BY JAMIE LOBER
One day a second grade teacher taught her students how to calculate how much interest they could earn in a checking or savings account. She says, “The next day a dad came up to me in amazement and shared how, around the dinner table that night, his seven year-old son demonstrated his knowledge of figuring interest and began to ask him all types of questions concerning their family finances: What type of savings accounts did they have? What was the interest rate? Would they be better off to move their family’s savings to a money market account? What if they invested in the stock market?” This is just one example of a gifted child in Central Georgia.
There is no one portrait of a gifted child. “Gifted is a surprisingly diverse group in terms of race, socioeconomics, religion, and interests. They have all kinds of strengths and weaknesses,” informs Dr. Candi Pressley, director of gifted and advanced academics at Bibb County Schools. Central Georgia lies within a normal range according to nationwide patterns of over 1,800 students, or more than 7% of the population, identified as gifted; with the national average being between 5 and 10% of students k-12.
At times your child may amaze you, and you believe he is gifted. “Bright children often know the answers because they studied, learned, and memorized but other characteristics apply to gifted children,” says Pressley.
Gifted tendencies include:
•Asking questions the teacher never considered
•Needing fewer repetitions to learn new, complex things
•Drawing inferences easier
•Thriving on complexity
•Having intense interests
•Having insatiable curiosity
•Solving problems without instruction
•Paying attention to detail and elaboration
•Having a logical, analytical mind
•Using metaphors and analogies
•Being good at critical thinking
•Having unusual insight for age
There are misconceptions about gifted children. “Not all gifted students are going to make all A’s. It is possible that a gifted child will not have well-developed organizational skills and will not get a project turned in on time which will impact his grades,” reveals Pressley. Just because a child is gifted does not mean he is perfect. “You can have a learning disability and still be gifted,” says Pressley. A child can have a dual diagnosis or two exceptionalities, e.g., a gifted learning disabled student. Oftentimes, one diagnosis can mask the child’s giftedness and set him up for failure through no fault of his own. The dual diagnosis can even escape well-trained teachers or school psychologists.
One Macon mother can attest to the ongoing challenges. As she reflects on the academic history of her grown daughter who now holds a successful career, she shares that in the fifth grade, her Stanford Binet Intelligence Test revealed a sophomore college level in the areas of vocabulary, abstract thinking, and reasoning ability. On the other hand, with tutoring, her daughter maintained a third grade level ability in math which was a huge discrepancy. Her two exceptionalities of a moderate learning disability and giftedness hindered her from achieving her greatest potential.
Some parents have learned first-hand about the common misdiagnosis of gifted children. Many children who are in fact gifted are being incorrectly labeled as having attention deficit disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The State of Georgia stipulates that initial eligibility for gifted programs is determined by: a) Score at the 99th percentile for grades K–2 or the 96th percentile for grades 3–12 on the composite or full scale score of a standardized test of mental ability (IQ) and meet one of the achievement criteria , or b) qualify through a multiple-criteria assessment process by meeting the criteria in any three of the following four areas:
1.Mental ability: Must score in the 96th percentile or above—IQ test for learning, motivation, creativity, and leadership.For mental ability, the Cognitive Abilities Test (COGAT) is used. (Editor’s Note: The COGAT is not a mental ability test. COGAT measures “learned” reasoning and problem-solving abilities, not innate intelligence. So while it’s a good preliminary screening test for a gifted program, it does not constitute giftedness. In other words, it does not sceen out over-achievers.)
2.Achievement: Must score in the 90th percentile or above. For achievement, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) is used.
3.Creativity: Must score in the 90th percentile or above. For creativity, the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking is used.
4.Motivation: Must score in the 90th percentile or above on the rating scale
Other achievement tests such as the Stanford Binet Intelligence Scale, Scales for Rating the Behavioral Characteristics of Superior Students, or Terra Nova would be considered if test results are no more than two years-old. To be eligible for gifted education services, a student must meet the criterion score on a nationally normed test and either have observational data collected on his or her performance or produce a superior product as described below.
Once a youngster has been assessed in all four data categories and has attained ‘”initial eligibility,” there are two ways final eligibility can be established:
OPTION 1: THE PSYCHOMETRIC APPROACH
The student may qualify on the basis of mental ability and achievement assessment results only (regardless of the assessment results in creativity and motivation). In this case the mental ability test score must be a composite or full-scale score. The composite score must be at the 99th percentile for students in grades K-2. The composite score may be at the 96th percentile or higher for students in grades 3-12. In addition, students (grades K-12) must meet at least one of the achievement standards described in the SBOE Rule 160-4-2-.38: 90th percentile Total Reading, 90th percentile Total Math, 90th percentile total achievement test battery, or superior product/performance assessment. No student may qualify on the basis of a mental ability test score alone.
OPTION 2: THE MULTIPLE-CRITERIA APPROACH
The student may qualify by meeting the standards in any three of the four data categories, at least one of which must be on a nationally-normed standardized test. Component scores (e.g., Nonverbal Ability), as well as full scale scores, may be used in the area of mental ability.
All schools, whether public or private, choose students for the gifted program in the same way. Eligibility is not based on mental ability alone as it was in the past. There is multiple criteria considerations in order to reach out to high achieving, creative students.
TYPES OF GIFTED CLASSES
•Resource model: student is pulled out of the classroom one day a week
•Gifted classes replacing regular classes for middle and high school students
•Classes designated as advanced placement
•International baccalaureate program
•REACH (Reaching for Excellence on Academic and Creative Horizons) program
•FOCUS (Fostering Originality Creativity Unique ideas and Self-direction) program
Jennifer McMahan, gifted teacher at Heritage Elementary School in Macon summarizes the goals she sets in her classroom for gifted students:
•Learn according to interests, readiness, and learning style
•Develop research skills to prepare an in-depth study of topics of interest
•Practice logic work and creative problem solving
•Come up with a product to demonstrate knowledge
In December or January, you can expect to receive a letter that the gifted referral time period is approaching. “We accept referrals from parents, teachers, and a child might even refer himself,” says Dr. Pressley. Screening begins as early as kindergarten and test scores are good for two years.
Could your child be the next Jeopardy champion? He may not want to be.
“Unfortunately, sometimes kids will hide their giftedness because they do not want to be set apart, called a nerd and told that other kids do not understand what they are saying because they have a more advanced vocabulary. Everyone cannot be gifted.
“You cannot train someone to be gifted or have a high intelligence quotient. You come born with that, but there are some students who are hard-workers and are more successful than gifted students,” says McMahan.
Make sure your child understands that everyone can improve and succeed. “Know that the gifted program is not a privilege, but something students need so they can advance their learning so that their educational needs can be met,” reminds McMahan. The state works hard to make sure that all students have the opportunity to do well. “We are very fortunate across the state to have a rich history for support of gifted education,” says Jacobsen.