Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gifted Programs and Standardized Tests

Once upon a time there was a fairly clear method of selecting students for gifted programs. The child in question took an IQ test, and if the score was over 130, in you go. This method -- and IQ testing in general -- has fallen out of favor over the years. Now many programs use a variety of measures from grade level tests to school work to portfolios and teacher recommendations for admission. Some people consider this more "fair" than relying on one test. But, as a story out of Duxbury, Massachusetts, shows, this is not always the case.

The Boston Globe ran a story recently that "Duxbury's new program for 'gifted' children puts parents in uproar." Apparently, 14 3rd-5th graders were selected for the program, which was developed quietly. The children were chosen based on their matching "a chart of behavior traits associated with gifted children." Several families who had been agitating for more challenge for their children, who scored high on tests, discovered that their children were not included in the Gang of 14. This led to much finger-pointing and the like. Indeed, "At a forum on the program, held the first week of school, 150 parents peppered school officials with questions and accusations," the article notes. That's a lot more parents than kids in the program, suggesting that many more people think they have gifted kids than the school system decided had them. "Some even think that the kids selected for the program were chosen because their parents had 'connections' at the school," the reporter writes.

Of course, there's a certain element that's humorous about all this. If 14 children had been selected for a program called "remedial learning" or even something totally neutral, no one would be up in arms. It's just the reality of the gifted label. If someone is going to be labeled as "smart" then other people want their kids in too. But when you go down a road of choosing kids for programs based on behavioral charts and other extremely subjective measures, you do wind up in a gray area.

The beauty of IQ tests is that everyone takes the same test, and everyone is judged on the same scale. I've been writing profiles, for the past several months, of former finalists in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search for Scientific American. In the past, Westinghouse gave applicants a test which functioned almost like an IQ screen in order to choose their finalists (now, the Intel search is almost entirely based on project results). The profile running this week is of a woman named Sister Julia Mary Deiters (born Rosemary Deiters; she later became a member of the Sisters of Charity) who grew up in Ohio in the 1930s and 1940s. No one from her school had been a Westinghouse finalist before, and she certainly didn't have much science background. Her parents hadn't gone past 8th grade. But on a standardized test, she stood out with the best-trained kids in the country.

When we lose sight of that fundamental fairness, we miss quite a bit. Perhaps IQ tests shouldn't be the only measure of giftedness. But I tend to think they can play a fairly large role.


Anonymous said...

"When we lose sight of that fundamental fairness, we miss quite a bit. Perhaps IQ tests shouldn't be the only measure of giftedness. But I tend to think they can play a fairly large role. "

Unfortunatly, there is a lack of fundamental fairness when IQ is a major part of the selection process. IQ tests are normed from the typical population. They leave out children from lower SES, children from different cultures, and disabled children (like my autistic child).

My own son scores very low on IQ tests although his abilities are exceptional. He has been denied access to GATE even thought his abilities far exceed those children who have been identified through traditional measures. It took the threat of a lawsuit before he would be considered.

While I would agree that many parents want their children to be "in the club" there is a very real problem when children from lower SES, different cultures, and those who are disabled are left behind. Research has shown this to be the case.

I would have been one of those parents who stormed the school.

Anonymous said...

I think that if gifted programs are what I think gifted programs should be (more/deeper/faster), then there would be fewer problems with kids wanting to get in who don't belong.

Instead, it seems like gifted programs often are fun enrichment -- things lots of kids would enjoy and benefit from.

It might be interesting to piece-meal programs in places where the current gifted programs are controversial.

* Introduce a self-paced math option for everyone.
* Do Great Books at lunch or before or after school.
* Offer another foreign language
* Sponsor Odyssey of the Mind, Future Problem Solving, MOEMS, MathCounts, etc.
* Encourage NaNoWriMo

How many people self-select for these? Does this list seem to match up with the kids who would be identified as gifted?

Anonymous said...

That list matches up with my son (I am the first poster). He would self select for the math teams and the self paced math. I think that a lot of gifted kids would self select activities on the list, but not all. There also might be kids who self select but are not gifted. It is about passion not gifts.

I think the problem is not the kids as much as it is the parents. My district has self contained GATE classrooms and the kids know it is faster and deeper. There are no extra fun enrichment activities. It is just the same work differentiated, as it should be. Many GATE kids choose not to go into the class because it is a lot of work. The kids who wish to go to the self contained classes are choosing the harder path not the path that is more fun. It is the parents who force the issue when their kids are not included. They want their kids in the more rigorous classroom.

In my own situation I would not push for my child to be in GATE if it was only enrichment activities. My child would not be interested. He wants the rigor and academics.

nbosch said...

I've taught gifted kids K-6 for 25 years and here is the bottom line. Some kids are gifted and some are not. Some kids need services and some do not. Some kids' needs are met with peers in a regular classroom some are not.

Over the years we've gone from IQ score of 135 being the only thing that mattered to a "needs" based approach based on a comprehensive assessment. Both approaches have pluses and minuses. A perfect approach combines the two---a student has to show need and information is gained from standardized tests.

Here's some of the problems with the needs based approach:
1. If the teacher doesn't know how to meet your needs does that say your needs aren't met?
2. If you go to a Title 1 school, you might look gifted compared to peers.
3. Do you need gifted services if you come from a home that is highly enriched?
4. Do you need gifted services if your only talent in math? reading?

I'm rambling---a needs based approach will catch anonymous's son. BUT will the services available meet his needs.

Any gifted services MUST be differentiated, I run a program with curriculum that would be too difficult, fast paced, complex for an average child. In 25 years none of these issues have changed. I'm sure they never will. I could go on but lost my point!! haha! N

Angie said...

I agree that there should be a combination of IQ scores, parental assessment, teacher observation, and student participation in arriving at a decision for a child to be 'labeled' gifted. It is NOT always a bed of roses to be labeled gifted.

I had a small chat with a student who I would have taken into my gifted classroom in a heartbeat one day and was floored by her comment. "Oh yea, I took the gifted test but I wanted to fail it because I didn't want to be in gifted." Now add peer pressure and/or perception of more work.....

Yes, it is very complicated. Parents need more education on the matter before desiring to have their child in a gifted program. Equipped with the facts about a program and observing a classroom in action should be part of every parent's responsibility before even speaking to their child about being tested for gifted.

Sandra Foyt said...

With my first child I went the route of asking to have my daughter tested, and hoping that the Enrichment Program would help meet her needs.

It was fun for her, but once a week pullout to do Math Olympiad and creative problem solving was not enough.

With my second child, I've seen what our district can offer, and I've chosen homeschooling. We can do all of the Enrichment Programs that we want, and so much more.

And, it doesn't matter if he's gifted as this is the ultimate individualized learning plan.

Anonymous said...

Sandra wrote:

With my second child, I've seen what our district can offer, and I've chosen homeschooling. We can do all of the Enrichment Programs that we want, and so much more.

And, it doesn't matter if he's gifted as this is the ultimate individualized learning plan.


You go, Sandra. Exactly my sentiments.

Once you've tasted homeschooling, you realize nothing even comes close. Nothing. It's so hard to go back to public school after that experience.

Just imagine. You call the shots, you and your family decide what you will do, you can combine rigor with fun and the outdoors, your child can play outside for five hours and still get everything done. We chose on-line courses in lieu of bricks and mortar for our one year because it allowed us to travel. Have laptop, will go on a moment's notice.

When I hear people on other gifted lists tearing their hair out, trying to deal with the school system, be it PG or 2e or the combination thereof, I just shake my head. As one wise gifted expert told me, it's easier to homeschool than fight with the school.

I know homeschooling is not for everyone. I know not everyone can homeschool. But this I know, and sadly, I figured it out too late. You don't need a lot of money to homeschool!

I can't help ruminating over the years we lost because I had cold feet and no support for this "wild and crazy" idea. When push came to shove, I didn't tell any of my friends but spent the summer thinking long, deep and hard. And only talking to those who support this lifestyle. I didn't want too many differing opinions cluttering up my head.

You don't need a lot of money to homeschool! Oh, it helps, I would have loved to travel around the world. Short of that, museums in my area are free, libraries are free, walks and hikes are free, outdoor classical concerts are free, family dinner and discussions are free, after you adjust for the food you just bought.

Not everyone can homeschool. More people can than realize. Don't be foolish. Don't make my mistake. If you are thinking of doing it, you have the time, patience, love and commitment, but what's holding you back is, "what if I screw up," you won't. At the very least, you won't do worse than the schools.

A woman told me if my daughter did nothing but read all day and do CTY math, she'd still come out ahead. I was skeptical as my daughter was in that vaunted GT Center but I put that comment to some folks at Hoagies and Gifted Development Center, and they replied, yup!

Anonymous said...

I think the real reason school districts use a variety of factors to determine gifted needs is because of cost. IQ tests are expensive.

Many school districts rarely use actual IQ tests for gifted identification. They rely on standardized tests that provide an IQ equivalent of sorts; a score that is not an IQ, e.g. the OLSAT. Because they know these tests are not necessarily a good measure, they also use other indicators.

Anonymous said...

The beauty of IQ tests is that everyone takes the same test, and everyone is judged on the same scale.

Surely it's for that very reason that IQ scores are at best limiting and at worst dangerous? The historical roots of IQ suggest it was never meant to be used in the way that many developed countries use it.

Anonymous said...

well, im my opinion, being in grade 11 myself and a gifted child that being smart doesn't necessarily mean your "gifted" . Lot's of people took the test, around 120. And the people that chose the kids started with the tests, which apparently around 90 percent got near identical marks. From here on they looked at portfolio's for "creativity" . I'm saying the tests are useful, but what do you do when there is limited space in the gifted classes?
the answer: go through their portfolio's to further identify the students for classification