Dear State Board: Mind the Excellence Gaps!

This Public Comment was delivered at the Meeting of Maryland State Board of Education:

Good afternoon, my name is Dr. Jeanne Paynter and I am faculty in curriculum and instruction at McDaniel College and the Executive Director of Talent Program Solutions.

I am here today to talk about the gravity of Excellence Gaps and suggest some simple but powerful solutions which Maryland policy-makers can implement.

“Excellence gap” is the term coined by Dr. Jonathan Plucker and fellow researchers to describe the achievement gaps at the advanced level.  After more than a decade of well-intentioned reforms to reduce proficiency gaps, data show that Excellence Gaps persist, and have widened.  We need unique solutions to develop talent at advanced levels.

Dr. Plucker recently spoke at the Maryland State Conference on Gifted and Talented Education. He reports that Excellence Gap data are so reliable that they can be used with certainty to predict that a poor or minority student will not, by high school, perform at advanced levels. We have a “persistent talent underclass.” It is rare that students can move up.

Without appropriate intervention, that is.

There is good news and bad news for Maryland Public Schools.  The good news is, as you are aware, that Maryland leads the pack in the percentage of students that score at the Advanced Levels on state and national achievement tests.

The bad news is that we have very large excellence gaps.

According to the Fordham Foundation’s research, the adoption of the Common Core State Standards is not going to be the educational solution for high ability, high potential students.  The standards are more rigorous, but self-admittedly, they were not developed for advanced students. Differentiation of the standards is difficult for teachers and is not widespread.

Then, what are the solutions?

First, there is more good news:  Maryland has research-based standards, COMAR for gifted and talented student identification, programming and teacher professional development.  There are many creative and fiscally responsible ways that the Board can support the COMAR implementation with resources and accountability.

Number Two:  The Board can publish Excellence Gap data and track results with as much urgency as it does with the minimum competency gaps.  [Knowledge is power.]

Third: A no-cost solution. Ask these questions in the discussion of all policy decisions:

  • Ask: How will this decision impact high ability, high potential students?
  • Will it help them, or are there unintentional consequences?

Well-intentioned policies can create barriers to acceleration and differentiation for advanced students. For example:  COMAR requires that school systems have an early entrance policy [well-intentioned], but it allows them to craft rigid policies with stringent cut-offs which present barriers to advanced students [unintended consequences].

Today we have a compelling challenge and opportunity:  Even small improvements in the Excellence Gap statistics represent thousands of students emerging from the talent underclass; Talent that will create their own unique solutions to change our world for the better.