Month: February 2016

PARCC and Gifted Education

The PARCC, who publish the eponymous test used to measure educational progress toward college and career readiness in New Mexico, has released version 4 of its Accessibility Features and Accommodations Manual.  Accommodations for PARCC are specifically targeted at English language learning students and those with 504 or IDEA disabilities. Gifted students who are not ELLs or twice exceptional are not part of that group.

PARCC Homepage Screen ShotI have met many educators who have written testing accommodations into individual plans for gifted students.  I have myself.  For those smart students who have the slow, deliberative processing style of a creative person, it can be tempting to extend testing time.  Students who express anxiety around testing or who are affected by high levels of perfectionism may present a need for a customized testing experience as well.

Fortunately, the PARCC provides two sets of features that may be applied to any student: “administrative considerations,” and “accessibility features.”  Administrative considerations include small group settings, special timing allowances, or frequent breaks.  The PARCC’s accessibility features include spell checking, highlighting, selective text-to-speech, glossaries, and noise buffers.  But which features should you consider for your gifted students?  The answer is dependent on the purpose of and way we interpret standardized tests.

The Purpose of Standardized Tests

Ask any random group people why we give standardized tests, and you’re likely to get as many answers as you have conversations.  Policy makers and school administrators use tests to evaluate the efficacy of programs and teachers.  Colleges and special programs employ them to determine the likely success of candidates and select participants.  Teachers may see tests as diagnostic tools for best planning educational opportunities. In the era of Value Added Modeling, tests become opportunities for greater pay and accolades on one hand and liabilities weighing against their evaluations on the other.  Parents might view tests as a measure of whether their students are doing well in school or which school to select.  Students may see tests as measures of their success or failure or simply trials to get past, depending on their experience.

While some purposes of testing may have more merit than others, any meaningful use of a test requires that it be reliable and valid.  Reliable tests produce consistent scores.  Valid scores measure what they purport to measure. And both reliability and validity require that test administration be controlled.

If validity and reliability are dependent on standardization, why do we give some students accommodations, changing those usually controlled conditions?  Because for some students, accommodations produce a significantly more valid and reliable result.  In my humble opinion, this should be the test of when to allow a change to the standardized administration of a test, through accommodations, administrative considerations, or accessibility features. Continue reading

NMHU Offers Gifted Endorsement Courses

Only 3% of colleges and universities across the country offer courses in gifted education and the need for courses are high. (VanTassel-Baska & Stambaugh, 2006)  According to the National Association for Gifted Children  (NAGC), 61% of classroom teachers in the U.S. have no training in gifted and talented, yet gifted and talented students spend over 80% of their time in their regular classroom. Further, with so few opportunities for graduate courses in gifted education, we cannot expect teachers to effectively address the needs of gifted learners. (Ford, Grantham, & Whiting, 2008)

Gifted Programs at NMHU Student Centre

NMHU Student Centre

According to the report, National Excellence: A Case for Developing America’s Talent  (October, 1993), “Teachers must receive better training in how to teach highlevel curricula. They need support for providing instruction that challenges all students sufficiently. This will benefit not only students with outstanding talent but children at every academic level.”  For these reasons State of New Mexico educators who instruct gifted individuals must have an endorsement in Gifted Education.

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Project-based Learning with Kayaks

My middle school students are currently working in collaboration with the New Mexico Wildlife Center to learn the physics of kayaks through building their own personal, functional kayak.

Students are learning about buoyancy, resistance, kayak design, riparian ecosystems, and weather. We are spending the winter months building the kayaks so that we can explore water habitats in the spring.

Espanola Kayak Class

At the 2015 NMAG Fall Institute, Alicia Cotabish presented on both project-based and problem-based learning. She highlighted the differences as well as the way in which they are appropriate for high ability learners. There are numerous advantages to using project-based learning with gifted learners including:

  • It is interdisciplinary
  • It is aligned with curriculum and supported by NAGC Gifted Programming Standards
  • It allows for in depth inquiry and problem solving
  • It lends itself to differentiation and scaffolding
  • Student can take ownership of their learning
  • It allows for collaboration, critical and creative thinking
  • It can motivate and engage students
  • Students are addressing real world, authentic problems

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