The school year is underway. Millions of families have sent their children off to kindergarten, away to college or to begin one of the many grades in between. With all of the excitement also comes the worry and debate over which school is the right choice, and what ways are the best to teach, learn and evaluate. And as a larger, global society many worry about the youth whose education needs are not being met – whether because of a unique learning need, a lack of options, or something outside of school all together (such as poverty, which can affect transportation, schedules and hunger).
Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews recently wrote about Broward County in Florida, which is taking a different approach to further meet the needs of their student population – baseline academic gifted testing. In most school systems, IQ testing is reserved for students whose parents or teachers have specifically requested it. Just like so many schools across the country, academically gifted programs in Broward County had been dominated by upper-income families (who can afford private testing), and students with perceived greater home support for school work and test preparation, and more enhanced outside-of-school experiences.
Is this selective approach the right method for yielding the most accurate results? Or, are we making mistaken leaps in judgment and overlooking great possibilities for our students? Where is the candor – the open, honest and direct approach – in selecting students for gifted education when we may not be objective in how they’re screened?
According to Mathews, Broward County recognized these assumptions led to a gap where low-income and/or black and Hispanic students were being left out of gifted programs. The school district decided to try a different approach for the possibility of a different outcome. Recognizing that a student’s home life can greatly impact their school performance – but doesn’t necessarily reflect their IQ or other academic gifts – Broward County now provides a preliminary giftedness test for ALL second grade students. No teacher or parent referral is required. Those who score well on the preliminary test are then given the full three-hour IQ assessment.
Mathews reports this preliminary screening process resulted in an immediate and significant increase in the number of third-graders who met the IQ standards for the county’s gifted program. Broward County started this new screening procedure ten years ago and shares staggering results:
- 180 percent increase in the gifted rate among all disadvantaged students
- 130 percent increase for Hispanic students
- 80 percent increase for black students
For decades, educators and parents have assumed that we were effectively screening and identifying children who were ready for gifted education programs. Broward County’s approach has proven there’s a better way – a process that tells the candid truth about who benefits from grade-wide preliminary screening. When we remove the barriers, filters and unconscious biases that leave out certain populations of students, we uncover the true potential for each individual and our whole community benefits.