I spent all day yesterday at the NAGC conference, and I am excited to share some of the things I learned. So as not to overload myself or any curious readers I’m planning to spread the love through the next week, so future posts will address things like perfectionism, communication, family time, and friendships.
Today is my overview. I got to speak to a couple of well-known folks in the gifted world, including Deborah Ruf, Karen Isaacson, and Joel McIntosh I stopped by tons of distance-learning booths, and I see that there is a new online high school forming specifically for gifted kids. I was deeply swayed toward some of the fantastic college prep boarding schools out there, and had a great chat with a woman who seemed to understand the difference between a rigorous college prep school and a school that understands the needs of the highly gifted. I missed the Sylvia Rimm talk because it was full, and the other two I attended were standing room only. Ouch, my blisters!
The first benefit accrued by attending the conference was a renewed appreciation for advocacy groups like NAGC. I was surprised to learn that about 2% of colleges and universities that train teachers offer programs on giftedness. Less that 50% of US states have any kind of organized training for teachers of the gifted, and while 28 states mandate identifying gifted children, only 11 states mandate any funding for gifted programming. If the primary areas of a comprehensive gifted policy could be categorized as identification, program development, program management, and personnel preparation, then no state meets that criteria.
In short, the chances the a student will hit the trifecta–be correctly identified as gifted, receive appropriate gifted programming, and work with a teacher who knows anything beyond her own assumptions about giftedness–are practically nil. This is what advocacy groups are working to correct.
A main thrust of the general session and keynote address was identification of the gifted. I could not help but think of many people I’ve been in blog conversations with who have a deep distrust of testing. Turns out, so do most gifted advocates!
The current president of the NAGC noted that a major focus of her time “in office” was to work on identifying children in poverty. We have heard the statistics that up to 20% of high school dropouts are gifted. What she added was that the majority of these are children living in poverty. These are children who see school as unimportant not only because they lack hope for the future but because they literally gain nothing from daily attendance. As the keynote speaker suggested, we are throwing these children away, with terrible consequences for them and for all of us. (I suppose I must spell out that making an effort to identify gifted childen in poverty does not preclude offering a better education and more hope to all children in poverty.) As the NAGC president pointed out, gifted programs are sometimes criticized for overrepresenting white and Asian students, and middle- or upper-class students, but the solution is not to get rid of the programs, but instead do better identification.
Better identification was the theme of the keynote speech by Robert Sternberg of Tufts university. I think I’ll have to save that post for later, as this one is getting on the long side. For now, I’ll just say that Sternberg is a staunch critic of standardized testing and has worked on developing methods of measuring analytical skills, creative skills, and practical skills. In short, he’s been doing just what Patience was asking scientists to do, and he claims that he has developed some statistically validated, predictive instruments.
Sternberg was a great speaker and taking him at his word it seems that he and his collaborators (and he was very genuine in pointing out that although he was standing up there alone, the things he was talking about were all collaborative efforts) have made significant contributions to IDing gifted students in a way that recognizes creativity and minimizes the importance of merely being a good test-taker.
Still, I have a page of notes peppered with question marks, and I am hoping I can get him to respond to some of those later.
So tune in next time for another epidsode of NAGC week.
p.s. I have updated Smells Bells and Yells recently, if you are Catholic-curious.