Wednesday, March 07, 2012

When should gifted students be identified?

Recently, the State Board of Education in Maryland adopted new rules on the identification and accommodation of gifted kids. According to this Washington Post article, the goal was to set minimum standards for the districts. In some cases, districts will be identifying children as young as age three.

A few advocacy groups protested the decision, claiming it was wrong to label children. I'm not sure they have much of an argument, given that kids are labeled in many other cases. There is an incredible amount of diversity within the category of "Hispanic" for instance, yet districts often keep statistics on that sort of thing. But a more interesting question, for our purposes, is when should gifted kids be identified?

For years, the common answer among school districts was around 3rd grade. The idea seems to be that by this point, any disadvantages or advantages one came to school with would be ironed out, and you could actually assess if a child needed extra services. With all we now know about early childhood, though, this is becoming a pretty outdated belief. Children are learning since birth. Many children attend preschool these days, and hence are encountering academic work long before kindergarten. Indeed, many preschools with less of a formal curriculum naturally differentiate for different children. Here's a journal. The not-yet-literate ones draw. Others write stories.

Preschools often do this without official labels, but they have certain things going for them that primary schools do not. Small classes, for instance. Multiple adults per class. Less emphasis on a certain amount of material that must be covered in a given year. Flexibility that big school systems often don't have.

When you lack that flexibility, that ability to meet kids where they are, then labels do become necessary. Labels help schools meet kids' needs. I tend to think that the beginning of kindergarten tends to be a good time for an initial assessment. I also think that assessment should be continual, with decisions about gifted programs re-evaluated regularly. You can go in and you can go out.

When does your school district identify children?


Anonymous said...

The school district that we were in it was third grade at the earliest, however we would routinely hear that "all of our kids are gifted". In our case it took a significant toll on our oldest child as she emotionally collapsed and we had to withdraw her from that school. She is getting better after homeschooling and she accelerated herself 3 to 5 grade levels this last year.

Anonymous said...

Now, someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I remember hearing somewhere that it's rare to incorrectly identify a child as gifted at a young age. It can happen that a child will test "low" and then end up testing in at a later date, but rarely do kids who test high at a very early age end up having falsely tested in.

Again, correct me if I'm wrong. I don't have a source and am pulling this out of the foggy recesses of my brain.

Kevin said...

Kids with the ability to sit still for the length of the test often score well above average as preschoolers, but not much above a couple years later when other kids can also sustain attention. False positives are pretty common before the age of 5.

Mick said...

Around here, it's usually grades 3-5. Personally, I think that's too late for appropriate interventions, especially for highly/profoundly gifted or 2E children. DC floundered and developed quite a few behavioral problems until officially identified as PG/2E and given appropriate challenges and resources.

To anonymous #1, that was my experience growing up. I'd completely shut down at school by the time I reached the proper age for identification. I'd studied the mannerisms of my classmates well enough to blend in and avoid teasing.

Continual identification from an early age would solve a lot of those problems, while allowing late-bloomers to be identified as well.

Laura Vanderkam said...

I've just learned that around here, they ID and do enrichment in kindergarten. Our pre-school does a lot of differentiation.

Twin Mom said...

Oregon is actually getting rid of TAG identification requirements, from what I hear of the legislation that just passed. Consider they didn't do anything to differentiate anyway, I'm not sure it makes much difference. TAG is not a priority here in logging country.

'Nother Barb said...

I work in traditional preschools as a companion to kids who need some assistance to fully participate. I had a child whose behavior improved significantly when we realized he was bored and we were able to differentiate for him. There have also been clearly gifted children who found their own ways to challenge themselves.

My own son's gifted program teacher actually said to me "you can't identify before 3rd grade", but of course they actually officially identify in 2nd grade FOR 3rd grade. His kindergarten teacher recognized he would be in the gifted program. Our district provides enrichment an hour total a week for K, 1, and 2, for ALL children: the pullout is addressed to their needs, from reading support to challenging math. Unfortunately, replacement classes are rarely available until 3rd grade. My son was fortunate to be in a small group taking 4th grade math in grade 1, but this was a one-off.

And as a note to Kevin, giftedness is not just measured in a test.

Anonymous said...

Our school district serves a high percentage of ESOL students (English as a second language). A few children begin gifted enrichment in kindergarten but most are not identified until third grade - they need to develop proficiency in English before their true ability becomes apparent. You might say "why not test them in their native language" but we have dozens of native languages and the kids use 'street Spanish' etc and really don't have a lot of proficiency in the native language either.

feMOMhist said...

my son was ID in pre-k but only to rule out LD. "gifted" starts at grade 3, but just this year the school started "enrichment" pull out that is based on achievement testing. The whole process is QUITE convoluted!

Suzy said...

Ours uses COGAT in the second half of kindergarten to identify children who have been nominated for the testing by their parents. Parents are encouraged to nominate by their child's teacher.
It's a beautiful thing. Kindergartners who score 98 or 99th percentile on the COGAT are invited to a GATE program in a stand-alone school. Children who test in 1st grade are invited to the GATE program with 96th percentile results.
I kind of get a kick out of the hierarchy of this as my dd is in 1st grade at the GATE school. At PTA I get introduced as "Suzy-her dd is in FIRST grade." Eyebrows go up. LOL!
We moved into this district before dd was born so that the GATE school would be an option.

Raising a Happy Child said...

I am jealous of places where gifted kids are identified early. We are in California. No gifted programs until 3rd grade in public schools. At least we are in a good school and so far DD is thriving in her K class. Hopefully she is not "evened out" by the time she can hope for gifted services that get "downgraded" every year.

Anonymous said...

At our districted elementary school, children are tested in 3rd grade. Before that grade level, teachers may request Academically Gifted services personnel to observe a suspected gifted student in the classroom. The AG personnel will then decide to "converse" with the student and make recommendations for enrichment if needed. On occasion, the AG personnel will pull K-2nd students to work with them individually outside of the regular classroom. This is VERY rare, and it involves having the Principal's permission.

Our county in NC, considered better than most in our state when it comes to gifted education, has now implemented an identification and intervention program for as early as kindergarten at UNDERPERFORMING SCHOOLS. This is admittedly a way to identify minority population students. Some of the schools where this early identification/enrichment is being implemented have had ZERO students identified for AG programming in the last 5 to 10 years.

While I am all in favor of identifying students beginning in kindergarten, I am dismayed at the blatantly racist and socio-economic discrimination going on in implementing this earlier ID'ing. Why only choose underperforming schools to implement this sort of programming? I'm sure it has something to do with lack of funds, but the practice of "social justice" is sometimes unjust.

Anonymous said...

In our district they use "need enriched services" from K-2 and then "gifted" starting at gr 3. Interestingly though, my son was at the peak of his passion for learning and gifted characteristics before he started school, obsessed with the solar system, languages, math, etc. when he was 3 and 4. The longer he's been in school, the more that original passion's been chipped away. I think it's partly public school curriculum, which doesn't challenge him in the areas he's strongest in, and partly peers, who've introduced him to such distractions as video games. I'm homeschooling him this summer and he's excited about it. Unfortunately, where we are, the only gifted program is for kids in the top 1% of the district...if you're in the top 10, 5, or 2%, you're out. My child is too advanced for even enriched curriculum, but I don't think he is in the top 1%. It's a shame...I know what he is capable of but I see public school eating away at the passion he once had.