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Gifted Education

Within the past month, I have been asked several time to clarify the process of identifying students for Gifted Education services.  I've had so many questions, and heard differing opinions on the topic, that I decided it was time to write a little on the issue.  Then again, for those of you who have read my work (thanks, mom), you know that "write a little on the issue" is by no means brief.

It would first be appropriate to give you a little background on giftedness.  No Child Left Behind (NCLB) really opened the doors for students with superior skills.  Just as with slower learners and average learners, NCLB requires that we provide general classroom interventions and accommodations for our bright kids. 

What are classroom interventions for our bright kids?  Typically, this means modified curriculum to include more self-study (research), presentations on student-selected topics, tutoring other students, advanced placement (AP) coursework, or even "quizzing out" of selected courses all together.  Grade acceleration is also a possibility. 

Providing more worksheets on previously-mastered topics does not justify curricular modification; teachers who follow this course will soon see burn-out and boredom with their bright students.

But, Mr. Wright, aren't these kids eligible for IEPs and specialized instruction?

I see you've been doing your homework, young grasshopper.  Yes, indeed.  They could be eligible for an IEP.

Kansas' view of gifted education is different than many states.  In Kansas, gifted education falls under the "special education umbrella."  In other words, kids receiving gifted education services have IEPs, have annual, measurable, goals, and have an IEP team that determines what appropriate services can be provided for that student. 

In other states, gifted education is a program all its own.  Not here. 

Mr. Wright, you seem to be avoiding the question.  I just want to know if my kid is going to "qualify" for service.  Don't you have to test my child?

Ah, I like the way you get down to business.  Too bad it's not that simple.

I'll give it to you straight.  Yes, I do have to "test" your child's intelligence level.  That's a critical part of the evaluation.  It's not the only part, however.  Here's (briefly) what I'm looking for in "a gifted student":
  • Well above average intelligence (IQ scores above 129)
  • Well above average academic performance in one or more areas (must score at least in the 95th %ile on standardized, norm-referenced academic tests.)
  • Sustained interest and highly knowledgeable/talented in an academic area
  • Desire to receive gifted education services
All these things together will allow a child to fit the definition of a gifted student.  However, we also have to show educational need for gifted education services.  That's a little harder to define, but is usually interpreted to mean that the child won't continue to advance without additional classroom enrichment.  In other words, is the child going to stall out after flying high for a period of time without enrichment?  Does the child want to have opportunities to learn beyond those offered to other classmates?  Will the child enjoy the gifted programs we offer?

An important side note about all special education services is that special education, by definition, is "specially designed instruction".  Many times students who meet gifted criteria (as defined above) receive very few specially designed instructional programs.  They do receive programs that are designed for more advanced students, such as a 3rd grade student who may be accelerated to take a 6th grade mathematics course.  In that example, this is generally not written into the student's IEP, because it is not a specialized instruction.  Since these supports can be completed through general education resources, it is not special education.

As you can see, providing a child with a gifted education program (sometimes referred to as "Extended Learning Program [ELP]" or "WINGS") isn't an easy task.  Just with the other special education services we provide, it must be something the child needs to succeed in school, and must also be approved by the IEP team.