Secondary Advanced Academic Courses: Instructors' Attitudes and Differentiated Practices for Gifted Students in Heterogeneous AP and IB Courses
McWilliams-Abendroth, Christie Ellen
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Advanced secondary academic programs such as Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) were traditionally reserved for challenging gifted and high-ability students to engage in college-level coursework while still in high school. The landscape of secondary gifted services is changing, however. College admissions formulas now have expanded to include participation in advanced coursework, and several financial, accountability, and scholarship incentive programs have been developed across the United States at federal, state, and local levels to entice students with a wider range of ability levels to enroll in AP and IB courses. Consequently, AP and IB classes have become a "cornerstone of American high school reform" and increasingly are becoming more heterogeneous (Bruley, 2014; Bunnell, 2009; Colangelo et al., 2004; College Board, 2014; Gallagher, 2009, p. 117; "National Inventory," 2006). With AP and IB courses continuing to serve as the most prevalent method of secondary gifted services, there are growing concerns that as these classes become more heterogeneous, their appropriateness for gifted students will decrease (Callahan, 2003; Gallagher, 2009; Lichten, 2000; Winebrenner, 2006). Secondary Advanced Academic Courses: Instructors' Attitudes and Differentiated Practices for Gifted Students in Heterogeneous AP and IB Classrooms responds to this concern. This dissertation study explored AP and IB instructors' attitudes toward gifted education, how frequently they differentiated curriculum and instruction for their gifted students, and how their attitudes as well as contextual variables ultimately impacted their differentiated classroom practices. A survey invitation was delivered electronically to a national, random sample of 9,787 AP and IB instructors, and 377 surveys were returned, yielding a return rate of 3.85%. Respondents expressed their attitudes toward gifted education by completing Gagné and Nadeau’s Attitude Scale (Gagné, 1991-a), indicated how frequently they used specified instructional practices for both their gifted and non-gifted students by completing Archambault et al.'s (1993) Classroom Practices Teacher Survey, and completed a teacher information questionnaire collecting contextual data. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, exploratory factor analysis (EFA), and structural equation modeling (SEM). Additionally, participants' optional comments were categorized, and a set of themes emerged from the data. The data suggested AP and IB instructors' attitudes about gifted education ranged from ambivalent to very positive overall. Instructors reported ambivalent attitudes concerning school acceleration and the perception that gifted education is elitist. They reported somewhat positive attitudes about the social value of gifted persons, the idea that gifted students need more than what the regular school program can provide, and the idea that gifted students need equal opportunities for learning compared with other student groups. They showed very positive attitudes about the need to offer and support gifted education. AP and IB instructors indicated they offered multiple types of differentiated practices several times per a month, sometimes daily, with their gifted students. The data showed instructors encouraged higher-level questions daily, modified the curriculum and instruction and allowed students to pursue individual interests several times a month, and assigned projects and reports slightly more than once a month. Instructors rarely, if ever, assigned seatwork or provided learning or enrichment centers. With the exceptions of seatwork and learning or enrichment centers, when the frequencies of these practices with gifted students were compared with the frequencies of these practices with non-gifted students within the same class, the differences seemed quite small, as instructors reported engaging in all activities only slightly more with their gifted students as compared with their non-gifted students. Although the differences seemed small, however, they were statistically significant. Optional comments instructors provided indicated that they treated all students the same because they felt the AP and IB course content is sufficient to meet gifted students' needs, the curriculum does not allow time to differentiate, and non-gifted students are as equally capable as gifted students. Only one attitudinal factor significantly influenced instructors' classroom practices with their gifted students. Educators with more positive attitudes about the need to offer and fund special educational services for the gifted more frequently offered differentiated activities for their gifted students in all measured areas. No contextual variable examined in this study had a significant impact on any of the classroom practices factors. Two contextual variables, however, significantly impacted instructors' attitudes. Having 0-3 years of experience teaching gifted students had a statistically positive effect on instructors' attitudes about school acceleration. Additionally, having some degree of training in gifted education, as opposed to no training, had a statistically significant positive effect on attitudes about gifted students' being equally important to serve compared with other student groups. Although respondents indicated they offered differentiated activities for their students several times a month, sometimes daily, their providing only slight modifications for gifted students as compared with their non-gifted students support other studies suggesting modifications for gifted students typically are limited (Draper & Post, 2010; Hertberg-Davis, Callahan, & Kyburg, 2006; MacFarlane, 2008). This study also adds to the conversation about instructors' attitudes toward gifted and how attitudes may influence classroom decisions, as research in this area has shown mixed results (Copenhaver & McIntyre, 1992; Cramond & Martin, 1987; Gagné, 1983; Megay-Nespoli, 2001; McCoach & Siegle, 2007). When considering that only slight modifications for gifted students are being made in mixed-ability AP and IB classrooms, and considering that instructors' justifications for their lack of differentiation revolved around "rigid" AP and IB requirements, it seems logical this problem should be addressed by the entities responsible for the programs and AP and IB teacher preparation‒the College Board and the International Baccalaureate. With an increasing diverse student body in terms of preparation and ability, it is imperative that AP and IB instructors not only help all students be successful in an accelerated and rigorous environment, but also understand how to provide optimal learning experiences for gifted students within this changing landscape.