Posted on June 15, 2005

Gifted Student Deficit Disorder

Xiaochin Claire Yan, California Political Review, June 14

Gifted individuals, those with an IQ of 125 or higher, appear in only about five percent of the population, according to the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. In nearby Davis, school officials are attempting to boost that percentage by dubious means.

Two years ago, the Davis school board, concerned that not enough black and Hispanic children were testing into the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program, lowered the score for GATE identification. That led to 35 percent of third graders in Davis being identified as gifted. Trying to correct the absurd result, the board again tinkered with the identification procedures. This still yielded 26 percent of its students as gifted this year.

The board is due to take up the issue of identifying gifted students again this week. They do so not because 26 percent is still more than three times the state average, but because three of the five board members are concerned that those identified as gifted are predominantly white and Asian. This is an example of a misguided and feel-good insistence that all children are gifted somehow, in their own way. It fails the needs of those brightest young minds that the GATE program is designed to foster.

Laura Vanderkam, co-author of Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds, says, “If only the top one percent of students are in the ‘gifted’ group, then it actually means something. If the top 25 percent are in it, then you’ve made it so broad as to be meaningless, and not helpful to the highly gifted in the group.” That seems to be exactly what several of the Davis trustees have in mind.

Trustee Jim Provenza wants classes offered to GATE-identified students also made available to any student whose parents request them. His colleague, Martha West, would prefer to see the GATE program dismantled altogether and the money spent elsewhere.

The brightest minds could go eat cake or, as James Delisle, a Kent State University professor of education and part-time teacher of gifted children in Ohio public schools, more delicately states the obvious: a “schoolwide enrichment plan generally fails to provide the sustenance necessary to fulfill the complex lives of gifted children.”

Equally misguided is the attempt to engineer racial parity in the GATE program. The Davis board may succeed in manipulating the racial breakdowns to look more politically correct, but no amount of engineering or quotas will lead to real gains for students. Real gains come only with true education reform. Where that exists, minorities succeed, often in high numbers.

From the rough inner city of Oakland, each year students from the American Indian Charter School qualify for the nationally noted talent search program conducted by Johns Hopkins University. This is because principal Ben Chavis maintains a tough curriculum with high expectations for his all-minority student body.

Lowered standards and racial quotas cannot create gifted children. In fact, these policies are a recipe for mediocrity. To boost minority achievement and meet the needs of gifted children, school boards statewide would do better to follow the example of Mr. Chavis.