Better identification of gifted students needed, says ECU researcher

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EDITH Cowan University education researcher Eileen Slater says policies identifying gifted and talented students have been “unreliable”.

In WA, there are 19 public secondary schools which offer gifted and talented secondary selective entrance programs, including Perth Modern School, John Curtin College of the Arts, Shenton College, Balcatta, Churchlands, Duncraig, Hampton, Kalamunda, Mt Lawley, Rossmoyne and Melville.

Entrance to academic programs is determined by the results of the Academic Selective Entrance Test.

Dr Slater, who is a postdoctoral research fellow at ECU’s School of Education, is currently recruiting schools to be a part of a new research project aimed at identifying gifted students at age 6 and 7.

She said gifted and talented students made up about 10 per cent of Australian school kids and there was little attention paid to them in the education system.

“It’s essential to our national prosperity that we cater for our best and brightest students especially given Australia’s continuing slide down international education rankings,” 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 her review of the Australian education policy on identifying gifted and talented students in the journal TalentEd, Dr Slater pointed out three ways to improve policies to best cater for gifted children.

The three ways were having indicators for high-achieving students in kindergarten or pre-primary, more tests and forming mandate criteria and detailed policies for schools.

“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.

“Multiple sources of evidence for gifted students are vital to make sure we identify those students in need of specific educational intervention.

“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.

“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.”