Being labeled ‘gifted’ is always a desire for students as well as their parents. Who wouldn’t want to have their child labeled as gifted by their school district? It’s affirmation by the educated in your community that your child is ‘smarter’ than the rest of the children in their school. Often people focus on the good aspects of being gifted and not the difficulties, but that will need to be saved for another post. Is every child labeled ‘gifted’ truly gifted? And if they are truly ‘gifted’ at one point in their life should they be labeled ‘gifted’ forever, or does our gifted-ness change through time? By no means do I have answers to all these questions, but I’m starting to see some commonalities.
What is considered ‘gifted’?
There is a ton of debate over what should be considered ‘gifted’ versus ‘good student’ or ‘smart’. In the state of Texas, “no more than five percent of a district’s average daily attendance are eligible for funding”, but funding does not always equal the total number of students in a program. Currently I work at a school of approximately 800 kids, and I have 57 gifted kids in my classroom every day. Simple math tells you that I have seven percent of my school’s daily attendance in my classroom every day, and I teach one subject and one grade level. Does that mean that mean that there are an abnormally high number of ‘gifted’ students in my district or that we may have set the bar too low? Or could there be other things at work?
Is it possible that what we consider a test that measures the gifted-ness of our students is actually just another test that we can teach to? I would say yes. Teachers, by nature, are a breed of humans that strive to have their children succeed. We want our students to do the best they possibly can. We do this by researching both the tendencies of our students as well as the tendencies of the test. We know our students from getting to know them and by both formative as well as summative assessments throughout the year. The test will take us a little while to figure out, but sooner than later we figure out the heart of a test and better equip our students to conquer it. People call this various things like “teaching to the test” but who wouldn’t if your job was on the line? But while teachers are out for the best interest of their students, there are others that take advantage of the desire to see children succeed. In this case people are making serious money off the ability to teach to the test. In some cases, the same company who is producing the tests is also supplying the textbooks to teach the students as well as private study materials (see here). In essence these companies are making money three different ways and one of them is by teaching kids strategies to test as gifted! I’m in favor of gifted education and having tests that can measure giftedness, but I doubt the spirit of giftedness is being taught how to beat the test by the makers of the test. The other problem with this is that it caters to wealthier children. Only those who have disposable income can afford to have their children how to do well on tests or buy supplemental books or classes. While I would concede that your home life is the biggest contributor to success in school, is it possible that the size of your family’s check book is a contributor as well?
In the end this mini-rant is not going to change the process of how we label students as gifted. What it will take to have something like this happen is a generation of people who want what’s best for kids…all kids. We need to realize that just because our children are not labeled ‘gifted’ does not mean that we have failed them as parents. Is it possible that a kid can go through their life in regular education and live a happy, fulfilled life? Absolutely. Somewhere along the way we have misunderstood happiness and success as what level of classes my student is taking in high school. Hopefully, we can better understand our own kids well enough as well as the big business world looking to make a buck off of their situation in life and take a couple of deep breaths. Is being gifted an indicator or success, maybe on some small level, but there are a billion other indicators that matter just as much or more.