By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor
I've always been amused by the response to Babycenter's mega-popular poll "Do you think your child is academically gifted?" Of the nearly 50,000 parents who’ve voted, 71 percent claim to have a gifted child. And another 19 percent say they aren’t sure – but their little smartypants probably is, too.
Jokes aside, gifted and talented education is important – and schools need resources and curricula to meet the needs of all kids, whether they’re ahead or behind. So I applaud the move, reported in the Washington Post Localthis week, by the Maryland State Board of Education to push local schools to identify gifted children and design programs to meet their needs. Even in districts where it’s nothing but cuts, cuts, and more cuts, differentiated learning should be prioritized to keep kids challenged and engaged in learning. And who better to lead the way than the award-winning Maryland Dept. of Education, which has been named #1 in public education for four years straight by Education Week and College Board?
But that’s not where the real controversy lies: under this proposal, kids may start to be identified as “gifted” as early as age 3.
In fairness, advocates say kids this young won’t be tracked or labeled, merely observed. Jeanne Paynter, a specialist for gifted education for Maryland’s education department, was quoted as saying: “This is the process of observing students, just like we do for students with disabilities. We’re asking systems to consider students’ abilities.”
The new policy sounds fair enough, but the counter-argument, voiced by a Montgomery County group, is that it risks exacerbating the achievement gap – that is, that young kids not identified as gifted will be black, Hispanic, and English language learners.
Sadly, that possibility rings all too true.
It's especially scary since such a label may cause a great divide between students when no actual divide exists. In the 2009 hit Nurture Shock, authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman came out strongly against testing the preK set for giftedness. Their catchy claim: preK test results for aptitude and giftedness are wrong “73% of the time.” Why? Because young minds are still growing and not fully formed – and the tests at this early age don’t reliably measure squat. Bronson and Merryman quote Dr. Donald Rock, a research scientist for the Educational Testing Service, who says testing even in second grade is questionable. Third grade, he says, is when test results become meaningful. “Testing younger than that, you’re getting kids with good backgrounds, essentially,” Rock said.
So perhaps Maryland could lead the nation by refraining from testing, labeling, or even observing signs of giftedness until third grade. It seems like the right thing to do.