I May Not Be Gifted After All

At age 15, my classmates and I were already studying calculus in high school. Surprisingly, I still chose to take algebra during my first semester in college. Everyone would have thought that I was misplaced especially if one knew that I had already taken not just calculus, but also linear algebra and analytical geometry. But I still enjoyed my algebra class in the university. I might not be gifted after all because I did not feel bored. I did not feel that the course was lacking in challenge. This is the greatest concern that proponents of gifted education raise with regard to the gifted. Rachana Bhatt wrote in A Review of Gifted and Talented Education in the United States, "Advocates for gifted education argue that special curricula are needed for high-achieving students so they do not become disinterested in school, which can lead to low achievement and poor work habits." It is equally true, however, that every child needs to be challenged and my algebra instructor definitely knew how to challenge a student who already has taken calculus.

Gifted programs are likewise present in the United States. If one uses academic performance as a tool to identify gifted students, the fact that being gifted means being exceptional requires that a student should be performing twice the standard deviation above average. This translates to the top 2.5 percent. In Bhatt's review, she notes that about 12 percent of students in the state of Virginia are identified as gifted in 2006. This is very high especially when compared to the numbers from Massachusetts in which less than 1 percent is considered gifted. 12 percent is actually close to just being one standard deviation above average. When the percentage of gifted students starts to become significant, there is a real danger that schools are becoming two-tiered.

Giftedness, obviously, should not be dependent on race or socio-economic status. NPR reports, however, that "Minority and free-reduced lunch students are extremely underrepresented in gifted programs nationwide." Of course, when the number of students being admitted to an advanced academic program is large, the criteria are more likely to favor the privileged. With all honesty, it is actually very difficult to identify an academically gifted child. This is very different from noticing a talent in music or sports. A child's background can greatly influence if not fully determine a child's academic performance. As a parent, while I cannot possibly turn my four-year old into a Beethoven, I can surely teach 1-2-3, A-B-C, and even take trips to museums, zoos, and shows with my child. And voila, my child can appear very advanced when he or she enters kindergarten. But this is not being gifted, it is being privileged. Some screening procedures claim that nonverbal measures are also used, but even this type of assessment can be rehearsed or targeted. The sad part is that gifted students do get bored when they do not feel challenged. Thus, it is ironic that truly gifted students often do not excel academically. Academically gifted individuals often exhibit poor work habits because they can usually pass an exam without exerting that much effort. Thus, it is very likely that current screening methods for giftedness are actually just screening for privilege.

In a recent article on the Washington Post, Andrew Van Dam summarizes this quite well in his title, "It's better to be born rich than gifted".

Above copied from the Washington Post

The Washington Post article talks about results from a recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. It is found that genes connected to giftedness do not determine rates in college graduation. It is family income that does.

Above copied from the Washington Post

Children with the highest genetic score but are born to a poor family are actually less likely to graduate than children with the lowest genetic score but are born to a wealthy family.

A former principal, Brian Butler, in the elementary school my children attend offers the following perspective on a post made on Facebook:


Brian Butler
October 17 at 2:41 PM ·
Student A:
Gifted? Most likely not. Advanced most likely yes at this point.
Student B:
Slow learner? Most likely not. Advanced? Just Not "Yet"
Child A and Child B were born on the same day in the same hospital.
Child A was taken home from the hospital by parents who loved him and wanted the best for him. They were very comfortable financially, college educated and knew what to do to support the child's total social, emotional and cognitive development. They read to the child every night, ate dinner at the table, put the child in preschool, traveled many place including a number of trips on airplanes, set up play dates with others children, had the child participate in enriching activities with other peers and from day one there was not a thought that this child would be successful and the expectations was college and beyond. Weekends were full of birthday parties and trips to museums and parks.
Child B was taken home from the hospital by parents who loved him and wanted the best for him as well. Child Bs parents did not speak English well and had only a 5th and 3rd grade education. They worked multiple jobs respectively, and relied on their older teenage children to watch their sibling when they worked. Child B spent much of the time before the age of 5 not being read to and mostly in the house. Child B did not attend preschool. Child B stayed in the house and watched television and was not allowed to go out and play and was not involved in any extracurricular activities.
When Child A and Child B entered kindergarten the teacher gushed at how advanced and even possibly “gifted” Child A was and had serious concerns about Child Bs ability to learn because this child did not know one letter or could not identify any numbers.
To make matters worse in first grade both children had to take a test that is a part of the screening to see if they are "gifted". (Ridiculous yep but this is true).
Child A's parents have been talking to their child about the test and prepping the student on how to take the test so Child A is very interested in doing well and takes it seriously. The parents want the "gifted" label because without it they don't have faith (sometimes rightfully so) in the school or system to provide for their child without it.
Child Bs parents get the testing notice from school but really don't understand and they don't say anything to their child about the test. Child B thinks the test is silly and just marks answers not knowing that people will consciously and subconsciously label this student because of a score. Child B a second language student gets a label but it's not gifted.
What's wrong with this picture?
Please don't tell me Child Bs parents need to do better educator. If they could they would and a child should never be judged by us because of who their parents are.
The system labels the kid with all of these advantage (again not the kids fault either and we should never hold any child from excelling) as gifted or "smart" while Child B is labeled a slow or low student.
If anybody had a 5 year head start isn't it reasonable to assume that they would be far ahead when they entered kindergarten? That doesn't make them necessarily gifted, but it does make them privileged to have been born in a family that is able to provide the supports and foundation to have them up and running out of the starting gate when the other student has not even entered the race track.
What have these labels truly done?
How about giving every kid what they need when they need it no matter who their parents are?
Student A should continue to be challenged as should Student B who will get there but is not there just "Yet".
They all have gifts! It's our job to uncover those that are still hidden!
Just a thought....

Indeed, education must be education for all. 


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