Monday, May 5, 2008

Gifted Identification - or Lack Thereof

How assiduously does our federal government work to see that this precious raw material is properly developed? In 2006, the Department of Education spent about $84 billion. The only program to improve the education of the gifted got $9.6 million, one-hundredth of 1% of expenditures. In the 2007 budget, President Bush zeroed it out.

But never mind. A large proportion of gifted children are born to parents who value their children's talent and do their best to see that it is realized. Most gifted children without such parents are recognized by someone somewhere along the educational line and pointed toward college. No evidence indicates that the nation has many children with IQs above 120 who are not given an opportunity for higher education.

-Charles Murray, "Aztecs vs. Greeks," The Wall Street Journal, 1-18-07

"The prestigious Marland Report (1972) noted that "disturbingly, research has confirmed that many talented children perform far below their intellectual potential. We are increasingly being stripped of the comfortable notion that a bright mind will make its own way." In 1975, one report (Lemov, 1979), estimated that as many as 15-30% of high school dropouts are gifted and talented. Other studies have shown that most youngsters identified as intellectually gifted were significantly underachieving."

"In practical terms, much actual identification of gifted children is currently done by teachers - based either on their observations of classroom behavior, or on group achievement tests. It is these teacher-identified children who constitute most gifted programs. Identifying gifted children on the basis of teacher nominations, however, overlooks many gifted children. Several studies (e.g., Jacobs, 1971) have shown that teacher nomination correctly identifies less than half of students later found to be gifted through individual testing. Usually, the errors overlook gifted students, although about 10% of the students identified by teachers as intellectually gifted actually were not. Even exceptionally gifted students were not immune from oversight. As many as 25% are missed by teachers, (Marland Report, 1972)."

-Webb, Meckstroth, and Tolan, "Guiding the Gifted Child"

I was intrigued by Murray's article when I first read it. It sounded good on the surface, but the more I think about it, the more I dislike it. One of the reasons I dislike it is that while he points out how much our society (if our government could be considered a reflection of society) does not value the gifted. On the other hand, he seems to have a significant amount of faith that this same society will find all the children whose parents aren't aware of giftedness issues and help them find their way.

The latter belief is, in my opinion, complete hogwash.

Had the public schools been responsible for identifying my son's giftedness, it simply wouldn't have happened. I was told by the schools that he was not gifted. In fact, they believed he needed special education services.

Murray may be partially right in that a good number of gifted children have parents who care about their education. Intelligence is a strongly heritable trait, and most likely those parents who care about their children's education were the ones who also were identified as gifted when they were younger.

On the other hand, how many children like myself came from working class families who had no idea they were gifted? I personally was put into a gifted program and then popped back out. One of my teachers thought I was gifted. The fact that I didn't perform well in the G/T program was assumed to mean that the teacher had been mistaken. I wasn't recognized as gifted until very late in my high school career when I accidentally ended up in a class for which I didn't have the prequisites. I managed to earn one of the top grades in the class, and when it was discovered that I wasn't supposed to be in the class, my teacher made every effort to help me along.

No one else in my family had been identified as gifted. On the contrary, one sibling was placed in a special ed program because they couldn't read at nine years old. (Everyone failed to realize that this sibling got through three years of school because they managed to memorize everything the first time that it was read to them.)

When I think about all of the things that have happened to my parents' family and then to my oldest son, I can't say I have a lot of faith that other bright children will be identified. This is especially true of children who also have learning disabilities. They are often seen for their disabilities and not for their abilities. All the research I've seen bears this opinion out. In the age where certain diagnoses are "en vogue", it seems more likely that these children, especially boys, are wrongly labeled, diagnosed, and medicated.


Crimson Wife said...

Even among affluent families, there can be a real denial of the child's giftedness by the parents. I get so frustrated when I hear other parents talking about how their child breezed through learning X, Y, or Z but then the parents deliberately held the child back from the next level because they don't want him/her to "get too far ahead" of his/her agemates. This statement typically elicits approval from the other parents listening- "That's right, you don't want him/her to be bored in school," etc., etc. And I just have to keep my mouth shut when all I want to do is slap some sense into the other mom on behalf of her underchallenged child!

OverwhelmedMom said...

I've had the same urge. I have a friend with a highly gifted son. He isn't being challenged, and she feels like she's too pushy when asking for acceleration for her son. I feel so bad for him because it's obvious he's miserable, but there's only so much I can say.