Not the Washington State Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the United States of America.
On March 22, 2017—in a unanimous decision—the Supreme Court supported high standards for special education. According to Chief Justice Roberts, the law requires a student’s educational program to be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances,” depending on the “unique circumstances” of each child.
The case involved an autistic student. The parents sued for his rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires “free and appropriate public education” for disabled students. I teach Highly Capable (HC) students. Why am I so excited about this Supreme Court decision?
Remember, the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) draws a clear parallel between several groups of students “with specific learning needs, particularly children with disabilities, English learners, students who are gifted and talented, and students with low literacy levels.” By the way, similar to this court case, ESSA says schools “have to provide instruction based on the needs of such students” (page 328, lines 12-17).
In addition, as I’ve mentioned before, in many states, Gifted Education falls under Special Education. In those states, any staff who work with gifted students would automatically apply the wording from this new ruling to their students.
Try this on for size:
The law requires that the Highly Capable students in the state of Washington receive an educational program reasonably calculated to enable each of them to make progress appropriate in light of their circumstances—in this case, their abilities.
Of course, that requirement would apply to all 6-10% of the students identified as HC, not just the 2.314 that are currently funded under the antiquated formula now in use in our state.
The Chief Justice went on to say, “When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing merely more than de minimis (minimal) progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all.” He said, “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to sitting idly awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out.”
Oh my gosh. I can say the same thing. Let me put it this way:
A Highly Capable student offered an educational program providing opportunities for merely minimal progress—or no real progress—from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. For children with high abilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to sitting idly awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out.
Very often HC children come into school already knowing much of the curriculum the district says they should learn that year. Every year I give the sixth grade math placement test to fifth grade students. I’ve found that students who score a 45% or above don’t belong in fifth grade math. They go into sixth. (Those who score over 65%? I give them the seventh grade placement test.)
Even high school or college students can know a majority of the class’s material before the first day of school begins. In an enlightened school, students are given the opportunity to test out of classes. They take the final exam, pass, and they have officially met the requirement for the class. They can take something else instead. Done!
So what happens if they don’t have the option to test out of boring, unnecessary coursework? Gifted students will drop out. Now imagine. If those students were pretested, put into the proper course level, and presented with exciting, challenging, jaw-dropping, brand–new stuff at school every day, how many would be compelled to stay and graduate?
Just like the rest of our students, we want our HC students to excel. We want them to become leaders and contributing members of our communities. They can’t excel without being stretched and pushed.
My students just finished their Classroom Based Assessments for social studies. With my fifth graders I use the “Causes of Conflict CBA” recommended for seventh grade, and I design the project after National History Day (HD). One of my guys had beat his head on his desk, “I hate writing, I hate writing, I hate writing.” His CBA website is now the sample “Junior” HD Project on my website. (Go to Kragen.net. Look at the links on the right side of the home page. Scroll almost to the bottom.)
He is SO PROUD.
There is tremendous pressure on teachers to move students up to passing scores on tests, to having students demonstrate basic competency. What pressure is there to take students who are already performing at well above grade level and move them even further?
I was in a meeting this last week. There were at least eight adults in the room. We were discussing no more than a dozen kids and brainstorming how to move each of them from “a one to a two” or “a two to a three” in reading or math. We talked for half an hour or more.
Since 1989 I have NEVER been in a similar meeting to talk with a team of adults about how to meet the needs of students who need to go from “a four to a (mythical) five.” Not. Even. Once.
I have had individual teachers ask for advice. Or parents. At middle school even the occasional student.
But we don’t have big group meetings like that, to brainstorm ways to enable our HC children make progress that is appropriate in light of their circumstances—their abilities.
In the next few days I’ll be meeting with parents for conferences. We’ll review fall goals and talk about the move toward middle school and beyond. We’ll celebrate successes and pinpoint an area or two that could still use some growth.
It’s my job, to figure out where my students are and then move them as far forward as I can.
It’s nothing new. It’s what I’ve always believed.
But it’s nice to have the Supremes at my back.