Moving Up

The focus of the case is a middle school gifted girl who is advanced in mathematics. Even though she is starting seventh grade, she has exhausted all of the math offerings available to her in the middle school. The gifted education coordinator for the Randallstown School District is advocating that she continue her mathematics studies by participating in a high course via distance learning. The issues surrounding this decision reveals much about the socio-emotional traits and needs of gifted adolescents. Best practices for intervention are also discussed.

A team of educators discusses options for a gifted seventh grader.

Henderson Middle School is a gifted magnet school for grades 6-8, with about 200 students. They provide challenges above and beyond the district-wide grade level courses of study, including new courses for advanced learners and independent studies and mentorships.

See a description of Henderson Middle School below:

One month before the start of the school year, the principal, Joe Top calls a meeting to discuss placement options for Madison Silvers, a gifted rising seventh grader. The guidance counselor, Minnie Futrell, Coretta Delaney, the district gifted education coordinator, and James King, math chair, all attend.

Mr. Top summarizes Madison’s situation and then asks, “What should we do next year?”

“Well, there are no more math courses available for Madison,” Mr. King replies. “She took pre-algebra in fifth grade and last year she completed two years of math. There’s nothing left!”

“Most of the traditional math options haven’t been appropriate for Madison anyway,” Mrs. Futrell added.

“How about distance courses for gifted learners?” suggested Mrs. Delaney.

“That’s an interesting idea,” Mr. Top nodded. “But we don’t have money for course fees, and who’d monitor her progress and facilitate the class?”

Mrs. Futrell added, “The Silvers don’t want Madison working totally on her own.”

Mrs. Delaney replied, “I guess independent study and self-paced learning aren’t good options then. But what about acceleration?”

Mrs. Futrell seemed surprised.”Grade-skipping? You mean send her to the high school?”

Mrs. Delaney shook her head. “Just for math. I think our programs here are fine for other subjects.”

But Mr. King wasn’t buying it. “How can Madison handle such high expectations? Come on, we’re talking a seventh grader going to high school. She’s not even a teenager yet!”

Mrs. Delaney replied, “The emotional range of gifted learners is pretty great. There’s no reason to keep Madison here if it’s not challenging for her.”

“But what about social issues?” Principal Top asked. “That’s what worries me.”

Mrs. Futrell quickly jumped in, “Madison already knows the rising ninth graders from last year. They’re at the same level, intellectually, and she really made some connections.”

Principal Top still seemed hesitant. “I just don’t want her to be hurt—and it seems clear to me that it would be hard on her socially if she started high school as a 12 year old!”

Mrs. Delaney retorted, “Actually, there is no research to support that statement. Studies of middle school students showed no harm to their psychological adjustment when they skipped a grade.”

Coretta Delaney distributed a chart of acceleration alternatives. “In elementary school, the mathematics curriculum was compacted. Then, Madison was single-subject accelerated. If Madison just goes to high school for math, that leaves us with concurrent enrollment acceleration.”

See Mrs. Delaney’s acceleration options chart below:

Mrs. Futrell spoke up, “Why can’t she take the ninth grade advanced courses through distance learning? Both our school and the high school have digital videoconferencing capabilities.”

Mrs. Delaney pointed out, “But this would mean Madison would work alone in a classroom here, right?”

“We’ll have to see what her parents think about this.” Mrs. Futrell replied.

The team considers adjustment issues related to Madison’s placement.

“Thanks for meeting with Barbara and me.” Mr. Silvers addressed the group. “We’ve thought a lot about whether Madison should keep the same pace in math, but she seems to thrive on it, so we’re giving her the go-ahead.”

See potential socio-emotional vulnerabilities of gifted learners below:

Mrs. Futrell wondered aloud. “I’ve heard that gifted learners can have a lot of problems, like suicide, depression, and delinquency. I wonder if we aren’t setting Madison up for problems by rushing her education and pushing her so hard.”

Mrs. Delaney jumped in, “Actually, no research supports that! It is true, however, that a gifted student might show depression differently.”

The counselor asked, “But aren’t gifted children predisposed to problems like perfectionism and burn-out?”

“No, no, no.” Mrs. Delany explained. “Sure, giftedness might make some individuals more vulnerable to certain problems, given the right situation. Like perfectionism, underachievement, stress, and hiding their giftedness—but that’s if they don’t get the right support.”

Mr. King jumped in. “Then perhaps we should be more careful about rushing education and creating stressful learning environments.”

“But if we ignore her educational needs,” Mrs. Silvers stated, “then Madison might develop problems with self-concept and motivation.”

Mr. Silvers added to his wife’s explanation, “It might be worse if we don’t accelerate her in math.”

“Gifted students develop coping skills for dealing with being gifted. Some are positive and others are negative. Of course we want Madison to develop positive coping skills,” explained the gifted education coordinator. “Negative coping skills, like depression, may simply be maladaptive behavior.”

Mr. Silvers again spoke up. “Gifted learners who see themselves differently, who are maybe the only gifted child in a class, have lower self-concept. That’s another reason we want to keep Madison working with the ninth graders who are also gifted. We think she’ll fit right in.”

Principal Top wrapped up the meeting. “We’ll look at some alternatives and get back with you. Thanks for coming in today.”

The middle school staff tries to create a plan for accelerating Madison in math.

Two days later Mrs. Futrell convened yet another meeting to discuss acceleration options for Madison.

See transcript of the meeting below:

Coretta Delaney is frustrated but determined to make Madison’s continued accelerated mathematics studies happen. First, she’ll have to get Minnie working on scheduling and logistical concerns. But more important, she’ll have to win over Mr. King who still resists the idea of acceleration. She wonders how she’ll get the high school to participate as well. Why does it seem so simple to her but not to others?