What do gifted children look like?
They might look like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. They might be the class clown, or sit quietly and try to go unnoticed, or become so disruptive they get sent to the principal’s office. Gifted students are sometimes obviously so, but they might also go undetected by teachers, administrators, and even parents. While there are many different definitions of giftedness, it encompasses those whose intellectual abilities are not only significantly more advanced than their same-age peers, but also more advanced than their own physical and emotional capabilities.
In the past these students were identified by IQ scores, but most school districts no longer give such tests. Today you might be looking for students who score in the 95th percentile or above on grade-level, nationally normed achievement tests, who understand concepts before they’re taught, or who read or do mathematics at several grade levels above their classmates. In Michigan, it is estimated that between 76,500 and 153,250 students could be classified as “gifted.” It’s also true that, in Michigan, a gifted child has a good chance of going unidentified and/or underserved for the vast majority of their K-12 education.
How can we fully meet the needs of gifted students? The Michigan Association for Gifted Children contends that four major categories must be addressed:
Identification processes work to distinguish the gifted student from the student who is achieving at grade level. Starting in the earliest grades, IQ tests, above-grade-level tests, teacher, parent, and/or peer recommendations, portfolio reviews, and classroom performance can all be used to assess a child’s innate abilities.
Requiring school districts to provide gifted services means that every child is appropriately challenged in the classroom; however, these services do not have to be expensive. Several low cost policies can be adopted by school districts, and the key to most of them is flexibility. They include:
Acceleration, commonly known as grade-skipping, is an effective strategy with years of research behind it. Students can also accelerate in a particular subject, or be allowed to start kindergarten or graduate early.
Cluster-grouping (bringing like-ability students together in a particular classroom), compacting curriculum (giving students material at a fast pace without unnecessary repetition) and independent study are also effective options that cost very little, while pull-out programs and specified gifted classrooms may cost more.
If a school does not offer gifted services, it should be required to tell parents that they are not available so that families can look for appropriate educational options elsewhere. The state of Ohio, for instance, requires each school district to file a “Self-Report on Identification and Services for Students Who are Gifted.” Such a requirement holds school districts accountable for the services they provide. According to the National Association for Gifted Children, at least 32 states have some sort of mandate for the education of gifted students.
Required Teacher Training
The state of Michigan has no requirement that teachers receive any specialized training in gifted education before being placed in a classroom. If you train here you may not learn anything about gifted students before becoming certified, or it may get a brief mention in a special education class. Many teachers are not taught to identify gifted students, and are unprepared to meet their unique educational needs. A set number of hours or classes regarding gifted education should be part of every teacher’s required curriculum.
While many accommodations can be delivered very inexpensively, there are costs associated with identification and professional development. State funding should be provided to help schools cover these costs. At least 22 states across the country provide money for gifted education, from less than 1 million dollars to 50 million dollars or more annually.
The newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces No Child Left Behind, requires schools to report on gifted students and show achievement gains. It also includes Title 2A funds that can be used for gifted education.
Why does any of this matter to you? Because schools that strive to meet the educational needs of every child care not just about meeting state standards, but about helping each child meet his or her full potential. When done correctly, gifted education helps to bridge the “excellence gap,” that difference between the successes of high achieving middle and upper class white students, and those of underrepresented minorities or students of lower socioeconomic status.
Once in the workforce, these fully realized students have developed a work ethic, resilience and perseverance in addition to meeting academic goals, allowing them to become the creative and leadership forces behind tomorrow’s economic progress. Policies that allow every student the opportunity for unlimited success are essential to a better future for Michigan’s children, and for all citizens across the state.