A recent letter to The Enterprise suggests there is nothing numerically or statistically anomolous about the high number of students in Davis identified each year as being intellectually gifted — 30 percent, with about two-thirds of them enrolling in self-contained elementary classrooms.
The point is this: California regulations (Title 5 sections 3820-3823) state that while school districts can set their own cut-offs for identifying gifted students, the common benchmark is that the category should include only those who have “extraordinary or potential for extraordinary intellectual development,” based on “evidence as to a pupil’s capacity for excellence far beyond that of their chronological peers.”
In other words, a student’s need for special services, such as a seat in a self-contained classroom, arises only when he or she is “exceptional” as related to his or her peers. The more gifted students you have in a population, the less exceptional they are, with respect to that population.
If such a huge portion of the community’s students cannot have their needs met in the regular mixed-ability elementary classrooms, then those classrooms need to change. Carving them out of the regular population and placing them in self-contained classrooms is not the solution, nor does it meet best educational practices for ability-grouping in elementary school.
Also, the testing and sorting of third-graders sends young students the message that their academic destiny has been predetermined and their own future efforts don’t matter. The work of Dr. Carol Dweck and others shows this is not the message to send students, if the goal is encouraging further optimal academic development.
I commend the Davis school district for taking the initial steps to evaluate the GATE program and consider alternative educational approaches.