Tag Archives: gifted and talented

Education Standards/Special Needs Survey Results

Our July survey posed the question:

How do you think the idea of education standards applies to students with special needs?

Three response choices were offered:
• The fact of having special needs—whether disabilities or special gifts or talents—should not affect expectations for meeting the standards.

• It should be expected that some students with special needs will exceed the standards and some will fail to meet them.

Other (please specify) Either a lot of people were on vacation this month, or not as interested in the topic as in May and June, because there were far fewer replies.

Of the 83 responses we received:
• 18.1% voted for the first response—that all students should be held to the standards.

• 74.7% voted for the second response—that some gifted and special needs students would be expected to exceed or not meet the standards.

• 7.2% voted for Other


The reasons given for choosing “Other” were as follows:

1. Instruction should be tailored to fit the specific needs of individual students. Standards should be specific to individual needs.

2. It truly depends on what is defined as ‘special needs’. Students should be expected to meet the standards set out, however, this does not mean that accommodations should not be made.

3. First, understanding that in order to qualify for special education, a student must fall a minimum of 2 years behind their classroom peers, requiring them to be tested using the same test as the classroom peers that they are already behind is simply a means of ostracizing and humiliating them even more – meaning the probability is higher that they will drop out of school.

4. The standards must be tailored to measure strengths that might be missed by the regular standards.

5. The answer is probably the second option. The reality is that our education system generally does a lousy job of meeting the needs of children with special needs and, from the view of a parent of child with special needs, the current education standards are pretty useless when it comes to helping these children learn. My child is almost 14 and reads at about a 3rd grade level. Her elementary school used 9 different reading curriculums in 4 years – all in the interest of meeting “standards”. She has her challenges but chasing standards have hindered her education and development at a huge personal cost to her and an enormous financial cost to me.

6. The fact of having special needs should not affect expectations for meeting the standards IF accommodations have been made for the student to be able to physically and mentally complete the work. The standards don’t change, but the methods of delivery change.

Comments and suggestions for future survey topics welcome!

Standards/Special Needs Interim Survey Report

With 11 days left in July for our survey only 32 people have responded to our July survey which asks:

How do you think the idea of education standards applies to students with special needs?

and refers to both students with disabilities and gifted students. For our May and June surveys, we had nearly 300 responses, so there are still a lot of folks who have voted before who haven’t yet voted this month.

As of this morning, this is how the voting stands:

• 78.1% (25 people) voted for: “It should be expected that some students with special needs will exceed the standards and some will fail to meet them.”

• 18.8% (6 people) voted for: “The fact of having special needs—whether disabilities or special gifts or talents—should not affect expectations for meeting the standards.”

So, overall, the voting is more or less 3 to 1 in favor of considering the standards as not actually being a universal standard. Interestingly, I checked on the day after
the survey was posted and with only 4 votes, the ratio was the same: 3 to 1.

• 3.1% (1 person) commented and said: “The fact of having special needs should not affect expectations for meeting the standards IF accommodations have been made for the student to be able to physically and mentally complete the work. The standards don’t change, but the methods of delivery change.” (typo correction)

So this is a contingent vote for the position of standards being universal.

The question raised by this comment of how accommodations are applied to testing whether the standards have been met is an important one. Because the national standards assessment situation is different from the classroom instructional situation and (likely) the classroom assessment situation, educators have remarked over the years that the accommodations that are allowed to be used during national standards assessments (those that are characteristically used with the student) may not apply or be sufficient.

We welcome other thoughts on this issue.

And if you haven’t yet voted, please do so here.

Definition of a Gifted Child

Federal Definition

Were you aware that there is a Federal definition of a gifted child, albeit, one that can be over-ruled by local preference. It is in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and it reads:

The term ‘gifted and talented,’ when used with respect to students, children, or youth, means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities. [minor changes made to correct punctuation errors]

The Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, acting to ” build and enhance the ability of elementary and secondary schools to meet the special education needs of gifted and talented students,” carries out scientifically-based research and provides grants.

It should be noted that the program has a particular emphasis on “serving students traditionally underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, particularly economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient (LEP), and disabled students, to help reduce the serious gap in achievement among certain groups of students at the highest levels of achievement.”

This emphasis is reflected in the grant priorities, which are first are foremost to develop models for underrepresented students and second to improve services for all gifted and talented students.

Local Definitions

Let’s take a look at how this plays out locally.

In the Sulphur Springs School District in California, the 2005–2006 “G.A.T.E. Handbook,” has this to say:

“The program serves exceptional students qualifying in one or more of the
following areas:

• Intellectual Ability
• Specific Academic Ability
• Reading or Math

To determine eligibility, students must undergo a screening and identification process. STAR test data are first reviewed. Students are then administered the OLSAT (Otis-Lennon Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the RAVEN, a non-verbal assessment. Once identified, students may be placed in the GATE program. English Learners may be identified through the use of non-verbal assessments, and rapid growth on the CELDT may be used as one of the standardized test criteria.”

In the Coweta County School System in Georgia, the state definition of giftedness is used, and it defines gifted students like this:

“A gifted student is one who demonstrates a high degree of intellectual and/or creative ability(ies), exhibits an exceptionally high degree of motivation and/or excels in specific academic field(s) and needs special instruction and/or ancillary services to achieve at levels commensurate with his or her abilities.”

In the “Gifted Education Parent’s Handbook” provided by the Austin Independent School District in Texas, the following is offered as a definition of being gifted:

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive
abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and
awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony
increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted
renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parent-
ing, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. (The
Columbus Group, 1991, in Morelock, 1992) Asynchrony means being out
of sync, both internally and externally. Asynchronous development means
that gifted children develop cognitively at a much faster rate than they
develop physically and emotionally, posing some interesting problems.
For example, ideas forged by 8-year-old minds may be difficult to produce
with 5-year-old hands. Further, advanced cognition often makes gifted
children aware of information that they are not yet emotionally ready to
handle. They tend to experience all of life with greater intensity, render-
ing them emotionally complex. These children usually do not fit the
developmental norms for their age; they have more advanced play
interests and often are academically far ahead of their age peers. The
brighter the child, the greater the asynchrony and potential vulnerability.
Therefore, parents who are aware of the inherent developmental differ-
ences of their children can prepare themselves to act as their advocates.”

As you can see, these three definitions offer rather different ways of conceptualizing giftedness. Is it conceivable that a child identified as gifted by one set of criteria would not meet the criteria in another location? It seems so. Certainly the highly motivated child in Georgia might not fit the criteria in the other locations. Certainly, based on this comparison, some interesting questions are raised about gifted and talented children and how their instruction should be differentiated.

For more background, we invite you to read our article, “Gifted Education.”

And please vote in our survey on students with special needs (included gifted students) and national standards.

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.