Australian school systems are failing to identify and cater for the best and brightest students according to an Edith Cowan University education researcher.
Dr Eileen Slater from ECU’s School of Education said gifted and talented students make up around 10 per cent of Australian school kids but policies for their identification are inconsistent, unreliable and lack accountability.
“Much of the debate around our education system is focused on how we best provide for students who are struggling. But little attention is paid to students who perform or have the potential to perform better than their peers,” she said.
“Research shows that if we don’t cater for gifted and talented students they can disconnect from education because they aren’t being challenged or learning.
“The purpose of education is to ensure all individuals are catered for to reach their maximum potential and gifted students have as much right to that as anyone else.”
In a review of Australian education policy on identifying gifted and talented children, published in the journal TalentEd, Dr Slater identified three ways to improve policies to best cater for gifted children.
Identify students early
Teachers and schools should be looking for indicators of gifted and talented children as soon as they enter the school system at kindergarten or pre-primary.
“Students in the Western Australian government system are currently tested when they’re in year four and year six and research shows that gifted children have already started to disengage from their studies by that point,” Dr Slater said.
Test more often and more widely
In many states the identification of students is made in a one-off test taken at some point in primary school.
“Multiple sources of evidence for gifted students are vital to make sure we identify those students in need of specific educational intervention,” added Dr Slater.
“Paper and pencil tests can form one part of identification but checklists for children’s gifted characteristics and discussion with parents are also valid ways to identify gifted and talented students.”
Lack of accountability
Only New South Wales and South Australia mandate criteria for schools to identify gifted and talented students. However she said that even then, how those criteria are enforced is not known.
“Schools and teachers must be held accountable through detailed policies which outline clearly the ways in which students should be identified and what action should be taken to provide for them. Schools then need to be provided with the support and resources to do so.
Dr Slater is currently recruiting schools to be a part of a new research project aimed at identifying gifted students at age 6 and 7. For more information on the study and taking part, contact Dr Eileen Slater.