Giftedness is typically viewed as an innate characteristic. In fact, American Heritage online dictionary defines gifted as endowed with great natural ability, intelligence, or talent. The implication is that gifted children received their gifts at birth.
In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the accomplishments of Bill Gates, the Beatles, New York lawyers, and a number others. He defines an outlier as 1: something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body; 2: a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.
Although gifted children are outliers in a sense, Gladwell wants us to consider another reason–not just standardized test scores–that these selected few are in advanced learning programs.
He directs our attention to cutoff dates, and how arbitrarily a child’s birth date can either help or hinder his or her potential placement in a gifted program.
Gladwell wrote, “The small initial advantage that the child born in the early part of the [calendar] year has over the child born at the end of the year persists. It locks children into patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragement and discouragement, that stretch on and on for years.”
Gladwell’s opinion is based on a study by economists Kelly Bedard and Elizabeth Dhuey who evaluated children’s months of birth and their scores on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Upon examining a group of 4th graders, the economists found that, by a large margin, the older children scored better than the younger children in the group.
“It means that if you take two intellectually equivalent fourth graders with birthdays at opposite ends of the cutoff date, the older student could score in the 80th percentile, while the younger one could score in the 68th percentile. That’s the difference between qualifying for a gifted program and not,” Gladwell wrote.
“We do ability grouping early on in childhood,” Dhuey explained. “We have advanced reading groups and advanced math groups. So, early on, if we look at young kids, in kindergarten and first grade, the teachers are confusing maturity with ability. And they put the older kids in the advanced stream, where they learn better skills; and the next year, because they are in the higher groups, they do even better; and the next year, the same thing happens, and they do even better again.”
Dhuey went on to explain that Denmark is the only country that doesn’t implement ability grouping until children reach the age of ten–forgoing the selection processes until maturity has leveled off. “I mean it’s ridiculous,” she added. “It’s outlandish that our arbitrary choice of cutoff dates is causing these long-lasting effects, and no one seems to care about them.”
Watch the video below: An interview with Malcolm Gladwell.
Stay tuned for Part Two of Gifted placement: Based on innate ability or random opportunity?
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