ALPs, What’s the Point?

I recently had a parent contact me about their student’s Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) wondering about the whole point of an ALP in schools. Naturally, I was eager to meet and tell this parent about how the ALP works in schools and how they can use this document at home to have conversations with their students about their goals for the year. 

The day of the meeting I started to have some second thoughts about the meeting going well and really proving to this parent that ALP’s serve a purpose. Why? Well when I really took the time to think about how ALP’s are used (or not used) in schools I could start to see where this parent had some concerns. 

Majority of the time, in secondary schools, ALP’s are for the benefit of the GT Specialist and being in compliance with the state requirements of having to prove that we serve these students. Now parents who are familiar with ALPs and know of their importance to their students’ growth and development appreciate this document and check in with their student on how things are going. Teacher’s might appreciate the document, but it is often put in the file cabinet next to the previous years ALPs. Now I am making generalizations as I write this because there are some teachers who do look at these plans and use them or support them in their classrooms. Teachers are overwhelmed and overworked on a daily basis, I truly understand why these plans are often not utilized. 

Here is my point: Specialists create these plans and check in with our students in hopes that parents are actually checking in with their kids on goals at home. When I see a parent look at an ALP and assume that their child is fine or they don’t need to check in with them; it frustrates me. If parents don’t see the value in these goals or plans, let’s make some changes to the ALP. It’s a working document for a reason. Goals change. Social emotional needs change.  I try my best to make sure students are on track, but I am one person with 86 kids plus my classes that I teach daily – all to keep track of. I need parents’ help to hold their children accountable because really the children need to learn self accountability in making sure goals are met. 

If parents show an interest, I can promise your kids will own the responsibility of taking them a little more seriously as well. If students are investing in their goals and asking teachers for support they would be able to achieve growth at a whole new level. Why not sit down with your kids and have the conversation about their goals and why they choose them, check in with them and help them develop accountability and discipline for setting and achieving these goals. 

In a world full of distractions – we are distracted from our children and from what is happening in their education. I believe we need to be more aware of what is happening with our students through asking questions and supporting our kids in their goals. We are always looking for ways to connect with our kids in this technology connected world, so why not try and connect with them over things they are passionate about in the ALP? 

Take the time to read over their ALP with them and discuss how their goals are going to be achieved? Why did they choose those particular goals? Ask them how you can support them at home with their goals? It might give you some insight to their drive and motivation and individual intellect. It will also let you in on their social emotional needs. 

As a GT specialist, I may not have a ton of pull for the ALPs other than making sure they are getting done. If you are a parent of a GT kid, you have the power to work with your kids and see that their goals are accomplished. In an ideal world, I would hold formal ALP meetings with parents, students and a teacher (similar to an Individualized Education Plan meeting in Special Education) so that everyone who works with the student at school and home is aware of the support the student needs in various areas. Someday I hope to do this, but for now the system in place is going to have to work.

How to Advocate for Gifted Students

Something I see a lot of in my work is how parents are unsure of or they are uncomfortable in speaking up for the the needs of their gifted child. Why? I am not sure. Sometimes parents are teachers in the school district trying not to be a teacher and a parent at the same time. Sometimes they don’t know what their child needs in the classroom. Sometimes they don’t feel comfortable asking important questions to learn what is being taught in the classroom.

It’s a sad moment for me when I have a room full of parents and two of them are near tears telling me the difficulties they are having with their students in the school system. I breaks my heart as an educator and a parent.

There is a need to strengthen gifted and talented policy and advocacy within our nation in order to ensure we are providing gifted and talented students with the resources and support that they need in order to be successful. The gifted programming at local school districts will not improve if the state doesn’t come out with strong policies and regulations on gifted programming and assessment (Brown, Avery, VanTassel-Baska, Worely II, and Stambaugh, 2006). There is a desperate need to have a more universal identification process across the nation, but as of right now there is typically a universal standard within states themselves. This is a good start; however, many districts are still confused about how identification should work when following the state guidelines.  Brown, Avery, VanTassel-Baska, Worely II, and Stambaugh (2006) also state, “Knowing what works and what does not is crucial for states in exercising both quality control of programs and services and developing new initiatives.” (p. 22) While every state may have different policies and regulations, it is important to see what has worked and what hasn’t in other states in order to help provide the best programming options for their demographics.

The other major piece of this is the maintenance of the policies in place from the state level. This needs to not only include identification procedures, but also putting into practice the required Advanced Learning Plans and training our teachers how to work with gifted students. The development of policies and practice is complex because of the lack of funding for the research needed in order to develop those policies (Plucker & Callahan, 2014). Policy and programming need to be sure to address the student potential versus adequate progress and stronger policies. This would help insure gifted students abilities are being addressed rather than holding them simply to adequate growth (Roberts, Pereira, and Knotts, 2015).

The biggest action that need to be taken is there needs to be a consistent amount of support from parents, teachers, and administration in implementing these policies and advocating for gifted students. The strength of a strong advocacy group is knowledge of what gifted students need in order to be successful in their education and future career (Delcourt, 2003; Enerson, 2003).

To ensure the advocacy group has the correct and latest information there needs to be more professional development, endorsements, and parent informational meetings at a local level.

  • Advocacy groups also needs to have:
  1. A continuous working knowledge of decision making process at the state and local level in order to be successful (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher, 2011).  
  2. Have several members become experts on gifted and talented education when speaking with legislators as this would help strengthen the advocacy group. (Delcourt & Enerson, 2003)
  3. Have consistent goals in advocacy groups in order to accomplish changes in the legislature (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher; 2011). When parents and educators have different goals in mind and are presenting them to the local and state representatives, it leads to inconsistency.

The needs of gifted and talented students and advocacy groups are more successful when team members collaborate in order to reach the same goal (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher, 2011).

One of the biggest limitations of this type of advocacy is the depth of studies on how policies are implemented at a state level and how they are maintained throughout the state with a goal of providing equal opportunities for gifted and talented students in the United States.

An overview and analysis of gifted identification and practices in place at a state and district level appears to be a major weakness in the world of gifted education.This would help with the misunderstood responsibilities of the schools and school districts, lack of programming options, and help increase teacher preparation (Roberts, Pereira, and Knotts, 2015).  The current advocates of gifted education have done a lot of work on defining gifted education, looking at teaching pedagogy, and creating learning standards for the classroom; however, when school districts decide what shape gifted education is going to have, without a strong policy in place at the state level, the policy implementation is left to the ideas of the state education department in conjunction with the district and what they deem right (Roberts, Pereira, and Knotts, 2015).

This work done in a local advocacy group can help provide insight into policies we need to change or create in order to ensure the field is identifying a diverse population of gifted students. This gives an advocacy group information and data to use to start making changes at the state level in gifted education. Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher (2011) quoted Gallagher and Gallagher (1994) in at the end of their study:

Failure to help gifted children reach their full potential is a societal tragedy, the extent of which is difficult to measure but which is surely great. How can we measure the loss of the sonata unwritten, the curative drug undiscovered, or the absence of political insight? These gifted students are a substantial part of the difference between what we are and what we could be as a society. (p.4)

Policy and advocacy has a long way to go until there is a cohesive movement for gifted and talented students, but if  the research is utilized to evaluate existing policies and implement new ones this could go a long way toward helping our gifted students feel like their needs are being met effectively.

What can you do now? (This is for anyone looking to help advocate for Gifted students- parents, teachers, administration, GT specialists)  

  • Join your local school districts Gifted and Talented Advisory Board or Advocacy Group.
    • If your school district doesn’t have one- contact the director of Gifted Education or Advanced Academics to talk about getting one started.
  • Research what your state policy is for Gifted Education
    • Look at the funding, what districts are required to do for GT, and what policies look like for implementation.
  • Talk to your schools Gifted and Talented Specialist
    • How are they working with teachers to help gifted students, identifying students, and working one on one with your student?
    • If your school doesn’t have a GT Specialist, ask who is in charge of your student’s ALP.

References