Scaling up "Gifted"
The state of Florida does better than most when it comes to providing funding for gifted education. But anytime something is perceived as an educational reward bestowed upon a favored group, politics come into play, and that's precisely what's happening in Florida right now. The state Department of Education is in the midst of changing the way it defines "gifted" in order to be more inclusive. You can read about one county's experience with the change here.
For starters, the state wants to expand the number of children screened for giftedness to all of them. Not a bad idea. Currently, many districts only screen for giftedness among children whose parents or teachers request it. But some parents may not know much about gifted education, or how to navigate the school system. Few teachers have training in gifted education, and so may assume that "gifted" means "doing well in class." Not always the case.
But administering IQ tests is time consuming. Doing the full deal requires at least 2 hours one-on-one with a psychologist. So Florida districts may have to use quicker, slightly rougher versions of IQ tests for mass screening. But then the 130 cut-off seems even more arbitrary. So why not add in achievement test scores? That's what the state is proposing, in addition to lowering the IQ bar to 120. School officials say this may double or triple the number of children identified as gifted, and thus make the programs more inclusive.
I'm all in favor of inclusiveness if it means screening more children. But the move toward labeling more children as gifted -- which school districts across the country are trying -- strikes me as problematic for gifted education in general. In recent posts we've talked about the problems of positioning gifted education as some sort of reward. Attempts to pack more children into the definition buy into this thinking. If a district defines "gifted" as "good student," and as a seal of approval that the kid is going places in life, then why not choose everyone who has good grades and reasonable test scores?
Proponents of gifted education are on our most solid footing when we define gifted education as an educational intervention for students who need it. If 10% or more of a class suddenly needs an intervention, maybe it could just be taken care of by more differentiation in reading groups, math groups, and the like. I'd like to see true educational interventions (grade skipping, distance learning, early enrollment at college, magnet schools for the highly gifted, including boarding schools) focused on a smaller percentage of students. That means raising the cut-off IQ bar, not lowering it. If any districts are going that direction, please let me know. I'd love to hear about them.