Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Can gifted kids become not-gifted?

I've been reading NurtureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's new tome about research-based approaches to education and parenting.

It's a fascinating book in many respects, aiming to show how little of what we think is obvious is actually backed up by any data. Of course, to do this, Bronson (whose voice carries the book) has to make a bit of a gee-whiz fuss over research that does exist and seems counter-intuitive.

Unfortunately, the chapter on gifted education -- "The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten" -- gets a heady dose of that. Bronson maintains that testing for IQ too young results in many kids being put in gifted education that wouldn't be if tested later, and keeping some late bloomers out. As he puts it, "if a school wanted the top tenth of students in its third-grade gifted program, 72.4% of them wouldn't have been identified by their IQ test score before kindergarten." This, he claims, is a problem, because "earning this classification when young is nothing less than a golden ticket, academically. The rarified learning environment, filled with quick peers, allows teachers to speed up the curriculum. This can make a huge difference in how much a child learns. In California, according to a state government study, children in Gifted and Talented programs make 36.7% more progress every year than the norm."

I'd quibble with the golden ticket idea -- much of what makes gifted education into a controversy is that it's perceived as some sort of reward, as opposed to an educational intervention for kids who need it. But anyway, the headline one would take out of this chapter is that either "gifted education is a scam" or "you shouldn't test until 3rd grade, at the very very earliest."

But this isn't exactly what Bronson appears to be showing. As he points out, "even in kindergarten, a few children are clearly and indisputably advanced." There is nothing gained by failing to meet these children's needs by putting off interventions until 3rd grade or later (which is what I worry people reading the chapter will take away). Instead, "what stands out as problems are: the districts who don't give late-blooming children additional chances to test in, and the lack of objective retesting to ensure the kids who got in young really belong there."

I find this to be a far more fascinating idea. It is true that in many districts, schools screen once for gifted programs, and then don't allow a whole lot more additional screens later. More importantly, they don't look at their gifted classes to see if the situation is still the best match for these kids, or whether someone would be doing better in a more conventional classroom. These policies are based on the assumption that intelligence is an unchanging thing, but there's no particular reason we need to think of it as constant.

That's why I prefer the words "readiness grouping" to "ability grouping." It implies less about an innate quality, and more about simply giving children work that challenges them to the extent of their abilities. Likewise, if gifted education were truly perceived and treated as an intervention, not a reward, it would not be seen as so awful to remove children from the class based on retesting.

So what do you think, readers? I rather like the idea of more frequent evaluation, and kids moving between classrooms, grades, etc., as the need arises, as opposed to a certain IQ meaning you get 90 minutes of pull-out a week, and a lower IQ meaning you don't. Do you know of any gifted programs that offer lots of opportunities to come in and out?


Harriet M. Welsch said...

Our school in a small to mid, a PK-4 institution, tests twice: at the end of 2nd grade and in the middle of 3rd grade. By the time they move to middle school (5-6), all those identified as gifted are clustered into a single class, so testing stops. There is also no testing or program before third grade. This is largely the result of finances rather than policy. And in fact, the district wants to move to a more individualized curriculum across the board with classroom clusters instead of (or possibly in addition to) pull-out programs to ease the movement of children between groups and their ability to meet the needs of kids who might be gifted in one area but underachieving in another. In theory, this sounds like a great idea. In practice, I'm concerned that it might be more than they can handle and would mean the end of intervention. After our state (Illinois) eliminated gifted funding altogether in the face of the budget crisis, it's clear that it's the easiest of targets.

The Princess Mom said...

(I love your screen name, Harriet!)

What would be best, in my mind, is block scheduling, so that kids can attend math class at whatever level they need, regardless of age-grade. I was in a variety of pull-out, enrichment and tracking programs growing up (in the 70s and early 80s) and found none of them very help until the Governor's School camp as a rising senior in hs. We need to move beyond "third graders learn multiplication and 4th graders learn long division" to let all children learn at their own pace. No matter how fast or slow that may be.

Anonymous said...

I love your term "readiness grouping." I think I'll have to borrow that! I'm guessing that it will be much easier for parents to swallow that some kids are "ready" for more advanced work instead of "having more ability."

I'm wondering what the author's research says about how many kids who are ID'd as gifted turn out later on not to really be gifted. I'm guessing the bigger issue is the kids who are not identified. Of course, if everyone is taught at their readiness level, as Princess Mom suggest (and which I am in favor of as well), there would be no need for gifted programs and troublesome labels.

Anonymous said...

The problem with block scheduling is that a 1st grader can easily need 4th grade math, but need it taught with a 1st grade time limit, using fonts that are 1st grade size, and writing spaces that are 1st grade size.

Just because someone can mentally do math for older kids doesn't meant that that person is ready for the way we teach math to older kids (not saying some aren't ready or that the ways we teach older kids are better).

When I grew up, you tested in 3rd for entry in 4th grade. I believe you could test later, but the only people I ever knew who did were those who moved into the district. In high school, they offered various classes (English I, Algebra II, etc.) as "gifted", which got the same grade weight as honors but was preferred because it had smaller class sizes and what we all perceived as less busy work (i.e., fewer assignments at the bottom of Blooms Taxonomy). At the high school level, several gifted kids who were not all-around gifted chose to drop to regular or honors in classes outside their strength.

One of the problems I see with kids getting held back from starting kindergarten (a common practice here, especially for boys) is that while they may not be ready for kindergarten that year, there is no easy way for them to make-up that grade later when they really are caught up developmentally.

What if school were like Aleks.com? You sign up for 3rd grade (let's say) and it gives you a list of objectives. You pre-test over those objectives. Based on your pre-test, it shows you what you need to learn and lets you even select the order if the order doesn't matter. It periodically re-tests you to make sure you've retained information. When you're done with 3rd grade, you can then switch to 4th grade or whatever you choose and the process starts all over again.

Obviously, something like that is easy to do in math, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling. Writing is harder. History would be hard to do that way unless you view history as just a set of facts. Not sure about science or foreign language.

Miss E said...

We tested my 7 year old's IQ one month shy of her 5th birthday. We didn't really want to do this, but we were in a disagreement with her teacher over her behavioral challenges. The teacher was recommending a psyche eval to test for things like ADHD and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. She didn't seem inclined to believe that our daughter might be acting out in class b/c she was/is highly intelligent and her needs weren't being met.

So we did a full evaluation, including IQ. She tested well into gifted range and came up negative for other behavioral disorders. She was then (and still is) at a Montessori school. When I researched our public elementary school her Kindergarten year, the Principal virtually scoffed at the IQ numbers I gave him, saying they had to be inaccurate b/c of her age and told me that the GATE program (Gifted And Talented Enrichment) started in the 4th grade there (in other words, don't bother me with this until then was the message I received).

Our school system is one of the best in our state, by the way. In part because of his cavalier attitude toward her abilities, we decided to keep her at the Montessori school where she started at 2 1/2 years old. She starts second grade next week, and ended first grade reading at a fifth grade level. Mathematically, she's right at grade level.

I shudder to think what challenges we would be facing in our public school right now, while not even yet eligible for the GATE program. She would likely be "that kid," or the teachers would have completely labeled her similarly to the above-referenced teacher.

So I have to completely agree with Princess Mom and the practice of following what the CHILD is ready for, not necessarily what the school's programming or teacher's needs are. I am happy she is at a Montessori school, which also follows the philosophy of "follow the child" and that every child should be allowed to work at their own pace and level, regardless of whether that level is the official grade level of the child's age.

I am new to the blogging scene, by the way. Because of the difficulties I've had finding people to talk to about the highs and lows of raising a gifted child, I decided to start blogging about it. I don't know if this is PC or not, but I'll share my site here if you are interested in checking it out - http://gifts2love.blogspot.com. Thanks.

Stephanie said...

We are a school that moves by ability group. I have a fifth grader that moves to seventh grade for reading and math, a fourth grader who stays put, and a first grader who moves to second grade for reading and math.

My question is this -- what do you do when a child plateaus -- does that mean that they maybe do second grade twice? We are a new school and they haven't quite figured out how to fill classes and not move some kids "down".

din819go said...

Stephanie -- what is the name of your school? What grades does it have?


Edwin said...

I like the idea of moving between class rooms and grades. Our son is two to three years ahead in math. The public school agreed to a gade skip to third and a subject skip in math to 4th, and maybe even 5th. It would be nice if this would alos be the case in science, and reading. Third may be the best fit for writing skills,(I think they start cursive) but not for spelling or reading. I used to wory about the testing results being skewed by his age and envionment. But with later testing it was mostly consistant.

Kevin said...

"My question is this -- what do you do when a child plateaus -- does that mean that they maybe do second grade twice?" Exactly, but it doesn't happen very often---generally only when pushy teachers or parents have pushed a kid until the kid has started pushing back. It is rare enough that you probably don't need to worry about it in advance.

Anonymous said...

I was startled by descriptions of kids getting IQ tested before kindergarten. I would have doubts about the reliability of a standardized test given to a preschooler--even one designed for preschoolers.

As far as I know, my son has never been IQ tested. He's been in the gifted program since kindergarten. In all three school districts where we have attended, being in the gifted program was a yearly decision; kids could test in during the spring (and I don't really know what those tests involved, but results were combined with teacher and/or parent referrals), and staying in is always dependent on meeting the adjusted criteria for the gifted class.

The options offered varied from pullout classes to a multi-grade class to an "advanced" (but not necessarily identified gifted) class with an additional daily pull-out class. This year we did a grade skip with the school's full support. In fact, when I called to ask the teacher about it, she said she had been planning to suggest it to me. They had to do some convincing with the school board because we skipped fifth grade, which of course is a big testing year, but they gave my son a third-quarter fifth-grade standardized test in spring of fourth, and he passed, so they agreed.

Candace said...

I don't believe that children fall in and out of giftedness - but I do agree that if tested and placed too young, that many times their peers catch up with their "giftedness" in the older grades.
I see evidence of this in my 6th & 7th grade GT classrooms. Our district gives a blanket test in 2nd grade. Many of the 2nd graders have the skills of a 4th or 5th grader at the time of testing. By the time I get them I question the validity of their testing.
I am able to test children that aren't currently in the program or those new to the district for placement, but once a child is in... they're in until the end of the program.

Anonymous said...

Candace, what is your advice for helping a student who believes he's lost his giftedness? My 8th-grader has been called gifted since kindergarten. This is based on standardized test scores (all 99 percentile every year). Now he's struggling. His standardized test scores are in the 59-70 range and all his classmates who had to work so hard over the years to get average scores are passing him. It's like he zoned out all these years because he knew the material and forgot how to process. How do I help him catch up and view himself as a great kid? P.S. Did he actually lose his giftedness?

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

A drop from 99th percentile to 59th percentile is an enormous drop. If it were my kid, I'd be taking him to professionals of various sorts to find out what has happened. That is not a normal development.