Why Gifted Children Can Slip through the Cracks

There's little standardization in identifying these students. Guess who suffers?

The U.S. public education system isn’t serving the nation’s most gifted kids, according to a new study. The National Association for Gifted Children, a nonprofit organization that supports and develops policies to ensure that the needs of gifted children are being met, says U.S. schools are “turning a blind eye” on talented and gifted kids.

These talented and gifted — or TAG — students, according to the U.S. Department of Education, are “children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment.”

Gifted children tend to have unusual talent in one or two of the following areas: creative thinking, general intellectual ability, specific academic ability, leadership, visual and performing arts, and psychomotor abilities, which includes physical movements, coordination, and motor skills. That’s according to the National Society for the Gifted and Talented, a nonprofit that works to enhance the skills of gifted students.

‘That’s a Problem’
Most children are recognized as TAG students to participate in special programs funded by taxpayer dollars. But there are no national or even statewide standards for identifying students. Each school district decides which of its students are gifted, based on their own parameters.

That’s a problem, according to NAGC. The organization says its 2014-2015 annual education report found that most states are failing to oversee the talented and gifted student population and even have policies that hinder these students’ access to services.

Policies for this segment of the student population are so sparse that only 41 states responded to the group’s State of the States survey, according to its director, M. René Islas, mainly because states don’t collect a full range of data on their gifted programing. Islas said both federal and state governments need far more reporting requirements “to ensure transparency and accountability for parents and the public.”

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A brief survey of parents in the Washington, D.C., area revealed that the way in which kids are chosen for TAG depends not only on the individual school’s policy, but in some cases, on the teacher alone. Some students were tested during their first few days of kindergarten. Others were recommended by staff.

Other parents had to request that their child be evaluated.

Some schools fail to recognize gifted kids altogether, said Islas.

“Schools with significant populations of children in poverty or with children from racial and ethnic minorities can overlook giftedness,” he said.

He explained that, like so many other issues in our schools, a lack of funding makes it difficult to give the TAG population the supports it needs.

Parents in the Washington area reflect what the report found. Often there is no rhyme or reason as to how their child is identified as TAG. Services vary from school to school and year to year.

A number of parents said they didn’t feel their child should even be in the TAG program. A mother reported her daughter was “smart, but not exceptional.”

Diversity was also an issue that some parents noticed. One observed, “There is a rather negative, stereotypical view of minorities at our school, and the children perform accordingly.”

The often random and nonstandard method of deeming kids gifted leaves deserving children out of the program.

In order to properly identify TAG students, America’s schools need to adopt universal screening techniques, said Islas. He said this simple strategy would help identify and develop talent among our children.

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Islas stressed these screenings need to be used across a child’s lifetime. Screenings often are only administered when the child is young, and that is not sufficient.

“Cognitive development is similar to a child’s physical development,” said Islas. “There are growth spurts and plateaus. If we look once, we may miss a period of rapid growth.”

In addition, different assessments test for different things, he said, and not every child is gifted in the same way. By using multiple screening methods, teachers can discover talents hidden in plain sight.

But even those who are identified as gifted don’t always receive what they need.

The National Association for Gifted Children says “the label ‘gifted’ in a school setting means that when compared to others his or her age or grade, a child has an advanced capacity to learn and apply what is learned in one or more subject areas, or in the performing or fine arts.” But the crux is this: “This advanced capacity requires modifications to the regular curriculum to ensure these children are challenged and learn new material. Gifted does not connote good or better; it is a term that allows students to be identified for services that meet their unique learning needs.”

Tomorrow, a look at the realities of some of today’s existing TAG programs. 

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