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					  Making Gifted Identification More Flexible and Responsive to Individual Learning Needs:
                              Initiating a Furlough Process

                                     by Dona Matthews
 in collaboration with NYC teachers participating in the Hunter College graduate program in
                                gifted education, 2005-2007

The problem:
Gifted education is a controversial topic. One of the sources of controversy stems from
observations that some children who need gifted programming aren’t getting it because
they didn’t qualify at the institutional point of identification; others are concerned about
children who continue in gifted programs even when they are having trouble managing the
advanced or accelerated curriculum and their learning needs would be better met in a
different setting.

Gifted programs with multiple points of entry ensure that those whose advancement
emerges later get the appropriately differentiated gifted education they need. What is much
harder, however, is facilitating the exit from gifted programs required by those whose early
advancement is temporary, and whose subsequent learning needs are not well met in a
gifted program.

In order to address both of these problems that result from a categorical model of gifted
identification and programming, we are suggesting that schools adopt a simpler and more
flexible understanding of giftedness, defining it as exceptionally advanced subject-specific
ability at a certain point in time that requires differentiated education at that time. Gifted
education then becomes a matter of finding an appropriate curriculum match for a child’s
current learning needs, similar to the differentiation approach used for children with other
kinds of special learning needs.

Implications of this approach to giftedness and gifted education include
   1. that the educational system provides a range of learning options to meet a range of
       exceptionally advanced learning needs, from subject-specific acceleration through
       extracurricular and co-curricular enrichment opportunities, to full-time gifted
   2. that there are multiple entry points to fulltime programs (e.g., kindergarten, and
       every 2 years thereafter),
   3. that there is a regular ongoing evaluation of the learning needs of those students in
       gifted programs, and
   4. that a furlough process is established, as described below.
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In the graduate program in gifted education at Hunter College we have been giving careful
consideration to the challenges involved in establishing what we are calling a furlough
process. We recognize that it is built on a shift in perspective on what giftedness is and how
it develops, and know that a move in the direction we are recommending must be slow and
thoughtful. We therefore recommend the following considerations:

1. The emphasis should be on the child’s optimal development, and NOT his or her
“giftedness”. Starting with testing for admission, educators should keep the focus on
working together to find the best learning match for the child, on shifting parents’ (and
educators’) emphasis from a categorical or mystery approach to giftedness, to a focus on
individual developmental differences, which are dynamic and change over time (mastery
model approach).

2. Counseling out begins before a child enters a program. Flexible ongoing assessment and
exit policies must be communicated to parents when their children are admitted to gifted
programs. Parents and teachers should know from the beginning that a gifted program is
about meeting children’s special learning needs, and that learning needs change over time.
Important ideas to communicate early in the process:
 Just because a child is no longer in a gifted program does not mean that he or she will
    never require such programming again.
 A gifted program placement that works well in grades 1 through 3 might no longer be
    needed or appropriate in grades 4 through 6, but be required again, perhaps in different
    form, in middle school.

3. Clear and defensible exit policies require clear program definition. It is much easier to
communicate that a child no longer requires special (gifted) education if the gifted
program’s purpose is clearly defined. For example, if a program is defined as meeting the
special learning needs of children who are at least three years advanced relative to their age
peers in both math and language arts, and ongoing assessment indicates that a child is no
longer at that level in one or both of those subject areas, it is much easier to communicate
that the regular program will be better able to meet the child’s learning needs, perhaps in
combination with other options.

4. There must be a range of other challenging learning options available. Many of parents’
legitimate concerns about their children leaving a gifted program stem from their fear that
their child will become bored and disengaged in the regular classroom. For children on
furlough from a gifted program, as well as many other students in any given school, there
should be a range of interesting learning options, including school-based enrichment
experiences, single-subject acceleration, extracurricular activities, local, regional, and
national contests, online learning possibilities, project-based learning experiences, and
others. Optimally, this is coordinated and monitored by a special (gifted) education

5. Creative individual plans can be developed. Parents, teachers, and students can be
engaged in thinking about what might work better than the gifted program for a particular
student for whom a furlough is under consideration. One example might be a "work in
progress" plan that involves staying in the gifted class and "pulling-out" into a regular class
for specific subject areas, or moving into a regular class and pulling-out for advanced/gifted
subject areas.

6. Furloughs should be seen as collaborative processes. A furlough should never come as a
surprise to children or parents. Furlough procedures must be handled sensitively and
respectfully, or they will deteriorate into an adversarial process which benefits no one, least
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of all the child. All through the process, parents and children need to feel listened to and
respected. From the beginning, their questions and concerns should be dealt with as soon
and as thoroughly as possible, with patience and respect. Teachers should keep records of
communications and interventions. When educators begin to have concerns about the
suitability of a gifted placement, this should be communicated as soon as possible to the
parents. Parents and children should be included in thinking about possible interventions
where appropriate.

7. Counseling out requires ongoing assessment. When educators begin to have concerns
about a child’s suitability for a program, they should have access to good assessment
records, so that in the case of a child whose learning needs will be better met by a furlough
from the gifted program, there is good data to support it.

8. The program exit must be handled professionally and well. The final communication with
the parent about the child’s furlough should be in the form of a small warm unhurried
personal meeting, as well as a short, clearly written document explaining the process. The
emphasis should be on (a) meeting the child’s learning needs, (b) the history of
concerns about the gifted placement, including all communications and attempted
interventions, (c) the available short-term options, and (d) the furlough concept:
“Just because this program is not the right option for your child at this point in time does
not mean that it never will be again.”

9. Grandfathering provisions should be part of implementation. Those parents and children
who started a gifted program believing they would be eligible for it for a certain length of
time are entitled to continue with it for the duration of that time. Although schools are wise
to help students and parents investigate and choose the best possible learning matches as
time goes by, a compulsory furlough process should apply only to students entering the

Attached: For a more complete understanding of the theoretical and empirical
underpinnings of this approach, see the attached article, Mystery to Mastery: Shifting
Paradigms in Gifted Education

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