Looking for Giftedness in All the Wrong Places

A school district oversight committee is meeting to consider several appeals on student referrals for gifted education services. As the committee members consider the cases, it is apparent that they are not in agreement about the nature of giftedness, whether the given students possess characteristics and traits of giftedness, and what student needs warrant differentiated services in their schools.

The Bookerton school district oversight committee convenes.

Although all of the school districts in the state of Virginia provide some level of services to gifted and talented students, there is no mandate to do so. Schools are provided a small amount of per pupil funding for students in grades k-12 who require differentiated educational services. The Virginia State Department of Education monitors school districts’ gifted education plans to meet minimal state regulations. Each school district also submits a 5-year plan that includes appropriate identification procedures.

Virginia Standards of Quality require each school division to “…conduct a program…for the early identification of gifted and talented students” and “…offer appropriately differentiated instructional opportunities…for identified gifted and talented students.” State regulations also define the establishment of uniform identification procedures based on multiple criteria, the development of a local plan for gifted education, and the establishment of an advisory committee.

Click here to see the complete VA Regulations for Gifted Education

Bookerton Public Schools, located in a large metropolitan area, is working to provide an educational program that recognizes the unique value, needs, and talents of each student. Instructional programs for the gifted and talented are planned to provide eligible students with differentiated instruction. Eligibility assessments begin in Bookerton’s pre-k programs. Educational opportunities and a continuum of services are provided from kindergarten through grade 12. Learning experiences are developed to expand the regular curriculum through detail, innovation, complexity, and acceleration.

See a description of Bookerton School District below:

The Bookerton School district convenes a district-wide selection committee once a month to consider students’ eligibility for gifted education services. The selection committee is composed of classroom teachers from various schools within the district, two building administrators, the district gifted education coordinator, an ESL specialist, an early childhood specialist, and a school psychologist. The selection committee makes decisions regarding eligibility and placement for differentiated educational services after an evaluation of all available information. Parents are notified in writing of committee decisions.

Twice a year, an oversight committee is called to hear appeals regarding gifted services eligibility and placement. The oversight committee monitors the consistency of the selection committee, reviews all ineligible decisions, and may identify additional students who have profiles similar to those selected. Parents are entitled to appeal committee decisions under one of the following circumstances: (1) new information to present to the committee for consideration; (2) concerns regarding the application of the approved process for identification; or (3) a challenge to any part of individual student assessment profiles.

The district coordinator for gifted education chairs the oversight committee. Each two-year appointment to this committee is made jointly by the gifted coordinator and the superintendent of schools. Currently, six members sit on the oversight committee, including the chair. Other committee members include: a building administrator, a classroom teacher, a school psychologist, a gifted education resource teacher, and the chair of the gifted education parent advisory board.

Today, the district’s oversight committee is meeting for its second annual appeals deliberation. There are three appeals up for consideration. Ken Holland, the gifted coordinator and chair, begins.

“I want to thank each of you for taking time to meet today. Let me quickly review the process for today’s meeting. I will review the assessment profile for each case, and then read the petition for appeal. We can begin our deliberations after all three cases have been presented.”

Mr. Holland, the oversight committee chair, presents each appeals case to the committee members.

Mr. Holland begins with the first student profile. “The first child we’ll be reviewing was determined ineligible for gifted education services due to falling grades.”

Mr. Holland

The selection committee determined that Joseph’s B and C grades and lack of motivation in class placed him at risk of not succeeding in the gifted program.

See Joseph’s profile below:

“Mr. Holland, is there no mention of the assessment results for this child?” asks Michael Thomas, the school psychologist.

“No. I’m sure that the assessment results were considered. But that being said, the committee reports the student’s grades and his passive behavior as evidence of a lack of motivation. It looks like the committee didn’t question what the ability and achievement test scores suggest, but rather, they decided his classroom performance indicates he does not need differentiated services,” Mr. Holland says.

“If there are no other questions regarding our first case,” Mr. Holland continues, “let’s move on to the next case. Shanna was initially deemed ineligible for gifted education services due to a low full scale score on the individual intelligence test. The committee recommended that she be considered later, after the district-wide second-grade testing, given her young age.”

See Shanna’s profile below:

“What do they hope to accomplish by having her wait until later?” asks Jerome Carter, the committee’s parent representative.

“I assume, based on the committee’s recommendation, that they feel the student’s score may go up with age,” suggests Mr. Holland.

Mr. Holland introduces to the third and final case up for appeal. “There are several reasons for the denial of services for our third student, Ricki. Ricki recently transfered to our district. The selection committee found her full-scale IQ score to be slightly lower than the 130 score typically expected of our gifted students. Furthermore, there was some concern over the validity of these scores given that they were administered in the first grade. Finally, the committee cited declining grades for Ricki while she was in honors middle school classes as a primary reason for denying eligibility.”

See Ricki’s profile below:

“I find evidence of giftedness in all three of these students, although each of them is very different,” says Mr. Holland.

“How can that be?” asks the middle school assistant principal on the committee, Sandy Sherwin.

Mr. Carter jumps in. “Sandy, the very definition of giftedness is diverse. Students can be generally gifted, intellectually gifted, gifted in just one subject area, and/or creatively gifted.”

“Yes, but we have two options for services, either resource or center-based services,” Sandy replies. “I don’t see how a child who isn’t ‘all around gifted’ could afford to be away from classes in the resource room, or attend a full program of differentiated learning in the centers.”

“We are trying to determine whether students are gifted. We’re not trying to figure out if their needs fit into existing services,” says Cheryl Crowder, the gifted education resource teacher.

In order to focus the group, Mr. Holland reminds the committee members of their task. “Now remember, the oversight committee is supposed to monitor what transpires in the selection committee. So, we may identify additional students who have a profile similar to the profile of those students already selected.”

“Mr. Holland, could you go over the district’s definition of gifted again?” asks Mr. Carter.

See the district’s definition of giftedness below:

Sylvia Waters, a fourth grade teacher and the newest member of the committee, asks, “What should we do next?”

“Let’s each read over the profiles thoroughly and determine whether or not we think each child possess giftedness and talent,” offers Mr. Holland. “This will help us examine the inital evaluation of each student.”

The oversight committee reviews the identification process.

In addition to individual consideration of the student assessment profiles presented to the committee for review, the oversight committee has a second task—monitoring the selection committee by reviewing its decisions for consistency.

See a typical identification process below:

See the district’s approved identification process below:

“If we look at the available test scores, it’s cut and dry. Two of these students have IQ scores in the gifted range, and one does not,” says Mr. Thomas, the school psychologist.

“Yes, but the IQ score alone should not determine eligibility,” Mr. Holland says. “And I think it’s also important to keep in mind that looking at the full scale score alone won’t tell us anything about specific aptitudes.”

Mr. Thomas quickly adds, “We don’t typically look at subtest scores as reliable measures of ability. The full scale score better represents the child’s overall capacity.”

“I disagree,” says Cheryl Crowder, the gifted resource room teacher. “In my introduction to gifted education course, I learned about the uneven or asynchronous nature of the gifted learner’s development. Different types of cognitive or intellectual functioning (usually divided into verbal and performance/non-verbal abilities) are uneven by nature. A full-scale score, then, would appear in the middle, distorting the peaks and valleys in individual intellectual abilities. The best indicator of specific aptitude is a strong subtest on the aptitude test and consistent achievement scores in that core academic area.”

Mr. Carter points to Ricki’s case and replies, “That’s an interesting point you raise. If we look at individual scores, you’ll notice a similar pattern for this child. Although she has demonstrated mediocre performance overall in a gifted program for intellectually gifted students, she has strong and consistent performance in language arts and English.”

“Test scores aside, look at the grades for at least two of these students—Joseph and Ricki,” says Mrs. Sherwin. “We can’t be sure that the test scores are even accurate given the poor student performance exhibited, albeit only at certain times, for both of these students. It’s my experience that gifted students make exceptional grades.”

Mrs. Sherwin

Mr. Carter continues, “I don’t necessarily want to question the validity of the test scores, but rather, raise the issue of whether or not children with lackluster grades and poor motivation should be given the opportunity to participate in the resource or center-based gifted programs. With our financial concerns, the gifted program is often threatened by funding cuts. In the future, spaces in the programs might be limited. I feel that students who will best take advantage of these opportunities are best suited for eligibility.”

With quite a bit of emotion, Mrs. Crowder speaks. “I want to re-establish the purpose of gifted child selection, if I may. Gifted students NEED differentiated services. Our own district policy reads ‘The district-wide central selection committee looks for compelling evidence that a child’s needs cannot be meet in a general education classroom.’ Need rather than privilege is the spirit of the intent of our efforts.”

“That may be the ‘spirit’ of the intent, but our own identification procedures read ‘Student screening consists of…evidence of exceptional performance and products, school achievement…’ which also suggests that students must be performing well in order to be eligible for services,” says Mrs. Sherwin.

Mr. Holland takes control of the meeting. “Other than issues of motivation and productivity, are there any other issues that need to be considered regarding any of the three cases?”

Ms. Waters, a fourth-grade teacher, hesitates before commenting. “I am very interested in the identification of creativity. We have evidence that at least one of these students, Shanna, is a creative thinker and a leader in the classroom. But there is no additional data to corroborate the teacher comments. Being new to this committee, I’m not sure if I’m raising a dead issue or not, but this seems a real injustice to highly creative children.”

Mr. Holland nods in agreement. “Your comments are certainly valid. Children with reasonably high overall aptitude or ability test scores who also exhibit creative behaviors are typically deemed eligible for gifted services. On the other hand, we probably have not focused on the creative aptitude issue. This is a difficult assessment issue.”

“Let’s focus on the issue at hand and talk about student eligibility for these three students,” says Mr. Thomas, pointing to the late hour.

The committee discusses student eligibility.

Mr. Holland reminds the committee of the placement procedures in the district. He reads from district policy statements, “Eligible students are offered placement in a part-time local school program (K-3, elementary or middle school-based, high school) or full-time, center-based program (elementary or middle) as appropriate. Program placement is reviewed periodically to determine if it continues to meet the learning needs of the student. All students eligible for differentiated services are given first priority in existing advanced studies courses available at individual high schools.”

See an overview of gifted & talented program services below:

Mrs. Crowder begins the discussion by posing a question. “Why are we focusing on a ‘you’re in or you’re out’ attitude rather than a matching of student need to services?”

Mr. Carter

Mr. Carter answers first. “I think we all wish that more services could be provided to our gifted and talented students. The reality is that we provide more diverse services than most other school districts in this state. The parent advocacy group has lobbied for a full range of services for years. It’s not a pleasant fight. On the other hand, we have an opportunity to select the students best suited or most likely to succeed in our existing services. Isn’t that what we’re here to do?”

Mrs. Crowder shudders. She has never preferred complacency to continuing to advocate for what is really needed. This is a fight, however, that she knows she can’t win alone. She feels that her views on this topic are different from most of the other committee members.

With his testing banner waving, Mr. Thomas weighs in next. “Please, let’s look at what is most important here. Students who belong in this program have superior test scores. Using the preferred full-scale scores, this places only one student in line for consideration, Joseph. The other two students are not eligible in my opinion.

“Okay,” says Mr. Holland. “Let’s see what everyone else thinks.”

“I think they are all clearly gifted, and should be served,” says Mrs. Crowder.

“I couldn’t disagree more,” declares Mrs. Sherwin. “I think that all three students were denied initial eligibility for legitimate reasons and should not be placed in the gifted program services available to them.”

“Neither Joseph nor Ricki are performing at levels commensurate with other gifted students in the district,” says Mr. Carter. “The youngest student, Shanna, is not yet in school. Therefore, current performance can’t be established. Can we ask for additional achievement testing for her?”

The committee realizes that the identification process is fraught with problems.

As the meeting progresses well into its second hour, Mr. Holland gets increasingly frustrated by the nature of the discussion. “Although I value all of the comments made today, I feel that we are straying off course a bit. Rather than discussing the merits of three students’ assessment profiles, we seem to be debating the value of our current identification procedures. Many people, myself included, put in a staggering amount of time to establish a set of identification procedures for our gifted program. I shudder at the thought of going through that again any time soon.”

“Mr. Holland, I appreciate your concern,” says Mrs. Crowder. “However, I work in the trenches every day as a gifted education resource teacher. The identification procedures are critical to the way I do my job. The appropriate match of student needs to student service is critical. Equally important is the issue of access. If we have students who NEED services, we must be able to provide access to all of them. I appreciate your concerns about the amount of work that is required in adapting our current procedures, but I think these appeals cases provide a perfect opportunity to do just that.”

Mr. Thomas stands up to voice his frustration. “We have been here for almost two hours already, and here we are arguing about why we’re here and what we should be doing. This whole selection and appeals process is blown way out of proportion. Most child studies involve the reporting and discussion of assessment scores as evidence of student giftedness, or lack of giftedness. We are dragging this process out to an un-justifiable degree. It is clear to me that these students do not have the test scores to be identified as gifted. Case closed.”

“I think we are ignoring the most critical issue,” says Mr. Carter. “How can we justify student placement when classroom performance and motivation is mediocre?”

Ms. Waters

Mrs. Sherwin says, “I find myself, for basically the same reasons, in general agreement with Mr. Thomas and Mr. Carter.”

Ms. Waters wonders what she has gotten herself into. When she agreed to be on the committee, she was confident in her knowledge of how giftedness presents itself, and she wanted to advocate for the creatively gifted child. Now, feeling ill-prepared to counter the arguments of the other committee members, she remains silent.