Analyzing More Research on Best Practices for Identifying AIM Students

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Yesterday, we looked into a 2011 article from Frank Worrell and Jesse Erwin, researchers at UC Berkeley in 2011, who among other things developed a 15-point checklist for identifying students. Today we look into two articles recommended by the school district, one of which seeks to discuss “The Hope Scale,” while the other talks about “Identifying Gifted Students from Underrepresented Populations.”

The 2015 article in Gifted Education International features an interview of Marcia Gentry and Scott Peters by Dan Greathouse and Michael Shaughnessy. “The Hope Scale is an 11-item teacher-rating instrument designed to help identify academic and social components of giftedness. It provides insights from teachers who work with students on a daily basis, which may differ from the type of information yielded through achievement and ability tests.”

Marcia Gentry explains, “Project Hope provides enrichment programs for primary students from low-income families. The Identification rating scale is available free of charge on our web, and we encourage others to use it.” She continues, “The problem lies in the wholesale use of instruments that are not effective with these populations.”

Scott Peters describes the underlying question is “what are we identifying students for?” He added, “The issue of group-specific norms is complex. The biggest issue is that we can use group-specific norms to identify more students – what we’ll get are students with the highest relative potential relative to their peers. However, since we will have then changed the Identification procedure we won’t necessarily be identifying students who can benefit from the programs we provide. We will need to differentiate services and programming to suit a more diverse population.”

The researchers were asked whether cognitive assessments (such as the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or OLSAT) should even be considered when attempting to address the issue of under-represented groups for the gifted and talented programs.

Steve Peters responded, “I think that an assessment system should err on the side of inclusion and should depend on the type of program being offered.”

Marcia Gentry added, “Programs must be designed to develop the strengths of their students. Students who develop their strengths coupled with wisdom and ethics can then become adults who make a difference in their communities and professions.”

Steve Peters noted, “Right now we have a severe lack of actual programming in US schools for advanced students. We don’t have adequate programs for a variety of activities.”

He would later note that there should be flexibility in school and state policies regarding identification. He said, “The question still arises – Are we identifying students who will be successful in the programs we plan to provide?” He added, “I think there is one of the issues with gifted education – it’s perceived as something special. We need to make serving advanced students part of the general education practice of a school.”

The 2010 article, “Identifying Gifted Students from Underrepresented Populations,” by Carolyn Callahan and published in Theory into Practice, argued that the identification of gifted and talented students from those populations that are underrepresented in programs for the gifted “needs to be examined as the complex issue that it is rather than as a problem that can be solved with a single, silver-bullet answer.”

She writes, “The solutions proposed are structured around increased advocacy for underrepresented students and attention to current research.”

Professor Callahan writes, “The more appropriate approach is to view the situation as a complex interaction of factors, such as inadequate opportunities for talent development, the inadequacy of one-shot, paper-and-pencil assessments, the inherent bias and shortcomings of policies and procedures surrounding the identification of gifted students, and the lack of connections between the identification criteria and the curriculum and services offered to gifted students.”

Part of the problem is, “Inadequate opportunities for talent development are the result of erroneous beliefs translated into detrimental practice The two beliefs that mitigate against adequate talent development are: (a) the belief that it is the role of gifted and talented programs to serve only those children that parents’ bring to the school door ‘signed, sealed, and delivered’ as gifted; and (b) inherent beliefs about the low capabilities of poor and minority children.”

She adds, “There is a strong, erroneous belief that most of these children are so lacking in prerequisite basic skills or abilities that such development is highly unlikely.”

These practices serve to “decrease motivation among the students to participate in schooling at all.” She writes, “One underlying reason behind diminished beliefs in the potential of ethnic minority-and low-income students lies in strong acceptance in the educator population of very narrow and internally determined conception of intelligence and giftedness. Within the American public schools, giftedness is associated largely with traditional school skills and characteristics measured by traditional intelligence and achievement tests-advanced vocabulary, highly developed verbal skills in written and oral expression in Standard English, and early and advanced reading skills.”

Professor Callahan continues, “Children who come to school without having had the opportunity to develop and practice these skills are quickly labeled ‘at-risk’ and categorized as ‘less able.’ Seldom are teachers provided the skills in discerning either (a) alternative ways in which students may be gifted, or (b) ways to identify verbal talents that may exist in students who have not had opportunities to develop fluency and advanced expressive abilities in formal English.”

Professor Callahan then lays out some solutions. These include: expand the conceptions of intelligence and giftedness; provide exemplars of gifted performance and use the identification process to enhance understanding; develop a program for talent development; and finally identify early and often.

Professor Callahan notes that “we must provide examples of students from target populations in classroom settings exhibiting the behaviors associated with all aspects of talent, including nontraditional examples of verbal ability. These examples may be in writing or may be presented as video clips for additional context.”

She recommends, “A carefully constructed program of talent development based on student interest, highly relevant and motivating tasks, and the use of high-level and sophisticated thinking skills should be instituted in the primary grades.”

It is important to identify both early and often. She writes, “If we act quickly in the early years to identify signs of exceptional performance and nurture that performance in appropriately enriched challenging environments, we may be able to prevent the diminished performance over time and stand a far greater chance of enhancing achievement and the development of talent.”

She argues as well, “We should not be content with a one-time identification plan.” Rather, “we should develop strategies for on-going, persistent talent searches. The light that peeks out from under the bushel as a result of the hard work to light a fire must be fed before subsequent lack of stimulation snuffs it out.”

Professor Callahan continues, “The measurement field has long warned against the use of one test or one assessment score as the basis of making a high-stake judgment about a child. However, in a world where intelligence tests are inappropriately used as the sole or primary indicator in identifying gifted students, and where many children have not had the opportunity to develop the skills or had the cultural experiences to perform well on traditional aptitude or intelligence tests, there has emerged a desperate search for the culture-fair test or unbiased rating scale. Unfortunately, these efforts reflect an attempt to find an unsatisfactory alternative to an unsatisfactory situation.”

Professor Callahan lays out additional solutions as: using valid and reliable tools; use authentic assessments; gather data over time; eliminate policies or practices that limit the number served in the gifted program.

This is a key issue in the current debate. From her perspective, “One of the most inhibiting factors in expanding services to minority and low-income students is the belief that there is a magic number of gifted and talented students who can be served by the gifted program. First, it is critical to begin to consider a continuum of gifted services and to modify the curriculum according to student needs.” She continues, “Second, the number of gifted students is not a given and is not fixed in any community. The competition for slots naturally sets up an artificial conflict between those who are traditionally identified and those who might emerge through alternative procedures. continuum of services model is implemented, all gifted students can be served.”

She suggests rewriting procedures for nomination, screening, and identifying to reflect an inclusive, expanded definition of giftedness,

Here she writes that “a nomination or screening process that relies on teachers only for inclusion of children in the next stage of the identification process is flawed because teachers are not always able to see alternative manifestations of giftedness because they never provide the opportunity in instruction for behaviors associated with giftedness to be displayed.”

She continues, “Or, they may hold such narrow personal conceptions of giftedness that they cannot acknowledge those alternative manifestations as falling in the category of gifted behaviors. Likewise, to only rely on test scores is to chance missing those children who insightful teachers can and do recognize but for whom traditional assessments may yield biased, unsatisfactory, and invalid results.”

She says, “Policies that leave parents or guardians out of the identification and placement process, except in gathering permission to test or place, may miss opportunities to involve parents in ways that will give them a buy-in and an understanding of the process and the program that may later yield greater interest in participating.

Finally she suggests that a GATE program match curriculum and services to the identification procedure.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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12 Comments

  1. Davis Progressive

    peters: “I think that an assessment system should err on the side of inclusion and should depend on the type of program being offered.”

    callahan: “One of the most inhibiting factors in expanding services to minority and low-income students is the belief that there is a magic number of gifted and talented students who can be served by the gifted program.”

    both of these pieces seem to go against the tide of the current debate where reformers are calling for shrinking rather than expanding the size of the program.

    1. Don Shor

      both of these pieces seem to go against the tide of the current debate where reformers are calling for shrinking rather than expanding the size of the program.

      I hesitate to call them “reformers” if their goal is to shrink the size of the program.
      I again urge that people not focus on the numbers. There is no magic number. If kids are identified as benefiting from a particular program or teaching style, those kids should be accommodated wherever possible.

      1. Davis Progressive

        it’s a bit in the eye of the beholder, but i put the label for convenience not to express support.

        and that’s the point of the quote i pulled – there is no magic number and if it works, not sure why everyone is so concerned about it.

        1. MrsW

          I think one reason that people are concerned about the numbers is that DJUSD’s policy seemed to be to fill the AIM classes, even when students might not benefit from the program. Filling AIM classes was the priority, not matching students to the best educational fit.  Another concern is administrative in times of tight budgets. Classrooms need to be as full as possible. It would not be perceived as fair, if an AIM classroom had 22 students, while a non-AIM classroom had 32 students.

          When GATE was at Valley Oak and a number of students had to commute to get there, the administration had more flexibility to grow and shrink the program/class sizes.  There could be two AIM 4th grade classes of 25, for example.  Reducing the number of campuses where the program is offered, not the overall slots, would allow the program to be more nimble with its enrollment numbers.

  2. wdf1

    DP:  both of these pieces seem to go against the tide of the current debate where reformers are calling for shrinking rather than expanding the size of the program.

    Again, I think it depends on how you define “reform.”

    Personally, I go for keeping a self-contained program and expanding options for differentiated instruction.  On balance, I think that expands the overall program and improves overall accessibility.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “Personally, I go for keeping a self-contained program and expanding options for differentiated instruction.”

      that could be something i support depending on what the self-contained program looks like and what the options for differentiated instruction look like.

  3. MrsW

     “Programs must be designed to develop the strengths of their students. Students who develop their strengths coupled with wisdom and ethics can then become adults who make a difference in their communities and professions.”

    This might articulate something for which there is consensus. I think every student would like to step onto his/her school campus and be met with those values and aspirations.

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