Written 10/30/19 by Hannah Saunders
Do you know what’s incredibly frustrating after being an AIG Facilitator in North Carolina for 6 years? Updating DEP’s over these 6 years for students who have been identified as gifted, but they are not gifted. I don’t mean that they don’t act like they are gifted or that they don’t achieve in the classroom. I mean they are not gifted. Their IQ scores are ridiculously low, yet for some reason they were identified as gifted. It may seem like a nice thing to do to identify a student as gifted and save yourself from a stressful conversation with a parent, but you are harming the child in ways you cannot even see by doing this. You are also being dishonest with a parent and you are making the next AIG facilitator’s job, and the job of all the future teachers the child will have, incredibly more difficult.
I am not against multiple criteria for gifted identification, but at some point there has to be clarity in order for identification to be equitable. I can argue any child is gifted but classroom grades do not a gifted child make. Teacher grades are often subjective and vary greatly across classrooms and grade levels in different counties, no matter how much we try to make it seem like they don’t. A high grade in English does not mean the child is gifted. It means they are good at English. A high EOG score does not mean they are gifted. It means they can learn and apply content for a full year and successfully complete a test on the same content. A teacher’s opinion, a gifted facilitator’s opinion, an administrator’s opinion, or a parent’s opinion alone does not a gifted child make. Sometimes we can make incorrect decisions because identifying giftedness can be very complex. All of the opinions are important to bring to the table, but identification has to be grounded in data and factual information.
When you identify a child as gifted who does well in a classroom but cannot complete basic, below grade level critical thinking activities in a gifted enrichment room, what have you done? When you identify a child who is not gifted by any standard but rather a smart child and they transfer into another school system who does have clear and concise gifted identification criteria and they accept your student’s identification because NC says we do not de-gift children, but then that child is so far below the others in the new gifted program that they can’t even function, what have you done? What have you done when the child you identified leaves your building and moves on to middle and high school and begins to fail? Remember they were told for years that they are gifted so they don’t understand why they are suddenly struggling so much and it is embarrassing to ask for help. The parent doesn’t understand and thinks the new teachers must be horrible. If you don’t work in middle and high school, you may not realize the magnification of mental health problems that children often begin to have or have more intensely. An untrue label of giftedness is not a blessing; it is confusion for a child and unless they have someone walking them through this it can be highly detrimental.
If you subject a child to IQ testing in whatever form you use, because schools across NC don’t use the same tests for giftedness, what is the point if you don’t use the results as they are? You are wasting hours of people’s time for no reason if you don’t believe the results are accurate. Again, it’s not that I don’t believe in multiple criteria but the official testing for giftedness is a major part of the criteria. How can you identify a child with a 58% IQ as gifted when your plan says it should be 90%? Or 85% or whatever it is because again, NC schools do not have the same criteria for gifted identification. You are creating challenges for the child, not helps, and you are deducting from the actual gifted kids who need to move at a different level entirely because when they all come together in a gifted room they aren’t all gifted. So you have regular, and sometimes struggling, students mixed with half the room who actually should be present all trying to do tasks on the highest level. Do you see the problem? Yes, it is frustrating for me but you should see the gifted students and their frustration. And you should see the students I see who were wrongly identified walking around the room instead of working with the group because they don’t understand the work and they don’t know why they don’t understand. They are supposed to be gifted, remember? That’s what the student and their parents were told so now it’s true forever in NC. NC strongly discourages de-gifting (removing a child’s gifted identification once it is in place). I agree with this practice but it is only practical when students are identified correctly, or at least reasonably.
Please stop over identifying students as gifted. Gifted is not a club. Gifted is not for fun. Gifted is not a ceremony where kids are inducted. Gifted is not necessarily the hardest working students in the school. I can work hard all day. It doesn’t mean I am gifted. Gifted means that you were born with a different kind of mind. Students can work hard to achieve goals, but experts agree that part of what makes a child gifted is often inherited from their parents. Being gifted is not about a piece of paper with a signature in a folder that stays in a 100 year old file cabinet and comes out once a year for an update. Being gifted is a part of a child’s genetics that makes them who they are. They cannot get away from it or lose it if they tried. It doesn’t matter what their grade is in the classroom. They can still be gifted with a 2 on their report card (underachievement is an issue many gifted kids deal with at some time in their lives). They can be gifted with zero motivation to be successful in a classroom. But you know what I have never seen in 6 years even with my most difficult and behaviorally challenged gifted students? They rarely fail that IQ test. They are gifted and they know it and they do their best to show it on that testing because it matters to them. Does their classwork matter more than an IQ test if they know the classwork is the same worksheet that every other kid in the room has been given? Of course not. The AIG IQ testing is different. Gifted students realize this and AIG Facilitators should realize this. We give the test for a reason. The results matter. You cannot make results what you want them to be. Can a child have a bad day on a test or have testing anxiety? Of course. That’s why we use multiple criteria, among other reasons, but a 58% on a test that is looking for a 90% should not be automatically assumed as a bad day on a test, in my opinion.
No one wants the state to rule over every aspect of public education yet we let them do it with high stakes testing and private companies providing services to schools that cost tons of money. Why is AIG a free for all from county to county? I understand that giftedness is a huge field and experts across the country don’t agree on every aspect but there can be some more concrete guidelines or education specifically about AIG identification in NC. I can take my child over to one county with an 85% criteria if they don’t qualify in the county they are in with a 90% criteria. Then I’ll just move them back to the 90% county and there’s nothing anyone can do because the state says we shouldn’t de-gift children. So what if the county has an 80% or 75% criteria for gifted? Does that mean the child is gifted at 75%? No, I don’t think so. Maybe those children go into a Talent Development program but I don’t believe you identify them as gifted if they aren’t gifted. Some counties use one score on one test, while other counties use two tests and look for matching aptitude and achievement scores. And like I said before, the tests aren’t even the same. Are you feeling a little confused? Let’s not even talk about the fact that public charter schools in NC are not required to have an AIG plan or provide students with gifted education plans, or even identify them. Currently, this is optional for public charter schools but required for all other public schools.
Doing the best we can and understanding that each county is different sounds great, but the application is quite messy when you actually sort through folders and begin to scratch your head. NC has wonderful AIG legislation and standards, as well as fantastic AIG leaders at the state level that I am thankful for every single day. Some states still have no AIG legislation at all and I am very aware of that. NC is blessed with leaders who are passionate about gifted education and I hope their passion continues to influence others in the field. I just think we aren’t done yet improving gifted education in NC. When it comes to identification across the state, we must find ways to be more specific. Every place doesn’t have to identify with the same criteria, but every criteria should be meaningful, clearly disclosed, and equitable.
One final thought…
NC is moving toward using local norms more so that we can address the issue of equity across gifted education. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss this with a leading gifted expert in the United States. I agree with equity in gifted education. I do not have a magic answer on how to achieve this, but currently I lean heavily toward talent development programming and an array of services more so than I do local norms as you can see from my thoughts presented in this article. I asked the question, “If local norms are used and those kids move to a new school system, what then?” I explained the issues that make this difficult for me, but I am very inclusive and do my best to accept children and do what is best for them in each unique situation. The response was that local norms are just that, local norms, and because each place can have their own I do not have to accept the previous identification of a student if my norms are different. NC is a state that believes we shouldn’t de-gift children. So my questions remain because if a new local norm removes the previous norm, how have we achieved equity in gifted education? And did we make it worse in our attempt to make it better for students who may find themselves in a new place with a new norm? These questions could lead us back to a conversation about more specifics for identification or more agreement to maintain a local norm across the entire state no matter where a child attends school. Will school districts be required to accept norms from other counties they disagree with and is that equitable to the students who were identified as gifted with different requirements? This is a difficult issue but it is as important as it is difficult and I’m confident NC will get it right because of our passion for gifted education and the students we serve.