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Labeling Gifted Students: Pros & Cons

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Labeling gifted students can introduce many positive and negative issues. This lesson will discuss the pros and cons of labeling these students and will end with a brief quiz to see what you have learned.

Gifted Students

As a student, did you ever feel singled out for performance? For example, would it feel good to hear that you earned the highest score in the class? How might the other students feel? Do you think you would be treated differently by teachers and students as a result of that score? These are some of the questions that plague students who have been identified as 'gifted'.

Extreme achievement is the hallmark of giftedness. Students may be identified as gifted through testing and/or assessment and are usually in the top ten percent of their peers.

To Label Or Not To Label?

Does the gifted label help or hurt students? It can depend. The label may be positive for some students while limiting others. For example, an article in the New York Times raised the issue of race, reporting that a majority of gifted students were white in many New York schools, and separated from the rest of the mostly nonwhite students. Other potential issues are the implications for opportunity, achievement, and self-esteem among students both labeled as gifted or not.

Let's assess some of the pros and cons of labeling with two fictional students. Sara is a fourth grade student who has been identified as gifted, while her classmate Carly was not.

Opportunity

Pros: Sara's gifted label qualifies her for special education. As a result, Sara is given the opportunity to be in special classes or programs designed to keep her challenged. This is most certainly a benefit to her as she will get to push her limits and try new things that may not have been available without the label.

Cons: On the flip side, Sara's label as a gifted student may inadvertently limit opportunity for her in other ways. For example, her participation in special programs separates her from her friends and can create feelings of isolation. She may think that she must focus on achievement and therefore miss out on fun things like extracurricular activities.

Another con is for the students that don't get the label. Carly wonders why she can't participate in the special programs that Sara can. Students like Carly may benefit just as much from these classes but are denied the opportunity because they didn't do as well on what some may consider arbitrary assessments or sometimes just one test.

Achievement

Pros: Sara may have a teacher who is specially trained in the education of high achieving students. She will be challenged and supported in ways that encourage her success as a student and may launch a career.

Students who are performing at grade level may feel unsettled or distracted by gifted students. When gifted students are removed from traditional classrooms it can help contribute to higher levels of achievement. When Sara was in class, Carly didn't even try to answer questions or participate in activities. She was starting to fall behind until Sara was removed.

Cons: Many assume that gifted students will always be high achievers. However, many students may actually achieve less after being labeled due to the intense pressure to perform. This cripples some students. Also, if Sara is always told how smart she is, she may eventually believe that she no longer needs to try.

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