NAGC Convention Coverage

January, 2018

This concludes our coverage of the annual convention of the National Association for Gifted Children on November 9-12 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Next year’s convention is November 15-18 in Minneapolis. Following are write-ups of two of the 2e-related sessions we covered:

The Next IDEA

Presenters: Barbara Gilman, Gifted Development Center; Kathi Kearney, Maine School Administrative District 51; William Knudsen, NAGC; Megan Foley Nicpon, University of Iowa; Michael Postma, SENG; Sylvia Rimm, Family Achievement Clinic

Kathi Kearney of Maine School Administrative District 51 set the stage. She noted the session was the beginning of a conversation on how to fix to problems with the way the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) serves twice-exceptional students. Ironically, some of those problems stem from the most recent revision to IDEA in 2004.

Until 2004, according to Barbara “Bobbie” Gilman, Associate Director of Denver’s Gifted Development Center, children suspected of having a learning disability were referred for a comprehensive assessment, the results of which would determine eligibility for services. One criterion for flagging students for this type of evaluation was “unexpected academic underachievement” — students performing below the levels of achievement they were thought to be capable of. This method for identifying learning disabilities is known as the discrepancy model and is useful for identifying 2e students.

According to Gilman, the 2004 revisions to IDEA made it harder for 2e children to be identified for services for these reasons:

  • Eligibility emphasized performance below grade level while many, if not most, 2e students are capable of performing at or above grade level.
  • The discrepancy model was de-emphasized.
  • The availability of comprehensive evaluations became more limited.
  • The Response to Intervention (RTI) approach to identifying learning problems — which is not optimal for identifying and serving twice-exceptional students — became the go-to method.

For the 2e child, all of this resulted in later identification, less of a chance for early intervention, and a greater opportunity for failure. In addition, said Gilman, without a comprehensive assessment, parents, educators, and service providers have much less information on which to base interventions and services.

Michael Postma, Executive Director of SENG, agreed that comprehensive assessment and discrepancy scoring are key and suggested moving forward with a comprehensive assessment for all children suspected of having learning challenges. He noted that non-traditional populations are largely ignored by existing policy, and that we need to determine how to identify them.

Megan Foley Nicpon, a clinician and professor at the University of Iowa, recommended using both RTI and a comprehensive assessment to identify twice-exceptional students. However, she observed, access to providers and the cost of a comprehensive assessment can be obstacles for families of 2e children, causing us to miss students, especially those of color and those from low-income families. Foley Nicpon also recommended eliminating the grade-level criterion for identifying 2e students because it doesn’t apply to them.

Psychologist Sylvia Rimm said she sees issues with identification in the clinic she works in, and agrees with the need for 2e-specific legislation. In the absence of such legislation, she suggested using 504 Plans to secure simple accommodations. Rimm also observed that she would like to see a definition of giftedness that doesn’t equate the label with talent in all areas.

Panelists had some very specific thoughts about what needs to be done when IDEA is reauthorized:

  • Maintain the current statutory definition of specific learning disabilities (SLDs).
  • Do comprehensive assessments for children performing at grade level academically as well as for children with high intellectual potential. Such assessments would include a comprehensive individual IQ test, an individual achievement test, and diagnostic tests in all areas of suspected disability.
  • Designate twice-exceptional learners as a category in IDEA, stating that these are gifted learners with one or more SLDs.
  • Inform parents of the right to request a special education evaluation or 504 Plan evaluation at their school at any time, regardless of whether the child has been located by RTI or is receiving RTI intervention.
  • Require states to be compliant with IDEA legislation concerning 2e students.
  • Provide assessment of high school students to enable them to continue receiving accommodations in college or vocational programs.

The Next IDEA: What Can We Do?

The opinion of William Knudsen, NAGC’s director of government relations, is that reauthorization of IDEA might not happen in this administration, but rather in 2021. He noted, however, that advocates for 2e children can gain strength by starting early and communicating with legislators; and he provided some general insights into how to communicate effectively:

  • Federal and state staff need to be informed about the issues facing 2e students and their families.
  • Be aware that many people believe myths about giftedness, such as gifted children do not need help.
  • Staffers read tweets, so do not be divisive in your advocacy.

In addition, Knudsen offered these tips for advocating for changes in IDEA:

  • Provide specific examples and do it in a bipartisan way.
  • One-pagers (high-level overviews or synopses) are important.
  • Develop relationships with your three federal legislators and your state contacts in the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).
  • Legislative language is more likely to be accepted if it’s backed by research and is detailed and clear.
    Work with career and political staff at the federal and state levels.
  • Be proactive by regularly updating policymakers and staff regarding the needs of 2e students.
  • Become a trusted resource and provide practical solutions to advance your policy objectives.
  • Work with others who share your objectives. There is strength in numbers.
  • Do not complain without offering a solution.

See more of Knudsen’s thoughts on IDEA reauthorization along with federal and state contact information here.

Feniks: A Drop-out Center for Twice-exceptional Students

Presenters: Tijl Koenderink and Femke Hovinga from Take on Talents

Have you known 2e high-schoolers who have “crashed and burned,” and have you wished there were resources to help them reestablish themselves, to rise from their ashes? There’s a program for that — in the Netherlands. It’s spelled Feniks (Phoenix to us), and it’s a drop-out center for twice-exceptional high school students.

The purpose of Feniks is to both prevent drop-outs and to get those who do drop out back into society. At worst, the young people are completely demotivated, bored, burnt-out, and withdrawn from the world. They may engage in self-harm or be suicidal. While intelligent, they are likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, ASD, anxiety, or specific learning disabilities.  According to the presenters, 30 percent of students with IQs between 130 and 140 drop out, and 60 percent of those with IQs over 140.

The presenters highlighted the individual and societal costs of dropping out and curtailing one’s education:

  • A lower quality of life for the dropout
  • Costs of care and support for the society
  • A loss of production and talent to society.

They explained that they know what not fitting into the educational system is like. Tijl Koenderink said he went to three different high schools and spent two extra years. Femke Hovinga’s story involved feeling left out and bullied in high school and almost dropping out. Today, the two speakers say that, besides helping individual students, they want to be “mosquitoes” to make the school system” itch” and take action to fix flaws in the Dutch school system.

To help individual drop-outs, Feniks has a six-phase “Talent Guidance Model”:

  1. The student must recover and stabilize to be ready for the remaining phases.
  2. The student “activates” to get over the “I can’t” posture and, in the words of the presenters, to “get off the sofa.” This may happen through activities such as drama, flying a drone, or woodwork.
  3. The student participates in activities and learns to connect with others with the help of a personal mentor and instruction in positive psychology.
  4. The student spends time deciding what he or she might want to do in terms of learning and talent development. This includes learning about one’s own learning style and talents.
  5. During the exploration phase, the student re-enters the outside world, perhaps working with a business and continuing a vocational program, or preparing to re-enter the regular school system.
  6. The student reaches “the final phase, Flying out” on his or her own.

This was a fascinating session that drew far too few attendees. It highlighted cross-cultural differences between the Netherlands and the United States, as well as differences in educational systems. Both sets of differences begged an entire range of “why not do this” questions. One of the presenters, Tijl Koenderink, said that he plans to be in the United States, touring and consulting until well into 2018. If you get a chance to hear him speak, we suggest that you take it. 

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