Miles Presents State with Plan to Better Teach Gifted Students By Christine A. Rowett The director of research at the Center for Talented Youth is among professionals who have recommended that schools in Maryland consider placing students in classes based on abilities rather than age. Carol Mills, co-chair of the Maryland Task Force on Gifted and Talented Education, said some students do not reach their potential in the current school structure. "If you group students together [based on ability], you can effectively teach them at appropriate levels," she said. Critics of grouping students, Dr. Mills said, argue that social skills will suffer if children of the same age are not in classes together. She said research does not support that argument. "A range of services should be available if schools hope to optimally educate students with a variety of abilities and talents," she said. "A 'one size fits all education' doesn't make sense." The recommendation is among the more than 30 suggestions recently presented to the state board of education by the 21-member task force. In the next few weeks, the board will decide whether or not to publish the findings, Dr. Mills said. The task force was formed in 1993 to examine gifted and talented education throughout Maryland. The recommendations were based in part, Dr. Mills said, on a report titled "National Excellence" issued by the federal Department of Education. "Students who are academically talented--whose abilities are so far beyond the norm--have educational needs that are clearly different from others," Dr. Mills said. One of the major recommendations calls for a mandate that would ensure that all schools in the state provide services for gifted and talented students. "There's never been a mandate that these students be served," said Dr. Mills, who was recruited for the task force by state superintendent of schools Nancy Grasmick. Currently, Dr. Mills said, services for highly able students vary throughout the state. "The kind of education you get often depends on where you live," she said. "If a county is going to cut their budget, that's often where they cut. To some people, gifted education is seen as a luxury," she added. Many of the recommendations--including flexible grouping--do not require funding, Dr. Mills said. "It doesn't necessarily cost money," she said. "It allows academically talented students to move through a curriculum faster and without grade-level constraints." The task force said every school in the state should employ at least one person trained in gifted and talented education who should coordinate services for students. It also offered suggestions regarding the current processes of identifying gifted and talented students. "Kids are identified in different ways across the state, sometimes in a rigid, narrow way," Dr. Mills said. "Kids come in different sizes, have different needs." The report calls for identifying gifted students using an ongoing process that is "flexible, free of bias, open to students from all backgrounds and designed to recognize a variety of types of abilities and talents." Dr. Mills said she is sure the board will vote to publish the report. Then the recommendations will be up to public debate. "The whole educational scene is in transition," Dr. Mills said. "There's a strong public movement to improve all educational standards."
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