Monday, July 11, 2011

Gifted Students and the Literacy And Numeracy Review

Literacy and Numeracy Strategy For Learning and Life
The National Strategy to Improve Literacy and Numeracy among Children and Young People 2011-2020

The Department of Education and Skills launched this new initiative on Friday 8th July. As participants in the consultation process, our support group GAS, was invited to be present.

Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, introduced the strategy by explaining that literacy and numeracy skills are “crucial to a person’s ability to develop fully as an individual, to live a satisfying and rewarding life and to participate fully in our society. Ensuring that all young people acquire these skills is one of the greatest contributions that we can make to achieving social justice and equality in our country.” This strategy is the result of a period of consultation following information, both national and international, which indicates that many children in Ireland are not developing these skills to the best of their abilities.

Later, the Chief Inspector, Harold Hislop and Alan Wall, Director of the Department of Education and Skills went into some detail on the plan:
  • Literacy includes the ability to use and understand spoken language, print, writing and digital media.
  • Numeracy is the ability to use mathematics to solve problems and meet the demands of day-to-day living.
  • Before we make judgements about how well students are achieving, we need a clear statement of the learning outcomes that we expect children and young people to achieve at each stage in the education system.
  • The Government will clarify what they expect children to learn and develop at each stage of the education system and standardised tests will be introduced at the end of second, fourth and sixth class in primary school and at the end of second year at second level. This will enable schools and teachers to ensure that students achieve what is considered to be age appropriate for them at each stage.
  • In implementing the strategy, the Department of Education and Skills will draw on specialist advice from from national and international experts on literacy, numeracy, assessment and school improvement and consult regularly with the education partners and relevant interests regarding the implementation and development of the strategy through meetings, conferences and other means.
  • Pre-service and in-service teacher training will be improved to ensure that teachers understand how to interpret and use this data to plan the next steps in their teaching and their students’ learning. There will be emphasis on both assessment of learning and assessment for learning (AfL).
  • There was much emphasis on improving pre-service teacher training and on continuing professional development (CPD) to ensure that all teachers remain up-to-date with the latest best practice in their field after qualification.
  • Procedures between the various education providers should ensure that relevant information transfers at each juncture to facilitate continuity and progression for the child.
  • Engagement with parents should be a core part of the literacy and numeracy plans of schools
  • Children with special educational needs, including children who are exceptionally able, need to be supported in different ways. While children and young people who are exceptionally able may not experience difficulties in acquiring literacy and numeracy skills, we need to adjust their educational experience to enable them to achieve their potential.
  • Ensure that serving teachers and principals have access to continuing professional development courses and guidance on meeting the learning needs of students with special educational needs.
  • Ensure that schools prioritise the tracking, assessment and analysis of the achievement of students with special educational needs as part of the school’s self-evaluation and improvement process.
  • Parents will often be able to enrich teachers’ knowledge of their students’ progress through providing further information about the students’ learning at home.
We were delighted to see mention of “exceptionally able” students in the report and like to think that our participation may have had a role to play in this. However, our excitement was dimmed a little during Dr Hislop’s address for two reasons:

1. He did not refer to exceptionally able learners at any stage, but mentioned “high achievers” at least twice. Our concern here is that, for many reasons such as lack of stimulation/motivation or a learning difficulty, not all students with exceptional ability are high achievers. These terms are not interchangeable. The very students who may be in most need of support are the ones who have high ability but who are not achieving.

2. He described the plan to introduce standardised testing at various stages of a student’s school career and said that this will be done to ensure that students achieve a level of achievement deemed appropriate for their age and that they continue to achieve at this level throughout their school career. Once a student scores full marks, will the school then rest assured that all is well and they are doing very nicely, thank you? We feel that there is a very real risk that standardised testing may work to the disadvantage of gifted students unless it is recognised that for some children, this arbitrary ceiling is a barrier not a challenge.

So, we approached Dr Hislop to attempt to express these concerns. He was very anxious to assure us that by having these tests, teachers would be able to make sure that all students were achieving to an age-appropriate level and that they maintained this level of achievement as they progressed through school. Precisely our point, Dr Hislop! However, he was in a hurry to move on, so we were unable to attempt any further explanation.

We had better luck with Minister Quinn who was interested to know what organisation we were representing. One could say that he is a very experienced politician, but we got the distinct impression that he was genuinely listening and that he appreciated what we had to say. He explained that every child would carry a passport with them from primary level to secondary level. He felt that this would help to ensure that the depth of understanding of each child which is built up by a primary school teacher who has a child in their class all day, would not be lost in the transfer to second level where several different teachers see each student for only a few classes a week. This would appear to be a positive development.

We were encouraged to note how much emphasis was put on parent engagement in education. Yes, our right as the primary educators of our children has always been enshrined in the Irish Constitution, but we are often made to feel less than welcome in our children’s schools. It seems that the DES recognises that, in order to really improve children’s literacy and numeracy levels, parents will have to be actively involved.

So, the bottom line as we see it, is that we need to keep our eye on the ball here to ensure that the needs of gifted learners are indeed fully appreciated and addressed and that we avoid the pitfalls encountered in the USA when they introduced the No Child Left Behind Act which has come to be referred to in gifted education circles as the “No Child Gets Ahead Act”.

The full report can be read here.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting points - especially re: 'No Child Gets Ahead' ! - my niece in the UK can read well beyond the highest target set for her stage but can get no additional input after that except more of the same - she would need to be in the year ahead. The problem in the structure of the system that forces a teacher to say, ''re achieving the target, now for the kids who aren't'. This is fine because those kids need help too but she is being held back from progressing towards her potential. Imagine tying weights around Usain Bolt until the other athletes kept up.