We can't let any gifted kids slip through the cracks

The High Flyer (Blog Banner)-NAGC.pngImagine being a student who is academically gifted but whose abilities are not easily identified by teachers.

Then imagine that instead of being identified for testing to determine if you are gifted, you are passed over or, even worse, identified as having behavioral challenges and being in need of special-education services.

Sadly, this scenario is the norm for the tremendous numbers of children who have untapped giftedness but who are not afforded access to gifted programs and services simply because they are not viewed as kids who ultimately could benefit from the gifted program.

For too long, policymakers and many in education have turned a blind eye to the reality that gifted students exist in all populations and communities and that giftedness is not determined by one's skin color, native language or ZIP code.

Recent research out of New York University confirmed these biases. In a study where educators reviewed case studies, participants were more likely to spot attributes of giftedness in white students, recommending a referral for gifted education evaluation, than they were for black students with the same characteristics.

Additionally, researchers at the National Research Center on Gifted Education have found that it is virtually impossible for a student who is in poverty, is learning English and is from a minority group to be identified and served in a gifted program.

This neglect is unjust and unethical for the students impacted. Education is a great equalizer, and we know giftedness exists in all populations and that families, teachers and the community have a moral obligation to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds grow, develop and flourish.

Florida is one of a handful of states with laws and policies in place that require gifted students to be identified and served. Most important, Florida funds this critical work. Here in Orange County, the district is working to develop two magnet schools for gifted students, a concrete action toward expanding student access services.

After decades of alarm bells sounding but little to no meaningful action, lawmakers in other states and in Congress are beginning to take notice. Within the past year, Congress has enacted an education-reform law that requires states and districts to more clearly report on the annual performance gains of high-performing students, just as they have long been required to do for students at the low end of the achievement spectrum.

The new law also requires states to outline how they support the identification and service of gifted students, and it makes clear that federal teacher-training funds can be used to provide professional development on gifted education. At the end of the day, it all comes down to good instruction.

These provisions are not instant panaceas, but they represent important steps forward in reversing what had long been a nearly barren landscape nationally. The reporting and accountability provisions signal to states and districts that gifted and talented learners are important and need to be priorities.

To build upon these new policies, the National Association for Gifted Children and other stakeholders are embarking on a focused three-pronged approach to change minds and attitudes, change policies, and change practices when it comes to supporting gifted learners.

The need to change minds and attitudes is clear. As any parent or teacher of a gifted child knows too well, these students face unique challenges and require specialized and focused attention to overcome impediments and maximize their talents. We must drive stakes through absurdities such as gifted kids will do just fine on their own and that gifted kids don't exist in disadvantaged communities.

A Giftedness Knows No Boundaries campaign is being launched at this week's NAGC National Convention in Orlando, a gathering of more than 2,500 teachers, parents, researchers, advocates and gifted-education leaders from around the world.

The campaign is a cornerstone that will shine a light on gifted and talented children, and a precursor to changing policies and practices, all of which will ensure these children are discovered, challenged and given the support they need as they strive to reach their personal best.

M. René Islas is the executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children. Rudy Crew is president of Medgar Evers College and a member of the NAGC Corporate Council.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Orlando Sentinel.