GT education has some serious gaps–but there is huge potential to transform a neglected system and support our students.
1. Defining Giftedness
The Issue: Historically, it has been difficult to pin down a widely-accepted, enduring definition of giftedness. We currently operate under a general assumption that giftedness indicates exceptional academic achievement in a given field. Kitano (2003) notes that our standardized tests measure giftedness in English. The problem is that “achievement-based definitions fail to consider limited opportunities for some children to acquire the experiences necessary to demonstrate their potential on standardized verbal tests administered in English” (p. 295). Until our operational definition of giftedness accounts for differences cultural and academic experience, we will continue to create an erroneously exclusive economic and racial label of giftedness.
The Promising Solution: Because defining giftedness is in part a social construction, we have the power to reverse policies and expectations that we have created. Kitano suggests redefining our understanding of academic achievement in terms of cultural and linguistic biliteracy (p. 296). Ultimately, we need to settle on a definition of giftedness, and that definition must reflect the multicultural backgrounds of gifted individuals around the world.
The Issue: Assessment is a hot topic in education in general, let alone in the world of gifted and talented education. Our understanding of best practices is shifting away from kill-and-drill tests toward alternative assessments like portfolios, project-based learning, etc. However, standardized test performance is still the standard for GT identification. While many students will continue to be identified this way, this excludes many English Language Learners or students who may have difficulty with verbal measures (e.g. learning disabilities).
The Promising Solution: The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) urges identification based on a “holistic profile of all students, multiple criteria should be the norm. Qualitative and quantitative information gathered from families, teachers, and students should be part of the evaluative process” (2011). Giftedness should be identified based on a significant body of evidence that includes multiple, varied measures of an individual’s achievement and potential. Such measures might include standardized tests and personal nominations; student records and teacher observations; portfolios and performance-based assessments collected over an extended period of time; and student case studies.
The Issue: Our expectations and our goals simply aren’t high enough or consistent enough. Kitano writes, “While goals for K-12 schools must include academic achievement, they also should address needs for long-term success: resiliency, positive coping skills, and self-efficacy. Expected outcomes should include completing college; entering a profession; providing leadership; and becoming a productive, contributing, well-adjusted world citizen” (p. 297). Yet a pervasive attitude among educators is that students from poverty simply don’t have the resources, support, or emotional strength to succeed at the same level as students from a higher SES. Programming is consistently geared toward English-speaking students who have significant support outside of school.
The Promising Solution: First, we must establish challenging curricula that doesn’t remediate content for non-native English speakers. Transitional programs for students who are identified as GT but are English language learners and/or low SES must include embedded supports based on best practices while utilizing challenging processes and products. Programming must also be culturally responsive and reflect educators’ understanding of their students’ cultures: “All educators and decision makers need to be exposed to scholarship by and about African Americans. Learning about this scholarship should be a prominent feature of teacher education and professional development initiatives” (Ford, Moore, & Scott, 2011, p. 250). The same could also be said of Hispanic and American Indian cultures. Programming changes are necessary not only for GT curricula but for professional development curricula, as well.
- Emphasis on Socioeconomic Status
The Issue: The numbers of GT-identified children from marginalized backgrounds is disproportionately low. The very young children, the impact is much more obvious. For children who live in poverty for multiple years, Kitano notes that “as children reach school age, school and community environments have increasing influence that may equal or outweigh the impact of family conditions. Yet, the home environment, including learning experiences in the home, accounts for 50% of the effect of income on cognitive ability” (p. 295).
The Promising Solution: Parent and community involvement is critical. At-risk gifted learners have a unique set of needs that vary from those of typical gifted learners. They may require additional support services, such as tutoring or counseling programs. Immigrant children and their families may also need language support and social support to adjust to the customs and services of the United States. Beyond the classroom, there is a social imperative here to do more to help struggling families—the majority of which are non-white, non-Hispanic—break the cycle of poverty.
An important note: focusing on children from low SES backgrounds also means focusing on a disproportionate number of children from minority racial groups, particularly African American, Hispanic, and American Indian. However, this doesn’t negate the importance of addressing race, racism, and culture in the classroom or in our society.
- Parent/Family Participation
The Issue: This issue goes hand-in-hand with number four. Learning experiences in the home are so very critical for a child’s growth and development. However, parents who are struggling to provide for their families might not have the time, resources, or educational background to provide the kind of enrichment their GT children need. The trauma of struggling for survival as a low SES family can create an additional, significant emotional burden on parents and children.
The Promising Solution: As noted above, families from low SES backgrounds may need additional services in terms of tutoring, counseling, language support, and social support. A focus on parent education and programming is appropriate here. According to Kitano, “parent programs addressing specific learning strategies (e.g., monitoring homework, tutoring, reducing television time, supporting development of good study habits, and high expectations) appear most likely to have positive effects on children’s academic performance (Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1998)” (p. 299). Ongoing workshops, parent support groups, seminars, and written communication may help parents provide the kind of home environment that will help their GT children thrive.
Ford, D., Moore, J., & Scott, M. (2011). Key Theories and Frameworks for Improving the Recruitment and Retention of African American Students in Gifted Education. The Journal of Negro Education, 80(3), 239-253. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.unco.idm.oclc.org/stable/41341131
Identification. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2016, from https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/gifted-education-practices/identification
Kitano, M. Journal for the Education of the Gifted. Vol. 26, No. 4, 2003, pp. 292-303.