Gifted students now have more access to advanced courses

Gifted students now have more access to advanced courses

(Ill.) Districts will have to do more to accommodate the progress of academically gifted students in Illinois beginning this school year under a new law.

The Accelerated Placement Act requires that schools develop a policy for identifying and advancing students who demonstrate they could benefit from early admission to kindergarten or first grade, or grade level or subject acceleration.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said the law will expand opportunities for children of color and those from low-income neighborhoods to access more rigorous coursework.

“Time and again, we have seen the critical impact a quality education can have on a young person,” Lightford said in a statement. “However, the hard truth is that not every child in Illinois is given the same opportunity to succeed.

“When it comes to accessing advanced academic programs, too often, low-income and minority students are being left behind,” she said. “Often, it’s because their schools are struggling to pay for even basic programming or have failed to update their gifted identification processes to reflect current best-practices.”

About two-thirds of schools across the country offer programs for gifted students, according to a report released in January from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. And while that number stays consistent regardless of student poverty level, participation among children attending low-poverty schools is about 12 percent–double that of students attending high-poverty schools.

Last year, researchers from Vanderbilt University found that Black students are assigned to gifted programs at disproportionately low rates when compared to white and Asian students even when controlling for factors that may contribute to an achievement gap such as socioeconomic status.

Students with disabilities are also underrepresented, according to a 2014 document released by the federal Office of Civil Rights, which found that only one percent of students with special needs participate in gifted and talented education programs, compared to 7 percent of general education students–likely because of the ways the definition of giftedness can vary.

Lawmakers in a few states have made efforts this year to expand access to gifted programs. A bill introduced last month in New York, for instance, aims to expand gifted and talented programs in elementary and middle schools and restore a reliable pathway to specialized high schools, especially in low-income areas. And in North Carolina, legislators introduced a bill requiring schools to automatically enroll students who meet a specified cut-score on end of course assessments in advanced courses the following year unless their parent or guardian opts them out.

In Illinois, supporters have said the new law will open the door for more high-achieving children who also have the social-emotional aptitude to move ahead either in specific subjects or in grade level.

Specifically, districts adopt and implement policies that, at minimum, provide opportunities for early entrance to kindergarten and first grade, allowing a student to accelerating in a single subject area–such as allowing a sixth grade student to take eighth grade Algebra if they are capable–or allowing students the ability to skip an entire grade.

The law also allows districts to provide additional forms of acceleration, such as offering dual-enrollment or AP courses that provide high school students an opportunity to earn college credit.

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