Giftedness and Diversity

When advocating for the needs of children, it is important to have a support plan for all gifted and high ability students throughout the state… regardless of their cultural or socio-economic backgrounds.

Efforts to close Connecticut’s highest-in-the-nation “Achievement Gap” have often ignored the talents and abilities of underachieving high-ability and gifted students from diverse cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic populations.  While it is important to provide remediation for those who need support, mandates to increase test scores to mere proficiency, while forgetting about the needs of the higher-achieving students, have only reinforced the “Excellence Gap” that limits opportunity for gifted and high-ability students.  Remediation is NOTa proper strategy for gifted children.  These students should be nurtured to develop their own abilities and potential just like all other kids.

In order to provide appropriate challenges to high-ability children at home and at school, it is important to understand their gifted behaviors and dispositions in general.  Gifted students stagnate in remedial learning environments where they don’t receive appropriate academic acceleration and enrichment they need.  Slow-paced, generalized classes can frustrate high-ability children, lead to further negative attitudes toward school, and increase the intensity of behaviors associated with underachievement.  In diverse communities where whole populations are already subjected to lower expectations and have fewer resources at their disposal, there is a greater likelihood that environments will perpetuate the disproportionate lack of talent development among high-potential children.

Furthermore, within these populations, we find that misunderstood and unidentified gifted students may often be misdiagnosed with learning disorders ranging from ADD/ADHD to Bipolar disease (Webb, N. 2005), and in cases where true learning issues are present, a diagnosis of the dual exceptionalities (i.e., simultaneously both gifted and special needs) is rarely considered.

It is especially important in these underserved populations that we seek out children who, although gifted, don’t fit the stereotype of “traditionally gifted” (i.e., a well-rounded, high-achiever).  Believing the gifted, high-ability child to always be a model student is misguided at best.  Gifted students characteristically exhibit an often-pronounced asynchrony between their abilities and the development of their social-emotional maturity. For example, these children can appear highly distractible, disruptive, overly shy, or outspoken, while they will usually be highly imaginative and nearly always intense.  This intensity, whether positive or negative, is part of their need to express enthusiasm, curiosity, frustrations, desires, etc., and the need to be heard.

In high-poverty environments where deficit-based pedagogy has focused on closing achievement gaps, such intense behaviors are rarely associated with giftedness, and gifted children’s social, emotional and academic needs are often ignored.  In reality, approaching the problem from the opposite perspective is entirely more effective.  In Research on Closing the Achievement Gap Between High and Low Socioeconomic Status (2006), we see that schools that serve children and youth from high-poverty backgrounds are most successful when:

Organizations, school leadership, and community liaisons should actively reach out to families from diverse, disadvantaged backgrounds to build bridges that promote and foster greater self-efficacy.  School district administrators and teachers in multicultural settings should be trained to recognize and overcome institutionalized limitations for economically disadvantaged children.  Culturally responsive lessons that are meaningful within the context of less–privileged and more-diverse communities should maintain a high level of sensitivity to the asynchrony of gifted attitudes and behaviors.

However, strategies that allow gifted and talented children to excel within diverse populations are not commonly in practice (Frasier, Garcia & Passow 1995; Olszewski-Kubilius 2004; Ford 2008; Jackson 2011). Research on underrepresentation in gifted programs, honors, and advance placement classes reveals the following:

A positive response to the diversity in our communities and schools is necessary to assure that all high-ability populations are reached, understood, and provided equitable and excellent services that match children’s true needs and potentials.   Educators, counselors, parents, and community leadership must perceive and address the true needs of all high-ability and high-potential learners and must respond with effective knowledge, skills, and strategies that transcend the current deficit rhetoric and stereotyping in order to stop the current negative impact being inflicted upon our minority youth and replace it with true and equitable educational empowerment.

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