An Introduction to Gifted Education:
Children are a remarkable gift, and they amaze us every day with their resilience, knack for exploration, and capacity to learn new things. So, with all their unique natural talents, what makes a child gifted? The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) sought to answer that question with their implementation of the Gifted and Talented (G&T) exam. The annual January exam tests children entering grades K-3 in two parts: the Naglieri Non Verbal Ability Test (NNAT), which replaced the Bracken Test in 2012, and the verbal portion of the Otis Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT).
In accordance with the NYCDOE’s test standards, giftedness in children is measured in percentiles. To be eligible to apply for district-wide gifted programs, a student must score in the 90th percentile or higher. To gain eligibility to apply for citywide gifted programs, a student’s score must reach or exceed the 97th percentile.
Gifted education, defined as instruction that provides exceptional students with an atmosphere tailored specifically to their needs, is not a new idea. It can be traced back to the 1800s. The following is a brief timeline of United States’ gifted education in the 20th and 21st centuries.
1901 The first gifted school in the United States opens in Massachusetts.
1905 French researchers Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon create the Binet-Simon IQ scale, notably the first test to measure intelligence quotient in children. Their test is first used for the purpose of separating children of lower intelligence into special classrooms, apart from children of average or higher intelligence. Their idea of mental age revolutionizes the science of psychological testing.
1916 Lewis Terman, the “father of gifted education,” finishes his revisions of the Binet-Simon IQ scale, publishing the Stanford-Binet test. His changes to the test make it possible for schools to assess student intelligence with the exam and ultimately single out the gifted students.
1921 Lewis Terman begins the first longitudinal study of gifted children (some children of which are still alive and periodically evaluated at present).
1925 Lewis Terman publishes Genetic Studies of Genius. He concludes that gifted children are: qualitatively different in school, slightly better physically and emotionally in comparison to normal students, superior in academic subjects in comparison to the average students, emotionally stable, most successful when education and family values were held in high regard by the family, and infinitely variable in combination with the number of traits exhibited by those in the study. This publication is the first of five volumes published over 40 years.
1926 Leta Hollingworth publishes the first textbook on gifted education, Gifted Children: Their Nature and Nurture.
Like most “luxuries” during the Depression and WWII, gifted education waned during the 1930s and 40s4. Picking up again in the 50s and 60s, it evolved with the U.S.’s needs, especially in the interest of science and the Space Race.
1954 The National Association of Gifted Children is founded under the leadership of Ann Isaacs.
1958 The National Defense Act is passed. It is the first large scale government effort in gifted education.
1964 The Civil Rights Act is passed, emphasizing equal opportunity for all people, including in education.
1972 The Marland Report
1974 The Office of the Gifted and Talented gained official status in the U.S. Office of Education.
1983 A Nation at Risk is published in reference to findings by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The book highlights the failure of high achieving American students to compete at an international level and voices concerns about the United States’ education system. It advocates for appropriate curricula for gifted students.
1988 Congress passes the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act, part of the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
1993 National Excellence: The Case for Developing America’s Talent, a report issued by the U.S. Department of Education, outlines how America neglects its most talented youth.
1998 NAGC publishes Pre-K-Grade 12 Gifted Program Standards to provide guidance in seven key areas for programs serving gifted and talented students. The standards were revised in 2010 as Pre-K-Grade 12 Gifted Programming Standards.
2002 The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is passed as the No Child Left Behind Act. The act includes the Javits Act and offers opportunities for statewide grants. The definition of gifted and talented students is modified slightly:
Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.
2004 A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students is published by the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa. It reports on strategies for acceleration in gifted students.
2006 The National Association for Gifted Children publishes national standards for teacher preparation in gifted education programs and knowledge/skill standards for all gifted education teachers.
2013 The national standards for teacher preparation and knowledge/skill standards are revised. The NYCDOE offers the first annual Gifted and Talented test in January. New York City stands out as one of the few areas in the country that has its own gifted program.