Gifted students – Forgotten?

Many talk about the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Every new educational policy is the cause for much debate. Special education programs are receiving a lot of attention. But there is a group of students that we hear very little about: the gifted. Have they been forgotten? Let us examine what professional organizations and recent educational policies say about them.

Gifted students and the common core

The Standards do not define the nature of advanced work for students who meet the Standards prior to the end of high school.

The Common Core State Standards have been the subject of much talk lately: their content, their cost of implementation… One particular thing they have been used for – and that is often swept under the rug – is to reduce, sometimes even remove, gifted education services. However, as stated in the standards themselves, the Common Core State Standards are not meant for students whose level differs a lot from the “norm”.

The Standards do not define the nature of advanced work for students who meet the Standards prior to the end of high school.” (CCSS, n.d., “What is not covered by the Standards, para. 3)

The Standards set grade-specific standards but do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations. No set of grade-specific standards can fully reflect the great variety in abilities, needs, learning rates, and achievement levels of students in any given classroom.” (CCSS, n.d., “What is not covered by the Standards, para. 4)

The math standards have a more roundabout way to say this.

What students can learn at any particular grade level depends upon what they have learned before. Ideally then, each standard in this document might have been phrased in the form, “Students who already know A should next come to learn B.” But at present this approach is unrealistic—not least because existing education research cannot specify all such learning pathways.” (CCSS, n.d.)

What this means is that the math standards define what should be taught at a grade level according to the “norm”, as a base target level for students in that grade, but it admits that these standards may not be adapted to the students in that grade depending on what they have learned before. What we do with students whose prior learning is above or below standard level is left for others to figure out on their own.

Gifted students and misconceptions

Like most gifted students, C.J. is a straight “A” student with a soaring I.Q.

Many of the problems faced by gifted students are misconceptions on the part of governments, individuals, but most of all teachers. Two years ago, the National Education Association (NEA) questioned whether education in the USA is failing gifted students. They then proceeded to take the example of a highly successful gifted student and used it to argue (though it’s not stated clearly, in fact, the article doesn’t conclude on the question) that education is not failing gifted students. No sources are cited, no proper research seems to have been conducted. One case study seems to be sufficient to conclude on the state of education for gifted students in the entire country.

Worse than the apparent lack of evidence and research from a professional teaching body, wide misconceptions are stated as fact, helping cement them in the collective mind. According to Cindy Long (2013),

Like most gifted students, C.J. is a straight “A” student with a soaring I.Q. He’s also three grades ahead in math, he consistently scores in the top percentile on state assessments, and he took a college-level Astrobiology class online “just for fun” back in seventh grade. He started reading Dr. Seuss at age three, graduated to chapter books like The Magic Tree House series by five, and at six progressed to Harry Potter novels and The Washington Post.

Besides the fact that not all gifted students are the same and resemble this certainly amazing child, it overlooks some fundamental facts like the specific state, district, school this child is studying in, and his social background. This child has had support from his school and teachers through most of his student life (except for one science teacher). He also comes from a family that supported his giftedness and had the means to do so, as is obvious from the enrichment he received at home. The shocking underlying, unstated, assumption of the NEA is that “most gifted students” are attending schools that support them and are from families who will supplement their learning.

The National Education Association is the largest organization representing school professionals, with over 3 millions members across the USA. (NEA, n.d.) As such, they have the most power to influence educational policies. With views such as these, no wonder gifted students are ignored in educational policies.

Gifted students and national policies

The American Federation of Teachers support education programs which will allow children identified as gifted and talented to develop their abilities to the fullest extent possible.

So what about other organizations that weight in the development of new policies? Sadly, they hardly have anything to say about gifted students. The Council of Chief State School Officers does its best by providing a few links to documents written by other organizations, sometimes containing inaccurate information, though it proved better than others. But what do we expect? After all, the CCSSO’s goal is to provide “leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues“… (CCSSO, n.d.)

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) found the time, once, to consider the question. In a resolution from 1977, it stated that “the American Federation of Teachers support education programs which will allow children identified as gifted and talented to develop their abilities to the fullest extent possible.” (AFT, 1977, para. 6) What became of it since 1977, it’s up to each one of us to judge from our neighboring schools.

Major international organizations, while taking notes of countries’ efforts to support gifted and disabled children alike, usually have more pressing concern, like promoting access to basic education to children from all origins.

Have gifted students truly been forgotten then?

Despite the obliviousness of major organizations, there are those who remember that gifted children have specific needs and should not be ignored. The two most important ones are Mensa and the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). The NAGC is focused on school aged gifted individuals and provides a wealth of information to any interested: educators, administrators, university professionals and parents. Their page on “Myths about gifted students” is one that every education professional should read. Mensa caters to gifted individuals of all ages, but also has specific resources for gifted youth.

Sadly, the two organizations mentioned above have far less reach than the NEA or the AFT. As such it seems that gifted students are doomed to remain ignored by educational policy makers.

References

American Federation of Teachers. (1977). GIFTED AND TALENTED STUDENTS. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/resolution/gifted-and-talented-students

American Mensa, Ltd. (n.d.). About Mensa. Retrieved from http://www.us.mensa.org/learn/about/

Common Core State Standards. (n.d.). Key Design Consideration. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/key-design-consideration/

Common Core State Standards. (n.d.). How to read the grade level standards. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Content/introduction/how-to-read-the-grade-level-standards/

Council of Chief State School Officers. (n.d.). Who We Are. Retrieved from http://www.ccsso.org/Who_We_Are.html

Long, C. (2013, September 18). Are We Failing Gifted Students? NEA Today. Retrieved from http://neatoday.org/2013/09/18/are-we-failing-gifted-students-2/

National Association for Gifted Children. (n.d.). Myths about Gifted Students. Retrieved from http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/myths-about-gifted-students

National Education Association. (n.d.). About NEA. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/2580.htm