Despite an increasingly diverse student body, white and Asian students far outnumber their black, Hispanic, and Native American classmates in gifted programs. This disparity is not new or unique to Georgia. However, recent changes to how the state allows schools to determine eligibility pose a potential setback. Limiting the options for teachers to contribute to eligibility criteria moves us back toward seeing kids as numbers and ignores the effect diverse backgrounds have on test results.
Long ago in a faraway land, Alfred Binet and his colleague Theodore Simon developed the world’s first practical IQ test. Even though the Binet-Simon scale was originally intended as a scientific approach to addressing the needs of children with below average intelligence, it quickly became weaponized as a means to separate the haves from the have nots. Historically, an updated American version called the Stanford-Binet was the first to report IQ (Intelligence Quotient) as a single static score. Government officials quickly latched on to the idea of separating people by mental ability and began screening new immigrants as they entered Ellis Island.
Not surprisingly, individual results were used to make sweeping generalizations about entire nationalities and added to calls for immigration restrictions. More recent examples include President Trump tweeting, “my IQ is one of the highest –and you all know it!” and later attacking U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., as “an extraordinarily low IQ person.”
What does all this have to do with the price of tea in China—or the race of gifted kids in Georgia? When gifted education became part of state law in 1958, Georgia used IQ score as the sole factor for identification. To its credit, Georgia’s original legislation made it the first state to both mandate adapted services for gifted students and fully fund them for schools.
However, the single-score approach to identification led to a huge disparity among those identified. By 1995, more than 90 percent of the state’s gifted students were white with black students making up less than 10 percent, even though the overall student population was closer to 60-40. The State Board of Education and state Legislature took decisive action at that time to expand identification to include multiple criteria.
Students can now be identified through either the traditional method (IQ score or another score showing exceptional mental ability) or superior performance in any three of four areas: mental ability, achievement, creativity, and motivation. While mental ability is still based on a standardized test, the other three areas include the option for judging a student-produced product or performance, and the last two have an additional option of trained adults completing a rating scale. Rating scales were accepted for both creativity and motivation until 2013, when the Georgia Department of Education changed eligibility guidelines to only allow a rating scale for one area or the other. While some advocates for the change pointed to bias in teacher’s ratings of minority students, less options rarely produce better results.
Rating scales provide an opportunity for teachers who work closely with students every day to report on how they demonstrate creativity and motivation in an authentic learning environment. The rating scales are not simple checklists or tick boxes. Instruments like the Gifted Eligibility Scales and Children’s Academic Intrinsic Motivation Inventory are produced by major testing companies and come with extensive guides for determining scores.
Georgia also requires that gifted program teachers in every school train classroom teachers each year on using the rating scales and how to recognize gifted traits in diverse populations. Restricting the use of teacher rating scales increases a student’s reliance on either a paper-pencil test for creativity or their GPA for motivation. Both of these are problematic in their own way.
Formal tests for creativity take place in a standardized environment removed from any actual learning. The test administrator is often unfamiliar with the students being tested, especially English Language Learners and other students receiving remediation-based services. Using GPA for motivation layers in all of the factors that we know affect student performance. Household income, family dynamics, and academic readiness all impact a student’s grades but exist separately from any intrinsic trait of motivation.
Fortunately, creativity and motivation both play out in classrooms and on playgrounds every day through students’ assignments, questions, and interactions. If we are going to follow through with the original intent of “increasing educational advantages for gifted students in the public schools of Georgia”, teachers and schools need every appropriate option available to identify students from every background who possess that potential.