Everybody's gifted or nobody's gifted

Gifted-Student Deficit Disorder is plaguing the Davis school district near Sacramento, writes Xiaochin Claire Yan of Pacific Research Institute.

Two years ago, the Davis school board, concerned that not enough African-American and Hispanic children were testing into the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program, lowered the score for GATE identification. That led to 35 percent of third graders in Davis being identified as gifted. Trying to correct the absurd result, the board again tinkered with the identification procedures. This still yielded 26 percent of its students as gifted this year.

The board is trying again, but not “because 26 percent is still more than three times the state average, but because three of the five board members are concerned that those identified as gifted are predominantly white and Asian.”

I predict they’ll abandon GATE in the name of equality and self-esteem.

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  1. elfcharm says:

    my question is this: When did an IQ of 125 qualify you as gifted?
    I AM an elitist, and although I do not believe in a blanket policy, based on IQ alone, deciding if you get into these programs, I had always read “Gifted” as “Genious (or very close)”

    And in my school, it always was…so…when did it get watered down so much?

  2. Engineer-Poet says:

    What difference does it make?  If there’s a significant group of students whose superior abilities make it possible to educate them at greater speed or in greater depth, but the rest of the student body won’t benefit from this, it makes sense to split the former from the latter.

    If you have more than one logical division, it makes sense to have more than two tiers.

  3. How funny – Davis is a town with a population of 60,000, 30,000 of which are students at the University. The city has very little racial diversity and it wouldn’t surprise me if 26% of the kids were gifted. Most of the long time residents with kids are professors at the University and are scary smart.

  4. elfcharm says:

    Engineer-poet, I conceed the point. I hadn’t really been thinking.

  5. Cousin Dave says:

    Based on the previous posting on this topic, I think it’s more accurate to say, “I predict they’ll abandon GATE in the name of funding.”

  6. Davis has also placed serious restrictions on growth, so that the average home price and the reputation of the public schools is anomalous compared to the surrounding districts. Maybe 3 of 5 school board members will lobby for easing the building restrictions that might allow for a more diverse population base that could lead to more diversity in the gifted program? Right!!

  7. I had always read “Gifted” as “Genious (or very close)”

    I think “gifted” has always had a lower threshold than “genius” (say I.Q. 140 vs 165 or so). I can remember how pleased my 4th grade teacher seemed when announcing to the class how the tests showed that I “might be gifted, but was certainly not a genius.”

    I’m ambivalent about GATE programs though, especially with that acronym. Davis’s program sounds like it should be called an AP or honors program. And if you’re going to be limited to only two tiers, the upper tier should consist primarily of self-paced learning, with the lower tier reserved for those who can only function with lockstep “sage on stage” instruction.

  8. I was in a gifted program during elementary and into junior high, after which my school didn’t offer it. In my particular experience, I found no real value. It was fun getting out of regular class, and some of our activities were fun, but I can’t say any of it accelerated my learning.

    I have a daughter entering kindergarten this fall, and she would definitely score into a gifted program. She was identifying letters and their sounds by 18 months. And she was working on multiplication and fractions this past year, so I feel pretty sure she’s well ahead of math expectations for K.

    But I am pretty opposed to gifted and talented programs. Not because I think every child is gifted and not because I fear for the self esteem of kids who don’t get in. I oppose them because in an environment with limited resources, any extra should be focused on the kids who have a hard time getting stuff. The “gifted” kids are going to do fine, whether they get extras at school or not. From a social standpoint, I’m more concerned about making sure every kid can read and do basic math, etc.

    Not to say I don’t see value in helping the kids on the upper end of the spectrum. Because I do. In fact, I would like to see sufficient resources put into schools to bring ratios to maybe half of what they typically are, so that the teacher can really identify what each kid needs and modify teaching methods, etc appropriately. But I am a realist. There will never be enough money in the system for that. Resources are limited, so use them in a way that gets you the most bang for the buck. We benefit most from ensuring that the lowest common denominator, academically speaking, is as high as we can make it.

  9. I have a daughter entering kindergarten this fall, and she would definitely score into a gifted program. She was identifying letters and their sounds by 18 months. And she was working on multiplication and fractions this past year[…]

    But I am pretty opposed to gifted and talented programs[…] The “gifted” kids are going to do fine, whether they get extras at school or not. From a social standpoint, I’m more concerned about making sure every kid can read and do basic math, etc.

    First child? I hope you feel the same six or eight years from now. On the other hand, I’ve read that girls are often better than boys at concealing talent in order to conform to the rest of the group, so hopefully she’ll adapt.

  10. My previous post was based partly on the impression that Hope was talking about sending her daughter to a regular public school. After viewing her blog, I can see that my assumption was wrong.

    I was mainly disturbed by the statement, ‘The “gifted” kids are going to do fine, whether they get extras at school or not.‘ It may well be true if the school is a good private school, but as a blanket statement it just sounds callous. Fortunately for Hope’s daughter, she apparently will not be subject to her mother’s philosophical views regarding the allocation of scarce resources.

  11. Bart-
    To clarify: I believe kids who would score into gifted programs and who attend public school will do fine whether they get extras at school or not. It may sound callous, but understand that I am not advocating for the current system, simply making what I believe is a realistic observation. “Gifted” kids are more likely to come from middle and upper income homes, have highly educated (college or above) parents), etc. So their family environment is likely to be pretty enriched anyway. Plus those types of families tend to have pro-education values that they pass onto their kids. So those kids are going to do ok. Without “gifted” programs at school, they may not score quite as high on the standardized tests – but then again, they might. They will very likely complete school with pretty good (if not stellar) grades and be accepted to college. Some kids who would score into gifted programs who come from a different kind of background, but I believe they constitute a minority since my understanding is that middle and upper income kids constitute the majority of those who score highly on the types of tests used to select for gifted programs. Perhaps my understanding is wrong?

    Also, you made what came across as a pretty acerbic statement about my daughter not being subject to my views on allocation of scarce resources. I believe that the biggest value for the public education dollar is NOT enriching kids who already come from an enriched environment. The marginal gains are, in my opinion, pretty small. But the marginal gains of focusing more effort on those at the bottom are, in my view, huge. Its a simple cost/benefit way of thinking about allocation of public resources. You may disagree. I would be interested, though, in seeing research showing the amount of improvement made by “gifted” kids versus that made by kids farther behind per dollar spent on enrichment and tutoring activities.

    I’m not sending my child to a public school because public schools are too underfunded to provide a low enough student/teacher ratio, and because (as you may surmise having read my blog) I am drawn to a more progressive type of education than public schools typically provide. I support putting more money into public education and would happily pay more taxes toward that end, but the people in charge don’t share that willingness. We don’t have vouchers in my state but I wouldn’t take one even if it did. I think people who want to opt out of the system should have to pay for it themselves but I view public education as a public good which we should all fund even if we don’t have kids in that system. So – I would pay for private school tuition PLUS higher taxes for public schools but the current crop of officeholders are not particularly interested in my views about improving schools.

  12. Hope,

    I found your comments rather disturbing and I hope I can persuade you to reconsider some of them at least. Understand that gifted children can learn a curriculum in about a quarter of the time your average child can and so they spend a great, great deal of their time waiting for everyone to catch up. By definition they simply fall out of the bell curve, much like many LD children do on the other end. If our country guarantees an “appropriate” education to our special needs child then I believe they owe the same to gifted children. The most intellectually evolved children in a classroom should not simply languish. It gives them a false sense of the world around them and, I believe, can seriously stunt their growth.

    Gifted children need to struggle, just like everyone else, so that they can develop the resilience and determination that will take them through life. This is why every attempt to teach them at the appropriate level must be made. It is no different for your LD child. Your child’s self esteem is going to suffer mightily if you deny her that opportunity.

    I think maybe you’re hung up on the word “gifted” a bit, which I agree is offputting and sort of implies its opposite. Teachers understand it as an identifying tool, from my experience anyway, and not much else. I was uncomfortable with it for years and still have never used it around my kid.

    Also, for clarification, most public schools will look at IQ’s starting at around 120-125 as a place to start considering whether giftedness is present. The gifted academies that I have looked into usually start at 130, around the top 5 percent. The top 3 percent is generally considered gifted and often considered to have fallen out of the curriculum which is why some sort of enrichment and acceleration is needed. Kids test differently (I have an LD/ADHD developmentally delayed child who’s IQ score jumped 20 points after medication came into the picture. So much for precision.) Schools that are sensitive about this tend to also consider gifted “thinking.” Some kids are very different thinkers and many schools see this as a part of giftedness as much as IQ. Since there is no true measure of intelligence I am personally glad they do this.

    But what disturbs me most about your post is your need to feel that kids like that are no different than any other kid and therefore need no special treatment. For the sake of your child I hope you change your mind. Again, it isn’t special treatment you need, but appropriate.

    That is truly what is fair, what is right. And believe me, you WILL have to advocate for your child if she is gifted regardless of what you experience in school was.

  13. Susan, I appreciate what you are saying. Believe me, I know as well as anyone what its like to sit in a classroom waiting for others to catch up. (I would have fallen into your top three percent.)

    I don’t “need to feel that kids like that are no different than any other kid.” I think you are misunderstanding what I tried to say. In a perfect world, there would be special accommodation for the top three percent, and for the above-average-but-not-top-three-percent, and for average kids, and for the slower kids and for the LD kids. Everybody would get what they need. The public system, though, is not a perfect world. There isn’t enough money in it, in my mind, to adequately address every need of every child.

    So the question becomes how to appropriate limited resources. You have to set and then prioritize goals to do that.

    My feeling is that the top three percent will be fine, without anything special for them. Sure, they may get a little lazy and they may hate school. But they will almost certainly get good grades and test scores, and that stuff is what matters from society’s view of educational success. These kids will get into college and most of them will figure out how to study before they ever see a D (I certainly did) and they’ll get out and get a job and be middle to upper income just like their parents were.

    So the goal of challenging really smart kids doesn’t seem like a good priority in a world of limited resources when you have alot MORE kids who are NOT really smart (nor come from well-off families) who need a whole lotta help just getting basics. In other words – the overriding goal of the public education system, in my mind, is ensuring everyone meets a basic level of proficiency in certain areas, and not that everyone leaves school feeling challenged.

    This isn’t MY favored set of goals or way to run a system, but unfortunately, the people who set education policy and write the budgets don’t seem to care about my goals or preferences for the system.

    Thanks for the discussion!

  14. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    At my school, which has a ‘gifted magnet”, the majority of students are not…..today’s ‘gifted’ is yesterday’s ‘average’.

  15. nailsagainsttheboard,

    That definitely does happen. I know that a while back in my district some parents wanted to make “gifted” mean the top 30 percent. The power of the label is a problem in a lot of places, especially when parents don’t really understand what it is exactly. I certainly didn’t when I had my first child. It wasn’t until my second son was showing signs of depression that I realized how serious it could get. The main idea is that the regular school teacher should be able to handle anyone within that bell curve whether they be a struggler on a slower developmental curve, or your bright straight A student. Where it gets difficult is the top 3% and the bottom 3%. Everyone accepts the bottom 3% needing extra help, but the top 3%’s needs are not going to be met either without some sort of intervention, particularly if you put both kids in the same classroom and add 20 more to the mix. It think it’s too much for teachers to make that all work.

    As far as cash-strapped public schools go, dealing with the gifted population is as much about attitude as it is about money. However, the notion that all public schools have so little money is a bit of myth in a lot of areas.
    Between administration costs and union demands you can have a lot of money that simply doesn’t get to the students. It takes a well-run town with a good tax base and strong parents to get a school on board with quality education. It often isn’t about more money, but a redistributing of the money that is there and as much parent involvement as possible.

    I know you think that “gifted” kids will always be okay, but the facts are not with you on that. A lot of kids have been know to fall into bad patterns and drop out of school. Many get behind in school because they spend their day thinking the “big thoughts” and so get behind in the fundamentals. Gifted/LD is another possible problem. I had a friend who’s child scored so low on one of the IQ tests given by the school that she demanded they give the kid another. He was a boy that acted out a lot and got into trouble for fighting on a pretty regular basis. He appeared to have a learning disability which depressed him quite a bit. When the school administered the WISC III IQ test he scored a 147 on his performance IQ. This took all of his teachers by surprise, but not his parents. They immediately began treating him differently and pulling him out for various things, working around the disability. He has been a completely different child ever since.

    I agree that there are obnoxious parents all around. When my little LD child was missing every milestone I quietly worried while so many parents seemed to be in a constant brag fest about their little preciouses. When my other child lept ahead of all of theirs I kept my mouth shut because I remembered how I felt. However, I was supportive of all the successes of their kids and when they have found out about mine they were almost disturbed. You can’t win, so I don’t worry about it anymore.

    Apologies for being so long-winded about this…

  16. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Bottom line is that academic ‘giftedness’ was historically meant to be statistical outliers at one to two standard deviations from the average (using the proverbial ‘bell curve’)in whatever measure the schools used, ie. IQ tests or achievement test scores….now, it seems that the standard for giftedness has been lowered and teachers overrefer, for reasons such as pushy parents or because even average students stand out in the sea of students who are below average. The curriculum gets more challenging and abstract beginning around 4th grade and those seemingly ‘bright’ or ‘gifted’ students in grades K-3 drop dramatically in the upper grades. Of course, many of those students’ parents still insist their little darling isn’t being adequately challenged, despite poor classroom performance or lack of motivation. I can’t tell you how many reports and projects I’ve received which were 100% done by Mommy or Daddy…or notes from Mommy and Daddy asking me, the teacher, to excuse or extend an assignment that wasn’t turned in on time. My response: gifted, shmifted….it’s not what the student HAS, but what he/she DOES with it. ‘Nuff said.

  17. elfcharm says:

    I know that I hold unpopular views.
    However, if this country is going to continue to compete with foreign countries, we really need to focus on the gifted (read: genious) children.
    they may be OK, which isn’t really true, if nothing is done for them. However, we need them to not be OK. We need them to be excellent.
    We, as a country, stressed science when it appeared that the russian were passing us by, now many parts of the world are also passing us by, but we deal with it how? “Oh, we will make sure every little johnny can read and write, and spend lots of money doing it.”
    Is every child knowing how to read and do math important? Of course, but not, and never, at the cost of our national superiority. Sadly, when you decide to ignore the upper 2-3%, in favor of the bottom 30%, that’s exactly what you are doing.

  18. babeonthegreen says:

    I don’t suppose you’ll value my opinion because this 5 minute test on the internet that they made us take at school this year said that I had an I.Q. of 90 and I was functionally retarded…But… There is no science here to be exacted and to be tested to death. There can be no precision or accuracy when it comes to human beings. Thinking about things like “My child will get bored and then get depressed and not value him/herself and then daydream and then miss basic things because he/she got bored and then not do well.”… Like what the hell? What about kids who have no friends at school because they wear glasses and then get depressed and don’t want to attend school anymore?.. Surely they should be entitled to a private body guard to shield off bullies. What about students who get sick a lot and miss classes?… Surely the government should pay for a plastic bubble for them to live in so they can attend school on a regular basis… What about the child who has marginal Attention Deficit Disorder-not quite enough for the special education program- and cannot pay attention to anything and misses everything?… Surely they should have a special class for every single student because their particular, individual needs are not being met exactly which could lead to some psychological problem in adulthood. NO! None of those children will get any of these things. The gifted program exists because the parents of “gifted” children are those who value education enough to file complaints and petition and campaign for action. The rest of the children don’t have you lovely people as parents. Nobody is speaking up for their complex individual education needs.

    Another problem I have is with the word “gifted”. It is incredibly politically incorrect. Advanced I’d tolerate. But gifted? Are you serious?

    So, okay, put your kid in the private education system, after school enrichment programs, provide education resources for them at home or even homeschool them yourselves. But for gods sake don’t try and pretend that the public education system has to be anything other than a crapshoot. The only thing we have a right to demand from the public education system is equality, which is impossible because as I said; it’s a crapshoot. People learn from people who have learned from people who are using methods made by people implemented by people, and none of them are unbiased. It’s hard to say what type of education children will recieve in the public school, considering what teachers will cross their path, how they will interact with those teachers, how they are suited to the school structure and environment… What is certain they will get from the public education system is a taste of the real world. They will get to know all sorts of people from all different backgrounds. They will begin to get an understanding of how the world works socially. Emotionally, they get exposed to the spectrum. Intellectually, they get to work with all sorts of minds; kinestheic, musical, artistic… EVERYTHING.

    Am I bitter?…Yes I’m bitter. Do I wish I had been 3 points higher on that test in grade four and invited to join the gifted program? Hell no!