Croll: The Truth About ‘Gifted’ Versus High-Achieving Students

By Chris Croll

While some parents go to great lengths to try to have their children identified as “gifted,” I would like to shed some light on the reality of what raising a gifted child really means.

First, a quiz. Which of the following do you believe to be true?

  1. a) Gifted children usually get straight A’s in school
  2. b) Gifted children are often teacher’s pets in the classroom
  3. c) Gifted children have exceptional executive function (organization, time management, etc.) skills
  4. d) Gifted children tend to be natural leaders
  5. e) None of the above

The answer is, of course, e. The statements above describe high-achieving students, not gifted ones. This is a distinction parents of gifted children would like others to understand.

High achievers are students who perform at peak academic levels. They take the hardest classes and ace them all. They are tenacious. They have grit. Teachers love them because they eagerly engage with whatever material is presented in class. Peers admire their academic success and look up to them. High achievers often take on leadership roles in extracurricular activities. They play sports and an instrument and they are leaders in clubs. High achievers have excellent study skills and social skills and they go on to excel at elite colleges.

Gifted students, on the other hand, may or may not earn high marks in school depending on a host of factors including their interest in the subject being taught, their respect for the depth of knowledge the teacher possesses and even their level of physical comfort in the classroom. Gifted students often frustrate teachers because they don’t quite live up to their potential, especially in classes that are too easy for them. Gifted children often have poor executive function skills so they lose homework and don’t know how to study for exams. Many gifted children have few friends because of their esoteric interests. Sometimes these students feel so isolated that they become depressed … even suicidal. A surprisingly large number of gifted students drop out of high school and never make it to college, despite their high innate intelligence.

[See related article, “Going for Gifted,” here.]

While all children have gifts, not all children are “gifted” as defined by researchers and educators around the globe. The most commonly used definition is as follows: “Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm.  This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” (The Columbus Group, 1991)

What this means is that gifted children have ‘special needs’ that the typical classroom teacher does not have the bandwidth or training to address. This is why school districts go to great lengths to identify gifted students—these kids require special support in order for them to stay engaged in the learning process.

Some gifted students are also high achievers but many are not. What other parents and teachers often don’t see are the hidden components of being gifted, including emotional overexcitability, crippling anxiety, existential angst and other social and emotional issues resulting from asynchronous brain development.

Having your child identified as “gifted” at school is no better or worse than having them qualify for any other academic support service. Parents who pay for tutoring services to teach their child how to “act more gifted” so they “get into” gifted programs at school would be wise to spend those dollars instead on enrichment classes to help their children become high achievers – or to save that money for college.

[Chris Croll serves as executive director of Loudoun County Parents of Gifted Students. Contact her at chris@locopogs.org.]

8 thoughts on “Croll: The Truth About ‘Gifted’ Versus High-Achieving Students

  • 2017-03-23 at 3:30 pm
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    The author exaggerates the extent to which gifted children are somehow paralyzed by anxiety and lack of executive function. While it is true that some gifted kids become disinterested or are not natural leaders, this is not common. Such individuals (high cognitive ability) have been shown to have greater “common sense” and higher achievement than those with more average intellectual aptitude.

    It appears the author writes from the perspective of having a kid with other needs (special education diagnosis) and is trying equate all gifted students with her own. This is not normal. Most gifted kids benefit not only from deeper learning but from a faster pace. The heart of intelligence is the ability to synthesize information more quickly. Most gifted kids understand material with only 2 presentations whereas most students need at least 5-7 to internalize the concepts. This fact conflicts with the author’s notion of gifted kids needing “support”.

    Gifted kids benefit from more challenging academic environments. Period. Gifted kids who have special education needs may need other support but that should be provided on an as-needed basis.

    • 2017-03-25 at 9:38 pm
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      The author of this article is dead on. I have two sons – one in each category.
      A gifted child – Futura/ Spectrum, perfect scores on SOLS since elementary school…. and he is failing out of high school with no desire to go to college. His awkward angst in the most normal of situations, has been painful to watch since his first days of preschool – where he would prefer to read out of the Encyclopedia Britannica while the other children fingerpainted.
      My other child is the high achiever. Not gifted, but AP classes, sports, class leader with remarkable social skills and grades. The teachers love him.
      For anyone who has a different experience, please have respect for the gifted child so painfully accurately described in this article.

      • 2017-03-27 at 12:05 pm
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        I agree. I cannot applaud the author enough for writing this article.

    • 2017-03-26 at 11:40 pm
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      Common sense does not translate into greater emotional resiliency and exceptional students (gifted students are classified as exceptional students) often have concomitant diagnoses or behaviors, nor did the author state that ALL gifted children have lower self-efficacy or imply that these skills can’t be learned. The students you’re referring to are “twice exceptional” or “2e” students.

      Often, their intelligence has not required GT kids to learn skills attributable to emotional maturity and resiliency– like patience with failure, as a for instance– that other students have learned and mastered. They are also susceptible to depression specifically because they are more aware, and are therefore at risk for suicide and drug and alcohol abuse as a form of self medication.

      Nor did the author address scope and sequence of instruction, other than to say “gifted children have ‘special needs’ that the typical classroom teacher does not have the bandwidth or training to address.” Such as a faster pace than the average student.

      Also, why the personal attack? If you know this person and her family perhaps you shouldn’t be trolling her on media comment boards, because I’m not sure how you extrapolated that the sole basis for her experience would be parenting a 2e kid.

      Here is a copy of a reference guide from the VDOE that includes evidence-based best practices from the National Association of Gifted Persons. http://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/gifted_ed/ref_guide_dev_eval_of_local_plans.pdf

      Also some information on myths about Gifted Students from the NAGP http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/myths-about-gifted-students

      • 2017-03-27 at 12:35 pm
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        yreyesylee, thanks for proving my point with those links. Let’s look at the second one, the myths…

        1. States gifted education doesn’t require an abundance of resource (just curriculum taught at a faster rate in segregated classes so the gifted kids aren’t slowed down)

        2. Many gifted kids flourish in their community and schools. Nobody is saying a gifted child can have special needs. It’s just inaccurate to imply that most do. The parents of the special needs kids want all resources to be devoted to their kids. This appeared to be the point of the article when what LCPS really needs is a real gifted program like AAP in Fairfax.

        3. All children are not gifted. Many want to expand the definition of gifted so that any perceived interest or skill designates the child as “gifted”. All this does is slow down the pace at which the teacher can present the material else these non-gifted kids get left behind.

        4. Gifted kids do not make everyone feel smarter in a general ed classroom. What they do is remind kids who are having trouble that some kids are breezing through. Of course, many principals want to use the gifted kids as extra teachers to help them remediate kids struggling to pass the basic test. If LCPS used growth scores so that gifted kids were expected to grow as much as gifted kids in districts actually challenging them (like Fairfax), then using gifted kids as extra teachers would punish such tactics and they would stop. This is one reason LCPs should ulilize VAMs like SGPs.

        5. 73% of teachers agree gifted kids are not challenged in school. Why? Because it is impossible for teachers to challenge every different learning level in a heterogeneous class. Gifted kids must be placed in accelerated classes with other gifted kids for at least part of the day (e.g. ELA and math). There is no other solution. Admins and teachers who are not gifted simply cannot understand how boring it is for children to understand a concept in the first 5 minutes of class and have the teacher repeat it umpteen times for the next hour so the rest can comprehend it. If they did, this would not be going on.

        Note also 8 VAC20-40-60A which states ” Policies and procedures that allow access to programs
        of study and advanced courses at a pace and sequence commensurate with their learning needs.” LCPS created a local gifted plan but it is junk. Kids are not grouped according to ability. In middle school, 40% (not 3-10%) are placed in honors classes that progress too slowly to challenge the gifted kids.

        When you have a school system run by administrators and school board members who are not gifted, they ask “why would we ever need a program like Fairfax’ AAP?” Right Jill Turgeon? What we need is simple. Accelerated classes for a limited percentage of gifted kids (10% max) with no more additional resources than the general education kids get. That isn’t hard. It just takes the will to tell some parents their kids are not gifted and to tell admins we will no longer use gifted kids to help your other teachers instruct the slower learners.

      • 2017-03-27 at 12:06 pm
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        Apologies, this is my first time posting; my question as to “how many gifted kids are you raising” was for Jett. As also stated, I cannot applaud the author enough for writing this article. Thank you thank you.

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