Changes to Vancouver’s school curriculum for gifted students raise concerns

Alexa Bailey in the backyard of her home in Vancouver, British ColumbiaJackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

The Vancouver school board plans to overhaul a curriculum designed for gifted students, leaving some parents worried their children will no longer have the support they need.

The Vancouver School Board said in a statement that it is proposing significant changes to its gifted and enrichment education at the elementary level, including a program called Multi Age Cluster Class, or MACC.

MACC is a special education program for children designated as gifted. It has been in place for more than three decades. The program provides academic enrichment and social-emotional support to students in grades 4-7 through a conceptually advanced curriculum.

MACC is currently a full-time, year-round program, but the board is considering turning it into a series of six-week part-time sessions throughout the school year. The program would no longer be reserved for gifted students, its capacity being increased to 700 students per year instead of 80.

The proposed change to the MACC curriculum follows the board’s decision to phase out specialized math and science courses at the only two Vancouver high schools that still offer them, as The Globe and Mail reported last month. The district said it was scrapping classes to create “diversity, equity and inclusion” in classrooms.

The changes have fueled a debate over the best way for advanced students to be educated and whether it’s best to keep students with diverse learning needs in their own separate programs or put them in the same classes as everyone else. the world.

BC schools hope for return to normal in September

The school board said in its statement that it will review the proposed changes during the next school year. He said no decision would be made until this work was completed. The board argues that the proposal “would expand services, increasing equity of access to gifted enrichment for students in the district.”

“The model would allow students to experience full integration into their current schools while simultaneously benefiting from a best-practice enrichment program,” the district statement reads.

After Lorraine Wong learned of the proposed changes, she and her husband began preparing to apply to private schools for their son, who was assessed as gifted. He has just completed his 2nd year at Annie B. Jamieson Elementary School.

“We prefer to stay in the public system, because my husband and I were part of [it], but we believe we have no choice but to explore options in private schools, where we foresee a more supportive environment for students with our child’s learning needs,” Ms Wong wrote. and her husband Kevin Leung in an email. They added that they were concerned that without a program like the existing version of MACC, their son would “disengage from learning” and start acting inappropriately in class.

The Vancouver School District currently offers six gifted classes with a total of 110 students. Four MACC classes are held in three elementary schools, two in the west and one in the east. Another program, GOLD, designed to meet the needs of gifted high school students with learning disabilities, offers classes at a high school in East Vancouver and another on the west side.

Districtwide, there are currently 676 students with gifted designations, according to the school board, which enrolls about 50,000 K-12 students each year.

Owen Lo, a special education expert at the University of British Columbia, said while it’s good that the VSB is considering expanding MACC to include more eligible students, he was skeptical that that six-week sessions would suffice for some students.

While talented arts, social sciences and language students could find inspiration during a six-week enrichment program and then continue to work on independent projects afterwards, he said , a student whose math abilities are three levels higher than their peers. may require longer and more sustained periods of special attention.

The board’s approach to gifted and high-achieving students has come under scrutiny following its decision to phase out honors courses. Some parents have argued that gifted students have not received enough support from Vancouver’s public education system, and experts have questioned the board’s argument that modifying or eliminating these programs is an effective way to address inequalities.

“I agree there is a clear need to take action to increase racial and socio-economic equity in education,” said Carla Elfers, a Vancouver psychologist whose work focuses on supporting the needs of young people. neurodiverse.

“However, there is no data to suggest that the existence of enrichment programs harms students who are not enrolled in those programs.”

Earlier this month, the Gifted Children Association of BC issued a statement calling on the province’s Ministry of Education and school boards to work together to provide specialized instruction across the province and give all students in need of a more difficult education the opportunity to apply. for that.

The statement also said that the cancellation of programs such as specialization courses is likely to “widen the gap between low-income families and those who can afford enrichment activities. Instead of creating equality of opportunity, it limits low-income parents’ options for advancing their children’s learning.

Jacqueline Specht, director of the Canadian Center for Research on Inclusive Education at Western University, agrees with the Vancouver school board’s efforts to ensure gifted and honored students learn alongside their peers rather than to be placed in separate channels.

“To me, this argument is a red herring. I wonder how many students from low-income families actually enroll in these schools to participate in gifted programs,” said Dr. Specht.

“Generally, we find that groups marginalized by income and race are less likely to be in a gifted education. That’s one of the arguments for not having a lot of separate streams.

Advocates of programs for gifted and high-achieving students have pointed to a disparity in where these programs are offered. For example, in Vancouver, of the 10 high schools that offer Advanced Placement, or AP, courses, seven are located in more affluent neighborhoods on the city’s west side. (Courses are broken down by school, and no school offers a complete list of all AP courses.)

Charmaine Miranda’s daughter, Alexa Bailey, completed all of her Grade 12 credits when she was 15. She wanted to enroll in AP classes, but they weren’t offered at her high school, Sir Charles Tupper Secondary School, on the east side of Vancouver. The family tried to enroll him in schools that offered the lessons. But their requests were refused, because the AP classes are offered in priority to students already enrolled in the schools that provide them, said Ms. Miranda.

“This is discrimination based on postcode,” she said. “I would like to see more AP courses offered on the east side of Vancouver.

Alison Ogden, spokesperson for the school district, said decisions about course offerings are based on the number of applications received from students.

“In fact, one of our strongest AP programs is actually at one of our east side schools – David Thompson. So it depends on the course demands of the students, and that’s how we are funded by the Ministry of Education,” she said in an interview.

Dr Lo, the UBC expert, said the disproportionate distribution of gifted programs is a “deep-rooted problem” that has existed in gifted education for decades.

He explained that when gifted programs were first developed about two to three decades ago, they were delivered in areas where more students with advanced learning needs were identified. These early decisions, he said, continue to influence which neighborhoods have access to a gifted education and which do not.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our British Columbia and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada confronted with. register today.