Underachievement and Disadvantaged Gifted…Are They Hiding in Plain Sight?

A good friend of mine, Peter Lydon (@peter_ lydon) gave me the current book I am reading. It is called Gifted Education in Ireland and the United States. It’s a collaboration between CTY Ireland and the Center for Gifted Education at William and Mary. I have to tell you, that it is a great read, with some great articles in it. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to read some current research in Gifted Education.

One of the articles that resonates with me is titled High-Ability Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds by Eleanor Healion, Ph.D and Joe O’Hara, Ph.D. Even though this study was specific to Ireland, I saw some aspects of the article that related to my students here in the United States.

Testing and Underachievement

One aspect that I can relate to is the aspect of testing. Many disadvantaged gifted children don’t score well on standardized test (pg 72). Most standardized tests are heavy in the langauge department. As educators we need to make sure our students are tested using a test that developed for their population, like the NNAT2.

We also need to empower regular education teachers, and teach them some signs a student may be gifted and talented. I email the staff here at my school this chart to show the difference between bright and gifted learners. As stated before, disadvantage students will often hide their gifts on purpose, and sometimes it because of a lack of support at school and home. By teaching teachers some signs they could point out about a student will identify those latent gifted students.

However, the identification and nourishment of these gifts in the underserved gifted populations in extremely difficult as students from disadvantaged backgrounds have fewer out of school supporters to help develop their talents. (pg. 70)

We know that students from disadvantaged backgrounds commonly show signs of underachievement. Underachievers also have a poor self-image. As teachers we need to focus on students effort, and their achievements, and not on their mistakes or faults. The authors point out that “a non-supportive environment at home, in the community, or at school, where aspirations for students are low, can also be a contributing factor to underachievement” (pg.73). So as a school community we need to provide an environment where these students can get some support and encouragement.

The authors also point out that “increased underachievement in gifted students in economically disadvantaged areas may be due to the following reasons:”

Teachers are less likely to notice gifted characteristics in economically disadvantaged students compared to other identified students”, and

“If identified as gifted, some students still may have a “skill deficit” in certain areas, for example, poor debating abilities or lower than average reading ability, due to behavioural problems and lack of family support and resources…and may have “negative school outcomes” due to social and familial factors” (pg 73).

Both of those aspects hit triggers with me. At times I will have teachers come to me and say ‘how is he or she gifted, they don’t know how to…’; just fill in the blank. Sometimes a teacher has the idea to be gifted students have to be perfect, or be a straight ‘A’ student. Teachers need to understand that children who are disadvantaged will have gaps in learning. Their parents don’t have the resources to send them to camps, afterschool programs, or vacations where they would be exposed to new and exciting experiences.

There is a huge population of the student body at my school that fits the mold for socio-economic disadvantaged student. Which is why I am glad that my school district has our Enrichment Program set up to help give our gifted students some awesome experiences.

I feel that its my job as a GIS to add to the curricula of the school. not necessarily follow it just like the regular education teachers. I make sure that I incorporate the State Standards, but I try to develop a curricula that is different from the material that my students would learn in the regular classroom. I try to give my students enrichment projects. They take the skills they learn in the regular classroom and apply them to the projects I develop.

What do you do to help support, identify, and encourage the disadvantaged gifted students in your school? Are they hiding in plain sight?


One thought on “Underachievement and Disadvantaged Gifted…Are They Hiding in Plain Sight?

  1. laura musser

    I enjoyed this post! Thanks for all the great content and shedding light on this subject. I currently ID kids via standardized tests, CogAT, teacher recommendation, parent recommendation, and self recommendation supported by achievements. I also lower the NPR standard for students with barriers such as socioeconomic and language differences. Most of my high ability low achieving students choose to take mostly online classes or complete projects for credits instead of being in the general education classrooms. My goal is to be a competency based education program.


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