One Size Fits All Does NOT Work: CCSS and the Gifted Learner in NYS

Update regarding gifted learners in NYS public schools:

Earlier this month the New York State Education Department (NYSED) issued a special education field advisory memorandum advising school districts that gifted students, such as students with high cognition, may be eligible – but are not automatically qualified – for special education programming and services if they exhibit a severe discrepancy between their level of intellectual ability and achievement.

NYSED issued the field advisory memorandum in response to the United States Department of Education’s recent request that all states widely distribute the December 2013 letter by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) on the same topic ( see Letter to Delisle link below).

Although only a very small percentage of students are both gifted and have special needs (also known as “twice exceptional students”), OSEP expressed concern that these students – especially students with learning disabilities – are often overlooked for classification as students with disabilities and, as a result, are unfairly and inappropriately denied special education services and supports.

This oversight can be explained. First, NYS provides students a constitutional right to a sound BASIC education, gifted learners have higher cognition needs that are beyond what is considered “basic”.

Also, for most students with disabilities, the need for a Committee on Special Education (CSE) referral is based on clear and objective factors such as low or failing grades, the need for retention or the lack of overall progress. But often these signs are not present with gifted students with learning disabilities. This is because these students are usually still able to earn average grades or score in the average range on cognitive and achievement tests despite having a learning disability – they are not challenged but this is hard to quanitfy and diagnose at times.

OSEP advises that these “twice exceptional students” may still be eligible for special education, especially if there’s a severe discrepancy between their level of intellectual ability (which may be very high) and achievement (which may be average) which could be the basis for a learning disabled classification.

According to the National Education Association, these students are a “national resource whose future contributions to society are largely contingent upon offering them appropriate educational experiences. Without appropriate education and services, their discoveries, innovations, breakthroughs, leadership, and other gifts to American society go unrealized.”

Notably, this does not mean that the CSE will automatically classify as learning disabled every gifted student with high cognition who is performing lower than expected at school. NYSED and OSEP both highlight that no single measure or assessment, including the above-mentioned – and often criticized – severe-discrepancy standard, should be used as the basis for classifying (or not classifying) a student as disabled.

In each case, there are a seemingly countless number of factors that the CSE may consider including, among others, whether the student has received appropriate instruction; whether the student is proficient in English; whether the student is experiencing any medical or personal problems that may be interfering with his or her academic functioning; or whether the student would benefit from additional general education instruction in a response-to-intervention format. One or more of these factors could support the CSE’s decision not to classify a gifted student as disabled, despite a severe discrepancy between the student’s intellectual ability and achievement.

Going forward, based on NYSED and OSEP’s guidance, when presented with a gifted student with high cognition who displays a severe discrepancy between his or her level of intellectual ability and achievement, it is advisable that CSE should not automatically classify the student as learning disabled.

Likewise, it is advisable that CSE should not refuse to classify the student based on the presupposition that a gifted student with average or passing grades should not be classified as disabled.

Instead, it is advisable that the CSE should consider all relevant factors and base its eligibility determination on the student’s individualized needs and abilities.
NYSEDs advisory can be found here:

USDEs Letter on Delisle can be found here:

Harris Beach Memo on GIfted Learners

Schools of Thought Hudson Valley, NY


NY Times has been reporting on gifted students ie: segregating students by ability, tracking gifted etc. all measures designed  to improve student achievement.

I wrote a letter to Regents, Cuomo, King et al this winter raising my own concerns about CCSS and testing in light of  gifted learners in NYS which is responsive to many of the issues discussed by the NY Times in the debate piece.

For purposes of providing some of the backstory on gifted learners in NYS, here is the relevant  portion of my letter raising concerns about CCSS, testing and NYS laws regarding gifted learners:

“I note that the National Assoc for Gifted Children has raised serious concerns about Core standards in so far as they have opined that the Core standards stymie gifted learners considerably. According to NAGC, the standards serve as a floor not a ceiling but there are no caveats in the…

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