Gifted and Talented for all is crucial

District plans to drastically improve program


Danny Shope

St. Louis Park Public Schools District leaders have announced a big change in the Gifted and Talented programs at the elementary, middle school and high school levels. Instead of selecting a small group of students for the program based on test scores, all students will now receive Gifted and Talented programming starting next year. Extending Gifted and Talented to all students with this new program is a necessary and long-overdue step towards equity at Park.

The purpose of the Gifted and Talented (GT) program is to provide an environment for students’ talents to flourish. It certainly does that, but only for a small group of disproportionately white students.

As early as second grade, being selected for the GT program can begin to affect a student’s academic career. It boosts their academic confidence and lets them know the school values their academic abilities. When someone is told they are smart and valued, they are more likely to take harder classes and stay in those classes. 

In addition to the benefits of simply being selected for the program, GT students receive many resources from the school to help them along their academic way. Dedicated teachers give these students important math, reading and critical thinking skills starting in elementary school. In middle school, there are exclusive GT field trips, which aim to provide students real-life experience. By the time these students get to high school, the program is focused on providing stress relief and college-readiness help, both of which are extremely important.

It is clear that this program sets students up for success, both in school and in life. However, most students are told that they are not gifted or talented enough to deserve these tools for success. Every year, GT teachers come into every elementary school classroom and read off a list of the kids who made the cut. Of those told they are not smart enough, a disproportionate number are students of color. 

Not only are these students denied the benefits of extra teachers, engaging field trips and important college-readiness programs, but they are victims of negative psychological impacts. Being excluded from the “gifted” group makes these students hesitant to enroll in advanced classes once they reach 6th grade. 

Some argue that this separation is justified because it is based on standardized testing — the highest scorers on tests are allowed into the program. However, standardized tests are a poor indicator of student knowledge or aptitude. While it is true that individualized teaching is important for student growth, this will be achieved through the new program while keeping all students in one classroom. Removing students from class adds a layer of exclusivity which is unnecessary and harmful, especially for elementary school students. 

In its current form, GT is not actually about developing the talents of smart students — it’s about separating a small group of disproportionately white and wealthy students from everyone else, and giving these kids more resources.

With this new program, which brings talent development education to all students, all kids at Park will be given the tools to pursue their talents and interests more fully, and will be encouraged to challenge themselves with high-level classes. Overall this change will benefit everyone. Those who refuse to accept it should consider what they value more: improving education for everyone or keeping themselves on top.