Twice-Exceptional Learners: Reaching Full Potential

Today’s bloggers are Chin-Wen Lee, University of Louisville, and Jennifer A. Ritchotte, University of Northern Colorado, whose essay on twice-exceptional (2e) learners appears in The Educational Forum.

“To believe is to look at the tiniest seed and envision a blossoming flower.” —Anonymous

Schools should provide educational opportunities that help all students reach their full potential.

Too often, a focus on ensuring all students are performing at grade level overshadows the critical need to develop potential in our brightest students. A high-quality education needs to be accessible to all students; equity in education is critical. Failing to fully address the unique learning needs of gifted students implies an inequity in our educational system that is simply indefensible. Unfortunately, this issue is most pervasive for gifted students from underserved populations, such as twice-exceptional (2e) students.

Many parents of 2e students express frustration over receiving little help for their children within the school system. Parents commonly report that their requests for additional services at the school and district levels are denied because their 2e children appear to be performing at grade level. Teachers of 2e students often report this same frustration. Limited access to training and resources limits teachers’ ability to effectively meet their 2e students’ unique learning needs.

Twice-exceptional learners, defined by the National Twice-Exceptional Community of Practice (2e CoP), demonstrate “exceptional ability and disability, which results in a unique set of circumstances.” A unique set of circumstances includes masking of abilities and disabilities. The 2e CoP’s definition highlights that twice-exceptional learners “may perform below, at, or above grade level.” Supporting these learners requires specialized methods of identification, enriched educational opportunities, and simultaneous supports for academic and social-emotional growth.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, holds promise for providing educational services to twice-exceptional students. The Supreme Court concluded that for students with disabilities, meaningful educational benefits should be made possible through individualized education plans. In other words, providing meaningful educational benefits does not stop when students with both gifts and disabilities demonstrate that they can perform at grade level.

To provide educational services for 2e learners, educators need specialized academic training and ongoing professional learning. There is also a need for recruiting a more diverse, representative sample of professionals to support 2e learners. General and special education teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, and other specialized service professionals should be part of the teamwork.

Of course, there is no single solution that will fix the educational system for learners who are not receiving adequate opportunities for talent development. Keeping an active agenda for advocacy and striving for policy change is critical, especially given that states where the coexistence of giftedness and disabilities is addressed in state law may have better opportunities to improve their practices than states where gifted education is not mandated.

All students deserve opportunities to develop their gifts and talents. This represents a unique challenge for those parenting and teaching 2e learners because of commonly used non-comprehensive approaches to identification, a lack of training on the specialized needs of this student population, and limited access to resources that might improve 2e students’ educational experiences. We contend that the first step to empowering 2e students is to empower ourselves and those around us with the knowledge needed to provide these students with the education they deserve.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Lee and Ritchotte’s essay with the education community. Access their article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through March 31, 2018.

Chin-Wen Lee

Jennifer Ritchotte

Intersectional Thinking as a Tool for Educational Equity

(L-R) Roderick L. Carey, Laura S. Yee, David DeMatthews

Today’s bloggers are Roderick L. Carey, University of Delaware; Laura S. Yee, Georgetown Day School; and David DeMatthews, University of Texas at El Paso, whose essay on intersectionality appears in The Educational Forum.

Anthony is an 11-year-old Black boy in Ms. Johnson’s fifth-grade classroom. Although he’s a contributing classroom citizen, well liked by his peers and eager to excel, Ms. Johnson struggles to sustain his interest in reading. She restructures reading groups, attempts to draw connections between popular television shows and the content of books, and even purchases titles portraying racially diverse children and topics that other Black boys in his class seem to find interesting: cars, machinery, sports. Shunning even books that portray Black boys, Anthony retreats further. “I still don’t see myself in these books!” he exclaims.

Mr. Richardson, the principal at a racially and ethnically diverse U.S. high school, noted that toward the end of the year, more boys than girls enrolled in advanced math and science courses for the following year. To remedy this disparity, he used a grant to create a summer enrichment STEM program geared toward girls. However, very few Latina girls enrolled. Yesenia, an enthusiastic Latina sophomore, declined to enroll in the program because of the overnight travel required. She noted, “I can’t take that time away from my job and family this summer.”

What similarities do Anthony and Yesenia’s school and social experiences reflect? What similar yet unsuccessful thinking did Ms. Johnson and Mr. Richardson use to engage their students?

Perhaps intersectionality, a concept more regularly taken up in women’s studies, political science, and sociology, can provide some insights into these school-based challenges. Intersectionality describes the co-relational forces of how oppressions such as (but not limited to) racism, sexism, and classism interlock and intersect simultaneously within the lives of individuals. Intersectionality has been adapted as a way to understand that forces like race, class, and gender (as well as ethnicity, sexuality, age, and nation of origin) may not stand alone in their impact on individuals’ lives.

Schools are not free from such dynamics; they mirror and perpetuate them. So, intersectionality pushes educators to view the complexity inherent in students’ lives, drawing attention to the sometimes hidden yet critical domains of oppression that overlap in the experiences of students who most often struggle to secure success in schools.

Why didn’t the interventions put in place by Ms. Johnson and Mr. Richardson work for Anthony and Yesenia? Both students are marginalized for multiple facets of their identities.

A closer look reveals that Anthony faced marginalization not only for his race, but also in the way his race intersected with gendered expectations for Black boys. Anthony, a young Black boy from low-income circumstances, was also questioning his gender expression, and so the reading interventions missed the mark by not considering this crucial nuance. Mr. Richardson’s STEM program for girls considered gender but did not take into account intersections of gender with ethnicity, class, and cultural norms. Removing Yesenia from her home, even for supplemental educational, could prove difficult for her recently arrived immigrant family without significant supports in place.

In our article “Power, Penalty, and Critical Praxis: Employing Intersectionality in Educator Practices to Achieve School Equity,” we argue that intersectionality provides educators deeper insights into the lives of their students. Educators or youth service providers implementing interventions to create equity and address disparities caused by societal oppression must utilize intersectional thinking to more precisely meet the needs of their increasingly diverse student populations. Employing intersectional approaches to PreK–12 policy and practice supports the possibility for better shaping and enacting critically refined curriculum and programs. Intersectionality can prove to be a highly effective tool in deconstructing taken-for-granted notions of our students and how best to serve them.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Carey, Yee, and DeMatthews’ essay with the education community. Access their article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through February 28, 2018.

Research from The Educational Forum: Orienting Schools Toward Equity

Today’s blogger is Rachel Garver, a doctoral candidate in Teaching and Learning at New York University. She writes here about her research on racial and economic inequality, school segregation, and policy implementation recently published in The Educational Forum.

For the last two decades, the United States has pursued educational equity by holding schools accountable for the comparative outcomes of student subgroups.  

Subgroup accountability, part of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since its 2001 reauthorization, requires states to identify and intervene in schools where the progress of student subgroups based on race, economic disadvantage, or English proficiency is lagging. Cited schools must show improvement for the subgroups identified by the state or they will face a series of increasingly severe sanctions.

Research on subgroup accountability pressure is mixed. In some cases, the subgroups cited by the state show progress in subsequent years and in other cases there was no effect.

The promise of subgroup accountability pressure to promote equity relies on the process of policy implementation in schools. How school-based actors interpret and enact mandates determines the form in which policy interventions reach students and thereby impacts outcomes.

I utilize an ethnographic case study of Germaine Middle School (pseudonym) to explore the means through which subgroup accountability pressure oriented the school toward equity and, more specifically, toward the student subgroups cited by the state—if at all.

I find that subgroup accountability pressure encouraged Germaine to focus on their achievement gaps in general, but did not lead to targeted interventions for the state-identified student subgroups.

Why did the school’s citation hold little weight in the day-to-day practices at Germaine? A lack of transparency in the state’s calculations, a lack of faith in the state exams and test scores used to identify cited schools, and ethical concerns with using accountability data to inform instructional and curricular reforms delegitimized the state’s determinations in the eyes of Germaine’s staff members. School-based understandings of which student subgroups were most in need drove Germaine’s equity work, instead of subgroup accountability pressure. However, district administrators insisted that Germaine align its compliance practices with the state findings and measures, even if they were symbolic and irrelevant to classroom practice.

Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal policy has played an important role in equalizing educational opportunity for marginalized student groups across the wide variance in state politics and practices. The promise of subgroup accountability to promote equity in schools is dependent on how it is received and implemented by state, district, and school actors. For subgroup accountability to fulfill its intentions, citations need to be delivered to schools with greater transparency. Moreover, districts, as intermediaries between the state and schools, must support schools in responding to citations in ways that prioritize equity over state compliance pressures.