Monday, September 19, 2011

Gifted - Percentage or Absolute?

When children are identified as gifted, the method of making such a determination sometimes uses a percentage of a given population, e.g., the 95th percentile of the children who take this test or the upper 8% of the students in this district on a specific measure.  Sometimes, what is used is a standardized and normed intelligence test, such as the WISC IV or the Stanford-Binet 5.  I have been pondering this lately and I have some thoughts about this.

Many people feel that giftedness brings with it special personality and emotional characteristics that are less prevalent in the general population, specifically, intensity and emotional sensitivity.  If this is the case, then the percentage measures might need to be adjusted.  Take, for example, a university or high tech community.  There might be a larger percentage of gifted children in the schools in those communities, since favorable genetics and a favorable family/societal support system might both contribute to higher realization of intelligence potential.  This might mean that, if the school uses the IQ test cut off, a larger percentage of children might be identified as gifted than would normally be expected.  Instead of the usual 5 to 8 %, I have heard of percentages even as high as 25 % of the local population.  The question is, should all of these children be identified?  Should all of them be served?  If the emotional and personality characteristics are taken into consideration, then I would argue that, if we think that those are valid criteria for identifying gifted people, then all of those students need to be identified and served.

But I have also heard it argued that only the upper 5 to 8 % of the students in any given population need to be identified, because the needs of those below that cutoff can be taken care of in the general classrooms.  From this perspective, the level of learning in the classroom is typically aimed at the average ability level of the students in the class.  If the population of students is above average, then the learning activities in the classroom will be target above the average of the standard curriculum. 

Lately, I have been more convinced of the social and emotional differences of, especially, highly gifted children (and adults, for that matter).  I think, regardless of percentages, all highly gifted people need differentiated support systems.  Perhaps the academic needs can be based on percentages, but all students in the highly gifted group need to be offered counseling and mentoring appropriate to their intelligence level and not necessarily their prevalence in the population.


  1. It's a major boon for a community if 25% or more of the kids meet, say, the gifted cutoff of top 5% on a nationally normed test -- it means serving those kids can be done economically! In small schools, where that top 5% is literally 5 kids in the grade, it's much harder (though it can be done -- our very creative middle school principal reasoned none of those kids needed reading class, and so created a 3 year "humanities" course into which all 15 gt kids in 6, 7 and 8 could be enrolled.