We've all seen the statistics. That certain minority groups are significantly under respresented in gifted services in the public schools. The subgroups usually mentioned are African-Americans, Second Language Learners, Hispanics, and economically disadvantaged students.
(looking for algae samples to collect)
In my county, students are testing for giftedness in the third grade. They are given an ability and/or achievement test in a group setting. Those students who score 96% or higher, are then referred for gifted services. Teachers also complete a survey and the students grades are reviewed. This method tends to work adequately for most traditional students. However, many in the education field have wondered if the ability/achievements tests used as well as teacher training for identifying s gifted students should be reexamined. I, personally, have several concerns with this identification method and its' impact for minority gifted students.
My first concern is that gifted identification doesn't occur until third grade. In many poor and African American neighborhoods, being smart is widely accepted at a young age, however dissapates within the youth culture as students get older. Many African-American students begin to downplay their intelligence around third grade in order to "be cool" or seem more accepted culturally. It is very unfortunate that it is at this same critical point where they are asked to perform on a norm referenced test. I personally feel a better time to give this test is Kindergarten/First Grade. During these years, the desire to achieve and excel are still present. Students would then take their identification as a sense of pride. Students with high potential and actual giftedness (according to testing performance) can then grouped together at an earlier age, which would help to act as a social support cohort.
Searching for pond snails or any living river life.
My second concern is the value of the methods being used in the indentification process for minority students. Traditional testing includes: Intelligence, Achievement, Aptitude, Grades, & Teacher Recommendations. A possible list of Non Traditional Testings (that could lead to a greater number of minority students meeting gifted critera) would include: Non-Verbal Ability Tests, Student Portfolio/Auditions, Performance Based Assessments, Portfolios/Creative Products, and Parent/Teacher/Community Recommendations. Often, I will see or hear other teachers comment on how talented a student is in a specific field and usually, other teachers will agree. Yet, I would love to see those same teachers take their compliments a step further to recommend that student for gifted services. I think that teachers have gotten in the habit of only viewing giftedness in terms of academic success. That is a critical training need, especially when it comes to minority students, who may not have the same support levels to perform highly within the classroom or the language skills to show success, but do show a tremendous "withitness" when discussing topics, applying learned knowledge to real world scenarios, and being able to transpose knowledge into other formats (art, music, kinesthetic, etc.)
I wanted to lastly share our personal story. It has nothing to do with my daughter being a minority with regads to identification. I do not feel as though my daughters race has impacted her academically as she comes from a home with two college educated parents, one of whom is an educator. Her grandmother is a retired teacher and grandfather is university dean. She also has never been in the public school system.
Wading in the bay.
When my daughter was preparing to start kindergarten (age 4.5), she was reading several levels higher. She had written amazing stories, had her art selected and shown at state museum, and had a strong passion for all the sciences. We hung at our science museum and botanical garden so much that the staff all knew her by name. She had even been used in the membership print advertisement for the science musem and did a commercial for the botanical garden. She tended to be what I would call a universal learner who always wanted "more" and to "delve deeper". We knew she would be very advanced for K, so we scheduled a meeting at the school to see if differentiation (atleast in language arts) was possible. We were dismissed. I understood why however. At our neighborhood school, all parents feel their children are gifted. The staff took a look at us and our words and concluded we were the same- pushy parents with a GOD complex about our child. Our elementary school has the highest number of gifted students county wide. Many parents in our neighborhood send their children to Kumon and other centers starting in preschool. Many students who maybe are not truly gifted, atleast appear gifted on paper due to the amount of resources & exposures parents are able to provide. Parents here also tent to "red shirt" kids, and I have found this is done for two reasons primarily- academic and athletic edge. Now, I could have pushed. I could have put on my "teacher" & "admin" hat, but I didn't. I requested the meeting with the one counselor I did not know by face, I didn't mention my other job (besides parent). My husband and I both sat in the K classroom and new that EVERYTHING (well, except recess and chorus class) they were doing in there was far below my daughters ability and interest. Also, they reiterated that gifted services would not begin until third grade. So...we went to our local university. Paid a reasonable amount for fifth year doctoral students to do a compete intelligence and social assessment. Alex hit most of the ceilings. We did some research and decided on Montessori education. This philosophy allows students to move at their own pace. Alex was able to have lessons with students older than herself and take on a leadership role with the younger students. Given that this fall Alex beings third grade, we've though often about going back to public school. We could finally afford a larger house or a new car for my husband- Plus gifted services would now be available. We've decided that the opportunities of Montessori for a gifted student is well worth our economic sacrifices and we will keep Alex (and now Jordan) in Montessori environments. Here diversity of talents are appreciated, perserverance and respect are parts of every students core and oh, those tests that determine which students get enrichment are nowhere to be seen. All students are gifted and welcomed to explore their gifts, no matter what the paper or teacher reports say.
Alex, future marine scientist. Age 8.