A survey of programs for the academically talented in Massachusetts and of superintendents' attitudes and wishes in regard to such programs
Press, Billie K.
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PURPOSE The purpose of this study was to determine: the nature and extent of programs for the academically talented in Massachusetts, the attitudes of Massachusetts superintendents towards such programs, and the factors which affect the existence of such programs. PROCEDURE A study was made of the literature on programs for the gifted in the U.S. and of past state and national surveys of such programs. A survey form was developed and sent, under the auspices of the Massachusetts Department of Education, to all 244 superintendents in the Commonwealth. A 93% response was eventually elicited. The data were then coded and tabulated and scores derived which represented (1) each school district's degree of effort in behalf of gifted pupils; (2) each superintendent's level of acceptance of special programming for the gifted and of the various provisions subsumed under this concept; and (3) each community's level of acceptance, as perceived by the superintendent, of the concept of special programs for the gifted. Those items which lent themselves to statistical analysis were coded and punched onto IBM cards and entered into the disc memory of an IBM 7094 computer. A program for sorting and analyzing the data was written which included the derivation of partial correlation coefficient for those factors for which relationships were hypothesized. It was hypothesized that statistically significant relationships exist between the nature and extent of programs for the gifted and (1) superintendent attitude, (2) size of district, and (3) wealth of district. It was also hypothesized that programs for the gifted had not expanded in recent years principally because of a still crucial lack of helping funds for such programs. FINDINGS It was found that 14 states now give financial support to district programs for the gifted whereas Massachusetts, a relatively wealthy state, does not. It was found that 32% of the superintendents in Massachusetts are "strongly in favor" of programs for the gifted, 61% are "moderately in favor," 6% are "moderately opposed" and 1% are "strongly opposed." For elementary gifted pupils: 75% of the superintendents favor special classes; 90% favor "redeployment" into ability-grouped classes for reading and arithmetic; 87% support summer enrichment programs; and 81% want to improve their programs of enrichment in the regular class. The only provisions for elementary gifted pupils not favored by a majority of Massachusetts superintendents have to do with acceleration. At the secondary level: At least 95% favor: enrichment in connection with ability grouping, the development of differential curricula and special career seminars; 91% favor Advanced Placement Programs. For both elementary and secondary programs: 88% wish to improve identification procedures, 97% favor the use of special criteria for the selection of teachers of the gifted, and 95% favor special inservice programs for A.T. teachers. In contrast to superintendents' expressed wishes and attitudes, actual programs show that: Fewer than 25% of the districts claim to have systematic identification procedures; only 11% use any special criteria for selecting teachers for the A.T. and only 4% have inservice programs for these teachers; 25% of the districts indicate that they have special classes for the gifted and/or summer enrichment programs; 68% group by ability for reading and 56% for arithmetic. No pupils are accelerated, under any circumstances, in 83% of the districts. In approximately three-fourths of the districts, "enrichment in the regular class" is the principal provision for gifted elementary pupils, although research shows that this approach, without other program concomitants, usually results in "paper" rather than actual programs. At the high school level 87% of the schools practice ability grouping but only half indicate having differential curricula. Fewer than one-fourth of the districts have Advanced Placement Programs. In summary, Massachusetts superintendents report that 62% of the districts make no special provision for the gifted at the elementary level and 42% have no programs at the secondary level. The partial correlation studies revealed that statistically significant relationships exist between A.T. programs and district size and wealth. It was found that community attitude, as perceived by superintendents, also correlated positively with the extent of special programs for the gifted. On the other hand, no significant correlation was found between superintendent attitude and either the nature or extent of elementary or secondary programs for the gifted, whereas quite the opposite was hypothesized. Seventy per cent of the superintendents indicate lack of funds as the principal deterrent to the development of programs for the gifted in their districts. Ninety-eight per cent indicate that they would apply for funds to expand provisions for the gifted if such funds became available. However, inasmuch as superintendents generally regard other educational programs as having higher priority for the limited funds available, it appears that only categorical aid, from State or Federal sources, could lead to significant improvements in educational programming for gifted pupils in the public schools of Massachusetts.
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