Monday, March 22, 2010

Defining and Understanding the Benefits and Drawbacks of Gifted and Talented Education

Ellen Firth
Fundamentals of Curriculum Development
Dr. Jay Dugan
March 22, 2010

Defining and Understanding the Benefits and Drawbacks of Gifted and Talented Education

Programs in most institutions, especially those in the public school arena, are painstakingly researched and considered before ever becoming part of the curriculum. Many factors must be considered when attempting to implement a new academic program. These factors include but are not limited to parent input, student need and/or interest, faculty and staff training, and administrative facilitation including curriculum and funding. Academic programs, although initiated for the betterment of students, may sometimes cause controversy and descent. The "Gifted and Talented" program, a staple of many schools in our nation, is one such program that is a source of debate for many.
In order to understand some of the issues on both sides of the gifted and talented debate, it is first necessary to make one's way through the somewhat murky definitions and criteria used to classify a gifted and talented program as such, and to further identify the students that belong in such a program. According to author Miraca Gross in a 2003 article published in the International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, the following definition, attributed to professor and researcher Francoys Gagne of Quebec, is the "most widely used definition of gifted and talented":
Gifted children [are] those who have high levels of innate ability,
in any domain of human ability, that places them within the top
10 percent of their age-peers--even if their high potential is not
yet being demonstrated as high performance. Talented children,
by contrast, are those whose abilities have already been translated
into achievements, and who are currently performing at a level
that places them within the top 10 percent of their age-peers.
Gifts are natural abilities whereas talents are systematically
developed skills.
In this classification, Gagne separates the gifted and talented into two distinct categories within which both groups can dwell in the G&T realm.
Gifted and Talented programs certainly have a lot to offer students. Whether the program is part of a daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly schedule or structured as a pull--out or after school program, G&T programs present many positive experiences for students. For example, G&T students are offered materials and curriculum geared to stimulate their natural and developed skills in areas like math, science, literacy, music, photography, geography, technology and so on. G&T programs often extend learning for these students and can cover a breadth and depth that could not be attained in a regular integrated class room. Just as special needs and partially proficient students need programs to support them, gifted and talented students need programs to support their advanced abilities.
Supporting the advancement of academically and naturally gifted and talented students seems reasonable but there are some drawbacks to the gifted and talented philosophy. First of all, even though excellence in the arts and recognition of advanced social skills are weighted along with core academic skills for G&T classification, most schools use a standard IQ test to determine whether or not a child belongs in a G&T setting to begin with. This poses a problem because standard IQ tests end up under serving certain populations due to cultural and/or linguistic differences that may affect a child's score. In other words, a second language learner or a child from a cultural background other than Caucasian American, may not score high enough on the IQ test but may in fact be gifted and/or talented. An IQ test may not be the best indicator for these children when held against the US Department of Education's view in explaining the criteria for identifying G&T students. The USDE states that "outstanding talents are present in children and youth from all cultural groups across all economic strata and in all areas of human endeavor" (1993). It may be fair to say that a standard academic IQ test may fail to identify a gifted linguist who spoke in his or her native tongue but was given a test in English or to identify a child pursuing a talent that is culturally different. The result of using an IQ test as a main identifier is that gifted and talented programs often lack diversity and this under serves the diverse students that don't make it into the program as well as the members of the G&T program by not affording an authentic environment for either.
There are certainly many issues to consider when deciding on the admittance criteria and the curriculum for a gifted and talented program just as there are many benefits and disadvantages to implementing such a program. As in all matters concerning the education and well being of children, programs like gifted and talented need to be thoughtfully considered and researched.

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