Montgomery County, MD, is doing away with the gifted label and the corresponding classes. I’m ambivalent about it.
On the one hand, I think it’s extremely important to make sure that all students are given work that they find stimulating. If Student A has demonstrated the capacity and proclivity to work at a different level than the majority of the students, the opportunities should be provided for them to do so. In a way, it’s just as important for there to be reasonable accommodations for students who are ahead of the curve as it is for those who need some sort of remediation.
At the same time, in certain school districts, the “gifted” label is almost more about politics than it is about the discovery of a particularly talented child. That is, some schools within a district may seem to have a disproportionate number of gifted students, which may point to, among other things, pressure from parents to have their children labeled.
The WAPO article also points out some of the more difficult aspects of gifted programs:
The gifted label is a hot potato in public education. A school that tells some students they have gifts risks dashing the academic dreams of everyone else. Any formula for identifying gifted children, no matter how sophisticated, can be condemned for those it leaves out.
I can testify to that. When I was in grade school, I got pegged for the gifted class. At the same time, there was a dude who I knew had me faded academically, and possibly intellectually, and he didn’t get in. Back then, especially, the thought that somebody might be smarter than me was completely foreign. I hardly believed that about most adults, let alone children my age. But dude? Yeah. He had me. But I was in and he wasn’t. I couldn’t figure it out to save my life. If I remember correctly, it was based on an IQ score or something, but I still believe that he would have done just as well in those classes as I did. Obviously, I don’t know any specifics, but my guess is that if it was based on an IQ test of some sort, he might’ve missed it by, like, a point or something. I mean, a threshold is a threshold, but in his case, it certainly seemed like they missed one.
But then, in addition to the limitations of the formula on an individual level, there are the problems with who gets labeled, writ large.
Montgomery officials say their formula for giftedness is flawed. Nearly three-quarters of students at Bannockburn Elementary School in Bethesda are labeled gifted, but only 13 percent at Watkins Mill Elementary in less-affluent Montgomery Village are, a curious disparity given that cognitive gifts are supposed to be evenly distributed.
This part is a little easier to explain, since the tests that would allow access to gifted classes are based on certain types of intelligence, usually vocabulary and logical. Just like the things they test on the SAT. We also know that in many cases, students who come from more affluent households tend to have certain advantages built in by lifestyle, like the fact that their parents speak to them more when the students are infants, and that there are usually more books present in the home. This could easily explain much of the disparity, particularly at the elementary level.
Overall, I’m not exactly sure how to feel about it. I know what it was like to be in the gifted program, and I know how proud it makes me that my daughter is in one, but aside from the pride, I don’t know that it would really make a tangible difference in her education, except that she may be exposed to some experiences she might otherwise not know. Losing the label probably wouldn’t hurt anything, but I’m not exactly sure what it helps.