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Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Alternative Gifted Plans

Should students be given compensation when testing for gifted programs?
In other words, should students from low-income families or families that speak English as second language be given some leeway when it comes to testing cut-off scores?
Known as Plan B in the some school districts, the practice, as you can imagine, is quite controversial (some school systems, such as one I know of in Florida, have done away with the plan). The idea behind this practice is that you try to provide a more level playing field for children, who are considered for selection into gifted programs. Rather than simply hold the child to a certain combined I.Q. score (say 130 or above), you lower the cut off score and document the need for gifted instruction through other means, such as classroom performance and standardized test scores.
So, for instance, a child scoring a 116, who qualifies for free or reduced lunch (and meets the other criteria) could become eligible for the program.
The positive to this alternative plan is that children, who may have not had the same educational opportunities provided through their family or environmentand may otherwise be overlooked- now have a chance to be considered for a gifted program.
Critics (Ive heard a number of teachers oppose the practice) argue that this approach labels children as gifted, who have not demonstrated higher potential and may be struggling to survive in their core classes. By contrast, you may have a child score a 127 or 128 (above average scores on the I.Q. scale), but that student may not be eligible for gifted services since they do not qualify for free/reduced lunch.
Anyone who has spent time with gifted students knows that there can be quite a difference between a child with a 140 and one with a 116 I.Q., both of which could wind up in a gifted pull out program or self-contained, gifted classroom.
In my six years of teaching gifted children, Ive seen both sides: Ive worked with students enrolling through the alternative plan that simply needed an opportunity to shine and work hard, even harder than those around them in some cases. Ive also seen students come in to the program through this plan that really struggled. As always, it comes down to what is the best fit for that particular child.

In regards to solutions, I thought of a few possibilities:
What if, rather than a cut-off score such as 130, schools used a range, possibly between 120-140? Students scoring with that range would have to demonstrate higher potential or giftedness through a portfolio that would include classroom performance, test scores, possibly even extracurricular activities that demonstrated above average ability.
What if students qualifying for a Plan B were enrolled in the program, however, they would have to maintain a certain grade point average? Otherwise, a meeting would be held to determine if the program is the best fit.
These are merely suggestions based on my observations and have no research to back them up. Id love to hear your thoughts on alternative gifted plans and possibly ideas to improve the screening and testing process.

Thank you,