Updated: Aug 11

First let me say that this is my own personal position and that of many other gifted education professionals but not necessarily that of MAGE, all MAGE members, orits board members. You see, among other things, I am a gifted education professional with over 30 years of experience in the field, in 3 states, and 9 school districts. I get a lot of emails from parents about this issue. In the past few months I've had several parents contact me about early entrance to Kindergarten for their gifted children and the negativity they have encountered from their school, district, and/or school committee. I have written to these families but I thought it might be a good idea to share that information here too.

If when you first ask your school about early entrance to Kindergarten, and you get the response, that basically says, "No. We can't do that. It's not good for the children," then you may want to read on in my little epistle here.

I think it's important to know that according to over 20 years of well grounded research, their response is not necessarily accurate. Therefore, it may be helpful to be equipped with some information for responses that push back a bit. Since according to the to the MA DESE (state ed dept.) website, different districts in MA have different birth date requirements. It may therefore be inferred that districts have some power over their Kindergarten entrance requirements. In the MA Association of School Committees states in its October 2016 file "JEB-ENTRANCE AGE-REFERENCE MANUAL," that, "The admission of children [to Kindergarten] whose birthdays fall after the first day of school will be solely at the school's discretion." Note, that says "school" not necessarily "district." So it does seem possible that districts could permit early entrance to Kindergarten.

Next, you may want to send the school people some of the research on early entrance to Kindergarten for gifted children (see http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Resources/kindergarten.aspx) That's not the only resource. There have been several studies done on this topic over more than 20 years with many, many children. (If you like digging around in the research, see https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C22&q=early+entrance+to+kindergarten+for+gifted&btnG= )

You might start by saying something like, "Dear ___________, I don't request this casually. I have done research and sought out expert advice from Dr. MaryGrace Stewart, an professional in the field of gifted education (me) who does advocacy for gifted children across the state of MA. She has explained to me about how early entrance to Kindergarten is well known to be an effective option for meeting the educational needs or young gifted children and is utilized as one strategy by many states. (If you've had testing done you may also want to point out what your Neuropsychologist said.). I'm sorry to hear that you do not seem be aware of the research, so I'm attaching some of it here."

You can add that there is national support for this idea. One of the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015) recommendations for gifted children is early entrance to Kindergarten and The National Association for Gifted Children also supports early entrance to Kindergarten for gifted children. (See http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/gifted-education-practices/acceleration.) At the state level there is MA General Law 603 CMR 8.02 which states that "Each school committee may establish its own minimum permissible age for school attendance, provided that such age is not older than the mandatory minimum age established by 603CMR 8.00.” (See http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Resources/Policy/By_State/Show_Policy.aspx?StateID=26) and it is important to note that MA law does not prohibit grade acceleration.

You might mention that you have noticed that some districts in MA have different entrance dates. For example, Brockton allows up to December, Chicopee up to October, and 13 charter schools allow Kindergarten entrance if the child is 4, yes that's a four, by the end of August or the beginning of September. Also, some districts indicate that they allow early entrance to Kindergarten on a case by case basis. http://www.doe.mass.edu/kindergarten/entry.aspx

You might then ask, "Why is it o.k. in some districts and not in ours?"

Please be clear, I am not saying that all children or even all gifted children, should attend Kindergarten early. The point is that it can and should be considered based on what the individual child is ready for and needs.

Unfortunately for gifted children in MA, it too often seems that the MA general education professionals don't know gifted education very well and what they think they know is too often inaccurate. (See the Myths about Gifted Students from the National Association for Gifted Children at http://www.nagc.org/myths-about-gifted-students.) However, you can't really blame them because gifted education is a special area and they most likely haven't been trained in it. It can be a little like asking a general practitioner to do surgery. Nevertheless, when you consider the work of Thurstone, Gagne, Guilford, Gardner and Renzulli, giftedness can occur in many different domains. Therefore, the gifted population in MA is over 150,000 children so I feel like it's time that educators should be given the opportunity to find out more about gifted children and their educational needs.

Of course how you handle this and all situations with your child is all up to you, but I thought you might want some backing so you can start letting them know that you're not a pushover and neither am I!

Stay strong,

MaryGrace Stewart, Ed.D.

MAGE President

If you are thinking about changing schools so your gifted child can have a better challenge (whether they have a gifted program or not), please consider assessing the school's programming first. I know of cases where people moved to a different town so their child could be in a gifted program or a "better rated" school district only to find out that the school didn't accept the child into the program or that the school was really not better than the one they moved from, and in some cases it was worse. So... you need to do some homework on your own before you make that kind of a decision. Something that might help would be NAGC's standards for educating gifted students. You can find them at http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/national-standards-gifted-and-talented-education

If those seem kind of complicated, here are some suggested criteria that I have used in the past which may be helpful. 1. Is the culture of the school supportive of giftedness and gifted children? 2. Have the teachers been trained in gifted education methods and systems? 3. Are gifted children identified? If so how is that done and what happens after that regarding the child's education? 4. What kinds of services are offered to gifted children? How frequently and for how long are those services? 5. What kinds of curriculum and activities are there for gifted children and how do they vary from the regular curriculum? 6. Do they allow and support acceleration by subject or grade and how commonly is that implemented? 7. Exactly what do they mean if they say that they "differentiate" for gifted or for all learners? Have them show you examples that you can observe in the classroom. 8. Do students have to do all of the regular curricula if they are pulled out for gifted programming or do they have to do all of the regular curricula before they are allowed access to the advanced curriculum or enrichment? 9. What is the racial breakdown of the school compared to their "gifted" programming? 10. Does your child like the feel of the school? Are the kids nice to your child when s/he visits?

I hope this helps! If you would like to discuss this further you can always email me. That's what I'm here for. Click Contact Us below. It will come to me.

Comments and editing by Auntie MAGE

There are 10 things that most people in the U.S. believe about giftedness, gifted programs, and gifted people, that just aren't true. Getting past there can be very challenging when you are trying to advocate for your children in schools, legislatures, and in the community. Sometimes it may feel like you are up against a kind of religion because it's what people believe. For example, this past spring I was advocating at a school in MA for a 2nd grader who loved learning but hated school. His parents and I were talking to the principal about the possibility of accelerating the boy in math. The principal said, "No. Definitely not!." I asked why she felt that way. She said, "I just don't believe in it." I asked her why she didn't believe in it." She replied, "I don't know. I just don't believe in it." After she repeated this two more times when I questioned her, it dawned on me that she was using the word "believe." It seems that we are sometimes not up against reasoned or even pragmatic considerations, but rather, up against beliefs. Beliefs are not necessarily rooted in research or reasoning so it can be tricky to get people to open up.

The first thing to do about this is to be aware of what others may be thinking when you need to talk to them about a child who is gifted or talented. These are the most common misconceptions that many "believe."

From the National Association for Gifted Education

http://www.nagc.org/myths-about-gifted-students

Myth:

Gifted Students Don’t Need Help; They’ll Do Fine On Their Own

Truth:

Would you send a star athlete to train for the Olympics without a coach? Gifted students need guidance from well-trained teachers who challenge and support them in order to fully develop their abilities. Many gifted students may be so far ahead of their same-age peers that they know more than half of the grade-level curriculum before the school year begins. Their resulting boredom and frustration can lead to low achievement, despondency, or unhealthy work habits. The role of the teacher is crucial for spotting and nurturing talents in school.

Myth:

Teachers Challenge All The Students, So Gifted Kids Will Be Fine In The Regular Classroom

Truth:

Although teachers try to challenge all students they are frequently unfamiliar with the needs of gifted children and do not know how to best serve them in the classroom. A national study conducted by the Fordham Institute found that 58% of teachers have received no professional development focused on teaching academically advanced students in the past few years and 73% of teachers agreed that “Too often, the brightest students are bored and under-challenged in school – we’re not giving them a sufficient chance to thrive. This report confirms what many families have known: not all teachers are able to recognize and support gifted learners.1

Myth:

Gifted Students Make Everyone Else In The Class Smarter By Providing A Role Model Or A Challenge

Truth:

Average or below-average students do not look to the gifted students in the class as role models. Watching or relying on someone who is expected to succeed does little to increase a struggling student’s sense of self-confidence. Similarly, gifted students benefit from classroom interactions with peers at similar performance levels and become bored, frustrated, and unmotivated when placed in classrooms with low or average-ability students.

Myth:

All Children Are Gifted

Truth:

All children have strengths and positive attributes, but not all children are gifted in the educational sense of the word.  The label “gifted” in a school setting means that when compared to others his or her age or grade, a child has an advanced capacity to learn and apply what is learned in one or more subject areas.  This advanced capacity requires modifications to the regular curriculum to ensure these children are challenged and learn new material. Gifted does not connote good or better; it is a term that allows students to be identified for services that meet their unique learning needs.

Myth:

Acceleration Placement Options Are Socially Harmful For Gifted Students

Truth:

Academically gifted students often feel bored or out of place with their age peers and naturally gravitate towards older students who are more similar as “intellectual peers.” Studies have shown that many students are happier with older students who share their interest than they are with children the same age. Therefore, acceleration placement options such as early entrance to Kindergarten, subject acceleration, grade skipping, or early exit should be considered for these students.

Myth:

Gifted Education Programs Are Elitist

Truth:

Gifted education programs are meant to help all high-ability students. Gifted learners are found in all cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic groups.  However, many of these students are denied the opportunity to maximize their potential because of the way in which programs and services are funded, and/or flawed identification practices.  For example, reliance on a single test score for gifted education services may exclude selection of students with different cultural experiences and opportunities. Additionally, with no federal money and few states providing an adequate funding stream, most gifted education programs and services are dependent solely on local funds and parent demand.  This means that in spite of the need, often only higher-income school districts are able to provide services, giving the appearance of elitism. (In MA those who can afford outside extra programming or private schooling are likely to have their children's learning be commensurate with their abilities. In this way, it is elitist. That is why we need gifted education in our public schools.)

Myth:

That Student Can't Be Gifted, He Is Receiving Poor Grades

Truth:

Underachievement describes a discrepancy between a student’s performance and their actual ability.  The roots of this problem differ, based on each child’s experiences.  Gifted students may become bored or frustrated in an unchallenging classroom situation causing them to lose interest, learn bad study habits, or distrust the school environment.  Other students may mask their abilities to try to fit in socially with their same-age peers and still others may have a learning disability that masks their giftedness.  No matter the cause, it is imperative that a caring and perceptive adult help gifted learners break the cycle of underachievement in order to achieve their full potential.

Myth:

Gifted Students Are Happy, Popular, And Well Adjusted In School

Truth:

Many gifted students flourish in their community and school environment.  However, some gifted children differ in terms of their emotional and moral intensity, sensitivity to expectations and feelings, perfectionism, and deep concerns about societal problems. Others do not share interests with their classmates, resulting in isolation or being labeled unfavorably as a “nerd.” Because of these difficulties, the school experience is one to be endured rather than celebrated.

Myth:

This Child Can't Be Gifted, He Has A Disability

Truth:

Some gifted students also have learning or other disabilities. These “twice-exceptional” students often go undetected in regular classrooms because their disability and gifts mask each other, making them appear “average.” Other twice-exceptional students are identified as having a learning disability and as a result, are not considered for gifted services. In both cases, it is important to focus on the students’ abilities and allow them to have challenging curricula in addition to receiving help for their learning disability. (They need to be considered gifted students who need some scaffolding, not special needs students who happen to be able in some areas.)

Myth:

Our District Has A Gifted And Talented Program: We Have AP Courses

Truth:

While AP classes may offer rigorous, advanced coursework, they are not a gifted education program. The AP program is designed as college-level classes taught by high school teachers for students willing to work hard. The program is limited in its service to gifted and talented students in two major areas: First, AP is limited by the subjects offered, which in most districts is only a small handful. Second, it is limited in that, typically, it is offered only in high school and is generally available only for 11th and 12th grade students. The College Board acknowledges that AP courses are for any student who is academically prepared and motivated to take a college-level course.

Myth:

Gifted Education Requires An Abundance Of Resources

Truth:

Offering gifted education services does not need to break the bank. A fully developed gifted education program can look overwhelming in its scope and complexity.  However, beginning a program requires little more than an acknowledgement by district and community personnel that gifted students need something different, a commitment to provide appropriate curriculum and instruction, and teacher training in identification and gifted education strategies. (It can even begin by just being flexible so that existing resources can be used by students in ways that are not necessarily grade or age-based.)

What myths have you encountered? Feel free to share them on the MAGE Parents Forum Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/massgifted/