By Richard Olenchak.
Despite increased political activism surrounding services and support for gifted and talented students at the state and national levels, one must wonder if the current test-driven mentality that has swept the United States is gifted-friendly. Consider that during the last several years, monetary support for gifted programs has remained static at the national level (and that only after relentless advocacy efforts) and has, in some cases, declined in the states – even to the point of virtual elimination. At the same time, identification of students with a wide variety of psycho-educational maladies has increased many-fold as evinced by the skyrocketing numbers placed in special education programs nationwide. What is happening here?
First, the current age of high-stakes educational testing has effectively managed to make the minimum the maximum: so emphasizing acquisition and mastery of basic skills that opportunities and support for more appropriate instruction for high-ability students become nonexistent. Second, as educational budgets increasingly are allocated toward scaffolding the testing structure – funding ever new test versions and materials to enhance instruction aimed at basic skills, fewer dollars become available for services for gifted students. And third, the sociopolitical climate of the nation has largely bought into the notion that the test-driven schoolhouse not only makes good sense but is the only way for those demanding accountability to find it. As gifted students are more and more denied appropriate educational accommodations and, at the same time, forced to fit into an environment of minimalist education where schools appear to mistake mediocrity for excellence, one now must wonder about the effects on the social and emotional development of gifted students. Certainly, frustration with the system alone could eventually manifest problems, let alone the increasing energy placed on identification of students for special education services.
Several articles on the SENG website address the social and emotional conundrum of mistaking giftedness for special education categories, and several others point to psychosocial problems associated with inappropriate school accommodations. These include some of my own works.
In June 2004, Rick Olenchak had served on the SENG Board for four years. He was President of the National Association for Gifted Children, and Professor, Psychologist and Director at the Urban Talent Institute at the University of Houston.