The State of NJ, like many other states, does not set out any concrete standards for gifted education. So, if you're on the hunt for legislation that is going to require your local school district to provide special programming for your gifted child, you're not going to find it. NJ standards state that Gifted and Talented students are,
"Those students who possess or demonstrate high levels of ability, in one or more content areas, when compared to their chronological peers in the local district and who require modification of their educational program if they are to achieve in accordance with their capabilities."
I don't know about you but this definition sets of alarms in my mind. High levels of ability? By what standard? Isn't this supposed to be a standard? Who determines that they need modification of their educational program? What type of modification? What standards determine what a student's 'abilities' are?
Have no fear. The next tid bit of information on the NJ DOE website states that, "New Jersey does not have state-level criteria such as mandated tests or assessments, grade point averages, or IQ scores. Local school districts must use multiple measures to identify students." Well, at least their honest.
So, what must our school districts do with these students? Anything. This is both fortunate and unfortunate. The New Jersey Department of Education states that,
All public school districts must have a board-approved gifted and talented identification process and provide services for identified students enrolled in the grades of that school district. The regulations require that identification and services be made available to students in grades K-12
A whole new set of questions clutter my mind. What type of services? To what extent? Well, that can be anything.
I can't say I don't understand why NJ standards are the way they are. It's politically correct. It's flexible. It's sensitive to the school budget constraints. Students should have equal opportunities. That doesn't mean that everyone should have the SAME education. Unfortunately, this flexibility also means that a school district can identify only artistically gifted students and declare an art elective as their 'gifted' program.
Fortunately, most school districts do offer either pull-out or after-school gifted and talented programs during elementary school. Most of these programs meet about once a week for about 45 minutes. In addition, nearly every school in NJ offers an accelerated math program and (at the high school level) honors and AP level classes. If you aren't sure how your school district identifies students for these programs or what programs exist in your local district, you can file an OPRA request to find out. Find out what an OPRA request is HERE.
I have dedicated my life to promoting and providing services to gifted students in the state of NJ. I've studied school district structure at both local and state levels. I've even read the budget for my local board of education. Unfortunately, it is not feasible for the public school system to provide every student with a completely individualized education plan.
If your gifted child needs additional resources you can:
(1) try advocating with the school district,
If you are going to work directly with the school district, you should definitely be prepared. You need to tell them what you want. You also need to prove to them that your child NEEDS this. Your gifted child may not be causing 'problems.' They're doing well. They know everything that they are supposed to know. So, why do they need these resources? Furthermore, do your research. Did the school district provide similar accommodations for a student in the past? Did a neighboring school district? If so, great. This will help you a lot. What policies are in place that may help or hurt your cause? In the end, however, you should remember that they don't "HAVE" to do anything(Unfortunately).
(2) try working directly with the teacher
When I was in fifth grade, I convinced my math teacher to allow me to work quietly on next year's math book. I agreed to take the chapter tests. I set my own high standard. I had to earn at least a 90% on the end of chapter test to continue working independently. This was easy for the teacher. I didn't disrupt class. She didn't have to create different lesson plans for me. I was happy -- and learning. If you have a plan (and provide the resources), teachers MAY be willing to do this. However, you should keep in mind that this is not a permanent option. You'll have to re-negotiate with each teacher, each year.
or (3) seek resources elsewhere.
Invitation to Guest Blog
Are you a parent of a gifted child? a teacher? a therapist? Share your story with us! Blog proposals should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.