A group of parents of elementary school students in a gifted program has petitioned the High Court of Justice against an Education Ministry decision requiring such students to pass an additional exam in the sixth grade in order to remain in a gifted track in secondary education. The new exam is expected to be given within a few weeks.
Before the change was introduced, children who passed the screening test administered in second grade were automatically allowed to continue in gifted programs into junior high and high school. The change is the result of a shortage of slots for gifted students and a desire to broaden participation in gifted programs to as many students as possible.
The parents who filed the petition claim that the new requirement will harm their children in the event they fail and are forced to switch to a regular classroom. But many parents of gifted students chose not to join the legal action. “My son’s spot in the gifted class isn’t registered in the land registry,” one father quipped. “There is also importance to considerations of equality and fairness.”
Some students in the gifted track can choose between placement for the entire school week in a separate gifted class, which generally operates out of a regular school building, or attending regular classes while being excused one day a week to do enrichment study elsewhere. The decision is influenced by a number of factors.
There are only seven elementary schools in Israel – in six communities – with separate classes for gifted students. All are in central Israel. The educational and social preferences of the students and their parents also influence the decision. About 4,500 of the country’s 21,000 gifted students are in entirely separate classes.
The petition challenging the sixth grade exam was filed about two weeks ago by 10 parents. Their lawyer, Yonatan Berman, claimed that the Education Ministry did not assess the “educational, social and emotional implications of requiring a student who was in a gifted class in elementary school to be retested.” He said the 10 petitioners represent a larger group of about 200 parents and children.
The Education Ministry rejected the arguments and noted that the change in policy was made public two years ago.
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The petition made a distinction between gifted elementary school children who spend most of their week in a regular classroom and those represented by Berman, who are in separate gifted classes for the entire week, who the petition claimed could suffer social and emotional harm. According to a professional opinion of a psychologist cited by Berman, the transfer to a regular classroom for these children would “harm the sense of self-worth of gifted children.” A second opinion by a psychiatrist cited by Berman warned of the prospect of emotional difficulties “to the point of fear, depression and the risk of suicide.”
In a letter to Berman, the ministry said that in light of the limited number of slots in gifted classes operating in elementary schools, it is important to test students in the sixth grade. Screening the students then would open up slots for gifted secondary school students from communities that do not have gifted programs in their elementary schools, and to those who have been identified as gifted after second grade, the ministry said.