Talking Circles: You Aren't Going to Get There Paddling That Old Boat

By Kathleen Casper.

Full Title: You Aren’t Going to Get There Paddling that Old Boat: Why we cannot and will not adequately meet diversity goals in gifted education with the same old system

There are some problems that we need to address and it is critical that we find new answers. Specifically we have a problem with gifted education programs in our states not doing enough of what we need them to do to identify and serve all gifted children.

Here are some of the issues that we need to deal with as quickly and thoroughly as possible:

· We use IQ tests that were historically used to highlight the “superiority” of Caucasians, in order to determine giftedness in many states. This started in the early 1900’s and the arguments continue even into the 21st Century.

· The “new and improved” IQ tests are often verbally based and still rely on the kids understanding a common cultural experience (more based on what middle class students have access to, than lower income students). They are written by, and most of the time the answers are interpreted by, Caucasians that may or may not understand giftedness or multicultural differences.

· Even many doctors and mental health practitioners are under-educated about giftedness and related multicultural issues so students are often misdiagnosed and mislabeled, thereby causing those students to miss out on gifted support services.

· Stereotypes abound that further reduce the chances of diverse students even being referred for testing in gifted programs. “All students are gifted.” “Gifted children are high performers.” “Gifted children will be just fine without extra support.” “Gifted programs are just acceleration and access to more projects and information and should be for all kids.” “Gifted is something we should all strive for our kids to be.” “If a child is not well behaved, he or she can’t possibly be gifted.”

· With statistics showing that non-Caucasian students have a higher probability of being identified as having special education needs, being disciplined in school, being expelled, dropping out, going to jail, etc., children of color with gifted characteristics expressed in ways that mimic ADHD or underperformance are not only less likely to be identified for gifted programs, but are more likely to slip through the cracks and have more severe consequences than their Caucasian peers.

· We pull kids out of their neighborhoods, classes, and communities in order to serve them “better” in gifted “programs,” while isolating them from their racial/ethnic peers with labels that historically have had negative connotations for their communities.

· We entrust our gifted students to teachers who often do not have any, or just a few hours (if they are lucky) of training in gifted education, diversity, culturally aware teaching, or other related issues.

· We have not adequately funded gifted education in general and gifted students get less funding per capita than other special education programs in most states. Students in low income areas often have much less local access to these services than in higher income areas.

· Gifted education is so misunderstood and so many educators and policy makers lack knowledge about what it is, that programs are often created only for high achievers, who often are children of higher income parents who push for their children to have access to the “elite” classes, rather than at-risk students with gifted characteristics and needs.

There are some districts trying to improve their diversity statistics. Some, because of legal issues (see McFadden vs. Board of Education for Illinois School District U-46) and some because they truly want to make positive changes to better identify and support diverse students. But they are not going to make the gains they hope for, without serious changes to their approach to the problem.

Changing test score requirements only hurts diversity in the long run. Using biased tests and then acting as if diverse and low income students should be given access “even though their scores are lower” is not an acceptable message. This is another way we put students into “second class citizen” status. Only by changing identification to include less biased measurements, such as nonverbal tests, local norms, and portfolios showing gifted characteristics, will we give all kids a fair shot, a legacy of recognition for their achievements, and access to instruction and other resources for the areas where they need extra support, rather than a reputation for needing lower standards on unfair tests.

Offering testing to only those who are referred is not working. All students should be constantly and repeatedly evaluated for gifted characteristics and needs. Handing out more forms for referrals, hanging up more posters in schools, reaching out to the community for referrals, and other marketing tactics is not going to increase identification if education does not precede those efforts. People need to really understand what gifted looks like — what it is, and what it is not. Teachers are in a much better position to screen kids equally because they see them each day and have large samples of other students to compare behaviors with. But teachers must have much more education on what gifted is in order to adequately refer or screen anyone.

Referring kids to gifted programs that are not truly meeting the needs of gifted kids is useless anyway. So another problem that must be fixed if we are to see true equity in the gifted education system, is ensuring gifted programs are based on supporting gifted kids. Right now most gifted programs tout their goals of supporting gifted kids, but when you look closer you will see that they are based on providing access to faster paced instruction and more in-depth learning, but their social emotional components are severely lacking. These are often programs for high-achievers, rather than gifted kids. They have requirements that often include extra homework, more responsibilities such as projects, and grading methods similar or maybe even more harsh than general education classes. To truly support gifted children, teachers need to first love and respect gifted children. Next, they must have flexible scheduling, differentiated learning opportunities, and a focus on social emotional skill building just as most other special education programs have for children with special needs.