Saturday, April 14, 2012

IQ vs. Achievement

From a comment to a NYTimes article, After Number of Gifted Soars, a Fight for Kindergarten Slots:
Nancy, PA

I teach gifted kids, albeit at the secondary level, and what's described here doesn't sound like "giftedness" to me. Truly gifted children are often NOT high achievers - they're much more likely to be the oddball dreamers, the ones who are disorganized, the ones who don't necessarily behave, who refuse to cooperate because they don't see the point of what they're asked to do. In my experience, there's actually an inverse relationship between IQ and school achievement. The brighter the kid, the more turned off by school he or she tends to be. Which is why gifted kids need special programming - not a curriculum aimed at eventually getting them into Ivy League schools (although some of my students do end up there, even though we're a small, relatively poor, rural high school), but one aimed at intellectually engaging them and stimulating their natural sense of wonder.


  1. A school system decides to condition a benefit for gifted children on a standardized test score; hordes of people then game the test; then the newspaper reports that the number of gifted children has soared. What a farce.

  2. This comment is also stereotypical. I've seen this a lot lately - the notion that gifted students are not high achieving, almost to the point that if a student is high performing they can't be gifted. There are absolutely gifted students who do poorly at school for a host of reasons, but there are also very bright students who manage just fine (admittedly, it is harder now that reading your book under your desk is frowned upon).

    Also note that she indirectly rejects one accommodation that can be the best option for some gifted students -- acceleration! I know you feel there is too much pressure on students already, but the only change that's been shown to help the highly gifted student consistently is moving them to a higher level class, which in our system means grade skipping, which most schools absolutely reject for social reasons (as if the gifted but awkward student is so socially integrated).

  3. @Chris, I'm worried that "gaming the test" has become synonymous with "education".

    @ChemProf, wow, you might think it's a stereotype, but the reason I posted this comment is because it's a fair description of the two gifted people I know best, namely myself and Older Daughter. Are we talking about a particular subtype of gifted here?

    If a gifted student's problems can be solved by acceleration, I'm all for it. This won't work for all gifted kids, though.

  4. I should add that whether or not acceleration helps depends not only on the particular personality of the gifted student, but also on the school. Does the school teach a coherent curriculum? If not, it almost doesn't matter what grade the student finds herself in.

  5. You can't fall back on any stereotypes. I was considered "gifted" but did mediocre in elementary school because I couldn't remember assignments, had no interest in most of them and took shortcuts — my mom said I was lazy. I got into trouble for talking too much and later became quiet and introverted due to bullying because I was quirky.

    Even as a more interested and motivated high school student, I made good grades but wasn't exceptional. I can't imagine what a disaster it would have been if I'd skipped a grade. I was extremely small for my age and in many ways immature, and as it was, school was a social disaster for me.

    My best friend was "gifted" and got straight A's all the way through, one A- in college and is now earning a PhD in immunology at an Ivy League university. She never got into any trouble at all. Teachers loved her.

    My boyfriend's daughter is off-the-charts smart and was so far ahead of her first grade classmates that the school recommended she skip TWO grades. That would have put her in third grade at age six. Her parents wisely decided to only let her skip one grade, and even then she was teased by classmates because she was younger. Many of her friends are 18 months older than her and they worry that she'll be exposed to sex and alcohol at an even younger age than most kids. But she's in a private middle school now and she's thriving, socially and academically.

    The problem I keep coming back to with public schools is that they're one-size-fits-all, and there's no good cost-effective way to adequately address the individual needs of each kid. My own experiences have led me to believe that gifted kids from supportive homes are still going to get way more out of school than a kid of average or below-average intelligence from a not-so-supportive home. Or a kid who's viewed as a behavior problem. It really all seems to come down to how much teachers like you.

  6. Megan, I'm with you right up until you try to convince me that gifted kids will be OK anyway. They won't. School can be a miserable, crippling experience for gifted kids. Their problems are no less important than the problems of average kids.

    And why can't we work toward schools that will benefit ALL of our kids?

  7. It seems obvious that over 50% of the kids in this area aren't "gifted," unless "gifted" means "pretty bright and well-prepared" instead of "unusually intelligent and out of place." It does kind of crack me up how hard parents will insist their kids are special, to the point of test prep for four year-olds. It's gotta be a lot of stress on some of those kids.

    I hope it leads to improving schools for everybody. Obviously they can't segregate over 50% of the kids in the area in special "gifted" classes.

  8. IQs in the general population have been going up for a generation. The IQ tests need to be re-normed; I (and most other psychologists) seriously doubt that there has been an actually uptick in the gifted population.

  9. FedUpMom, I do think there is a significant subtype of gifted students that fits the description, but I bristle when I see it labled "most," or when I see people argue that a student is performing well in school so can't be gifted (and I've seen people go that far).

    I have a lot of very bright students who are organized and do well in classes. I have also seen gifted college students with very poor executive function. I went to college with a primarily gifted population (admittedly in math rather than in language). (For the record, in our era, California required an IQ test in third grade, and among my group the typical IQ was 167.) Many had a rough time in high school for social reasons, but were loved by teachers.

    I was in that group -- school was never difficult, I happened to have a strong desire to please my teachers, and while I had a lot of social problems, they weren't made any worse by skipping a grade. I do think skipping two grades is problematic -- if nothing else you wind up in college at 16 which rarely works -- but I have seen this description of gifted students being hauled out as a reason NOT to skip a grade or do anything else for a student who isn't learning anything in school. They are performing well, so the placement must be appropriate. Never mind that they are doing well because nothing they are expected to do is at all challenging.

    Acceleration isn't the solution for everyone, but it can be the best solution for some students.

  10. Wow, ChemProf- trying to understand you- In college, the typical I.Q. score for individuals in your group was 167 which was measured back when you all were in third grade? But you're saying you're aware of all their k-12 experiences?
    Is it possible there were other k-12 with uber high IQs who weren't loved by teachers and never made into your college group?
    Is it possible the very definition of high achievement at say age 19 is being a full-time college student? Get what I'm asking?

  11. Being in college at 16 worked fine for me. I got my BA at 19. College was easy. The problem was what then? Nobody will give you a job - you end up having to go to grad school.

    I think ChemProf is saying that her little juice box klatsch were all wee Einsteins and knew it back then.

  12. I'm not saying that every student with an uber high IQ was loved by their teachers. I am saying that in my college, which was a very quirky engineering school, the number of gifted students were very high and very few of us fit the dreamy-low achieving gifted student model. There are students who do, but I frankly question whether it is most. If that offends you guys, then so be it.

    And I have seen this stereotype being offered (at my local elementary school) as a reason not to offer acceleration to bright students. Instead they get "enrichment" which is just as far below their current level as the normal curriculum, plus is a pain for the teacher, so they quickly learn to keep their mouths shut.

  13. I'm not offended. Like you, I think gifted individuals have as wide and various personalities, synchronous, but maybe more often asynchronous, abilities as any other intellectual grouping.
    Call me cynical, but I think the true reason schools aren't accelerating gifted students is primarily economical and secondary keeping those high stakes test scores up.
    One might think, wait a tick, wouldn't the district save money by having students accomplish their education in nine or ten years rather than thirteen? Actually, the lower the enrollment, the less state money they get. And they really, really like getting that money.
    If the claim is-staying with chronological peers is more educationally/socially appropriate then why do they grade retain students like crazy? (I'm against flunking kids for just about every reason- except if illness has caused kid to miss school entirely)

  14. So "enrichment" is code for same old crap, twice as much homework? Maybe that's what the four year old swots should get, if "gifted" is code for "Daddy paid for test prep."

    But seriously, I find SCF's suspicion troubling - the idea that schools are holding gifted kids in place to help bring up aggregate test scores is all too plausible. I remember my high school begging me to stay and not go to college two years early, probably from the same motives. I can too well imagine such a cynical calculus against acceleration.

    How much of the push of upper SES kids into the public schools' "gifted" programs do you suppose is related to the economy? Perhaps some parents who would otherwise send their kids to private can't afford the 40K a year because of the recession and see test prep for toddlers as a reasonable investment. Problem is, when everybody has a good idea at the same time you overflow capacity based on previous trends.

    I see the struggle play out in my town (Boston) between high SES parents and a school system flooded with low SES kids. We overflowed kindergarten capacity this year too.

    The song and dance of inclusion vs tracking here is disturbing and indelicate, and we don't even have anything "gifted" until Advanced Work starts in fourth grade. I can't imagine the hubbub if kids could be labeled "gifted" and escape the poor black kids starting in kindergarten. The liberals who opposed putting in a Whole Foods would have aneurysms from the cognitive dissonance.

  15. Hey, who let a sane person in? In all the years my daughter was in school gifted programs, I could count on the fingers of half a hand how many teachers got it. Especially got EG?PG-ers. As Miraca Gross says, the difference between a profoundly gifted child and a moderately gifted one is the same as the difference between a gifted child and one who is not.

    When my daughter was in elementary and we switched her to a well regarded GT Center, it quickly became apparent to me how these teachers view giftedness in children. They saw these kids as little adults, high achievers and straight A students. Most of them didn't even know about dual exceptionality.

    Have we come a long way in awareness and knowledge, now that the little girl I reference is a college freshman? You tell me. From where I sit, we have a long way to go.

    1. "I could count on the fingers of half a hand how many teachers got it."

      Did you include the thumb?

  16. ** EG/PG-ers **

  17. homeschooling :) it can help the average, the bright, and the truly gifted achieve and succeed to their full potentials!

    i find it irresponsible to say "truly gifted children are NOT high achievers..." certainly some are. giftedness and achievement are not mutually-exclusive.

  18. Anonymous, if you're directing your comment to me, I never said truly gifted are NOT high achievers. Many of course are. What is universally true of the truly gifted is that they have high ability. Not all choose to become high achievers. On a more nuanced note, it's not that highly gifted youth don't inherently become high achievers. But that is not the definition of giftedness. Years ago a local college wanted to cash in on the summer gifted cash cow. It was open to every kid with a B average. I had to laugh. I know lots and lots of kids who are straight A students but not gifted. I know truly gifted kids whose grades do not match their ability or potential. Looking at from a high achievement stance alone, it's narrow and misleading.

    I once read that many PG kids are academic disasters. Why is that? Why is the smartest kid in the room not producing the best grades? A host of reasons. Often the work is too easy. Remember, a kid could be brilliant and not do the homework. They then become a failing student. I'm not about to debate the merits of whether they should do their homework or not here. Besides, I've done that. The point being, doing your homework every night is not necessarily a definition of giftedness.

    From personal experience, I will tell you that gifted kids (all kids but it goes triple for the gifted) have a rage to learn, to master. They are often perfectionist but it's not about the grade. School then becomes more about the grade than learning and it turns these kids off.

    In 1991, a group of gifted educators, counselors and researchers—The Columbus Group-- came to see giftedness in the following way:

    "Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching, and counseling in order to develop optimally. (Columbus Group, 1991)"

    I attended a conference put on by the Gifted Development Center in Denver almost eight summers ago. It was worth every penny I spent on it. It was titled, "The Intensitivities of Highly Gifted Children." The word Intensivities was coined by one of my favorite people at that center. She combined intensities and sensitivities and we talked a lot those three days about heightened sensitivity, awareness and over-excitabilities. What drew me to it, in addition, was a focus on dual exceptionality.

    Every teacher in a gifted program should be required to read that paragraph from the Columbus Group. How hard could it be, it's just one paragraph!

  19. my comment refers to the original post at the top. i quoted it directly :)

  20. though i see now that i both misread and misquoted and it in fact says "often NOT". so that's my bad, sorry!

    i just don't think labeling is particularly helpful. plenty of gifted children are also high achievers. and plenty of them are not. every child is an individual!

  21. Betcha thought PsychMom was gone...

    HWB, I love that last post. I've created a new word myself: intelli-diversity. It borrows from Sir Ken Robinson who spoke in Halifax recently as he talked about a shortage of creativity in the culture.

    Just the same as mowing down the rainforest to feed cattle, we are taking all individual difference out of the classroom and creating lowing cattle. We end up having these masses of roving herds of BA's (the cruel irony that sheep make the same sound)and it's a losing strategy. The lesser valued skills in our culture like slowness, perseveration, steadiness, exactness, you know, anything that isn't multi-tasking, could hold answers for us but they not encouraged in children. Neither are the abilites of the quick thinker, the wildly energetic, the shy introvert or the puzzler particularly appreciated. What's left?
    The children who do what they are told, never make noise, never seriously object, and who are "fine with that".

    We need intelli-diversity, with lots of intensivities...soon.

  22. I don't think I'm labeling. But in order to attempt to meet the needs of a statistically insignificant and misunderstood population, you have to have some clarification.

    The truly gifted are a special needs population. They are on the other end of the curve, off the charts on that end. They need appropriate modifications to learn and thrive.

    Gifted education is not a prize for the rich kids although the New York parents never got that memo. It's not how rich you are and how much money you can pour into test prep for your four year old. It's an intervention for children who learn differently and who desperately need like minded peers. These children are often very lonely which is why we need centers to bring them together.

  23. "Fitting in with neither their average-ability age peers nor their older intellectual peers, gifted children all too often are teased, put down, and ridiculed by both other children and adults. It’s no wonder, then, that they sometimes feel out of place, weird, inept, and even angry, particularly because they are generally more intense and sensitive than other children. Their emotions, already exquisitely sensitive, often are exposed, raw, and tender, and their lack of emotional maturity can make their lives—and yours—a challenge at best and a nightmare at worst.

    Gifted children have many wonderful, enjoyable qualities, but when those qualities are combined with emotional and social immaturity, the flip side of those same attributes can look a lot less appealing."

  24. PsychMom, I'm so glad you're back! Did you fix your connection?

  25. Hi FedupMom

    I'm not connecting from work all the options come up under the select profile dropdown box. It wasn't at work. I kept reading but I couldn't comment..

  26. Hey, Psych Mom, I was thinking about you and wondered what happened to you. I hadn't checked in here in a while so didn't realize you'd been gone so long. I think I saw a recent comment on StopHomework as well.

    How is everything up in the cold hard north? :). Everything ok? Welcome back!

  27. PsychMom says:

    Hey, HWB, I'm fine.
    The cold hard North wasn't so cold or hard this winter. Hardly needed snow tires at all. But for some strange reason this is the latest date I've ever switched to my summer tires. Why do we choose to live in a climate where decent weather can only be counted on for 5 months?

  28. You change your tires? We stopped doing that here in the States ages ago!

    Truth be told, I want a little of your cold. I LOVE Canada. I'm always so sad when winter ends. The consolation prize is our glorious cherry blossoms. But an unusual summer heat wave wiped them out this year. They were magnificent but if you blinked, you missed them. All things considered, we still had a magical spring. Enough cool days snuck back in to petrify the azaleas so they stuck around a few weeks longer.

    And now back to gifted children...

  29. I totally agree with HomeWorkBlues about true gifted education. My homeschool has 80% gifted. yeah, right. Their curriculum and classroom experience is no different from the rest, i.e. they are bright children whose parents wanted them in gifted.
    The two truly gifted/high gifted children I know needed a much different environment to thrive. They were lonely and they were special-needs. One was six grades levels ahead in math but couldn't read. The schools didn't know what to do for him but his parents kept searching. This is what a caring Gifted teacher is for, not the populace whose parents game the system for their own benefit.
    My friends who pushed for gifted classrooms for their typical children didn't know their children had an IEP (?) or are considered ESE.
    I am glad you care.