we are hoping to break into the top 20 this year. Patience and improvement are the hallmarks of our approach. We will see how it goes.

Meanwhile, the Academic Decathlon provides an opportunity for limitless growth for even the most gifted students. In the 40-year history of the national competition, brilliant students from throughout the country have tested their ability against this curriculum. In 40 years, no student has posted a perfect score. No student has scored even 95%. This is tough. It's challenging. This is a program that a talented student can pour heart and soul into and never be in danger of running out of meaningful work to do.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Talented, Gifted, and Advanced Placement for All

Talented and Gifted advocates, those who are concerned with the education of our most able students, have become used to the argument that Oregon lacks the financial resources to appropriately educate all of its children.

Their response has been measured and largely productive; they seem to have resigned themselves to seminars on differentiated instruction (which is useful, so far as it goes) and enrollment with special summer-and-weekend TAG opportunities.

Differentiation is certainly useful, and special events are often inspirational and informative. But there is an elephant in the room.

The power of differentiation is limited by the availability of appropriate curriculum. If differentiation is to be effective, a gifted student has to be able to work at a minimum of two to three years beyond what Oregon would define as 'grade level standards'.

For example, in order to truly differentiate math instruction, a 10-year-old needs access to algebra. Not 'pretend' algebra or algebra-like enhancements, but real algebra. High School algebra. I wonder how often that's what people mean by differentiation.

At the high school level, most TAG advocates (and most services) seem to disappear altogether. TAG students are largely assumed to be served by whatever passes for 'college prep' at the local school. Active parents with choices may put considerable effort into finding just the right school, but many more parents don't have good choices. They take what they can get, hoping for Honors, Dual-Credit or AP classes, usually beginning in 11th grade and usually limited (where they are available at all) to a half dozen course titles.

This state of affairs is as unnecessary as it is inadequate. There is no high school in the state that can't offer either Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes to the vast majority of students. And access doesn't have to be delayed until 11th grade. And yet this state of affairs persists.

While much more aggressive Advanced Placement programs would vastly improve education options for all students, they would be of inestimable and particular value for Talented and Gifted students. For example:

Corbett's Class of 2009 included some academic heavy hitters. 40% of them were AP Scholars, meaning that they passed three or more AP exams during their school careers. The top half of those scholars, just the TEN students that made up the top 20% of the class posted the following results:

Two of them passed AP Calculus(bc) at age 15. (Hard to do without algebra at a tender age).

Nine passed an AP Calculus exam, with 8 passing the second year (bc).

Nine passed an AP English exam...these are not one-trick ponies.

All ten passed an exam in one of the social sciences.

In all, these 10 students earned 79 passing scores on 15 different exams, with a passing rate of 81%.

The Oregon University System has a standard matrix for awarding University Credit for AP exam scores. These 10 students would have earned a total of 278 credits: the equivalent of six years of full-time college credit.

Of course they didn't all take their credits to an Oregon Public University. They took them to Willamette, Reed, Vassar, Smith, U of O, Oregon State. They garnered hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial aid and advanced credits.

The next eight students in the Class of 2009 passed an additional 30 exams. None of them was identified as TAG, but their results represent more achievement at a higher level than is made available to the vast majority of TAG students around the state.

The Advanced Placement program is effective. The results are both intellectually sound and bankable. The program is affordable. AP (or IB) should be available to every student in Oregon, and Talented and Gifted students should have unlimited access beginning in 9th grade. The best preparation? Differentiate in the lower grades.

Talented and Gifted Advocates should speak up. If the parents of first graders start today, access to Advanced Placement classes in every high school in Oregon could be a reality in time for their children to benefit. Most importantly, they could recruit as fellow advocates every other parent (TAG or not) that is committed to a better education for their children. Talented and Gifted Education will always be inexorably tied to the general classroom. Effective advocacy of Talented and Gifted Education, it seems to follow, needs to focus on dramatically raising the bar (and eliminating the ceiling) for all students.