Gifted and Talented Students

By Dr. Phillip H. Clay, Jr.

“person using pencil” by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

In the realm of special education, gifted and talented students are often forgotten when it comes to services and research. Students that possess the gifts to perform above grade level in reading and math are often looked over, due to their ability to score on standardized tests. These students normally struggle with social developmental skills, and that negatively impacts their ability to express their gifts verbally, with clarity, on a consistent basis.

Gifted and talented students present many social paradigms, which manifest themselves in environments that require high levels of social skills. High percentages of students with academic gifts tend to be standoffish and very hesitant to engage in social interactions outside of their initial interest, or beyond their level of patience. Many of these students would rather divulge themselves into a book, that allows them to separate themselves from reality and morph into fantasy. Gifted and talented students are rarely seen interacting with peers or adults, in fear that they would stand out amongst the crowd, and not be accepted by peers. In contrast, these students begin to develop the ability to read and comprehend on levels beyond their current academic grade level, due to consistent practice, understanding of character development throughout the reading material, and ability to think outside of the box.

Many educators are challenged to meet the needs of these students, in part a result of constant remediation of content taking place within the classroom environment. Educators continue to research effective practices on how to challenge gifted students, and keep them positively engaged throughout the entire school day, which leads to some intriguing methods of engagement, delivery of content, and class management. Many administrators, educators and policy makers are seeking research based-methods of teaching that positively enhance academic and social skills simultaneously. Although progress is being made, many educators are sequestered to come up with a plan to meet the initial needs of all students, and ensure student performance on standardized tests.

​The term gifted and talented means many different things, and covers various areas (music, language, logical reasoning and/or mathematics). The identification of gifted and talented students has been primarily among white middle- to upper-class students that exhibit high ranges of academic performance in reading and math. Many gifted and talented programs, encouragingly, are shifting from the norm and reaching out to students of color that possess the ability to perform at high levels as compared to white students. One of the issues within special education is the mislabeling of students of color, and placement of students of color within the least restrictive environment.

The goal of each gifted and talented program is to seek out students that perform above the 99th percentile in reading and math, which is rarely the case when it comes to students that exhibit emotional and behavioral disorders. Many students of color are placed under the EBD (Emotional and Behavioral Disorder) label, due to the inability of teachers and administrators to manage their behaviors and to understand/include various cultures in the daily instruction. Data over the last decade has shown an increase in this student population that is both labeled as EBD, but possesses the intellectual ability to perform above the 99th percentile on reading and math assessments.

Many special education students of color lack the early nurturing and educational foundation that the majority of white students are exposed to on a consistent basis. Consequently, charter schools serving predominantly diverse populations across the nation in predominantly urban communities are presenting assessment data displaying elevated levels of acquisition and retention of grade level content. The data presented consisted of the same student population that participated in regular education schooling programs. Thus, creating speculation that the public school educational system is failing our students of color. The charter school data shows that if presented high expectations for academic and social success, this population would be able to perform on par with white gifted and talented students.

Research-based learning and behavior strategies used by schools to close learning gaps, and increase the social capacity of students of color, include:

  • Creating and implementing multicultural lessons across grade level curriculum
  • Learning is based on acquisition and production, rather than testing
  • Reaching students at their initial learning levels, and building upon reachable goals set forth for by the student, parent and teacher
  • Behavior strategies centered around development and purpose rather than punishment
  • Instituting reward systems based on behavior and social progress, that are gradually faded away as the student becomes consistent with academic and social performance
  • Hands on project-based activities that foster leadership and teamworking skills
  • Consistent positive contact with parent(s) or guardian(s) via email or social media
  • Home visits to establish an understanding of the community and living environment of the student
  • Instituting a school to work program that provides opportunities for personal and professional advancement
  • Providing higher education exposure and opportunities
  • Providing parenting seminars that includes family services, educational advancement, professional enrichment and social development opportunities
  • Teachers and Administrators becoming an important asset to the community

Two articles written by Hope Street Group Kentucky Teacher Fellows:

Additional resources for exploring this topic and bringing solutions as educators or community partners:

Research related to early childhood development:

Dr. Phillip H. Clay, Jr., is a native of Lexington, Kentucky, who earned degrees from Kentucky State University (KSU) and University of the Cumberlands. and currently coordinates the Masters of Special Education program in the School of Education and Human Development at KSU. He has instructed students from kindergarten through college, in various learning environments consisting of students with learning and behavior disabilities, and gifted and talented students. Dr. Clay is also the Coordinator of the Disability Resource Center, dedicated to using his God-given gifts and experiences to uplift and change the lives of others through mentoring, guidance, and leadership.