The Identification of Students Who Are Gifted

ERIC EC Digest #E644
Author: Mary Ruth Coleman
June 2003

     Few areas in the education of children with exceptionalities are
as controversial and critical as appropriate identification of children
who are gifted. The controversies involve all the pros and cons of
labeling children as well as a variety of political issues. Yet,
identification remains critical to ensuring that children receive the
services they need to thrive in school. This digest discusses the
identification of students who are gifted, the difficulties in the
identification process, appropriate identification practices, and
procedures that can help with identification.

Identification: A Means Not an End

     School systems often face difficult decisions when developing
procedures for identification. The amount of money allotted to gifted
education must include both identification and programming, while
providing a balance between the two. School system administrators run
the risk of using more energy, resources, and precision planning in the
identification process than in the services provided once a student is
identified. Some states even require identification but do not require
the provision of services (Coleman & Gallagher, 1995). With limited
funding, schools must make tradeoffs between using individual
assessments of children and using good group measures. Ideally,
information gleaned during identification would be used to guide
curriculum and instruction for each child. In any case, identification
must be the means to securing appropriate services to meet the needs of
the student, not an end in itself.

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The Need for Equity

By Yvonne Golczewski

       Gifted learners can be found in every conceivable demographic
population. Contrary to what our media would have us believe, they do
not have a stereotypical appearance. They come in every skin color and
are from every culture and economic strata. They can be found anywhere
in the world. They can even be found in the special education student

The Problem
       Because many gifted students do not fit our preconceived ideas,
many are inadvertently overlooked or underserved, leading to
underrepresented demographic populations in gifted education programs.
Some minority groups of gifted learners, particularly Black, Hispanic
American, and Native American, may be underrepresented by as much as 30
to 70%, with an average of 50%. 1   According to the report, Mind the
(Other) Gap! The Growing Excellence Gap in K-12 Education, Reardon
(2008) examined the Black-White academic gaps among initially high- and
low- achieving students. In alongitudinal study, he found that even
though both Black and White students initially had the same reading and
math skills when entering kindergarten, Black students tended to fall
well behind their White peers in later grades. In addition, the
Black-White gaps grew faster among students who were initially above
the mean of reading and math skills than those below the mean. Reardon
suggests that “Black high-achievers may be attending schools with less
challenging learning experiences and fewer resources.” 2
       Another alarming fact is that gifted learners tend to drop out
school at the same rate as non-gifted classmates. Some studies cite
between 18-20% of dropouts may be gifted. Gifted dropouts were
generally from a lower socio-economic status family and had little or
no access to extracurricular activities, hobbies, and computers. 3

Two Underlying Causes

The Need for Training
    Some gifted learners, especially from underprivileged backgrounds,
do not start school with an advanced bank of knowledge or vocabulary.
Some may not speak English or may have a learning disability that hides
their intellectual ability. Others may not have been raised in a family
that emphasizes education, and therefore lack a strong drive to
achieve. Some may just be very shy and quiet. There are a multitude of
reasons why some gifted learners are harder to identify. Unfortunately,
many education programs in universities do not provide the training
necessary for teachers to work effectively with gifted learners. Even
after graduating, the Fordham Institute found that 58% of teachers have
received no professional development focused on teaching academically
advanced students in the past few years. 4

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