Testimony to State Board of Education - Roberta Braverman

Good afternoon, members of New Jersey’s State Board of Education. I am Roberta Braverman, volunteer Advocacy Vice President of the New Jersey Association for Gifted Children (NJAGC). We are a 501 c 3 charity group consisting of volunteer parents and educators concerned with services to gifted students in our New Jersey schools, celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary. More information about our group can be found at www.njagc.org. In the attachments and links, I have provided copies of testimony I and others gave here several times. Unfortunately, we have many of the same concerns and want your attention now. There are resource links too.

I am not here today to add more to your already full plates. I am offering the help of NJAGC to include the needs of approximately eighty thousand of NJ’s gifted students in state plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), as well as many pertinent topics you are addressing today. We are simply asking to have a seat at the table when discussions that will affect gifted students occur.

Your meeting agenda today includes the approval of many districts based on QSAC findings. Did you know that county educational specialists who conduct these reviews were not trained to look for specific proof of identification of and services to gifted children? We are taking the word, which is often erroneously interpreted, of district superintendents that they are “doing gifted” when in fact there may be no lists of identified students, no offerings during the school day- but rather extracurricular or outside of school clubs, no teacher training, and no evidence of differentiation of curriculum, material, placement considerations or acceleration policies.

In addition, you are addressing bullying concerns and programming in your Programs to Support Student Development today. Are not the needs of our gifted students worthy of consideration aligning with this topic? From an online article, which I have attached as a separate page with other resources:

Many gifted children and adolescents are targets of teasing and bullying. Some of their peers and teachers may perceive them as too verbal”, too bossy”, too smart,” “too nerdy.” Because gifted children and adolescents tend to be highly sensitive to others, their reactions to being teased are extremely intense. One only has to look to recent shootings around the country, committed by kids who have been described as very bright, for examples of this kind of intensity.

 

NJAGC’s multiple attempts to communicate and offer help to our Department of Education have been ignored. This includes emails and phone calls we have made in the past year. Two weeks ago a package of letters with fifty or more signatures of concerned New Jersey parents and educators was mailed to the Commissioner and President of this board. I have not had a response, even acknowledging its receipt. The content of the letter was to offer help related to the implementation of the ESSA and federal funding, very crucial to many school districts. New Jersey is ineligible for Javits Act funding because we do not gather data on numbers of students identified or served. Please refer to the pages attached labeled Davidson Institute and the National Association for Gifted Children. The links to these items are here:

http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/state_policy_new_jersey_10032.aspx

http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/gifted-state/new-jersey

These numbers were gathered using statistics from the federal Office of Civil Rights Compliance and the NAGC State of the States report.

http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/gifted-state/2014-2015-state-states-gifted-education

http://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/key%20reports/2014-2015%20State%20of%20the%20States%20%28final%29.pdf

Unfortunately, New Jersey is one of the worst states cited for gifted education. A detailed data analysis with statistics provided by our Department of Education is included at that website.

Our Department of Education reviews programs and curricula regularly, but not so for gifted education. The last time gifted education issues were addressed was in 2005, when a Commission was forced by the state legislature. Although the topic was studied and recommendations to this Board were made, few were implemented, but many were not.

The link to that study is here: www.state.nj.us/njded/educators/commission/gifted.pdf

How can the needs of gifted students be met in current educational decision making? In addition to data gathering, monitoring of local districts for compliance, anti-bullying programs and other topics addressed already, here are some other “hot topics”, for which the New Jersey Association for Gifted Children offers resources and information:

PARCC testing- Do gifted students most often opt out? Is PARCC a good indicator of need for gifted services if analyzed using local norms? Is it the only indicator some districts are using to identify gifted students, which goes against research and state code? Are district leaders aware that new rules of ESSA include data analysis of advanced proficient student growth as well as partially and proficient students?

Are you aware that The Rockaway Board of Education is challenging G&T as an unfunded mandate before the Council on Local Mandates? What is the Department of Education’s position on this matter?

Teacher preparation- As of now, there are no undergraduate courses about gifted education in any of NJ’s teacher training programs. There are no options to use a course, perhaps online from an outside of state university, focusing on the needs of gifted as an elective in our undergraduate or graduate degree programs, except for Rutgers University. This impacts guidance counselors, principals, curriculum supervisors and teachers. How are they to make appropriate accommodations for their gifted students if they have never been trained or advised of research proven methods and about materials available? In the national textbooks used for courses on Students with Special Needs, the chapter about gifted education has often been omitted from the syllabus in our NJ courses for educators due to the fact that NJ does not require any training for generalists or specialists in our schools. There are new provisions that if New Jersey is to receive federal dollars through ESSA’s Title II, educating everyone about the academic and social emotional needs of the gifted students must be included in annual plans. This is huge. NJAGC needs to be part of this discussion.

Wording within Title I in ESSA states that funds may be used to identify and serve gifted students. How will this information be communicated to local district leaders? Are we concerned with under-representation of students of low income? Do districts in need of help even have services for their gifted students? Are teachers being trained to modify their instruction for those who are succeeding in otherwise failing schools?

Expert Joy Lawson Davis writes:  via http://www.nagc.org/blog  “Identification for gifted programming must be responsive, and include multiple measures, multiple "kinds" of measures, and multiple entry points. A single score - on a single test - given on a single day in 2nd grade doesn't begin to tell us the story of our learners. It doesn't give us any insights into the learner's potential, nor does it provide any information with how to meet the learner's needs in and out of the classroom.”

It is time to assure that gifted education and the academic and social emotional needs of our most able learners are being met in our schools. NJAGC is here to help. Please contact me for further information.

Roberta Braverman   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.