Miami-Dade’s gifted boom is celebrated by some experts, while others ask whether the district is watering down services for the “truly gifted.” It comes at a time when the very definition of giftedness is changing. Experts say more states and districts are moving away from dependency on IQ tests and are increasingly considering classroom achievement and behavior.
In Florida, a number of factors go into whether a student is deemed gifted, though IQ remains a hard-line requirement. Students take an intelligence test administered by a psychologist and must score at least 130, which ranks in the 98th percentile. That common requirement generally limits giftedness to a small group.
“Typically, you hear 2 to 5 percent, whether you’re in Dade County or Siberia, Russia,” said Shari Valencic, president of the Florida Association for the Gifted.
For students who are poor, or learning English, the state’s “Plan B” threshold for IQs is lower, at 115, due to evidence that they tend to score lower on such tests largely because of cultural and language issues. Each district establishes its own criteria with state approval, and each school has a committee to identify or deny individual students.
Like districts, states also identify giftedness differently, which can make comparing numbers deceiving.
“It’s comparing apples and oranges,” said Florida Department of Education gifted specialist Carol Bailey, who applauds Miami-Dade’s gifted boom.
What’s clear, though, is that Miami-Dade, and to a greater extent some of its schools, is among the outliers in the state and in the nation.
That might have something to do with the district’s standards for giftedness. For one, the district regularly accepts partial IQ scores, meaning a student who scores high on the verbal portion of a test, but not the non-verbal, may still be admitted. The district also allows for standard error on IQ tests, so minimum scores in Miami-Dade are actually 127 instead of 130 and for “Plan B” students 112 instead of 115.
Broward, by comparison, accepts partial scores only on a special basis and doesn’t bend on the 130 IQ score. Its gifted percentage is 4.2 percent.
Rodriguez said Miami-Dade also seriously considers other indicators, such as creativity and leadership.
“We certainly feel gifted isn’t just about your IQ number,” she said. “It’s much more complex than that.”
By conservative standards, Dade’s criteria strays from the idea that children with high IQs have specific needs met through gifted education. But they’re closer in line with modern thinking, which increasingly considers achievement and motivation and downplays IQ as a flawed indicator. For instance, the National Association for Gifted Children in 2010 released a position paper redefining giftedness to include not just exceptional intelligence but also achievement in the top 10 percent of any field, such as math, music or language.
“The big issue in Florida has always been the state’s 130 IQ cutoff score,” said Joseph Renzulli, a University of Connecticut professor and director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. “One of the things that does is it discriminates against low-income, minority and bilingual students. Those kids don’t do well on those tests.”