The gifted student and poverty are two incredibly diverse topics that meet in underfunded and misunderstood programs. In an attempt to define gifted and talented (GT) students, as well as our understanding of poverty, the assumptions and misinterpretations of our knowledge slowly becomes evident through research analysis. First, seeking to define the problem and then to create change, the fundamental flaw is exposed; scholars do not agree on what poverty is and what necessarily defines social economic status.
Culture, resources, population density, race, religion, and ethnicity are but a few of the categories that people use in an attempt to define themselves and these classes, further complicate the analysis of research, in terms of student achievement measures. Moreover, the idea of what the GT learner is and how he or she is identified, as well as assessed, moves to confuse matters until the fundamental flaw of the process is exposed.
The flaw being that currently the basic question of how to address the specific needs of GT learners in poverty is unreachable through traditional research means, yet underscores, the need for a diverse, flexible, supported, and dynamic GT teaching cadre. Poverty is not experienced in a universal way, and as a term it is difficult to define. Money alone does not explain poverty, and the term social economic status does not have a common definition across the literature within the field of GT studies.
However, in general terms, poverty and social economic status are usually determined by”… ne’s relative standing in regards to income, level of education, employment, health, and access to resources” (Burney & Beike, 2008). In terms of rural and urban populations, there is no standard definition among the statistical analysis of students and families affected by poverty (Burney & Beike, 2008). Even the idea that income level, and not race, produce social inequality is challenging to the established litany on the subject of poverty, social economic status, and the gifted student (Kitano, 2003).
The idea of poverty is complex and is represented and experienced differently across geographic, racial, ethnic and cultural lines, as blurry as they may sometime be (Burney & Beike, 2008). Traditionally, high achievement has been defined as a level of performance that is greater than one would expect for students of the same age, grade, or experience (Burney & Beilke, 2008). The customary definition of giftedness as exceptionally high achievement, as identified by traditional referral and assessments processes, are based on social values rather than empirical evidence and as a sult, “achievement-based definitions fail to consider limited opportunities for some children to acquire the experiences necessary to demonstrate their potential … “(Kitano, 2003).
The opportunity for a gifted student to show their colors may be further complicated by”… insufficient nutrition, higher rates of health problems, amount and quality of learning experiences in the home, family dysfunction, and violent crime” (Kitano, 2003). The current definition of giftedness does not address future or even contemporary needs, but instead reflects social value sets (Kitano, 2003). A definition of giftedness must address these children’s strengths – which may be academic achievement for some and, for others, creativity, problems solving, or resilience and persistence in the face of adversity – demonstrated via verbal or other modalities” (Kitano, 2003). Children in poverty face significant challenges from the point of conception, and as a result are less likely to move toward even the average achievement measures for their age because of educational deprivation (Kitano, 2003).
In many cases, impoverished students enter school at a different readiness level than their more affluent peers. Children of parents with higher educational levels have been read to more frequently, have more books in the home, have already learned how to use computers, and have had different patterns of interactive reading and conversation than those children from families without education and fewer resources” (Burney & Beilke, 2008). As a result, students in poverty have fewer skills that are easily transferable to the school setting (Burney & Beilke, 2008). The majority of children living in poverty are children of color with families that are focused on day-to-day survival (Kitano, 2003).
Lacking the opportunities of the average middle class student, children of poverty are less identified for many reasons includ the unintentional bias in teacher recommendations as well as the use of cut off scores that “… screen out underachieving, learning-disables, culturally different and, andmost consistently -students from poverty backgrounds” (Slocomb and Payne, 2000). Often, school districts claim that their GT programs represent all segments of their populations, however statistical data illustrates the inequalities through the disproportionate numbers of identified racial, as well as social economic, groups (Slocum & Payne, 2000).
Nontraditional tests result in lower diversity in GT programs and also assess different abilities. These tests are less predictive of academic achievement which results in the inappropriate placement of students and result in program change that would ultimately reduce GT student achievement (Kitano, 2003). Furthermore, over one-fifth of children in poverty,”… may be immigrants or children of immigrants with a primary language other than English” (Kitano, 2003). Testing standards vary across states as well as the tests themselves, but most exams simply look for basic proficiency and miss GT students all together.
In many cases”… state proficiency tests may top out before they measure advance-level skills” (Burney & Beilke, 2008). Further complicating matters, schools with large percentages of the student body in low social economic standing are more likely to enforce a less rigorous curriculum (Burney & Beilke, 2008). The “… negative effects of poverty on IQ and achievement tests… ” are pronounced for students that live in poverty, “however, the effects of poverty on school attainment… ” are small, yet the ffects of poverty on students long-terms cognitive development are undetermined (Kitano, 2003). As a student reaches school age, his or her surrounding community and cultural environment may outweigh the effect of the home environment, emphasizing”… the potential for school, community and parent interventions for improving achievement outcomes” (Kitano, 2003).
In order to manifest the strengths of impoverished GT learners and provide appropriate differentiated learning opportunities, a comprehensive integration of, “… nclusive assumptions, nontraditional assessment, challenging curricula, additional academic and emotional support, parent participation, and outcome-based evaluation” are necessary (Kitano, 2003). Finally, a systematic and implantable plan to create mutually nurturing and supportive relationships, between the school and ethnic groups within the community, need to be developed (Burney & Beike, 2008). Motivation, another social phenomenon, and student self-efficacy are often called into question when examining student achievement.
Seldom though is student confidence discussed in relation to motivation and cultural experiences as well as individual student belief systems. Students in poverty often lack the feeling of control where in many GT programs, control is an attributing factor to performance and ultimately returns to the idea of self-efficacy (Burney & Beilke, 2008). “Careful evaluation of programs for gifted students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds is critical in determining the most effective strategies for meeting the needs of this population” (Kitano, 2003).
As a middleclass system operates, the system itself does not value the skill set developed by the impoverished GT learner. Language expressions that do not fit the social mold because of syntax or the problem solving skills that are developed as a result of an unstable home life are not supported by regular social norms and are excluded in regular GT testing. “The student who knows how to manipulate family members to avoid triggering anger… ” or students that “… can spontaneously make up a creative story to avoid being punished” exhibit GT ability but society often views such talents as negative behavior (Slocumb & Payne, 2000).
Further complicating issues, “… generational conflict, confusion about expectations, mistrust of authority… ” and even trauma must be taken into consideration when identifying GT students and providing appropriate services (Kitano, 2003). Even so, identification of GT students in poverty is only part of the larger issue. “Once these students are identified as gifted, changes within traditional gifted and talented programs are needed to make sure they remain in and benefit from the program” (Slocumb & Payne, 2000).