Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Public Schools

How early can we tell that children are gifted and talented? And how should Montgomery County Public Schools serve gifted kids in a system that’s supposed to promote equity for all?

These are some of the questions that people are buzzing about, especially in light of new state regulations adopted this week by the Maryland State Board of Education that define minimum standards for gifted and talented education in local school systems.

The new rules specify how school districts are to identify gifted students, provide programs, and monitor their progress. They also say that districts “shall consider implementing” programs to serve gifted kids in prekindergarten through 12th grade.

The possibility of labeling preschoolers has stirred debate, especially among critics who worry that minority and low-income kids—who may not have access to high-quality preschools or face other challenges—will be the losers under such a system.

Here in Montgomery County, the labeling of kids as gifted and talented has been a hot topic for years. More recently, talk has centered on the district’s new elementary school curriculum, Curriculum 2.0, and whether it is meeting the needs of all levels of learners.

Michelle Gluck, chair of the special instruction and gifted committees for the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, says she’s been hearing regularly from parents who aren’t happy with Curriculum 2.0.

“There is a real disconnect, almost a cognitive disconnect, between how everybody wants to believe it’s working and how badly it’s working,” she said.

Parents, educators and residents can learn about how MCPS deals with gifted education when Superintendent Joshua Starr hosts a spring forum from 7 to 8:30 p.m. March 22 at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville.

It’s one of four forums scheduled in March through May that will “provide an opportunity for attendees to hear about the latest trends and research, find out what’s happening in our schools, and share thoughts with the superintendent, guest panelists, and other participants,” according to the MCPS website.

The first forum on English language learners will be held Monday night at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring. Special education will be the topic of the third forum April 16 at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown. And students’ social and emotional learning will be featured May 10 at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda.

The forums will feature brief panel presentations followed by small-group discussions. Panelists for Monday night’s forum include Dr. Karen Woodson, director of the MCPS Division of ESOL/Bilingual Programs; Dr. Margarita Calderón, professor emerita and senior research scientist at Johns Hopkins University; and Matthew Devan, principal of Viers Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring.

Julie Rasicot

Julie Rasicot can be reached at julie.rasicot@bethesdamagazine.com