Identifying Gifted Children

Having mulled over some of the issues about standards, we’re now going to look at a group of students that characteristically add spice to the standards discussion: students with special needs, and our survey this month will be on this topic. We’ll start with gifted children.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, the New York Times published a “Room for Debate” topic titled “The Pitfalls in Identifying a Gifted Child.” Participants include university-level education academicians/researchers, a journalist, and a tutoring program founder and CEO. They specific prompt for the comments is the information that New York City school officials are looking for a gifted and talented test that can identify children as young as 3 in an attempt to respond to complaints that minorities are under-represented and parents are “gaming” the system.

• Professor Susan K. Johnsen, Educational Psychology, Baylor University, points out that two types of children should be identified: those who already demonstrate advanced development and those who may—through intervention—become advanced. She acknowledges that gifts may develop and be discernible over time, thus calling into question a one-point testing program for identification. In addition, students are not well-represented across all races, ethnicities, and income levels at the current time.

• Clara Hemphill, senior editor at Center for NYC Affairs at the New School objects to the labeling and segregation of gifted children when their is a good neighborhood school that might serve them well. She points out the being with and understanding the talents of others not (yet) so labeled is an important part of the gifted child’s education. She claims that the fundamentals of kindergarten are pretty similar for all children, regardless of giftedness, and that differentiated instruction is easy to achieve at this level. She adds that testing children prior to kindergarten is “ridiculous.”

• Joseph S. Renzulli, director of the National Research Center of the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) at University of Connecticut acknowledges that early childhood testing is unreliable and that parents have “gamed” the system. He suggests the use of a program by Dr. C. June Maker that identifies giftedness by watching children’s responses to specially designed activities that are performed in small groups (rather than individual, paper and pencil tests).

• Tonya R. Moon, associate professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia (also with NRC/GT ties) suggests multiple measures and multiple opportunities for identification. She says that nonverbal tests in particular, on which the most academically-gifted minority children are apt to score poorly, should not be used as a sole measure.

• Bige Doruk, founder and CEO of Bright Kids NYC (a tutoring service), states that no single test can guarantee better identification of gifted students than the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT), which is currently used in NYC. She says that the fact that children identified by this test are thought by their teachers to be properly assigned to gifted programs indicates their reliability. She does not address the possibility that there are other children, who the test fails to identify, who may also belong. She does, however, point out that the younger the age of the child tested, the more influence home factors, such as home environment and parents’ educational attainment come into play, which would tend—she suggests—to skew results away from minorities. She also suggests that the top students from each district—regardless of exact score—should be placed in gifted and talented programs, including students to the point at which the program is full, and that NYC attend to a better calculation of matching supply to demand and transportation to facilitate the practical aspects of these programs.

For background on gifted children, please see our article “The Gifted Student.”

We also recommend you take a look at the comments readers have posted in response to the New York Times article.