Friday, July 01, 2011

Making the Numbers Come Out Right

Whenever a school district decides to set up a gifted program, it faces a dilemma: what should the inclusion criteria be? In some districts it's very straightforward (NYC is based on test scores). If people simply viewed gifted education as an educational intervention for children who need it, that would be fine. The problem is that the idea persists, in many districts, that gifted education is a reward. It's a "most likely to succeed" designation, or a pat on the back for something kids have done (rather than just having a different, quicker learning style). As such, some people don't like using test scores, because a straightforward measurement may not result in a program that reflects the gender and ethnic make-up of the district. And rewards, we believe, should be bestowed equally.

That seems to be the thinking behind the new inclusion criteria for a program I read about in the Oakland Tribune. In the New Haven district, school officials were concerned that too many white and Asian students were being identified as gifted (alternately, one could say that they were concerned that too few black and Latino children were identified as gifted, but these are really flip sides of the same coin). So they put the program on hold and revamped the process. Now, the percent of white students in the program has fallen from 15 percent to 10 percent, reflecting their total fourth-grade population of 9 percent. As the article notes, "Chinese students, who make up 7 percent of the population, used to be 23 percent of the GATE program. Now that number is 9 percent. The number of Vietnamese GATE students has dropped from 9 percent to 4 percent -- equal to their percentage of the total population."

"The results are remarkable," Chief Academic Officer Wendy Gudalewicz told the Oakland Tribune. "The students that we identified as gifted and talented in this district represent the ethnic makeup of our student body."

How did this magic happen? "The new process uses two ways to identify GATE students -- through academic achievement and using a checklist system to find students who are gifted and talented in other ways, such as creativity and leadership," according to the article. "The academic pathway gives students a numerical score based on their performance in reading and math and, for fourth-graders, language. Officials then identify the top 5 percent districtwide within each racial and ethnic subgroup in each of the academic areas, reviewing the results for proportional gender representation. The other pathway to the program is through a nomination process to identify students with unique learning styles, creative ability, leadership skills or artistic ability. These students must be nominated by two adults, at least one of whom must be employed at the student's school."

In other words, the school district is setting out to make sure the proportions look right, and (shockingly) has achieved that.

The whole thing is a bit farcical. I have no doubt that someone can be a gifted leader -- but this is the problem with making gifted programs a reward, or a pull-out with special classes, or field trips, or what have you. All kids can benefit from enriched classes. What academically gifted children need is accelerated academic work that challenges them to the extent of their abilities. It's not about being fun, or being recognized for being a good, creative kid. It's about giving someone the opportunity to do work that is hard enough that they really, truly could fail. I keep hoping that, over time, the world of gifted education will start moving that way. But then I read articles like this and realize how far we still have to go.


Jennifer said...

I think educators, statistically not academic stars themselves, don't understand the difference between academically able/creative and compliant students.

These criteria are more likely to reward compliant, able students than noncompliant brilliant ones.

It does have the merits of readiness grouping, which is far better than putting the extremes of the range of human ability in the same classroom and expecting the teacher to manage a 4-8 yr academic gap.

Anonymous said...

I guess the old system works, if you believe that testing captures the full population of gifted kids. However statistically giftedness cuts across all races at the same frequency. So although you may not like the new system it at least makes as much sense as the old one.

The original question I think was a good one, why are there so few children of color identified as gifted? Maybe they don't understand the politics of the designations, or maybe some do not have good test prep or are perfectionists by nature and therefore don't do well on timed test. However, you looking at the problem from the perspective of who will no longer be getting in shows me you are more concerned with self preservation, which I guess we all are.

Bostonian said...

Unequal representation by race in gifted programs is an expected consequence of differing average scores by race on IQ tests, and Ms. Vanderkam knows that. If she is going to ignore basic facts, why does she blog at all?

Lindsey said...

Hey Laura,

Sorry about the unrelated comment, but I couldn't find any contact info on the blog, and I wanted to ask you about a guest post. Please drop me an e-mail!



Twin Mom said...

I don't think we know if [measured] giftedness occurs across races at the same frequency. An Asian colleague was pleased and surprised to observe African American children at the local science museum, because in her opinion, lack of exposure is a factor in African American underachievement in science. She was somewhat less surprised when she discovered that they were the adopted children of a colleague.

Do the NBA and NFL discriminate against Asians, or do certain cultures reward the work it takes to succeed in those fields vs. other fields? I don't think we can know the answer.

Anonymous said...

Are we talking about giftedness or under achieving? Because you can be both gifted and under achieving.

If you are stating that some children of color come from environments that don't value (understand the value of) giftedness I would agree with you. Especially after hearing stories from Will Smith, who was accepted to an engineering school before taking off in the entertainment field, about hiding his books.

I can tell you I have worked with many a brilliant engineer of color whom have never taken an IQ test, or were never identified as gifted in school, but I know they are brilliant, because I don't need a test to recognise genius. So if this district wants their gifted and talented classes to reflect their population why is that a crime?

Anonymous said...

I think we cannot ignore the role that socioeconomics, exposure, and nurture play in gifted identification. A child whose primary "caregiver" has been Cartoon Network is less likely to appear gifted when compared to one who has been given private lessons since infancy. But a child has no control over who his parents are, how much money they make, or how much education they have. Such aspects of "chance" (to whom you were born, in what part of the city/country, into which socioeconomic strata, in what social climate) really do matter. California's attempts to control for "chance" factors may not be the best, but I am hard pressed to think of a better way to control for the unfair advantage that historical factors, affluence,and exposure (all "chance" factors)may play in gifted identification and services.

Anonymous said...

Laura states in her blog "The problem is that the idea persists, in many districts, that gifted education is a reward. It's a "most likely to succeed" designation, or a pat on the back for something kids have done (rather than just having a different, quicker learning style)." If you visit the NHUSD website and read the FAQ about

GATE identification it almost echos that comment:

"2) What does it mean if my child is identified as gifted and talented in a domain?

Although some districts may treat the identification of giftedness and talent as a “badge of honor” or a prize that a student gets, we in NHUSD view it quite differently. Here, the identification process is used to provide more information to a student’s teacher so that the teacher can make more informed instructional decisions to better address that student’s needs."

However the FAQ goes on to say:

"Therefore, the district has no separate “programs” for gifted and talented students. Instead, the primary way that those students’ unique needs are met is through differentiated instruction within the classroom."

So these are not students vying for placement in self-contained classrooms for gifted (which some of these students would benefit from), but rather in classroom differentiation.

And with the rebalancing by gender and ethinicity, are you really making "informed instructional decisions to better address that student’s needs"? Because of the "quotas" you could have the situation where differentiation

is provided to one student in a classroom, yet is working at the same pace as the classroom, but a second student of a different gender and/or ethnicity sitting in the same classroom, is outpacing the classroom and actually requires that academic intervention.

Anonymous said...

I take extreme offense to the following comment: I think educators, statistically not academic stars themselves, don't understand the difference between academically able/creative and compliant students.

Just sharing my thoughts!

Anonymous said...

I was identified gifted as a child. I am also a person of color, a former teacher and a former member of gifted selection committees for two separate school districts. (k-6 and I no longer teach)

It sounds like this school uses the typical cattle-call approach to gifted education. The offerings probably still don't individualize instruction and as such, it is beneficial to the community if these extension programs are offered to all demographic groups.

As to the academic needs of very gifted children, this always needs to be individualized, even within the identified gifted population. This is because many children are not gifted in every subject and it is often impossible (k-6) to field a pull-out gifted math class where the children aren't missing science or some other non-math class. Thus many programs miss kids because their selection criteria really limits them to the "globally" gifted.

I would like to see gifted resources in school districts lean more toward giving teachers the skills they need to truly individualize instruction and then hold them accountable for doing so. Obviously due to the lack of content knowledge on the teacher's part this idea would benefit from floating co-teaching strategies where a teacher could come into the regular classroom and help with the instruction of those children who were working more than 3 grade levels above.

If this were happening, fewer children would need to be pulled out, more children's academic needs would be met and non-global gifted kids would get the enrichment they need in say math without failing reading as a result.

Two more notes...having been on the selection committees, there is more leeway than you think. Having a demographic goal could easily avoid unintentional racial bias.

As to compliance, at least at the elementary level, anything that leads to pull-out is really disruptive to the regular classroom. I am not saying that disruptive children should be denied gifted pull-out services but the pull-out teacher doesn't have the same advantages when it comes to classroom management and a disruptive child can really ruin the short 30 or 45 minute period (s)once or twice a week that (s)he has with the other children who have been identified gifted. Just a dose of reality.

childEngineer said...

We just attended the open house of a private school for gifted children over the weekend. Although the $14k/yr tuition is out of our price range, we were curious to compare the school with our local elementary school whose open house we attened last spring and to see what the gifted school could offer our son.

At the opening presentation, they talked about kids being gifted in not just math or science, but art, athletics and leadership as well. Reminds me of the GATE program's expanding notion of giftedness.

Despite the up front acknowledgement that they don't focus on academic giftedness, I was still surprised when I asked the Kindergarten teacher what kids typically know when they start in her class. She said it varies quite a bit. Some years most of the kids may already know how to read, other years almost none of the kids know how to read. I guess I just assumed that gifted kids like to learn and reading would be one of their first skills.