by Yvonne Golczewski, September 2012
Gifted learners can be found in every conceivable demographic population. Contrary to what our media would have us believe, they do not have a stereotypical appearance. They come in every skin color and are from every culture and economic strata. They can be found anywhere in the world. They can even be found in the special education student population.
Because many gifted students do not fit our preconceived ideas about them, many are inadvertently overlooked or underserved, leading to underrepresented demographic populations in gifted education programs. Some minority groups of gifted learners, particularly Black, Hispanic American, and Native American, may be underrepresented by as much as 30 to 70%, with an average of 50%. 1
According to the report, Mind the (Other) Gap! The Growing Excellence Gap in K–12 Education, “Reardon (2008) examined the Black-White academic gaps among initially high- and low- achieving students. In a longitudinal study, he found that even though both Black and White students initially had the same reading and math skills when entering kindergarten, Black students tended to fall well behind their White peers in later grades. In addition, the Black-White gaps grew faster among students who were initially above the mean of reading and math skills than those below the mean. Reardon suggests that Black high-achievers may be attending schools with less challenging learning experiences and fewer resources.” 2
Another alarming statistic is between 18 and 25% of gifted and talented students drop out of school. Gifted dropouts were generally from a lower socio-economic status family and had little or no access to extracurricular activities, hobbies, and computers. 3
Two Underlying Causes
The Need for Training
Some gifted learners, especially from underprivileged backgrounds, do not start school with an advanced collection of knowledge or vocabulary. Some may not speak English or may have a learning disability that hides their intellectual ability. Others may not have a strong drive to achieve. Some may just be very shy and quiet. There are a multitude of reasons why some gifted learners are more difficult to identify.
Unfortunately, many education programs in universities do not provide the training necessary for teachers to work effectively with gifted learners. In fact, very few universities have specific programs to train teachers to work with gifted students. Even after graduating, the Fordham Institute found that 58% of teachers have received no professional development focused on teaching academically advanced students in the past few years. 4
Educators must receive the training necessary to understand and identify the true traits of gifted learners so they can be recognized in every classroom. This is the first step to repairing the underrepresentation problem.
Once they are identified, educators must be trained in how to meet the educational needs of these unusual students if they are going to reach their potential. A student with and I.Q. of 130 is just as different from the average student as one with an I.Q. of 70. Gifted learners think and learn differently than the vast majority of other students. The regular classroom’s curriculum is inappropriate for these students. And, contrary to a popular myth and evidenced by the above statistics, they are not teaching themselves or making it on their own.
According to the NAGC (National Association of Gifted Children), “teacher training is critical to the success of these students. Just as one would not expect a star athlete to reach his or her potential without the guidance of a coach, the same is true for learners. tudents with high abilities need gifted education programs and services led by trained educators in order to enable them to make continuous progress in school. Without properly trained teachers, students cannot excel to their highest potential, and often find themselves bored and frustrated in school.” 5
Inconsistent Program Availability
There are wide disparities in the availability and quality of gifted programs from district to district and from school to school across the state. Many districts leave the decisions regarding gifted identification and programs up to individual schools. Some schools effectively identify their gifted and talented students and provide a significant number of appropriate programs while others provide little, if any. Curiously, guidelines and oversight are consistently mandated across districts and the state regarding the identification of special education students and the proper education programs for these and regular classroom students.
This inconsistency is an equity issue. Access to appropriate gifted programs should not depend on where you happen to live. Until this is rectified, underrepresentation of minority and special populations, including English language learners, students living in poverty, and special education students will continue unabated.
Correcting the inequality does not have to be expensive. There are some budget friendly ways to solve this issue. Online teacher training courses, acceleration methods, and curriculum compacting are just a few. The NAGC provides current, research-supported information about effective training and program options on their website and in their publications. See: http://www.nagc.org/.
As citizens, we need to advocate for ensuring identification and programming quality, consistency, and oversight from our district, state, and national education authorities. Seek out or start parent groups to synergize your efforts. Let us not stand aside and allow this tragedy to continue. We need to do what is right for the children, our society, and the future of our nation.
1 Ross, P. et al. (1993). National Excellence: a Case for Developing America’s Talent. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ED), Programs for the Improvement of Practice.
2 Reardon, S. (2008). Differential growth in the Black-White achievement gap during elementary school among initially high- and low-scoring students. Institute for Research on Education Policy & Practice Working Paper 2008-7.
Plucker, J., Burroughs, N., Song, R., Mind the (Other) Gap! The Growing Excellence Gap in K–12 Education, Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, Feb. 2010 (p.2), https://www.iub.edu/~ceep/Gap/excellence/ExcellenceGapBrief.pdf
3 Myth: Gifted Students Don’t Need Help; They’ll Do Fine On Their Own, National Association for Gifted Children, Retrieved October 24, 2011, from http://www.nagc.org/index2.aspx?id=5064
4 Farkas, S., & Duffet, A. (2008). High-achieving students in the era of NCLB: Results from a national teacher survey (p 53). Washington, DC: Fordham Institute, Retreived from NAGC website, 9/24/12, Myth: Teachers Challenge All The Students, So Gifted Kids Will Be Fine In The Regular Classroom, http://www.nagc.org/commonmyths.aspx
5 Common Gifted Education Myths, National Association for Gifted Children, Retrieved October 24, 2011, from http://www.nagc.org/commonmyths.aspx