One of the foundational elements
of education in West Virginia is that all students will have equitable education
opportunities. Equity in education for high ability students, who may already
be proficient in grade-level skills, is making forward progress in their learning.
As for all learners, an appropriate education for gifted learners is one that
fosters growth, allowing students to make gains in achievement over time.
Students identified as gifted have special, unique educational needs that must be met in order to provide a high quality, equitable education. The belief that high ability learners will "get it on their own" is not supported by data. Their unique educational needs must be supported using evidence-based methodologies. Their instruction must be differentiated to include more depth and complexity on content, flexible processes and creativity in product, in order to maximize their academic growth.
In 1969, U.S. Congress expressed its concern over the research confirming that many talented children perform far below their intellectual potential. "This loss is particularly evident in the minority groups..." (Marland, 1971). As a result, Congress passed an addition to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) providing that gifted talented students should benefit from this federal legislation. In 1971, Sidney P. Marland, who was the Commissioner of Education at the time, was mandated to present a status report to the U.S. Congress on the education of gifted and talented children. In the report, Mr. Marland stated that gifted students "require differentiated educational programs and/or services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program to realize their contribution to self and society" (Marland, 1971).
Since that time, many individuals have contributed to differentiated instruction for students identified as gifted and a National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented was created to provide research and best practices in this field. In addition, organizations such as the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) and the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) have made great efforts to sustain and expand implementation of gifted education.
Research That Supports the Need for and Benefits of Gifted Education
in West Virginia was mandated by WV Code 18-20-1 in 1990 and provided as early
as 1977 by many county school districts. The code provides that exceptional
children, including those identified as gifted in grades one through eight and
exceptional gifted in grades nine through twelve, be educated according to guidelines
set forth by the state board of education in Policy 2419; "Regulations
for the Education of Students with Exceptionalities." Policy 2419
provides that child find activities, identification, the development of an individualized
education plan (IEP), and specialized instruction delivered through a full continuum
of differentiated curricular options, instructional approaches and resource
materials, include giftedness. Link to WV State
Code mandating gifted education.
West Virginia State Code provides that students who are not eligible as Exceptional Gifted in grades nine through twelve be provided Advanced Placement and Honors courses as appropriate through a Four-Year Education and Transition Plan. Link to WV State Code mandating the Four-Year Plan. For students eligible as Exceptional Gifted in grades nine through twelve, an IEP is developed. The focus of an IEP for Exceptional Gifted is generally on 1) creativity skills, 2) social emotional issues, 3) career studies, 4) personal interests, 5) leadership and/or 6) organizational skills.
Concepts of Giftedness
Giftedness has multiple forms and varying ability-levels. Giftedness may mean that the child is creative and imaginative, has insight into cause and effect, prefers complex ideas, recalls information easily, and/or is capable of abstract/complex thought. Many characteristics of giftedness can be exhibited both positively and negatively. Giftedness should not be linked to "good" or "bad" behavior.
Students identified as gifted can have different levels of achievement across different academic areas (Perkins, 1995). Giftedness may mean that the child has already developed the basic skills that other children the same age have yet to be taught; or it may be evident as a "rapid rate of learning, compared to other students of the same age." Their ideas and interests may be different from their age peers, which may cause a sense of isolation. They may be highly sensitive to different viewpoints, very intense in particular interests and able to concentrate for extended periods of time. They may be competitive in nature and highly idealistic.
Many receive high grades with little effort on information they already know or can learn more rapidly. These students may not realize that all learning takes effort and, when faced with learning challenges later, avoid those challenges and underachieve.
Some students identified as gifted achieve at levels lower than their capabilities. This may be due to the type of instruction they receive, lack of support from home, health-related issues, or a conscious decision by the student to disengage from learning in favor of conforming with peers.
High ability can be evident in young children as "exceptional performance on tests and/or other measures of ability." As children mature to adolescence, however, "achievement and high levels of motivation" become the primary characteristics of their giftedness.
Gifted education, with its focus on concepts for deeper understanding while reinforcing content, is such that it engages the student in learning that has meaning and purpose and thus, encourages the student to decide to invest in learning rather than in other popular options outside of learning.
Trends, Issues and Future Directions
Data indicate that gifted learners make greater gains in achievement when in some sort of ability grouping (Rogers, 2002). However, some people have a negative attitude toward providing alternate methods of education for students identified as gifted.
Many programs are viewed as "elitist" because of the composition of the programs; many of the identified students have economic advantages. This may be due to the difficulty in identifying students as gifted using general intelligence tests. Revisions in policy and professional development in the identification of giftedness is an ongoing challenge. In West Virginia, state policy requires local education agencies to use various test instruments in measuring general intellectual ability and to consider academic achievement or classroom performance in identifying students with giftedness. In addition, special consideration of other criteria that complements the definition may also be used to identify giftedness if it appears that the student's giftedness may not be apparent due to low socio-economic status, a disability in accordance with state policy, or a background that is linguistically or culturally different.
The number of students identified as gifted in West Virginia is fairly consistent at approximately 5000 students in grades one through eight. The percentage of total enrollment continues to be 1.72 percent. Link to Data and Reports.
Consideration of the 3 Level Framework model with progress monitoring to include above-grade levels skills may offer a more viable way of identifying giftedness. More emphasis will be given to applying the 3 Level Framework instructional approach at least to assure a referral for evaluation for gifted education services at Level 3.
"The changing conception of intelligence is one of the most powerful, liberating forces ever to influence the restructuring of education, schools, and society. It also is a vital influence behind the development of the Habits of Mind..." Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind (2008, A.S.C.D)
Is It Fair?
Doubet, K. & Tomlinson, C.A. (2006) Smart in the Middle Grades, Classrooms That Work for bright Middle Schoolers. Westerville, OH: National Middle School Association.
Marland, S.P., Jr. (1971). Education of the gifted and talented: Vol. 1, Report to the Congress of the United States. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Link to ERIC ED056243.
Perkins, D. N. (1995). Outsmarting IQ: the emerging science of learnable intelligence. New York: The Free Press.
Rogers, K. B., (2002). Re-Forming Gifted Education, Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc.
Vincent, Donna What's Fair: The Story of Gifted Gail and Special Eddy The Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Summer 2000)
"Fact Or Fiction: What Do the Experts Say?" The Challenge Magazine of The Center for Gifted Studies, WKU, Summer 2008.