It would seem that using a scored test that demonstrates statistically significant results which can be reported within a range with a confidence level of up to 95% would give us a fairly reasonable “fact” to guide us in gifted education, but the truth is never quite so simple. Gifted education has been plagued by myths and a lack of agreement on not only what it means to be gifted but how those identified as giftedness should be supported, leaving us with a couple of interesting facts and some truths that might help the uninitiated navigate some of the confusion.
FACT: Gifted in one school district does not guarantee gifted in another.
The truth is that despite the general consensus that we need to have a variety of methods to identify students who are gifted, this can add to the confusion of what is meant by giftedness. This can be frustrating for parents and students as not all school districts use the same measures and means to identify giftedness. In some jurisdictions, only an individually administered WISC V or SB-5 gain access to programming, while in others, group administered tests like the CCAT 7 are acceptable, while in others multiple measures looking at creativity and motivation also play a part. That said, even when using tests as a means to identification, some districts will only look at composite scores, while others will consider outstanding scores on individual batteries. Add to this the need for some gifted programs keep their numbers constant and you can see how many factors can influence what it means to gifted, making it somewhat of a moving target. Lakin (2018) suggests that what matters most is that the gifted program design reflects the needs of the students identified, whatever that process might be leading us to another controversy in the gifted community.
FACT: Gifted programming here is not always the same as gifted programming there.
The truth is that in as much as school districts differ in how students are identified, how they support students can be very different as well. Dai and Chen (2013) have identified three different paradigms that can have an impact how gifted programming is designed. The first paradigm which they refer to as the gifted child paradigm suggests that “gifted children and adults are qualitatively different from the rest of the population” (p. 155) in how they think, feel, learn and dream about the future. This paradigm suggests a need for challenges, opportunities to work in areas of passion, like-minded peers and an affective curriculum. The second paradigm is the talent development paradigm where “domain excellence is seen as the goal of gifted education” and requires programming that does not focus so much on IQ testing but offering opportunities for students to self select into particular activities that over time can involve into programming that “addresses unique advancing needs of talented students” (p. 157). The third paradigm they identified was the differentiation paradigm which is a more recent perspective emerging from the inclusive education movement. In this paradigm “the differences in learning curve demonstrated by gifted learners are believed to be subject-specific and open to change rather than domain-general and permanent” (p. 157) and focus on support within school settings on an as needed basis.
FACT, TRUTH OR SOMETHING ELSE?: Understanding the facts and truths around identification practices, paradigms and program designs could alleviate some of the frustration/confusion we feel when one paradigm comes into conflict with another or when identification processes differ.
Dai and Chen suggest that “the articulation of paradigms helps us determine when we are comparing different kinds of apples (under the same paradigm) and when in fact we are comparing apples and oranges (different paradigms)” (p. 164). I believe that an understanding of the various assessment processes and paradigms helps us to consider the many ways that we can support this very heterogeneous group of students. In our district we support opportunities for acceleration, differentiation and pull-out as we continue to refine our identification processes and options for programming.
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Dai, D. and Chen F. (2013). Three paradigms of gifted education: In search of conceptual clarity in research and practice. Gifted Child Quarterly. 57(3), 151-168.
Lakin, J. M. (2018). Making the cut in gifted selection: Score combination rules and their impact on program diversity. Gifted Child Quarterly, 62(2), 210-219. doi:10.1177/0016986217752099