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Gifted Students Often 'Lost' in Vocational Ed.

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Washington--Vocational educators have long been concerned about the caliber of the students who enter vocational programs. But while their attention has been concentrated on student performance based on standard intelligence tests, they have often overlooked the fact that vocational classrooms have their share of "gifted and talented," said an educator who addressed a group of vocational leaders meeting here recently.

Although exceptional students have traditionally been encouraged to pursue college-preparatory programs, some have nevertheless opted for business education, according to R. Jon Ackley, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University's school of education.

'Persistent Myths'

But, he cautioned, unless vocational educators work to dispel "persistent myths" about the educational placement of gifted and talented students and make an effort to identify these students and their "unique characteristics," the outlook for attracting more of the best students will not improve.

"We can't expect to have the best students if we offer them lock-step curricula," he said during a session of the National Business Education Association conference.

In Virginia, Mr. Ackley said, the state requires that the public schools provide "differentiated instruction" in each of the eight vocational-education divisions for the purpose of increasing educational challenges and enriching the experiences and opportunities available to gifted and talented students.

To help teachers carry out that mandate, the state board of educa-tion two years ago developed a handbook which offers information on how to identify gifted and talented students and how to provide a stimulating curriculum, he explained.

Differentiated instruction, according to Mr. Ackley, reinforces the regular program. In business education, he said, it could mean pairing a student with a successful businessman, assigning a consumer-research project, or allowing work experience through a cooperative-education program.

But the biggest obstacle by far to making the program work, according to Mr. Ackley, has been identifying exceptional students. "More students graduate having been identified as retarded than as gifted," Mr. Ackley said, "because they are easier to identify."

Gifted and talented students do not have a single identity because they are not a homogeneous group. "If you just chose I.Q.," he said, ''then you miss a lot of people. And continued use of teacher observation alone is unreliable" as a measure of a student's abilities.

Using a student's I.Q. to measure giftedness, according to Mr. Ackley, "is like keeping a student off a basketball team because he's 5 feet 8 and the cutoff begins at 6 feet."

Gifted and Talented

The handbook developed by the state's task force notes a number of characteristics--such as curiosity, good judgment, leadership, and analytical ability--associated with gifted and talented students.

Once a teacher perceives one or more of these characteristics in a student, according to the handbook, guidance counselors and other specialists should be consulted "to assure appropriate testing, program planning, and career guidance."

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