You’re Out Of Here

Jeremy Connor, a gifted tenth grader, is having problems in school. None of the educators involved--Jeremy's teachers, his school counselor, his principal, or the district gifted education coordinator--can agree on the source of the problems. If Jeremy's performance does not improve, he could be dismissed from advanced level courses for the remainder of his high school years. The gifted education coordinator fights an uphill battle to demonstrate the school's responsibility for many of Jeremy's problems.

The school counselor meets with several teachers to discuss Jeremy Connor, a gifted tenth-grade student who is experiencing some academic difficulties.

Like many large districts, the Elkins County School District boasts a thriving gifted education program. There are resource teaching services in grades 1 through 5, and honors classes in grades 6 through 8. High school gifted education services include Advanced Placement courses in English, mathematics, science, social studies, and foreign languages, the International Baccalaureate Program, and participation in one of two regional Governor’s Schools in the arts or technology. Participation in all services is dependent on the student’s high aptitude and achievement.

Jeremy Connor’s inconsistent behaviors puzzle his teachers.

Although many staff members at Walker High School have had training on how to teach Advanced Placement courses, none have acquired the 12-hour endorsement in gifted education offered by the state. Unfortunately, some myths and stereotypes about gifted learners and gifted education prevail among Walker High’s staff. For example, some take for granted that all gifted students should be self-motivated. They also believe that Advanced Placement courses offer differentiated education to gifted learners, even though all students are taught a prescribed curriculum at the same pace and at the same level of difficulty. In general, their knowledge about giftedness and gifted students is lacking.

Four of the Advanced Placement teachers have decided to meet with the school counselor to discuss concerns about Jeremy Connor. His teachers feel that he is not achieving at the high level everyone agrees he is capable of. His grades are average, his motivation seems low, and his class participation is minimal. Some of his teachers feel that if he is not willing to work, he no longer deserves to be in advanced courses.

See Jeremy Connor’s Assessment Profile below:

See a transcript of the meeting below:

The school counselor, principal, and district-level gifted education coordinator discuss Jeremy Connor’s placement in upper-level courses for the upcoming year.

Jerome Davis, Principal of Walker High School joined the school counselor and gifted coordinator in the conference room. Joan Freemeyer gives Mr. Davis a brief overview of Jeremy’s academic performance and summarizes the recent meeting with his teachers. Mr. Davis asks Bella to express her point of view on Jeremy’s current and future placement in available services.

“I would like us to think about Jeremy and his class performance differently than we have been so far,” Bella begins. “Some negative behaviors of gifted learners may be related to the external factors, like the learning environment, for example.” Glancing at her notes, she continues, “The behavior of gifted learners has been linked to at least four areas: student grouping, educational programming, curriculum and instruction, and attitudes toward giftedness. Some students react more negatively than others to the environment, where others cope by masking their giftedness to fit in. I believe a lot of Jeremy’s behavior may be a reaction to negative environmental influences for which he has no coping skills. In many cases, the behavior is situational—it changes depending on the circumstances. That would explain why Jeremy performs better in some classes than others.”

Thoughtfully, Joan Freemeyer replied, “But Jeremy is already in the best classroom environments available to him. Maybe the high quality of his work in art class can be explained by the lack of academic rigor there.”

“But the best environment available doesn’t guarantee a differentiated experience,” Bella interjected. “The unique needs of gifted learners require specific educational interventions to nurture their potential. Are the AP courses more appropriate than grade-level courses for advanced learners? Yes. Do they adequately meet the needs of gifted learners? Not necessarily.”

“Well, they’re better than nothing,” retorted Joan.

Trying to keep the tone of the meeting positive and constructive, Mr. Davis interjects, “I think what Bella is saying is that ‘better than nothing’ might not be good enough, especially in Jeremy’s case.”

“Right,” Bella says. “In fact, anything that is not conducive to the differentiated learning needs of gifted learners can cause some sort of negative reaction. Gifted learners subjected to negative learning environments may become frustrated.”

“Jeremy’s teachers say that he hides his talents, displays non-comformist behavior, rejects rote learning, and has poor study habits. But not in all of his classes, only in the most inflexible environments. For example, rejection of rote learning may be why Jeremy refuses to do homework and yet performs as well as 90% on his tests and quizzes. No follow-through on projects may be the result of poor study habits and/or non-conformist behavior.

“Gifted students develop skills for coping with the consequences of giftedness. Some coping mechanisms are positive in nature and others are negative. I’m hoping we can create environments that lead to more positive ways of dealing with giftedness. Negative coping skills such as underachievement or perfectionism may be maladaptive behavior rather than maladjusted behavior,” Bella concluded.

Recognizing that this matter requires some careful consideration, Mr. Davis thanked the two women for their input, saying, “I think we all agree that Jeremy has shown some negative behavior. It is the cause of these behaviors that we can’t quite agree on. I am hearing two very different perspectives on why Jeremy might be performing the way he is. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter. Whatever is causing his behavior, it’s clear that the current placements are not working for him.”

Joan feels validated by Mr. Davis’s assessment, while Bella sees this as an opportunity for her to suggest some improvements in differentiated services for gifted learners at the high school level.

Faculty react to a memo from Bella Thomas, the gifted education coordinator.

After several days of planning, Bella sent a memo to the principal regarding Jeremy Connor’s placement for his junior year of high school.

See Mrs. Thomas’s memo below:

After reading the memo, several of the staff at Walker High School respond, somewhat defensively. For example, Mrs. Carter, Jeremy’s math teacher, said, “Why is it that everyone blames the teacher for students’ inadequacies?”

“It is NOT my job to motivate every one of my students,” agreed Mr. Bull. “I can only teach my students; I can’t force them to learn. I have little tolerance for a gifted student, in particular, who doesn’t appreciate his God-given talent.”

“Well, I have to say, I agree with Mrs. Thomas’s recommendations,” Mrs. Bell countered. “Most of her ideas are pretty reasonable. The cluster of gifted students in my class has worked very well for Jeremy. I’m open to any ideas that will help Jeremy in his classes.”

After several meetings with the staff, Joan Freemeyer, sends a note to the principal recommending that Jeremy be placed in grade-level courses next year, contrary to Bella’s recommendation. The note argues that Jeremy has not lived up to his placement in AP courses, and that perhaps he never should have been placed in advanced courses at all. The faculty does not believe Jeremy deserves to be in these classes if he is not going to perform well.

Mr. Davis faces a tough decision.