Vermont and Gifted Education—An Overview
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This handbook is an update of previous ones published in 1992, 1998, and 2001 created by Lucy Gage Bogue, Robin Hands, Rebecca Jensen, Nancy Mildrum, Virginia Palmer, and Carol Story.
Everyone, including a gifted child, has the right to learn and to grow. Each child has the right to educational experiences that are appropriate for him or her. Equity in education should mean that each child has the opportunity to develop his or her uniqueness to the fullest extent possible.
Unfortunately, the word ‘gifted’ is misunderstood by many in Vermont. Parents sometimes have difficulty getting their gifted child’s needs met. The state spends zero dollars on gifted education. The focus is on inclusion and special education, with some attention to differentiation of instruction. Many teachers, even those with good intentions, have little training in gifted education.
There are only a handful of gifted programs in public schools in the Vermont, and even those are mostly called enrichment programs. Furthermore, these are pull-out programs for the most part, and very part-time for any given child.
There are no private schools in Vermont specifically designed for gifted students, though a few of them meet the needs of some gifted kids. If you are lucky, you live in a town/district that doesn’t have its own secondary school, and your child gets “tuitioned-out” (for the average public school cost) to any school, public or private.
Most Vermont parents of gifted kids are worried about their kids’ intellectual, social, and emotional well-being, and spend a lot of time and energy advocating in their kids’ schools. There can also be tremendous financial impact on families with gifted children, when the best, or perhaps only feasible, alternatives are private school or homeschooling.
Steps to Follow in Public Schools
Remember….All children, including gifted children, have the right to a free, appropriate education.
- Meet with your child’s teacher first. Be prepared to discuss one or two accommodations you hope for your child. Be sincere and respectful.
- Consider volunteering in your child’s classroom.
- Ask for an Educational Support Team to be created for your child. This typically involves parents, the classroom teacher, and an administrator. It may also include guidance personnel, special educators and specialists in gifted education. During the meeting of this team goals will be established that may include some form of evaluation (often achievement testing), a plan for classroom and other accommodations (i.e., subject acceleration, grade skipping, instructional grouping) and a schedule of follow-up meetings (at least once every 4-6 weeks).
- Consider as part of this plan taking your child out of school for a day (or some part of a day) to enroll him/her in programs that will be responsive to interests and strengths (i.e., math tutoring, music lessons, drama or art programs, mentorships, etc.).
- Also ask how the school is providing for proficiency based learning, flexible pathways to learning, and personalized learning plans (see below).
- If these strategies are not working, plan a meeting with the school principal to discuss the lack of compliance.
- If the principal is not responsive, plan a meeting with the school superintendent.
- If there is no success there, the school board should be approached.
Suggested Strategies for Schools
Classrooms should be exciting places for gifted children to learn and grow. Indeed, Vermont classrooms have made great strides in meeting the needs of “normal” children and handicapped children. However, in every room there are approximately 15% of children, two or three gifted youngsters, who need, and are often not receiving, a variety of accommodations necessary for an appropriate education.
Here are some strategies that can be considered for use in a heterogeneous classroom (See references for additional, detailed information.). Many of these cost the school/district little, if any, extra money, or the teachers little, if any, extra time and preparation once they are practiced at them and comfortable with them:
Instructional grouping – four to six students of similar ability in an area are grouped together in one class; they receive differentiated instruction.
Curriculum compacting – condensing content based on assessment of prior knowledge; a method to buy time for independent study or other enrichment activities.
Differentiation – a way of looking at classroom management and teaching strategies, in which the teacher proactively plans and carries out varied approaches to content, activities, and products in anticipation of and response to student differences in readiness levels, interests, and learning needs. It is good for all children, including gifted children.
Divergent (or varied) questioning – open-ended questioning that elicits responses at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (e.g. analysis, synthesis and evaluation).
Enrichment – additions to the curriculum which enhance learning for all children by increasing the depth and/or breadth of learning (e.g., guest speakers, artist-in-residence programs, class trips).
Flexible grouping – students working in small groups which are sometimes formed by readiness levels, sometimes by interests, sometimes by preferred learning modes, or sometimes by other things such as friendship groups or gender.
Flexible pathways – allowing for opportunities for students to demonstrate proficiency with out-of-classroom/school experiences (i.e., serving as a page at the state legislature or volunteering at a local museum).
Personalized learning plan – working with parents, the student, and teacher or guidance personnel to create a plan specific to the student’s needs, interests, and abilities.
Proficiency based learning – an approach to learning based on assessing a student’s abilities and mastery of content, and allowing for progress commensurate with achievement of that content.
Independent study – opportunities to do advanced level research on an individual basis according to interest and ability level, resulting in examining real problems leading to tangible results.
Tiered assignments – assignments that are at different readiness levels for different groups of students. All students have assignments pertaining to the same essential theme, and all tasks are respectful and meaningful.
John F. Kennedy wrote: “Not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or equal motivation, but children have the equal right to develop their talent, their ability, and their motivation.” Fairness in the classroom does not mean the same instruction for everyone; it means appropriate opportunities for growth for each student.
Vermont’s Definition of Giftedness
An important definition of giftedness (one of many) for Vermont families is the Vermont definition of Gifted and Talented Children, which the Vermont Legislature passed into law in 1995:
Subchapter 001 : General Provisions (Cite as: 16 V.S.A. § 13)
13. Gifted and talented children
(a) “Gifted and talented children” means children identified by professionally qualified persons who, when compared to others of their age, experience, or environment, exhibit capability of high performance in intellectual, creative, or artistic areas, possess an unusual capacity for leadership, or excel in specific academic fields.
(b) It is the intent of the General Assembly that those who provide educational services to children be encouraged to apply for any available funding that will help to provide teacher training and other services for the benefit of gifted and talented children.
(c) Nothing in this section shall create an additional entitlement to educational or other services. (Added 1995, No. 139 (Adj. Sess.), § 1.)
The good news about the passage of this law is that Vermont officially recognizes that gifted children exist. The bad news is that there is no mandate for services or funding for anything related to gifted education. This is unfortunate since there is evidence that the characteristics of gifted children-such as asynchronous (uneven) development, rapid learning rate, need for mental stimulation, intensities, and sensitivities-are different enough from other children that accommodations in education and counseling are necessary. (The Columbus Group, 1991)
Parents and teachers of gifted children need to become politically aware. We need to write letters to our state senators and representatives to reinforce the importance of progress in the area of gifted education.
The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) has a “Legislative Update” section on their website to keep us informed of current federal legislation progress, including the 2015 ESSA legislation.
Using Educational Support Teams for Gifted Students Vermont Title 16, Section 2902
On April 13, 1998, Senate Bill 127 was signed into law. It is now part of Vermont law as Title 16, Section 2902. This legislation adds wording to Act 230 ensuring that gifted and talented students have access to the services of an educational support system and education support team [see (f) below]:
The Vermont Statutes Online
(Cite as: 16 V.S.A. § 2902)
2902. Tiered system of supports and educational support team
(a) Within each school district’s comprehensive system of educational services, each public school shall develop and maintain a tiered system of academic and behavioral supports for the purpose of providing all students with the opportunity to succeed or to be challenged in the general education environment. For each school it maintains, a school district board shall assign responsibility for developing and maintaining the tiered system of supports either to the superintendent pursuant to a contract entered into under section 267 of this title or to the school principal. The school shall provide all students a full and fair opportunity to access the system of supports and achieve educational success. The tiered system of supports shall, at a minimum, include an educational support team, instructional and behavioral interventions, and accommodations that are available as needed for any student who requires support beyond what can be provided in the general education classroom, and may include intensive, individualized interventions for any student requiring a higher level of support.
(b) The tiered system of supports shall:
- be aligned as appropriate with the general education curriculum;
- be designed to enhance the ability of the general education system to meet the needs of all students;
- be designed to provide necessary supports promptly, regardless of an individual student’s eligibility for categorical programs;
- seek to identify and respond to students in need of support for at-risk behaviors and to students in need of specialized, individualized behavior supports;
- provide all students with a continuum of evidence-based and research-based behavior practices that teach and encourage prosocial skills and behaviors schoolwide;
- promote collaboration with families, community supports, and the system of health and human services.
(c) The educational support team for each public school in the district shall be composed of staff from a variety of teaching and support positions and shall:
- Determine which enrolled students require additional assistance to be successful in school or to complete secondary school based on indicators set forth in guidelines developed by the Secretary, such as academic progress, attendance, behavior, or poverty. The educational support team shall pay particular attention to students during times of academic or personal transition.
- Identify the classroom accommodations, remedial services, and other supports that have been provided to the identified student.
- Assist teachers to plan for and provide services and accommodations to students in need of classroom supports or enrichment activities.
- Develop an individualized strategy, in collaboration with the student’s parents or legal guardian whenever possible, to assist the identified student to succeed in school and to complete his or her secondary education.
- Maintain a written record of its actions.
- Report no less than annually to the Secretary, in a form the Secretary prescribes, on the ways in which the educational support system has addressed the needs of students who require additional assistance in order to succeed in school or to complete secondary school and on the additional financial costs of complying with this subsection (c).
(d) No individual entitlement or private right of action is created by this section.
(e) The Secretary shall establish guidelines for teachers and administrators in following federal laws relating to provision of services for children with disabilities and the implementation of this section.
(f) It is the intent of the General Assembly that a gifted and talented student shall be able to take advantage of services that an educational support team can provide. It is not the intent of the General Assembly that funding under chapter 101 of this title shall be available for a gifted and talented student unless the student has been otherwise determined to be a student for whom funding under that chapter is available. (Added 1989, No. 230 (Adj. Sess.), § 4; amended 1995, No. 157 (Adj. Sess.), § 9; 1997, No. 87 (Adj. Sess.), § 1; 1999, No. 113 (Adj. Sess.), § 10; 1999, No. 117 (Adj. Sess.), § 2; 2009, No. 44, § 40, eff. May 21, 2009; 2013, No. 92 (Adj. Sess.), §§ 192, 302, eff. Feb. 14, 2014; 2015, No. 48, § 5.)
There are some Vermont families who choose to home school their gifted children, either as a temporary educational fix in any given year, or for longer-term. The main benefits are that you can provide your gifted child with an education that matches his/her readiness level, learning styles, interests, and preferred speed and depth of learning. Other benefits may include increased joy and reduced stress in you and your child’s lives.
The decision to home school is usually made after other educational opportunities have been exhausted. These may include advocating for your child’s needs in public school and not getting the results you want, and/or seeing if a private school is a good fit, and realizing it is not.
Consider any and all personal and family concerns:
- Your family’s financial situation, since home schooling may require the loss of one parent’s income.
- Whether or not the child’s other parent is fully supportive and committed to the approach.
- Your own willingness to be open to the experience, as well as your self-confidence in your own ability to home school your child should also be considerations.
- Why you are considering home schooling, and whether or not it will address the issues at hand.
- Whether or not your child has realistic expectations about home schooling, and is eager to home school.
- Whether or not you have other children, and how they may be affected by the decision to home school one of their siblings.
How to Proceed
- What approach do you want to take? Talk to your child about this before the decision is made.
- Do you prefer structured days or unstructured days?
- Do you prefer a set curriculum, or an approach that follows the child’s interests and needs?
- What role will technology play in your child’s home education?
- If you home school your child long-term, your approach may change as you both adapt.
- Your child is allowed to officially home school and also take a class or two in his/her public school.
- Many Vermont home schooling families supplement with classes of various sorts. Academic, art, music, physical activities, and field trips of all types are a good addition to many home schooled children’s days.
- If you plan to home school, you will have to file a plan with the State of Vermont.
- You have to have some sort of proof each year that your child is progressing academically (see State site for specifics).
- Go to the Vermont Agency of Education for the information and forms you will need to home school (and, just so you know, the State calls it “home study”). Their Home Study Guidelines pdf is a good place to start.
- Look in your own community for other opportunities for learning and connecting with other families.
Homeschooling Resources to Consider
- A couple of good books to help you decide and/or get you started:
- Creative Homeschooling: A Resource Guide for Smart Families, by Lisa Rivero, M.A., and
- From School to Homeschool by Suki Wessling.
- Pacem School in Montpelier, and Davis Studio in South Burlington are two places that offer daytime academic classes to homeschoolers.
- Look to local resources, museums, and enrichment offerings (i.e., in Chittenden County research places like Fleming Museum, Davis Studio, Flynn Theater, Crow’s Path, etc.)
Key Education References to Consider
Davidson, J., and Davidson, B. (2004). Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Minds. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Rogers, Karen (2001). Re-Forming Gifted Education. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc.
Research-based, comprehensive look at how to match a school program to a gifted child’s specific traits and abilities. Looks at options for school enrichment and acceleration, and shows parents and teachers practical ways to design ongoing programs for gifted children.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed ability Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.A great beginning resource for both teachers and parents.