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    Good Grades for Gifted Student Classes


    For quite a few years now, special classes for gifted students have been implemented at grammar schools in the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. Researchers from Würzburg, Trier and Erlangen have studied them to determine whether they live up to expectations. The results are definite.

    "Special classes for gifted students at grammar schools have clear advantages. Their implementation is recommendable in sufficiently populated areas – i.e. mainly in large cities". Wolfgang Schneider, Professor of Psychology in Würzburg, draws this conclusion from a current study, the results of which are available now. Schneider is the founder of the Counseling Center for the Gifted and Talented at the University of Würzburg, where the project described below was coordinated.

    Together with researchers from the Universities of Trier and Erlangen-Nuremberg, Professor Schneider and Dr. Eva Stumpf, a private lecturer (currently interim professor at the institute), interviewed over 1000 students from eight grammar schools in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg for this study in the period between 2008 and 2012. 324 of these students attended special classes for gifted children and their development was followed by the researchers from fifth grade to seventh grade. In the study, the researchers were particularly interested in a comparison between these students and other gifted students attending parallel regular classes, who had been sent by their parents to regular school despite having been identified as gifted children.

    The results of the study

    The question that interested the researchers the most was: Do students in special gifted classes show a higher performance in comparison to students in regular classes? Clear result: Absolutely. "The students of the gifted classes clearly lead the field in all our achievement tests," says Schneider. They also show a performance lead over equally gifted students with above-average ability assigned to regular classes, which result wasn't necessarily expected.

    No matter whether German, mathematics, English or biology (nature and technology) was concerned: The students of the gifted classes scored higher in all these fields. Over the study period, they improved their reading speed significantly more than did the children in the comparison classes. There were hardly any gender differences: Girls and boys of gifted classes showed high performance at about the same level – only in English did the girls score a little bit higher.

    Furthermore, the inclination to take on intellectual challenges and to take pleasure in thinking activities was significantly more pronounced in gifted classes.

    Reasons for the high score

    The researchers decline to settle on the reasons for the higher score in the achievement tests. "The study does not permit any definite conclusions on this question," says Eva Stumpf. But it is to be expected, firstly, that gifted students as such have the ability to pick up certain competences more quickly. Secondly, gifted classes are usually more homogenous with respect to such achievement opportunities and they foster student development in a more demanding way – which also leads, quite expectedly, to better performance.

    The prejudiced belief that gifted classes are an assortment of socially difficult characters and a breeding ground for permanent conflict was not confirmed in the study – quite the contrary. "Students of these classes usually felt quite at ease there. Many of them said that they now liked going to school after their predominantly negative experiences during primary school," Schneider explains. They felt more highly recognized in the social environment of the gifted classes than did their equally gifted peers in the regular classes; the majority of them felt very well integrated in the class community.

    Opinion of parents and teachers

    Parents who had placed their child in a gifted class generally rated this type of education quite highly. "Many of them felt that things were not going well when their children were in primary school. After the transition to the gifted class, their situation eases off noticeably," says Eva Stumpf. In particular, the parents praised the high level of individual support and the successful social integration.

    What about the teachers? They also mostly report positive experiences with the gifted classes – although they partly had to put in more time preparing their lessons. Apparently, they liked to leave the beaten path of regular teaching. After all, they had the opportunity to teach differently in these classes: they could go through the regular curriculum at a faster pace and offer additional contents.

    In conflict with the idea of inclusion

    Special classes for gifted students, wherever there is sufficient demand for it: This would be one of the consequences of this study. Another conclusion is put by Wolfgang Schneider in slightly more cautious terms: "The results run counter to the current trend towards inclusion," he says. Instead, they seem to support the opposite approach, namely segregation by talent and aptitude in case of high intellectual abilities.

    According to Schneider, the main argument in favor of this approach is the following aspect: Since the yearly percentage of the children transferring from primary education to grammar school is far greater today than it was two or three decades ago, there are pretty large achievement gaps between the top and bottom performers. If gifted students and students with special educational needs complicate matters, the teaching staff will find it difficult to cope – especially if they have only received the usual kind of pedagogical training. The lecture-style instruction prevalent today is usually oriented towards the "average student" so that gifted students are prone to feel under-challenged and unmotivated.

    The concept of "intellectual giftedness"

    Intellectual giftedness is equated by scientists with an IQ score of 130 and above. Only two percent of the population gets such results. To be accepted in a gifted class, it is usually sufficient to get an IQ score of 120 – which value is reached by ten percent of people. The grades in school and the results of further special tests are additional criteria for deciding whether a child with sufficiently high IQ should be accepted in a gifted class.

    More information on the study

    The study is called PULSS, which is an acronym for the exact German name "Projekt für die Untersuchung des Lernens in der Sekundarstufe" (Project for Studying the Learning Progress at Secondary School Level). The project also involved Prof. Franzis Preckel (University of Trier) and Prof. Albert Ziegler (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg). The study was coordinated by Prof. Wolfgang Schneider and PD Dr. Eva Stumpf at the Counseling Center for the Gifted and Talented at the University of Würzburg.

    With tests and questionnaires, the study documented the development of scholastic achievement and other relevant aspects of school experience, such as motivation, well-being and self-concept of children in gifted classes and regular classes from fifth grade to seventh grade. The teaching staff of gifted classes kept teaching journals. The parents of participating students were asked in questionnaires about the reasons for their choice of class, their expectations and their satisfaction with the educational support for their child.

    The project was funded by the Bavarian and Baden-Württembergian Ministries of Education and by the Karg Foundation with EUR 688,000.

    In Bavaria, special classes for gifted students are currently implemented at the following schools:

    •    Gymnasium bei St. Stephan Augsburg

    •    Markgräfin-Wilhelmine-Gymnasium Bayreuth

    •    Comenius-Gymnasium Deggendorf

    •    Otto-von-Taube-Gymnasium Gauting

    •    Maria-Theresia-Gymnasium München

    •    Dürer-Gymnasium Nürnberg

    •    Kepler-Gymnasium Weiden

    •    Deutschhaus-Gymnasium Würzburg

    Contact person

    Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schneider, T: +49 (0)931 31-84822

    PD Dr. Eva Stumpf, T: +49 (0)931 31-82749

    By Gunnar Bartsch