What’s Gifted Got to do With it?

I’ve taught gifted students for the majority of my teaching career. There is efficacy to gifted programs. It is important to meet the needs of all the students in a class, however, the term gifted comes with ancillary issues that many don’t think about. I’ve seen the benefits and detriments to gifted testing and having such a program in existence. My anecdotes are from many schools and various experiences, so I’m not calling anyone out or saying we shouldn’t test for gifted. We need to look at why parents want their children tested and if testing is optimal for their children at a certain age.

Although I now work in a high school, I’m going to talk about my experiences in elementary.

David and I found out that P was to be tested for gifted (by P during FaceTime). Part of the parenting plan is that he has joint decision-making for decisions regarding education, sports, religion, medical, etc… Needless to say, the ex didn’t ask what he thought about it. He asked her if she thought it was important to tell him and talk about it. She said, “no”.

I told him I didn’t think it was time to test her. Yes, I feel she has many earmarks of a gifted child, however, I completely disagree with her being testing now. David and I discussed this because on the surface, why would we say no to gifted testing? You can tell people that your kid is gifted, get a bumper sticker, and identify with your child’s accomplishments. Everyone will like you more and think you are an awesome parent! Giftedness is inherent; it isn’t taught. Yes, parents can support, encourage, and offer great learning opportunities, but it’s the child’s uniqueness that is all his/her own.

In Georgia is that there are four components to a gifted inventory: creativity, motivation, cognitive ability, and achievement. This does vary from state to state. Students have to score well on three out of four of these assessments. The tests take a while to complete, and they are rigorous. The younger students burn out quickly, so that’s why we try to test them when they are older or mature enough to take the tests.

Motivation is different with everyone. Many children are motivated in areas that don’t necessarily fit inside the gifted testing box. There is a labyrinth of connections and synapses going off in their heads all the time. Oftentimes, teachers see this as students not paying attention or them getting off-topic. High-achieving students can be more motivated than gifted students.

There is one inventory to assess creativity for testing. This doesn’t take into account how children can be exceptionally creative. The norm for assessing creativity defeats the relative nature of creativity.

If MacGyver were an elementary school student, would his creativity have been a hindrance?  He would probably have been creating eraser cities in his desk with a bobby pins, gum, and toothpicks. He would be the kid reading books on Houdini while ignoring instruction.

The fact is that the creative kids are the ones who don’t follow the norm.  When they are listening to a lesson on compound sentences, their minds wander to non-related connections. No, they aren’t listening and probably don’t know a thing about compound sentences.  However, their need to know about the universe leaves no room for the minutia of grammar.  I’m not saying that this isn’t frustrating to the teacher, especially with the demands of standardized testing.  But, feel that the test prep has stifled the creativity that innately drives educators.

“STOP questioning the world.  Just sit down and learn the standards!”

Last year, we were in a unique situation where there were no standardized tests. Some teachers didn’t like this, some thought of this as an amazing opportunity to do some creative work.

Many of the truly creative kids don’t see a point in the need for traditional academia. That is why it is our job (as parents and teachers) to engage these kids so that they can make a place for themselves in the world. This process is exhausting. We work with delightful high-achievers who will do what they can to succeed. If you look closely into any classroom, you will see the kids spinning the ruler on the pencil, while imagining the propeller on a helicopter. Meanwhile, the helicopter antics distract the rest of the class. How do teachers handle this?

My thoughts were that many kids and people feel they aren’t creative because they can’t draw, play an instrument, or weave magical stories at a moment’s notice. Isn’t evidence of original thinking an indicator of creativity? Maybe it is more accurate to say that someone’s creativity can be found instead of taught.

The cognitive test deals with assessing reasoning skills with verbal, non-verbal, and quantitative questions. In my experience, this test is a strong indicator of giftedness. Reasoning skills are the hallmark of gifted work. The achievement test is measuring how much the student has learned. It’s an adequate indicator, but some students can study for this test and do fine, and we have no real indicator of their giftedness. Again these are my thoughts from my time in this area of education.

I’ve known parents to buy the gifted tests and have their children study. This was happening quite a bit when I was in elementary. Some parents get upset with their kids for not making it in. I’ve had many phone calls asking to see the tests, demanding retests, and saying I didn’t do the testing right. If the system is diluted, what does gifted really mean and represent? What the hell is the point? I’ve said many times to parents, “If everyone is gifted, then no one is gifted.”

So why don’t I think P is ready? I don’t think she will understand that she is still brilliant even if for some reason, she doesn’t make it. We know her and how she handles disappointment. We have to take into account her social and emotional well-being and make a co-parenting decision that is best for her. The label of gifted comes with undue stress on the child, even if it is a badge of honor for the parents.

I’ve witnessed students very upset when they didn’t make it into the program. Sometimes, this can be one percentage point away. It hits their self-esteem hard. They don’t feel smart, and where I work, they have to wait two years to be tested again. Is this worth it? I worry that there is too much emphasis on ‘making it in’. P is smart, but she is very sensitive and takes everything to heart.

Additionally, once a gifted student is ‘in’, they feel that they cannot make mistakes and that they really aren’t’ gifted. She is relating with a group of kids who were being tested. So how will she feel if things don’t go her way this year? This won’t mean she isn’t gifted; it means she wasn’t ready, but we weren’t given a voice in this decision.

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