George Lucas Educational Foundation

How are we identifying gifted students? And is it working?

How are we identifying gifted students? And is it working?

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Edweek has a great article today about how we assess whether a student is gifted. Written by Walt Gardner, it touches on the craziness of the high-stakes test approach and how it favors the wealthiest families that can afford $145/hour tutors and test-prep sessions that start in toddlerhood.

Gardner also suggests that teachers (as those who spend so much more time with students directly) should be more involved in the assessment. He calls for training to help teachers identify giftedness, and urges the U.S. to stop "squandering one of its greatest assets at a time when other nations are nurturing theirs."

I'd love to hear your thoughts here. How could teachers play a more active role in assessing giftedness? Anyone know of any districts or schools where they're doing a better job of this?

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Kevin Crosby's picture
Kevin Crosby
Educator and School Counselor / Trinidad School District #1

In Colorado giftedness is defined by the need for something different from or in addition to the regular curriculum to meet the needs of a particular student. It is handled like an IEP, and a team, multiple measures, and a body of evidence should be used for identification. Each gifted student should have an Advanced Learning Plan that should be focused on meeting their special needs.

So, we have the IEP on the one hand, the ALP on the other, and those in the middle who are supposedly being adequately served without a personalized plan. This brings up the question of whether all students should have a personalized learning plan based on a portfolio containing multiple measures and a body of evidence.

IEP's and ALP's are symptoms of a factory one-size-fits-all education system. Differentiation is another symptom, or at least an attempt to compensate for the factory model (which, by the way, is only being exacerbated by standardization).

Heidi's picture
3-5th grade teacher, Minnesota

One of our intervention teachers is starting a gifted and talented program at our school this year. She discussed with me how she should determine which students are admitted to the program. It was decided that NWEA/MAP and MCA scores would be looked at. She wanted to go beyond just standardized test scores so she decided to require an essay and teacher evaluations. I am really excited to see how the program works.

jamelle's picture

I, too, feel it is sometimes hard to determine who is qualified for the gifteed program. I agree that MAP scores should only be 1 factor. Teacher input/common sense seems to take a backseat to data scores these days. I don't always think that is fair.
I feel that so much time and effort is given to the interventions for lower level learners to bring them up to grade level that our gifted students are forgotten about and sit idle for most of the day. I work hard in my room to find challenging activities for these kiddos whether they are in the gifted program or just accelerated learners. I feel sometimes we are doing a disservice to our advanced students. This needs to change! They need just as much effort put into enrichment as our slower learners get for interventions.

ahausauer's picture
fifth grade teacher from Fargo, North Dakota

I definitely agree with Jamelle and the others who have posted on this question. Our school just this year started using the MAP test scores to help us as teachers group students in an objective way. These tests have REALLY excited me, because up until this school year, we really have not had another form of testing (other than the North Dakota State Assessments which are taken in the fall and scores do not come back until the spring) to evaluate students. As many other teachers were saying on this blog, I agree that these tests should only be one piece of the puzzle and other factors should definitely be considered to decided whether a student is gifted. The challenge that I see at times is that it is difficult to stretch our advanced/gifted learners. But like many have said, it is our job as teachers to find activities/projects that allow them opportunities to grow and flourish in the classroom. :)

Stefanie's picture
parent of three highly gifted children

I think that gifted students are being pigeon-holed as much as the non gifted. I have two very linear thinking gifted students who could pass any standardized test you throw at them with their eyes closed practically, but I also have a very gifted non-linear thinking student who can't pass a standardized to save his soul. He is just as gifted as his siblings, but because there is no way to assess the student who thinks "differently" in a "non- standardized" way, he gets labeled as the difficult child and probably ADHD. He is not difficult or ADHD he just thinks differently. Unfortunately, classrooms, teachers and tests are designed for the linear thinkers only, the assessments, classrooms, teachers, etc. are therefore lacking for the non linear gifted students. MAP tests are fine... for some, but teachers should have a larger say in who's "gifted" and other types of assessments should be considered for all gifted students.

Kevin Crosby's picture
Kevin Crosby
Educator and School Counselor / Trinidad School District #1

We use the Naglieri, a nonverbal screen. Many students who do not perform well on standardized tests demonstrate their intelligence with this simple tool. It is nationally standardized, but there is no reading or math involved. We use it in part to see if we have students who we are maybe overlooking because they do not score well on MAP or state assessments. Plus, giftedness should include the categories of leadership, performance, creativity, problem solving, and the arts, in addition to academic and cognitive measures. A student can be a gifted artist, but otherwise illiterate. A student can be "twice exceptional" with a learning disability and a gift simultaneously. Because of this, assessment scores are only used to red flag students who may qualify in the cognitive or academic areas. We use other screens like the Gifted Evaluation Scale and The Gifted Planner, and a body of evidence is compiled for any student suspected of giftedness in any area. The body of evidence is a mandate from the Colorado Department of Education. We also define giftedness in relation to the student having special needs because of their gifts or talents, and that an advanced learning plan should be designed to meet those needs when the regular curriculum is inadequate.

Ghostwheel's picture

Is Gifted the ability to think outside the box? (Box, what box?) Is it the ability to answer standardized questions perfectly? Is it the ability to sit still for 6 hours, smiling at the teacher and keeping a tidy desk?

The Gifted "Tests" are only as good as the person giving them. When my son was 5 years old, the teacher asked a question of all the students: Name three things about dinosaurs. Most of the answers were "They laid eggs, they were big, some flew." My son responded "Some people think that dinosaurs became extinct when a comet hit the Earth, causing massive destruction and possibly an extreme drought." No joke. But when he was tested to "Giftedness" the first time, he came up not QUITE gifted. Because he missed one page on the test. (He is dyslexic). The test overseer did not consider it pertinent to check that the children with different abilities actually saw each of the pages. (Second test, he came up "Gifted", go figure.)

The worst of all of this is that the children who are not identified as "Gifted" are treated differently. My son's dyslexia caused him no end of grief in a classroom, and all the teachers said he just wasn't very smart UNTIL he was retested three years later for "Giftedness", he didn't miss any pages, came up highly "Gifted" and they ran several other intelligence tests. Suddenly, he was now smart and the teachers started treating him differently. The damage had already been done-he thinks he is not smart.

Bottom line-treat every child as "Gifted" because each one is in their own way. The teacher's attitude to the kids makes more of a difference than the child's intelligence. Believe they can learn and most will, one way or another.


Kevin Crosby's picture
Kevin Crosby
Educator and School Counselor / Trinidad School District #1

I agree with Ghostwheel. We have the IEP, the ILP, the ALP, but what we really need is a PLP (personalized learning plan) for each individual whether they are "special needs" or not.

ElemMusicTeach's picture
Elementary Music Teacher, PEI, Canada

I often think that we do a disservice to our gifted students when so much time and effort is given to those who are struggling. This is not to say we shouldn't give that effort for those students in need, it would be negligent not to, but often the case is that there is little time or effort left over to devote to the gifted. They are sometimes left with extra-curricular activities to meet their challenge, or even extra stimulation from outside school. In my school, the guidance counsellor often is the person runs clubs for gifted students.

I think when discussing gifted students Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligence certainly comes into play. While a student may be average or even struggling in one area, he may be gifted in another.
Someone may be gifted in math, or language, while someone else may be gifted in music. Identifying and challenging these students to thrive in their area of strength and to push them beyond where they would naturally develop themselves is certainly a challenge.

Of course, with anything in education, we are doing the best we can with the limited resources we are given.

Mica's picture

I am not a professional in education, I am "just" a mother and I feel that I have to contribute to this blog with my own experience. After a number of assessments, my daughter was advanced one year in her school to satisfy her learning needs. Her school was not yet running a gifted and talented program.
She is 8 years old and she is in Grade 4.
We then had to moved to another country also using Map Tests. Her score in the latest Map test at the beginning of the year, puts her at a 93 percentile. Unfortunately now, although she is way above average, she is not recognized or allowed to sign up for the new gifted and talented program, that her new school is just starting, because the policy is that she has to score at a 95 percentile or above.
I must admit that I have lost trust in the system and in standardize tests as way of measuring potential in students.

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