Identification concerns and promises for gifted students of diverse populations

Identification concerns and promises for gifted students of diverse populations

Alexinia Young Baldwin

Classes for gifted students have continued to lack a representative number of diverse, minority students commensurate with their numbers in the population. The concern for this population of students has generated much discussion about why there has been so much difficulty in identifying these students, as well as how effective standardized identification instruments and authenticated checklist and curricula changes can be promising activities for the future. There is still much resistance to movements away from the IQ test as the only assessment technique; however, the increasing number of minority students makes changes for the future necessary and has generated some creative solutions to be considered. These issues and recommended changes are discussed in this article.

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IDENTIFICATION PROCESSES HAVE traditionally evoked emotional responses, due to the traditional expectations and consequences of scores made on the various intelligence instruments used. Children from culturally diverse backgrounds have experienced a wide range of explanations regarding their lack of inclusion in programs for gifted students. In an attempt to understand differences, many attempts have been made to look at the effects of culture, societal attitudes, and language on the lack of inclusion of African Americans and other minority groups in programs for gifted students (Baldwin & Vialle, 1999). The IQ score has traditionally been the method of sorting out who is gifted and who might not be gifted. It is this tradition that has been called into question by educational researchers and scholars, due to the mounting evidence that IQ scores are not the only indicators of giftedness.

Researchers, such as Gardner (1983) and Sternberg (1997), have introduced new concepts of intelligence which often defy assessment through the traditional identification process most often used by school districts. These educational researchers have extended the early theories and concerns about identification that were proposed and supported by Baldwin (1984), Bernal and Reyna (1975), Frasier (1989), Guilford (1967), Passow (1978), and Torrance (1971). For example, Baldwin (1984) proposed the Baldwin Identification Matrix, based on several assumptions, such as

1. Giftedness can be expressed through a variety of behaviors and the expression of giftedness in one dimension is just as important as giftedness in another.

2. Intelligence is a broad concept that goes beyond language and logic; it encompasses a wide range of human abilities.

3. Carefully planned subjective assessment techniques can be used effectively, along with objective measures.

4. Giftedness in an area can be a clue to the presence of potential giftedness in another area or a catalyst for the development of giftedness in another area.

5. All cultures have individuals who exhibit behaviors that are indicative of giftedness (Baldwin, 1984, p. 3).

These basic areas provided a construct for subsequent hypothetical statements and have been drawn from the work of Marland (1972), Renzulli and Hartman (1971), and Torrance’s (1971) definition which set the stage for a broader understanding of giftedness. These four areas comprise the following: (a) cognitive, (b) creative (products), (c) psychosocial, and (d) psychomotor. As shown in Figure 1, above-average ability can be exhibited in various aspects of human response to stimuli, when it shows creative problem-solving ability and task commitment or intense interest in a single area or a combination of areas (Baldwin, 1984).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The distinctions regarding the terms gifted or talented have often stirred differing opinions. References to those who are designated as gifted are frequently considered academically gifted, and those who are exceptional achievers in the graphic and performing areas are commonly considered talented, not gifted. In 2000, Gagne explored this area of concern with his model, referred to as the Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent. In an effort to help the reader understand his meanings of these various terms used to indicate giftedness, Tannebaum (2000) included the following footnote:

Because the terms “giftedness,” “talent,” “creativity,”

and “genius” appear in this chapter, a brief note

is in order concerning their intended meaning.

“Giftedness” and “talent” are used synonymously to

encompass publicly valued abilities…. (p. 23)

Aligned with this notion, Arieti (1976) and Renzulli (1978) have both used the three-ring circle to illustrate and explain their concept of giftedness. In the case of Arieti, the three rings were talent, creativity, and aptitude, with giftedness lying in the area of the three circles overlapping. This model incorporated a demonstration of outstanding ability plus divergent thinking and mental abilities. On the contrary, Renzulli’s model incorporated above-average ability, task commitment, and creativity with the confluence of the circles indicating giftedness.

In 1983, Tannebaum proposed a model which incorporated a combination of factors that are important in considering what giftedness is and what should be considered in identifying those who are gifted. These factors are general ability (referring to the g factor); nonintellective factors, such as dedication and willingness to make sacrifices to accomplish a goal; special ability factors that show outstanding performance in a particular area; environmental factors (e.g., stimulating home environment); and chance factors that are unpredictable circumstances in life (e.g., parents, order of birth within a family, etc.). With these popular models in mind, assessment criteria for use with children from diverse communities must be extensive enough to provide a comprehensive profile of the student’s giftedness. It is also important to contextualize these introductory paragraphs in relation to the challenges involved in identifying ethnic minorities for gifted programs.

Background Issues

The self-fulfilling prophecy has been evident in the attitudes of those who have planned programs for gifted students. According to Herrnstein and Murray (1994) and Jensen (1998) children of diverse cultures were once presumed to have generally lower native intelligence. For those who have been concerned about the lack of culturally diverse students in programs for gifted learners, the heritability issue has focused attention, first, on the review of traditional identification instruments and, second, on ways in which measures can be used to collect data regarding the intellectual capabilities of these students. Although an exponential growth of persons from culturally diverse populations in the United States during the last 2 decades has drawn a more fervent focus on ways in which programs for gifted learners can become more inclusive, the research by Getzels and Jackson (1962) and Torrance (1968) argued long before this time that methods other than the IQ score should be used to determine intellectual ability. Guilford (1967) and Meeker (1985) were also pioneers in the research that outlined many faces of the intellect-referred to as the Structure of the Intellect (SOI)–indicating that there needed to be consideration given to a wider range of abilities that have a definite effect on the intellectual processing abilities. Many standardized tests have not included items that tap the wide range of abilities noted in the SOI. Why has so little adaptation of their theories become a part of the total framework of identifying children from diverse groups? The answer to this might lie in the psychometric adherence to the g-factor theory that permeates every aspect of the debate concerning the definition of giftedness and the process for identifying the same.

The g Factor Concern–What Is It?

The issues surrounding the giftedness debate and how to identify giftedness are centered on intelligence. The concern is how this quality can be quantified accurately. Galton, who is considered the father of differential psychology, was especially interested in the inheritance of mental ability. He introduced to psychology the belief that mental ability is a general, unitary trait.

Galton seldom used the word “intelligence” and

never offered a formal definition. From everything

he wrote about ability, however, we can well imagine

that, if he had felt a definition necessary, he

would have said something like innate, general, cognitive

ability. (Jensen, 1998, p. 13)

Spearman (1904) employed Galton’s tools of analysis, which were not as sophisticated as the newer statistical methods, to further analyze the data cited in Galton’s original studies. As a mathematician, he used those skills to develop statistical methods that would show mathematically that there was a single factor that differentiates mental ability. He thus posited the theory of g or general as a common intellectual factor. However, in 1931, Thurstone rejected this theory, although he later cautiously accepted through statistical analysis the Spearman’s theory.

Spearman thought of g metaphorically as “mental energy” that could be applied to any and every kind of mental task. In addition, he likened group factors and specificity to specialized “engines” for performance of certain types of tasks (Blinkhorn, 1995; cited by Jensen, 1998). It is important to note that Spearman’s results did not indicate that the g factor represented the entire scope of an individual’s mental processing ability. In fact, there were other factors to be accounted for. More specifically, he explained the two-factor theory that accounted for g being approximately 67%, with a second factor being approximately 37% of the variance in any test of mental ability. The 37% of the variance was thought to be related to variables that might be specific to a particular type of test or subject area. Although Burt’s work (1909) has become controversial in many of his research areas, it is important to note that he felt, during the Spearman’s era, that tests involving math and language would have different mental factors, along with the g factor. A group of language tests, for instance, would have the same factors in common. This would also be true for math tests. The group factors would be well represented in separate scores or analysis of the individual tests; however, when the subtests in math and language are combined, the group factors are less evident because the g factor loading becomes the most prevalent one. As a result of these consistent findings, current researchers, such as Doherty (2004), have begun to investigate the value of using subtest scores, instead of the combined scores, to determine a child’s abilities. This underscores the rational for the original idea of the Baldwin Identification Matrix (Baldwin, 1984) that encourages examiners to look first at a series of behaviors that are listed in the matrix before looking at composite scores.

The discussion of g can be very complicated, and this article does not provide enough time nor space to adequately explain the intricate details of its meaning. It is important for the layperson to understand that, within the discussion of intelligence, informed and careful consideration must be given to alternative theories and instruments. Assessment tests cannot always indicate the innate mental abilities of human beings, but, in recognition of the continuing research, there is a tremendous need to analyze those group factors and the 37% variance that has been noted by Spearman. This approach could help us find those students who are often overlooked when they do not score well on the composite subtests of the traditional mental ability tests. To put g factor concerns in the correct sphere of understanding, it is important to recognize the overall difficulty of the test and that the factor g represent two different concepts.

The latter does not represent a mental process … g

only reflects some part of the individual differences

in mental abilities … that undoubtedly depend on

the operation of neural processes in the brain. By inference,

g also reflects individual difference in the

speed, or efficiency, or capacity of these operations.

But g is not these operations themselves. (Jensen,

1998, p. 95)

This information about the g factor brings into question the use of the term intelligence.

The Intelligence Dilemma

The word “intelligence” as [a] … concept has

proved to be either indefinable or arbitrarily defined

without a scientifically acceptable degree of consensus.

The suggested remedy for this unsatisfactory

condition is to dispense with the term “intelligence”

altogether when referring to … individual differences

in the scientific context and focus on specific

mental abilities, which can be objectively defined

and measured. The number of mental abilities, so

defined, is unlimited, but the major sources of variance

(i.e., individual differences) among myriad

abilities are relatively few, because abilities are not

independent but have sources of variance in common.

(Jensen, 1998, p. 45)

Jensen’s statement brings to the forefront the many arguments about the use of a number to indicate the intelligence level of an individual. Too often, culturally diverse students’ sets of experiences create differential mental processing abilities in the testing situation.

Shift in Paradigms

In the field of gifted education, there has been a shift in the identification paradigm, although the progress has been slow. As mentioned earlier, processes such as the Baldwin Identification Matrix (Baldwin, 1984) with the concept of combining standardized and nonstandardized assessment strategies (e.g., the Scales for Rating the Behavioral Characteristics of Superior Students; Renzulli et al., 1976), are necessary to look beyond the achievement test scores or the traditional IQ test for hidden potential. A refined version of the matrix defined this basic concept more accurately and included an assessment of human qualities of school and nonschool achievements (Baldwin, 1984). This process of identification was used or modified in many school districts; however, there were many who still felt the matrix design did not provide the proper quantitative proof of giftedness. Proper use of the matrix gave administrators a total profile of the student and an opportunity to see giftedness in areas that were not academic in nature. Additional efforts by Frasier (1989), Harris and Ford, (1991), and others have not been able to completely satisfy those who feel that there is a need to quantify the presence of superior ability.

Alternative Identification Concerns

Parents, teachers, and school counselors are often the first sources of identification. For the process of identification of children from culturally diverse backgrounds to be supported, knowledge about giftedness must be gained and attitudes toward these students must be adjusted. Karnes (1984) worked with parents of Head Start children in an effort to assist them in helping their children develop thinking skills and to give the parents greater insight into what giftedness meant. She was successful in identifying gifted student behaviors within this preschool group. A booklet was developed with games and activities to enhance areas important in determining giftedness, including creativity, leadership, problem solving, classification, and language development. Most important, the parents met at night to study these techniques and were given specific directions for working with their children.

Teachers and school counselors, on the other hand, also need to have knowledge about giftedness as well as a nonprejudiced attitude toward students of color. Too often, misguided perceptions about students, particularly males, prevent educational professionals from seeing the gifted traits that a student might exhibit, despite some outside-of-the-box behaviors, such as boisterous activities that are designed to shock. Educational scholars, such as Scott, Deuel, Jean-Francois, and Urbano (1996), reported the following ideas that can help design protocols and assess students of color earlier:

1. Ethnic-minority gifted students can be located through kindergarten screening programs.

2. Open-ended tasks, which encourage fluency, are the most promising.

3. Verbal tasks that use familiar concepts and vocabulary do not necessarily discriminate against young ethnic minority gifted students. (p. 147)

Clark (1988) also noted some characteristics that should be recognized by teachers at the first assessment level. Gallagher and Kinney (1974), as cited in Clark (1988), suggested that, although culturally diverse groups differ in many ways, these individuals hold mental traits that are similar, when given the proper stimuli. These common characteristics include

1. The ability to meaningfully manipulate some symbol system held valuable in the subculture.

2. The ability to think logically, given appropriate data.

3. The ability to reason by analogy.

4. The ability to extend or extrapolate knowledge to new situations or unique applications (p. 489).

Various Assessments

With the aforementioned recommendation in mind, several assessment strategies have been suggested. For example, Kirschenbaum (1998) has proposed the use of dynamic assessment techniques to locate ethnic-minority students who might not be selected using traditional methods. He suggested that this assessment be used as a supplement to the static assessments frequently used. He explains his dynamic assessment as a diagnostic procedure that takes into account the context of the testing situation and the ability of a student to learn from experience in that context. He also refers to Reuven Feuerstein as the primary developer of the dynamic assessment approach. The theoretical foundation of this approach came from Vygotsky’s (1978) research:

Vygotsky’s … concept was drawn from his understanding

of the crucial role of the social and cultural

situation for the development of any child…. He believed

every child has a high potential of development

if certain appropriate teaching gives him or her

tools with which to develop…. [T]he appropriate assessment

of the development of psychological functions

can be made only by assessing at least two levels

of child development: the “actual level of

development” and the child’s “zone of proximal development.”

(Gajdamaschko, 1999, p. 88)

The Ravens Standard Progressive Matrices and the Advanced Ravens Progressive Matrices have been successful in identifying students from culturally diverse backgrounds. In these tests, a figure with a missing piece is presented. Below the figure are either six or eight alternative pieces, one of which will complete the figure. Arranged in increasing difficulty, each of the five sets involves a different principle for obtaining the missing piece. The five principles sampled are (a) completion of a pattern in a continuous figure, (b) figural analogy in a two-by-two matrix, (c) systematic alteration of a pattern in a three-by-three matrix, (d) systematic permutation and alteration of figures in a three-by-three matrix, and (e) systematic decomposition and synthesis of figural parts in a three-by-three matrix.

Although the first item in each set is rather obvious to classify the principle to be used in subsequent figures, the diversity of figures and arrangement of the items in terms of difficulty serves to maintain interest and motivation. The Ravens Standard Progressive Matrices is recommended for use as a screening device of intellectual ability. It is recommended that a measure of acquired information be used along with the Ravens Standard Progressive Matrices’ measure of perceptual adequacy so that a broader assessment of ability can be secured.

Mills and Tissot (1995) used the Advanced Raven Progressive Matrices to locate gifted minority students. For the students to succeed in gifted programs, however, they recommended that “students be given some measure of assistance to develop stronger academic skills before being placed in the competitive academic setting for high ability students” (p. 209). In a study by Baldwin and Start (1987), several students who had not been identified as gifted had scores that were listed in Raven’s high-average group, and should have been identified for inclusion in the gifted classes. Perhaps some assistance in developing academic skills would have facilitated these students’ placement into classes for gifted learners.

The last 2 decades have seen an increased use of nonverbal tests for the identification of students from culturally diverse backgrounds. More recently the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, which mirrors much of the process used in the Ravens Standard Progressive Matrices, is being used to locate children from diverse communities (Naglieri & Ford, 2003). Not only has this test assisted in the selection of gifted diverse students, it has also provided an excellent basis for further research in specific content areas. The Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test was used to identify those students from culturally diverse backgrounds who might not have been identified using the traditional methods for identifying exceptionality. With this group of students, researchers note those characteristics observed and those developed through appropriate curriculum that indicate high mathematical potential. From these data, a subsequent protocol will be developed to assist in identifying culturally diverse students who might be gifted in one content area. The project is called Project M and is a step toward developing a new scale for the widely used Scales for Rating the Behavioral Characteristics of Superior Students (Renzulli et al., 1976, 2000).

The Baldwin Identification Matrix 2 (Baldwin, 1984) as shown in Figure 2 includes the areas of giftedness displayed in Figure 1. Complementing this matrix is a questionnaire which is given to parents, with the results being included in the matrix. A profile of the students can be made from the Matrix or a total score can be used as the final criterion. Although the total scores might be the same, the profiles of students could be totally different because of the variations in intellectual strengths.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

Peer nominations (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996) have also proven to be beneficial in the selection of students for programs for gifted learners. In addition, self-nominations have been successful as well. If students are given a chance to choose a program after knowing about the objectives and requirements of the program, they are more able to pragmatically assess their academic abilities and motivation. These abilities might be in the field of creativity or other problem solving type activities.

Maker’s (2000) DISCOVER model (Discovering Intellectual Strengths and Capabilities while Observing Varied Ethnic Responses) has undergone revisions to make it a valid and reliable tool for identifying individual strengths in multiple intelligences. This model has been validated in school districts where there are large bilingual and Native American populations. Maker’s work has provided an opportunity for high-ability children to be discovered and provided programs commensurate with their abilities. Tests of creativity, such as the Torrance Tests of Creativity (Torrance 1974), are used to secure information on the creative abilities of individuals. The scores on these tests can be included with a combination of tests, such as the Baldwin Identification Matrix (Baldwin, 1984). The SAGES (Screening Assessment for Gifted Elementary Students) may also be used to help identify children who might not score well on the standardized tests (Johnsen & Corn, 1987).

Closing Thoughts

Concomitant with the difficulty of identifying children who come from diverse backgrounds for gifted programs is the complexity of understanding the meaning of gifted. As Johnsen and Corn (1987) have indicated, “[in] the early part of this century, characteristics that were believed to be associated with highly intelligent and academically achieving children determined the nature of giftedness” (p. 1). Through the years, several concepts of giftedness have been proposed. The varying points of view have even brought forth a discussion on the validity of using the terms giftedness and intelligence. This ongoing discussion has highlighted the importance of the need for data collection and a thorough examination of the processes now used to discover the abilities of children from diverse populations. Many of these kinds of projects are ongoing and hold much promise for future research.

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Alexinia Young Baldwin is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Connecticut.

Requests for reprints can be sent to Alexinia Young Baldwin, 3 Charter Oak Square, Mansfield Center, CT 06250. E-mail: Alexinia.Baldwin@uconn.edu

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