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In the wake of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), there is little hope for students who may need extended, accelerated, or enriched curricula, or for the teachers who might be willing to provide such modifications for their students. NCLB is creating a climate of controlled learning and sending a message to administrators, teachers, students, and parents that the school's job involves teaching to the standards. Once the students have met these standards, the schools have met their obligation to "educate." As standards have become the educational target, students across the country are beginning to experience the same marginalization of their prior knowledge. Many gifted students are being pushed aside as teachers begin to prepare the other students for the proficiency tests. With this subsequent marginalizing, there have been severe effects on the education of gifted children.
Because NCLB mandates testing in major subject areas for students and using test results to determine if groups of students, teachers, and schools perform at proficient levels, schools have placed major emphases on testing, preparing for the tests, and aligning curricula, programs, course offerings, and support services with the tests. These efforts may be detrimental to overall educational processes, especially for gifted students (Gentry, in press).
II. Curricular Reduction
Under NCLB, districts must show adequate yearly progress on state assessments, which have been aligned with state standards. As a result, areas not assessed by the high-stakes tests have been eliminated by many districts-for example, electives, music, art, foreign language, and many other gifted programs (Popham, 2001). All students, especially those from impoverished backgrounds, benefit from an enriched schooling experience. However, NCLB requirements push the focus away from enrichment and toward preparing for required assessments. As curricular and programming options narrow, and as schools define learning more and more narrowly, fewer and fewer students fit into the gifted programs (Popham, 2001). Fewer students are unlikely to be exposed to challenging curricula and instructional methods and the focus on testing restricts education opportunities for the gifted. Rather than reaching more students, educators reach fewer students under NCLB.
Popham (2001) explained that if remedial drills actually do raise test scores, then tests measure only low-level outcomes. If students come to school and the focus is always on what they least enjoy and do least well, then why should they engage in school? Gifted education has long involved gifted students in areas of their strengths and interests. It has been suggested that the methods used in gifted education can benefit all students, that gifted education can provide innovative means of reaching more children, and that engaging students in learning requires interest, challenge, choice, and enjoyment (Gentry & Gable, 2001). As educators focus on remediation, they focus less on developing students' talents, and all students lose. Gifted students lose opportunities for advanced learning, and other at-risk students lose opportunities to develop their strengths, because their weaknesses become the focus of their education.
III. Elimination of Gifted and Talented Programs
With a focus on raising scores of the lowest-performing segments of the school population, and with the NCLB language of proficiency, rather than of excellence, already minimal services for gifted children have been cut and funds reallocated to remedial programs (Golden, 2004). Fear of sanctions for failing to make adequate yearly progress or for unequal scores between groups has pushed districts to focus on students with low scores and ignore those with high scores. With no mandate to serve gifted children, coupled with the false notion that such students will make it on their own, requiring no differentiation of school curricula, programs for gifted children have existed at whim of local politics and local budgets for many years. In the NCLB education climate, with a focus on accountability, gifted programs have begun to decline across the nation because already limited budget dollars have been targeted toward improving test scores (Gentry & Gable, 2001).
IV. Lack of Challenge
Popham (2001) discussed the importance of appropriate challenge for children. Challenge is difficult to experience in a system that promotes grade-level standards and group assessment of these standards. According to Popham, appropriate challenge in school can alleviate many other social and emotional concerns for gifted children. Without challenge, gifted children do not learn to struggle, to persevere, to work hard, and to attribute their success to hard work, among other important lessons that come with meeting a challenge. NCLB fails to encourage educators to provide appropriate levels of challenge for these students. Such a system places gifted students at serious risk of underachievement, in terms of realizing their potential. They societal implications of under-educating and under-developing talented youth in our educational system are sobering. It will be these youth will solve, or fail to solve, important problems in the future (Golden, 2004). A society's value and ability to contribute to humanity rest with its youth and with its ability to prepare its youth to be productive citizens.
V. Implications for Education
School counselors and educators have a significant and positive influence both on the lives of the children and on the school environment. Therefore, they can make the case for gifted education in a continuum of school services. For teachers to educate and counsel students in academics and career decisions effectively, appropriate education opportunities must exist in the school setting. For students to be competitive in the college admission process and the world of work, they must receive a quality education concerned with excellence as well as with test scores. Educators might be able to help administrators and community members understand that programs for gifted students and talent development programs are essential to quality education, allow students to make continual educational progress, and address the education needs of students (Popham, 2001).
Educators should consider interventions for students who experience boredom due to unchallenging curricular opportunities. Is it possible for students to test out of class in which they already know the content, or is seat time required for credit? Educators should promote dialogue about such an important concern and influence policy. Educators should also be instrumental in encouraging their colleagues to consider the importance of challenge for their students by providing information concerning the social and emotional benefits of experiencing appropriate levels of challenge in school. Educators should also help individual students and small groups of students to understand the need to embrace challenge and develop strategies for self-advocacy as they seek appropriate challenges in school (Cropper, 1998).
These are troubled times in education, and even more troubled times in gifted education, with the narrow focus brought to education by NCLB. Gifted children exist in all of our schools, as also do students of unrecognized potential. Yet, under NCLB, despite its intention to "leave no child behind," more and more children are marginalized in the educational system. Services to gifted children have been cut, and funds, in contrast, have been allocated to remediate students. Intervention for individual students and quality education for identified gifted, at-risk, and under-identified gifted and at-risk students begins with one educator and on child at a time.