The Hechinger Report - Proof Points: Gifted ed disappoints

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By Jill Barshay

The whole justification for gifted education is that some young children are so advanced that they need more challenging material to learn new things and stay motivated. Otherwise, they’d be bored in school. 

A large national study, presented at a virtual conference of the American Educational Research Association, which I attended last week, suggests that children in gifted programs are learning only a tiny bit more than they would without them. Black children, who make up a very small fraction of gifted students, don’t even do that well.  

The study, “Do Students in Gifted Programs Perform Better? Linking Gifted Program Participants to Achievement and Nonachievement Outcomes,” is slated to be published in May 2021 in the journal of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. The researchers are Christopher Redding at the University of Florida and Jason A. Grissom at Vanderbilt University.

Read the column
Key Findings 
  • Students’ reading scores were only slightly higher after receiving gifted instruction, moving from 78th to 80th percentile in reading on a national yardstick.  

  • The boost to math achievement from gifted instruction was much smaller, about a third of that size, with students moving from the 76th to the 77th percentile.  

  • No improvements were detected in how engaged or motivated students were in school after joining a gifted program.  

  • Black and low-income students did not see the small academic gains that their peers experienced in gifted programs.

Teacher Takeaway 
  • The disappointing academic results may reflect that most teachers of gifted students don’t emphasize advanced topics but instead focus on “enrichment activities,” such as fun projects.  

  • The small academic boost may also be a result of too few hours devoted to gifted instruction. 

Lit Review 
  1. Redding, C., & Grissom, J.A. Do Students in Gifted Programs Perform Better? Linking Gifted Program Participation to Achievement and Nonachievement Outcomes. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis forthcoming in 2021. 
  2. Bui, S. A., Craig, S. G., & Imberman, S. A. (2014). Is gifted education a bright idea? Assessing the impact of gifted and talented programs on achievement. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 6(3), 30-62.  
  3. Card, D., & Giuliano, L. (2016). Universal screening increases the representation of low-income and minority students in gifted education. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(48), 13678-13683.  
  4. Adelson, J. L., McCoach, D. B., & Gavin, M. K. (2012). Examining the effects of gifted programming in mathematics and reading using the ECLS-K. Gifted Child Quarterly, 56(1), 25-39. 
  5. Daniel Long, Rashea Hamilton, Betsy Mccoach, Del Siegle, Elizabeth Jean Gubbins, and Carolyn M. Callahan, “National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE) Brief on Gifted Education Curriculum and Gifted Achievement Growth of Gifted Students in Three States,” delivered at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Toronto, Canada on April 9, 2019.   
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