Advocating for High Achievers (2-24-16)

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Thanks to No Child Left Behind and its antecedents, American education has focused in recent decades on ensuring that all children, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds, attain a minimum level of academic achievement. Yet our focus on the performance of students “below the bar” has been accompanied by a neglect of girls and boys who have already cleared it, and especially those who soar over it. While it’s true that "federal rulemaking must not inhibit the ability of states to continue to focus on the lowest-performing students," as the group Chiefs for Change has stated, our high-performing students deserve an education that meets their needs, and maximizes their potential. Far too few of them, especially the poor and minority children among them, are getting that kind of education today.

We must persuade our educators and policy makers to attend more purposefully to the schooling of our brightest kids. To that end, Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli recently nominated two worthy individuals for the Department of Education’s Negotiated Rulemaking Committee: M. René Islas, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children, and Jonathan Plucker, inaugural Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development at Johns Hopkins University. “They have the knowledge and understanding to address the topics under consideration by the committee, in particularly computer adaptive assessment which will significantly impact students performing above grade level, especially those from underserved populations,” says Petrilli. Indeed.

This is an extremely important time for high-ability students. ESSA now allows states to use computer-adaptive assessments (such as those developed by the Smarter Balanced consortium) that can be structured and administered in ways that measure growth at every level, without overburdening any student with a ridiculously long test. Islas and Plucker can help states use them correctly and, more broadly, help the country maximize the education of all students—low-performers and high-performers alike.

To learn more, read Petrilli’s letter in full:


February 23, 2016

Mr. James Butler
U.S. Department of Education

Re: Nominations for the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee

M. René Islas
National Association for Gifted Children

Jonathan Plucker
Johns Hopkins University

Dear Mr. Butler:

It is with high regard that I nominate M. René Islas, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), and Professor Jonathan Plucker to serve on the negotiated rulemaking committee being established prior to publishing proposed regulations to implement part A of title I, Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Educational Agencies, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Mr. Islas is a recognized expert in education public policy, working in the public and private sectors. His government experience includes service as a Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary of Education. He managed the overall operations, policy development, and administration of programs within the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE).

Mr. Islas played a pivotal role in the creation of the Title I School Improvement Grant and Teacher Incentive Fund programs. He has experience representing the U.S. Department of Education on issues of teacher quality and working with coalitions of state government education agencies to address teacher supply and demand. Mr. Islas was a key member of the OESE team that considered Title I assessment and accountability plans from 2002 through 2006.

Professor Jonathan Plucker is the Julian C. Stanley Endowed Professor of Talent Development at Johns Hopkins University, where he works in the School of Education and Center for Talented Youth. He has extensive experience working with diverse groups on complex, time-sensitive education policy issues. Professor Plucker was the founding director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

Professor Plucker’s research examines education policy and talent development. Recent work includes a research collaboration with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and studies of creative and affective assessment. His books include Critical Issues and Practices in Gifted Education with Carolyn Callahan, Intelligence 101 with Amber Esping, and Essentials of Creativity Assessment with James Kaufman and John Baer. His work defining and studying excellence gaps is part of a larger effort to reorient policymakers’ thinking about how best to promote success and high achievement for all children. Professor Plucker has worked on projects involving educators, schools, and students in all 50 states and several other countries. He has provided pro bono policy assistance to state and federal policymakers, including K-12 accountability system redesign efforts in Indiana and Florida, as well as policy assistance to several over state departments of education, including recent work with Arizona, Maryland, and New Hampshire.

Professor Plucker assisted with the creation and implementation of an evaluation technical assistance model for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, which was later used by the Office of Special Education and area studies programs.

Mr. Islas and Professor Plucker are well qualified to represent NAGC’s constituents that include Federal, State, and local education administrators, school and district administrators, the business community, as well as parents and students, including historically underrepresented students, students with disabilities, English learners, and other historically underserved students. They have the knowledge and understanding to address the topics under consideration by the committee, in particularly computer adaptive assessment which will significantly impact students performing above grade level, especially those from underserved populations.

Mr. Islas and Professor Plucker are committed to attending all negotiation sessions and will actively participate in good faith in the development of the proposed regulations.


Michael J. Petrilli
Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Editor's note: This is part of a series of blog posts that is collaboratively published every Wednesday by the National Association for Gifted Children and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Each post in the series exists both here and on Fordham's Flypaper.