Saturday, July 2, 2016

Why We MUST Refer: Increasing Equity in Gifted Education through Teacher Referral

By Sherley Jackson

Have you ever taught a student who has an increased speed at which he or she learns and responds to new information?  What about a student with increased creativity or imagination?  
Are you the teacher of a student with an almost obsessive need to do something or learn every detail about a specific topic? Is there a student in your class who earns high grades in a subject or multiple subjects? Maybe you have that one student in you class who has the answers to everything.

If you answered yes to any of the questions above you may have a child who is exhibiting characteristics of giftedness. Deciding to refer a student for gifted testing can be difficult, but it really does not have to be. Asking yourself a few simple questions, like the ones above, can help making a referral a little easier. At first you may second guess yourself, but the longer you teach and the more student referrals you make, the better you will be at recognizing many of the common characteristics of gifted children.

After sixteen years of identifying and treating children with speech and or language delays as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) I am confident in my ability to recognize characteristics of gifted children.  Fourteen of those years have been spent in public school settings, in 3 different states and 4 different school districts. My experiences have made me a proficient identifier of children with delays. Conversely, knowing what a delay is, allows me to determine what average and above average abilities young children possess.

I recently read a study that reported the significantly low amount of minority students being referred for gifted services.  The disparity does not exist because of a lack of potential students, but because teachers are less likely to refer minority students.  Studies also show that minority children are referred for special education or behavior problems more than any other group. If teachers are comfortable identifying students with disabilities, we can become just as comfortable referring minority students for gifted.  As educators we must do better.

What can we do? As educators of minority students and or students from low income homes, we have to first believe and expect that every year we will have students who can be referred for gifted services. We have to work at looking past external factors that mask students' true abilities. There have been instances where I have shared my recommendation for a gifted screening, and have been given a variety of reasons as to why a referral may not be the best option.   "Yes, he's smart, but he is so unorganized.   Or she is smart, but her attention span is so poor."  An identification of an academic or medical impairment does not disqualify a child from being gifted.

A gifted child could be one of our students who always has something to say about everything and everyone. The student who is the doodler or the daydreamer may be that one child who does not know how to express all that they are creating in their minds. Think about the student who may have good grades and would rather converse with you then his or her classmates. We all know these children. We all have these children. Unfortunately, when these students are minorities there is a tendency to describe their behaviors as defiant, arrogant, or smart-mouthed. Daydreamers are often punished for not paying attention. The student who will not leave your side is perceived as being needy, when in actuality this could be a student seeking higher level conversations. 

Unfortunately, our perceptions, often keep us from discovering our children's true abilities. Many of our students live with home situations that we as adults can't handle, and they still find a way to excel in the classroom. We have to rethink what "gifted" children look like. Gifted children are not perfect. Gifted students are the students sitting in your classrooms waiting for you to acknowledge their abilities.

Yes, there will be a school year when you may truly feel that you don't have any students to refer for gifted services. If you ever feel this way, I would suggest you pick your best student and refer them for the gifted process. Even if a student does not qualify for services, the information obtained will be beneficial. Learning about a student's specific strengths and weaknesses will help you facilitate higher academic performances.

As an educator, I know the wonderful feeling we get when our intuition about a child's ability is confirmed. As the parent of three gifted little girls I am forever indebted to the teachers who saw something special in them. We are educators, and we are appointed to help our students excel beyond their own expectations. When the new school year begins, go ahead, make a referral, your students are waiting to reach their highest potential.

Guest writer: Sherley Laurin Jackson is a certified and licensed Speech-Language Pathologist with 16 years of experience.  She is. Graduate of Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.  Mrs. Jackson has provided parent trainings on early language development and is an advocate for adequate early and special education in the public school systems. She has a passion for reading, college football and creating beautiful things. She is a wife and mother to three gifted young girls. Currently residing in Baton Rouge, LA., Ms. Jackson works for the East Baton Rouge Parrish School System as a Speech Therapist and Speech Assessment Consultant. 


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