Which way do we go? The importance of evaluation.

In our last post, “Curriculum matters” we looked at the two main approaches that have developed over time for GT curriculum: acceleration and enrichment.

But what does “curriculum” actually mean, anyway?


If you look at a dictionary, “curriculum” is often defined as the courses that are offered by a school, even though schools actually rarely use it in such a general sense.

More typically , “curriculum” refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn.  It often starts with the learning standards or learning objectives that students are expected to meet which then flows into the units and lessons that teachers teach, the assignments and projects given to students, the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course, and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning.

Before schools think about GT curriculum though, the school system should actually first think broadly about the gifted program.  According to researcher Carolyn Callahan, gifted programs should have goals and objectives that can be clearly specified, operationalized, and translated into measurable outcomes. They should lead to a clear answer to the question:

If students are successful in this program, what will they know, understand, and be able to do that they would not have known, understood, or been able to do had they not been in the program?

Once gifted program objectives are established, then it is time to design curriculum for GT students that are reflective of these goals.  Indicators of a successful GT curriculum include evidence of high levels of abstractness, greater levels of depth and complexity, more rapid pacing, multi-faceted and open-ended problems, mastery of content that requires a transfer of learning and greater leaps of insight, and the use of more advanced and sophisticated resources.  All of this should be matched to a student’s developmental level and culture-based learning needs while also tying into the program’s specified goals and objectives.

See “Lessons Learned from Evaluating Programs for the Gifted”, Carolyn Callahan, 2010

For examples of excellence in GT curricula, take a look at the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) which presents curriculum awards in an effort to encourage and showcase exemplary curricula for gifted and talented young people.   The rubric the NAGC uses aligns with established guidelines that were set forth in the article “Bridging the Gap: A Tool and Technique to Analyze and Evaluate Gifted Education Curricular Units” originally published in 2002, and recently updated in 2017.

Finally, there is curriculum evaluation, an essential phase of curriculum development.  It is through evaluation that determinations about whether a curriculum is fulfilling its purpose and whether students are actually learning can be made. Evaluation is the method for determining the worth and effectiveness of a curriculum, the results of which stakeholders — parents, teachers, the community, administrators, and curriculum writers — are all deeply interested in.

This evaluative piece is especially important in Maryland, which will begin looking at gifted and talented students as an accountability group under ESSA beginning in the 2018/19 school year.  Questions to consider include: What indicators are being employed to document the effectiveness of the curriculum with the gifted population?  How is this being measured?  Are districts thinking “big picture” about what the goals and objectives are for their GT students, how the curriculum meets those goals, and how this is being evaluated?  Are they publicizing these goals and objectives and the evaluative measures that are used to determine to what degree these objectives are being met? 

Stakeholders want information about how GT students are performing, and soon Maryland schools will need to be reporting on this.


Curriculum matters

In general, the gifted field spends a lot of time on the identification of students.

But, what good is identification if nothing happens programmatically? Regardless of identification strategies, grouping models, grade level, or content area, it is the classroom dynamics of teaching and learning that is supremely important.  Curriculum matters.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the 1980s that curriculum considerations and research on appropriate curriculum for gifted children began receiving attention.  Two main approaches developed: acceleration and enrichment.


With the acceleration model, a student moves through the traditional curriculum at a faster pace.  Ideally, pre-assessments would be utilized to identify where students are more advanced and that data would be used to plan for different levels of learning.  Accommodations would be put into place in relation to the level and advancement of the student, appropriate resources would be available, and necessary modifications of assignments would be made.

There are multiple forms of acceleration that can be utilized by schools, including early entrance to school, single-subject acceleration (where a student studies advanced content in only one subject), grade skipping, curriculum compacting, dual-enrollment in high school, and Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.


In alternative to the accelerative approach is enrichment, or, taking learning beyond the traditional content.  Many gifted education curriculum models ascribe to an enriched view of curriculum development, and consider principles like creativity, motivation, and independence as important to the development of high ability. These enrichment views also tend to see process skills, like critical thinking and creative problem solving, as central to learning. Also highly valued in these models is evidence of student work through high-quality products and performances. Below you’ll find some examples of ways in which curriculum can be enriched.

Enrichment examples:

1.  Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) can be utilized as a tool to increase the cognitive complexity and rigor in the classroom.  The depth-of-knowledge levels identify four ways in which students can interact with content:

DOK-1: Recall and reproduce data, definitions, details, facts, information, and procedures. (knowledge acquisition)

DOK-2: Use academic concepts and cognitive skills to answer questions, address problems, accomplish tasks, and analyze texts and topics. (knowledge application)

DOK-3: Think strategically and reasonably about how and why concepts, ideas, operations, and procedures can be used to attain and explain answers, conclusions, decisions, outcomes, reasons, and results. (knowledge analysis)

DOK-4: Think extensively about what else can be done, how else can learning be used, and how could the student personally use what they have learned in different academic and real world contexts. (knowledge augmentation)

2. Performance tasks go beyond multiple choice questions by having students synthesize information from across multiple sources and then apply it in new and transformative ways. Activities from things like Odyssey of the Mind (www.odysseyofthemind.com), Future Problem Solving (http://www.fpspi.org), and Destination Imagination (www.destinationimagination.org) often utilize performance tasks in their programming. From an Odyssey of the Mind problem in 2013-14, students were told:

For this problem, teams will design, build, and drive a vehicle that will travel a course where a student driver attempts to complete tasks in order to pass a drivers test.  The vehicle will travel using one propulsion system and then travel in reverse using a different propulsion system.  The vehicle will encounter a directional signal.  The team will create a theme for the presentation that incorporates the vehicle, a drivers test, a student, and a talking GPS. 

In performance tasks, the skill or content area to be assessed must be identified, the prompt should include a setting and role, goal or challenge, product and purpose, the criteria for success must be determined, and revisions, based on experience, will need to be made.

3. Integrating creativity into the curriculum can also build and extend academic learning while providing opportunities for students to use and demonstrate their creative thinking and behavior.  A creative person may use critical and divergent thinking and exhibit high levels of concentration and imagination as well as curiosity and persistence. Creative intelligence is involved whenever skills are used to create, invent, discover, imagine, suppose, or hypothesize — and can be utilized in a variety of ways in the classroom.

Dr. E. Paul Torrance developed a list “Creative Positives” which can serve as building blocks to support learning experiences and to develop classroom activities that foster:

  • fluency, or the ability to generate a quantity of relevant ideas in response to a stimulus;
  • flexibility, or the ability to examine a problem in a variety of ways and from a variety of perspectives;
  • originality, or the ability to come to a unique conclusion or combine ideas to make a new, original idea; and,
  • elaboration, the ability to take an original idea and add to it or analyze it in relation to other ideas or information.

Wrapping up the school year!

The 2017/18 school year is wrapping up and we at the GTCAC are truly gratified that some of the goals we have been hard at work on have finally been realized this year.  

1. Policy 6401 and Rule 6401, which govern GT and advanced academics in Baltimore County Public Schools, were revised and approved. The GTCAC has been working with BCPS on this over the past several years and believe this revision to be a major improvement over the previous policy.

Some of the things we really pushed for?

The policy more closely follows Maryland Annotated Code  and the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR), which all school districts are obligated to comply with. It continues to keep “gifted and talented” in the title, making clear that gifted and talented identification and programming are part of the educational offerings in Baltimore County. It improves accountability measures by specifically requiring the superintendent to consistently implement, periodically evaluate, and revise identification procedures while also monitoring and evaluating the administration and instructional delivery of advanced academic services in all BCPS schools. The superintendent will also be required to annually provide the Board with disaggregated data for advanced academics students which will include student achievement, attendance, suspension rate, graduation rate and standardized test scores, providing much more transparency.

The rule defines twice-exceptional (2e) students and makes clear that a student’s educational disability will not prevent participation in advanced academics programs and services.  Students who are participating in advanced academics who also have an individualized education program (IEP) or a section 504 plan will receive the program modifications, accommodations and/or services required by the IEP or 504 plan.   The rule also clearly delineates the principal’s role in communicating to stakeholders about the nature, content and expectations of advanced academics programs and services as well as their obligation to consistently monitor and implement advanced academic programming and identify and refer students for advanced academics.  They must also analyze program implementation and report disaggregated data on student participation in advanced academics.

2. Two new e-learning positions were added this school year at the urging of the GTCAC.  These positions will support GT students who receive home and hospital services as well as provide options for students in some high schools that may not have enough interested students to offer an entire AP or GT course. There are also requests in the FY 2019 budget to add more positions.

3. After GTCAC advocacy on this issue for more than a decade, BCPS has approved a CogAT pilot to start in the fall of 2018.  We anticipate that this objective cognitive assessment will better identify underrepresented populations for GT courses and improve the racial and socioeconomic diversity of students participating in advanced academics.

4. The proposed 2018/19 school budget includes three new full-time positions for the Advanced Academic GT office — a recommendation the GTCAC made to Superintendent White in our December meeting with her. This office has not had an increase in staffing in a decade and has also been understaffed in comparison to surrounding counties.  Increasing staff improves the ability of the Advanced Academic office to better develop and implement advanced academic programs across the district.

5. Extra duty assignment pay has been negotiated and approved for the 2018/19 school year, Advanced Academic GT facilitators within each school will begin receiving compensation for this extra work which, in turn, will create a better chain of accountability from the school house to the Office of Advanced Academics. This was a direct ask made of Superintendent White at the GTCAC December meeting that was then negotiated with TABCO.

In addition to these accomplishments, the GTCAC continues to host monthly meetingspresent comments to the Board of Education, and advocate regularly on issues of importance to gifted and talented education.

However . . . one of our goals we are still working on is to increase participation and involvement in the GTCAC — we’d love to increase our numbers and better reflect the diversity of our county. We meet on the first Wednesday of every month and our next meeting will be on Wednesday, June 6th at 7 PM at the BCPS Greenwood Campus in Building E, Room 114.  After you’ve come to only four of our meetings, you automatically become a GTCAC member! PClear GTCAC logo screenshotlease consider attending a meeting and see what we are all about.  Have more questions? Email us anytime at bcpsgtcac@gmail.com!



Do you know this student?

He performs above grade level in both reading and math and describes being bored at school. He understands concepts yet can’t pass timed tests or do certain kinds of math problems. His handwriting is illegible and his work area is sloppy. He actively participates in class discussions and demonstrates exceptional understanding of the concept but his writing is below grade level and is typified by is short sentences, a small vocabulary, spelling mistakes and no elaboration of ideas. He is frustrated with school and failing grades are becoming a concern.

How about this one?

As a preschooler, she was late to verbalize and required speech therapy.  Testing by early-intervention professionals revealed she had sizable skill discrepancies in various areas. Her teachers in elementary school view her as an average student but who don’t see how how hard she works to get average grades. Basic skills are hard for her to learn, despite having exceptional skills in problem-solving and critical thinking. She is quiet and compliant at school but anxious and prone to meltdowns at home.

They are both twice-exceptional, or 2e, students.

These students have a learning disability as well as gifted potential. They have the capability for high performance, but also struggle with aspects of learning.

“Twice-exceptional students are difficult to identify for a number of reasons. The student’s strengths can mask their weaknesses and the weaknesses can mask the strengths, creating a unique learner profile that is atypical of either a gifted student or a student with disabilities.”  — Beverly Trail in “Parenting Twice-Exceptional Children through Frustration to Success

A 2e designation can cover a very broad range of learning profiles, including recognized learning disabilities or differences like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and various auditory processing disorders, as well as mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. These are all possible secondary exceptionalities for 2e children, alongside their primary exceptionality of giftedness.

School can be a very difficult experience for 2e kids.  Stereotypical ideas about students with learning disabilities and giftedness can impede identification and programming for both their disability and their giftedness. Students can use their giftedness to hide their learning problems making both their disability and potentiality hard to see.  They can underachieve for years until failing grades force a recognition of learning issues.  Behavioral issues can flare up, resulting in frustration from having to deal with both exceptionalities.

Parenting a 2e child can also be very difficult. Many parents experience feelings of confusion, frustration, and doubt about their kids’ abilities.  Parents can often accurately identify their child’s strengths, but negative issues, such as inappropriate behavior or underachievement, may cause parents to question their own judgment and second-guess themselves particularly when dealing with educators and mental health professionals regarding issues of identification, diagnosis and appropriate intervention. It is not unusual for parents to run into teachers and other school administrators who don’t understand how a child can have such divergent learning capabilities.

The good news for parents is that under the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts are required to provide educational services for children with learning disorders. In its 2007 Dear Colleague letter, the U.S. Department of Education made it clear that such support includes access to gifted and advanced classes. As a result, districts may no longer legally say that a child has to choose between special education services and gifted or honors classes.

However, school districts don’t always realize this. Your district may claim that if your child is passing classes and not exhibiting major behavioral problems, the education being provided is “appropriate”, thereby meeting the “free and appropriate” education standard.  Having a 2e child means having to educate yourself and being prepared to advocate strongly in order to ensure that your child’s strengths are served alongside your child’s challenges.

2e resources to check out:

2E Twice-Exceptional Newsletter — “our mission is to promote understanding of twice-exceptional children and what they need to reach their potential. An important part of that mission is to enhance communication and understanding among parents, educators, and medical/mental health professionals.”

TECA — “Twice Exceptional Children’s Advocacy’s (TECA) mission is to help parents understand what twice exceptionality is and help them identify whether their children are 2e. They assist parents in finding and advocating for the education and resources their children require.”

SENG: Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted — “Every gifted person has unique needs and traits. SENG works to create a world where giftedness is better understood and gifted needs can be met. With continuing education courses, online webinars, and an articles library, SENG aims to provide education to professionals, individuals, and families who are affected by giftedness. Through our SENG Model Parent Groups, annual conference, mental health professionals listing, and more, SENG fosters a community where gifted individuals and their families can find belonging.”

Wrightslaw — “Parents, educators, advocates, and attorneys come to Wrightslaw for accurate, reliable information about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities. You will find thousands of articles, cases, and resources about dozens of topics.”




Career and Technical Education


CTE is rooted in the founding of America.

In America’s earliest years, apprenticeships began giving way to more formalized training in specific trades while the understanding of the need for future leaders was also being developed.  During the 1800’s, the public education system and the workforce collaborated to create a pipeline of workers for different jobs; public high schools were opening with the goal of educating citizens while other schools were opening and specializing in training students to enter specific areas of the workforce.

Later in the 1800’s, manual training schools and trade schools opened, creating the foundation of the modern career and technical education in which classroom and hands-on learning were combined.  By 1917, the Smith-Hughes Act was adopted, providing federal aid to states for the purpose of promoting pre-collegiate vocational education in agricultural, industrial, and home economics trades.  Following World War I, there was mass acceptance of career and technical education, with a surge for a need of these skills during World War II.  CTE has evolved over time to include a wide array of career clusters with the goal of preparing students for postsecondary careers upon graduation from high school or college.

From the Association for Career and Technical Education: https://www.acteonline.org/general.aspx?id=120#.WsK7vdPwZsM

Despite the long trajectory of CTE in the American educational landscape, gifted students are often overlooked when it comes to vocational interests. They are not routinely encouraged to consider enrolling in CTE programs or courses despite the fact that CTE pathways can deliver challenging and relevant coursework, while also incorporating high levels of technical expertise — offerings not found in more traditional academic settings.

Much of what is offered in a CTE setting is what gifted and talented students are looking for: being challenged, learning advanced content with real-life applications, having meaningful choices, receiving differentiated curriculum and instruction, and experiencing professionalism within their classroom community. Additionally, students who attend CTE programs and who are recognized as being talented within the CTE-setting may not have been so recognized in their traditional high school setting.  CTE programs can offer diverse learning opportunities in an alternative educational setting and that allows students’ strengths and talents to be engaged and recognized.

Want to learn more about CTE programs? Check out the great resources below!

Baltimore County Public Schools CTE

Maryland State Department of Education CTE

Association for Career and Technical Education

JHU Education Policy Brief: “Necessary Components of an Effective Career and Technical Program”

“Differences Between General and Talented Students’ Perceptions of Their Career and Technical Education Experiences Compared to Their Traditional High School Experiences” (2007)

“Talented Students in an Exemplary Career and Technical Education School: A Qualitative Inquiry” (2008)



Honoring accomplishments in Maryland gifted education

The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and the Maryland Advisory Council on Gifted and Talented Education held a February 21st ceremony in support of the Governor’s proclamation of February as Gifted and Talented Education month and to  honor a variety of individuals for their efforts and accomplishments in gifted education. It is always a fun night buoyed by the feeling of pride in accomplishment.  However, it can also be eye-opening to compare your school district to what is happening in other districts across the state.  For example, of the 116 total distinctions awarded, Baltimore County was represented in a mere 1.7% .02% (edited on 3/7/18 to correct a mathematical error) of these awards.  What can we do? Better amplify these awards and seek out and nominate those who are doing great work.  Keep reading to find out more about the award categories and what it takes to be a winner!

Awards are given in a number of different categories. The highest distinction is receiving an EGATE (Excellence in Gifted and Talented Education) award.  For 2018, there were seven schools across the state of Maryland that received this distinction: four in Baltimore City, including Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School, Furman L. Templeton Preparatory Academy, Moravia Park Elementary School, and Thomas Johnson Elementary/Middle School; two in Anne Arundel county, including Shipley’s Grant Elementary School and Benfield Elementary School; and one in Washington County, Williamsport Elementary School.  You can read more about what it takes to become an EGATE school here.

In addition to the EGATE awards, there are multiple other categories in which nominations can be made. One category is “Outstanding Businesses, Community Partners, and Individuals that Support Gifted and Talented Education“.  We are happy to announce that Julie Miller-Breetz, was awarded this distinction at the awards on February 21st in her capacity as chair of the Baltimore County Citizens Advisory Committee for Gifted and Talented Education (GT CAC). Six other individuals also received awards in this category. To be considered for this award a business, community partner, or person must have:

  • provided resources to support the education of teachers of the gifted, pre-service teachers of the gifted, or students who are gifted and talented;
  • coordinated or managed an educational program that meets the needs of gifted and talented students or educators of gifted and talented students; and
  • advocated for the expansion and improvement of programs, services and/or teacher training to meet the needs of gifted and talented students.

A third award category is for an outstanding gifted and talented program coordinator, which this year went to coordinators in Wicomico and Montgomery counties. To win this award, coordinators must demonstrate:

  • significant contributions to expanding and improving programs and services for gifted and talented students in the school system;
  • participation in ongoing role-specific professional development in the field of gifted and talented education; and
  • leadership in gifted and talented education at the state and/or national level.

Eight outstanding school administrators also received awards — six from Baltimore City and two from Anne Arundel County. To be considered for this award, the administrator must:

  • demonstrate leadership in expanding/improving programs and services for gifted and talented students;
  • provide resource allocation to expand and improve gifted and talented education programs and services; and
  • demonstrate leadership in the expansion or improvement of parent, community, and/or business partnerships that directly support the education of gifted and talented students.

Teacher-leaders are another huge category of nominations and this year 52 teachers were recognized for their excellence in teaching gifted and talented students.  Baltimore City Schools had 12 teachers recognized, Anne Arundel County had 11, Frederick County had 9, Montgomery County had 6, Charles County had 4, Howard and Wicomico Counties both had 3 each, Harford County had 2, and Prince George’s and Queen Anne’s Counties had 1 each. A special shout-out goes to Marlena Colleton-Pearsell, who was one of the Anne Arundel teachers to win this award — Marlena is also a Baltimore County parent who is active in the GT CAC, so congratulations to her! To win in this category, teachers must:

  • work directly with identified gifted and talented students or the teachers of those students;
  • pursue ongoing professional development in the field of GT education; and
  • demonstrate peer leadership in GT education.

Students are also recognized; in fact, this year 34 students received awards! Baltimore City students received 16, Charles County students received 13, Prince George’s County students received 2, and Montgomery County and Wicomico County each had 1 student who received an award. To be nominated in this category, the student must:

  • perform at remarkably high levels when compared with peers in specific academic areas, visual or performing arts;
  • be the current recipient of a school system, state, or national award or competition winner in the student’s area(s) of giftedness; and
  • participate in a gifted and talented program or other advanced level opportunity in their area(s) of giftedness.

Finally, the Maryland Coalition for Gifted and Talented Education (MCGATE) sponsors a yearly essay writing contest for students and this year, seven students received awards in this category, including one student from Baltimore County.  Among the other students were 3 from Montgomery County, 2 from Baltimore City, and 1 from Prince George’s County.

If you are part of the Baltimore County Public School system either as a parent, student, teacher, staff, or administrator, we ask you to set your intention now! What can you do to make sure someone you know who is doing great work in Baltimore County in the gifted and talented field gets the recognition they deserve? Think about who you know, who you can nominate, and how you can best support that person. And, take a look at the nomination forms on the MSDE website now, so you are ready next fall when nominations are due! Let’s see how we can improve our numbers by next year!

List of all the 2018 GT award winners!

The role of the principal

What message about gifted and talented learning does the principal of your school send?

At the most recent Baltimore County Board of Education meeting on January 9, 2018, our presentation to the Board centered around the very important role that principals play in advocating for, and assuring equal opportunity to, gifted and talented programs and services.

Principals are the instructional leaders of the school and are responsible for setting the tone and focus within their building.  However, the GT CAC routinely hears from parents about significantly disparate scenarios among BCPS schools; some are very aware of their GT population and proactive in providing solutions for students who are ready and capable for more, while others are not.  Some schools tout their GT programs while others do not. Some bring in the Office of Advanced Academics at helpful junctures, while others do not.

With the implementation of the Maryland’s new state “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) plan,  gifted and talented students will be considered as one of the “accountability groups”, meaning that disaggregated data on these students will be collected and reported.  Due to this new focus, it will be even more important for principals to make sure they are correctly implementing services, assessing teacher effectiveness, and setting the tone for expectations as it relates to the education of gifted and talented students.


From NAGC’s “Shared Responsibility for Differentiation for Gifted and Talented Learners”: http://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/administrators/Shared%20Respons%20for%20Diff%20for%20GT%20Learners.pdf


In our January 9th presentation to the Board, we asked that BCPS allow the Office of Advanced Academics to present at principal meetings several times a year in order to achieve more consistent messaging about GT options and to contribute to a firmer knowledge base and a more equitable distribution of information about Advanced Academics in BCPS.  Additionally, at our December 13th GT CAC meeting with Interim Superintendent Verletta White, one of the recommendations we provided was to include GT evaluative measures in both the principal and community superintendent’s annual evaluations.  In other words, how are principals and community superintendents providing both district-level and building-level support for GT students?


Read our Areas for Growth and Recommendations provided to Superintendent White at our December 13th meeting!


If you want to read more about how administrators can support gifted and talented learners, then take some time with the “Administrators Toolbox” that the NAGC has put together.  And, don’t forget the importance and the value of the principal in your own child’s educational journey!


From NAGC’s “Shared Responsibility for Differentiation for Gifted and Talented Learners”: http://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/administrators/Shared%20Respons%20for%20Diff%20for%20GT%20Learners.pdf