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What's the Best Way to Identify Gifted Students?


Two weeks ago, the New York State Department of Education announced that it sought a better way of identifying gifted students in its public schools. The move is intended to help find talented students amongst lower income and minority populations, which are underrepresented in current accelerated classrooms.

An interesting conversation on the subject is taking place over at The New York Times' Room for Debate blog. Among the interesting points is that the proposed idea of testing kids to determine if they are gifted as early as age 3 doesn't make any sense. Clara Hemphill of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School says gifted classes aren't really necessary until middle school:


The things you need to learn in kindergarten are pretty much the same whether you have Downs Syndrome or an IQ of 170: how to tie your shoes, sit in a circle, play nicely, take turns and share your toys. Sure, academics are important, but a good teacher should be flexible enough to challenge children with a range of abilities in one class, giving Frog and Toad to a beginning reader and Harry Potter to a more advanced reader, or finding a 200-piece puzzle for a child who has finished the 100-piece puzzle.

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Joseph S. Renzulli, director of UConn's National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, says a parent's ability to game the test given to students, the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, is inadequate and suggests putting kindergarten-age or younger children in small groups and letting them work on "activities that are designed to promote higher order thinking skills and creativity," a system formulated by C. June Maker of the University of Arizona. A child would be judged gifted based on the subjective assessment of an trained observer.

Rather than this debate about when to test and which test to use, perhaps we should be discussing whether or not certain groups of students are even getting access to the test.

In L.A., a similar gifted gap was noticed for minority and low-income students. The solution, proposed by Partnership for Los Angeles Schools is as follows: Test those populations and see what you find. There will likely be gifted kids hidden within those cohorts.

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