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Why the Gifted and Talented Program is Rigged (in Public School)

August 16, 2021
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By Lillie Therieau


The gifted and talented program has always been highly controversial. Although diverse across public school systems, the gifted and talented program generally allows students that test-in to be put into an accelerated classroom that learns faster than other classrooms.


These students have better educational outcomes on aggregate than their peers, usually attending college and receiving academic distinctions. 


The top 20% of high-income families are most likely to get their children into the gifted and talented system. They can afford to send their children to tutors, high-quality preschools, or Montessori programs. 


In total, only the top 1% of students qualify for these programs. At this stage in education, testing into a gifted program doesn’t correlate with a child’s capacity. Instead, it most often correlates with an advanced understanding of language. 


Students that are better prepared for kindergarten, more familiar with language on the test, and who have an educational support system at home are more likely to test in. Splitting students up at an early age only perpetuates this divide, widening the gap between the two classes. 


Elephant Learning is consistently able to get students to the qualifying level of gifted and talented math competency, no matter how they performed on their test for the program. EL Founder Aditya Nagrath says, “ With just a little bit of training and help, all students could theoretically qualify for the gifted and talented program.” 


So why don’t they? This article will consider some of the key reasons that students get denied from the gifted and talented program, and what you can do as a parent to prepare them for the test.  


The Preschool Divide 


Many such programs require students to test at the end of their kindergarten year. Generally aged 4-6, kindergarten students are split between children that attended preschool and those who didn’t. 


The federal government doesn’t require everyone to attend preschool, and the programs can often be costly. As a result, many lower-income students don’t attend preschool and come into kindergarten as their first year of school. 


A student who enters kindergarten after preschool is much better prepared for the instruction and finds it easier to test into the gifted and talented program. They have a better grasp of the language and sentence structure of the questions that may be asked on the test. They are familiar with these kinds of questions, so they can answer them correctly. 


A student who enters kindergarten as their first educational experience won’t be as familiar with this language. When they see a question on the test, they may not even understand what it’s asking. Even if they could answer it, they don’t know where to start.


Widening The Gap Through The Gifted And Talented Program 


The main math prerequisite for entering kindergarten is the ability to count to ten. However, over 80% of students are not meeting this prerequisite when they enter kindergarten. The top 1% of test-takers in the gifted and talented program are working in advanced concepts like percentages, decimals, and fractions, while the bottom 80% may not be able to count to ten. 


This is a huge issue because it creates a gap between these groups of students that will only widen exponentially in the coming years. At this point, the gap is much smaller and could be more easily fixed. The bottom 80% in this scenario are capable of the same things as the top 1%, they just don’t have the language skills yet. They aren’t understanding counting on the deeper level that they need to, in order to successfully move on to the next level. 


“If students don't have a strong understanding of what the numbers are, they end up just reciting the words out loud. It's assumed that they understand what the words mean because they’re in kindergarten,” says Aditya Nagrath. However, if they don’t actually understand and have simply memorized the words in that pattern, they won’t understand the next lesson that builds on counting either. 


This is why a deeper understanding of math concepts and language is so necessary, even at an early age. If misunderstandings start in kindergarten, they’ll only snowball in future years. 


Sean’s Journey To Getting His Student In The Gifted And Talented Program 


Sean’s child failed the gifted and talented test, but he was given a chance to retake it after a glitch in the testing process. Sean knew that gifted and talented classrooms learn faster and prepare students better for high school. He wanted to study and train with his son, eventually hoping to coach his child’s way into the program. 


Sean knew from his child’s Elephant Learning progress, that he should be testing in the top 1 percentile and able to get into the gifted program. His child was regularly answering questions that were far ahead of what they even asked on the test. 


So Sean gave his student a practice test. He soon realized that the issue was in the language used in the questions. There was a type of question on the test that used a simile structure, like “Apples are to oranges as dogs are to ____” Sean’s son didn’t understand what this question was asking, as he had never encountered the simile language. 


However, once Sean explained the way the question worked to his son, he was easily able to answer those kinds of questions. He was capable of answering them the whole time, he was just unfamiliar with the language. Sean’s son took the gifted and talented test again, this time testing into the program. 


Preparing Your Child For The Gifted And Talented Test 


An easy way to help prepare your child for the gifted and talented test is by making them a profile on Elephant Learning and having them spend 10 minutes a day on the platform. They’ll develop language skills around math and deepen their conceptual understanding of math skills and ideas. 


They’ll be exposed to language that could come into play on the test and become more comfortable answering the kinds of math questions that will come up. Just 10 minutes a day, three times a week, for three months will boost your child’s Elephant Age for a whole year. 


Elephant Learning is routinely able to help students get from counting to percents, fractions, and decimals, in a relatively short period of time. We know that your student can do it, and EL will empower them to believe it too.


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