Providing more gifted classes to children of color in Florida

Each gifted child is unique. Some gifted children—only a few, actually—match the stereotype of the quiet genius who works independently and earns straight As. Some gifted children—many, in fact—are inquisitive, witty, strong-willed and super active. Yet, others are prolific readers, writers, mathematicians and/or scientists. Many gifted children are passionate humanitarians with a fierce desire to right the wrongs in the world, while others are creative musicians, dancers and artists.

The one thing gifted children all seem to have in common is the intense need for novel, enriching and challenging educational experiences that meet their individual academic and social-emotional needs.

Thankfully, our nine-year-old twin daughters are now receiving gifted educational services in the Miami-Dade public school system; however, we remain concerned about the many unidentified gifted children around the nation who are being deprived of these necessary services. Just like some visually impaired children need Braille, gifted children need novel, enriching and challenging educational experiences to be well-balanced and successful students.

Gifted children also need support for their unique characteristics as much as other Exceptional Student Education children do. They specifically need opportunities to practice their social-emotional skills, as gifted children are often the “odd” ones in the group. Bored, under-served gifted children often manifest as mischievous troublemakers who disrupt the educational environment.

Fortunately, the Florida legislature recently clarified an Exceptional Student Education rule, which was scheduled to take effect on February twentieth. It directs local school districts to allow gifted students transferring from other states to be identified as gifted students in any Florida public school. This rule will save new Floridians—military families and others—the months and months of waiting for gifted testing and placement that our family endured last year upon our return to south Florida.

While we worked in the United Arab Emirates for five years, our children attended highly ranked private, bilingual international schools, from nursery school to second grade. When we returned to the United States, we selected a diverse school that had a full-time gifted program, and we rented a home in that school district so they could attend.

However, our children were not immediately placed into a gifted program at the school because their teacher did not identify them as gifted, and she ranked them poorly on subjective creativity and gifted checklists. This meant our children did not have the opportunity to be evaluated by an independent, outside expert to determine whether they were truly gifted or not.

As a result, our daughters spent 180 days in a segregated classroom where they failed to receive valuable and necessary gifted services. Meanwhile, the majority of the white children at the same school—most of whom had been identified as gifted in kindergarten—were receiving those services in the gifted program. In many cases, the parents of the white children at the school had also been wealthy enough to hire a private psychologist to evaluate them. The Miami-Dade school district does not evaluate all children for gifted characteristics.

It was not until after we hired a psychologist to do a gifted assessment of our own daughters—and after many months of wrangling with the school district—that we were able to get the gifted designation for our children, too. Today, both girls are thriving, making As and Bs in a full-time gifted program at another school.

Florida’s new rule would not have helped our family when we returned home because our twins had not yet been identified as gifted in any American state or enrolled in a gifted program. We hope the new changes to Florida’s gifted-transfer rule will lead to more changes that will enable all gifted children to be evaluated and to qualify for services in a simplified process.

We congratulate the Florida Department of Education for taking a step in the right direction to empower school districts to serve more gifted students when some educators seem to thwart children of color from qualifying for gifted services. After speaking to hundreds of parents over the past year, we believe it is safe to say that gifted education in Florida and around the nation is still viewed as an elitist system designed to segregate children in the public-school sector.

We now challenge Florida legislators to fix our state’s gifted identification rule for children who already live in the Sunshine State and desperately need gifted services to be well-balanced, happy and successful human beings. Many unidentified gifted students lack either the arbitrary 130 IQ score, stellar grades or rave teacher reviews on the subjective gifted and creativity checklists. We lag behind all other states in this area, many of which have successfully used universal screening and multiple selection criteria to identify all gifted students. Florida school districts are twenty years behind in this arena—but we’re catching up!

Adeyela Bennett is a board member of the Florida Association for the Gifted and a member of the National Association for Gifted Children. Bradley Bennett is a former Miami Herald editor.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Miami Herald.