There is much debate in the educational community about what the term “gifted” really means. Some argue that IQ scores, SAT scores, grade point averages, and various other academic devises can measure giftedness. Others emphasize life success as a better indicator and focus on personal traits. Dr. Maker in the late 80s proposed a new definition of giftedness, which at the time was (and to some still is) viewed as radical because it presented a direct challenge to the then accepted models. She defined giftedness as follows: “the key element in giftedness or high competence is the ability to solve the most complex problems in the most efficient, effective, ethical, elegant or economical ways”. Her definition, combined with other modern theories of learning, formed the basis for what became DISCOVER research, which in turn produced the DISCOVER Assessment. Today the Assessment is giving practical shape to a new view of giftedness.
In fact, we can now conclusively demonstrate what has long been a common sense observation among many educators and parents, the fact that there is no such thing as merely a “gifted” individual. Rather, individuals can be both gifted and not gifted, at the same time, in different areas. We frequently come across parents who are baffled and frustrated that their child seems to have a very high ability in math or music, yet is failing other subjects. Or perhaps the child can read and write well, but has difficulty telling stories or otherwise communicating. The natural tendency is to assume that if the child has been labeled “gifted” because of superior performance in some capacity (or conversely has been labeled “a slow learner”), he or she should perform equally in other academic subjects. Our society has bought into the myth that a person is either “intelligent” or “not intelligent”, when in fact it is quite possible to be both at the same time, depending on what ability is being considered. Examples abound of students who test extremely high on so called “intelligence tests”, yet who fail to reach their potential and sometimes become miserable failures in life…or who reach great heights in a particular field, with the rest of their life being in shambles. What goes unsaid is that these same “intelligence tests” typically only measure two aspects of intelligence, and virtually ignore all the rest. It should come as no surprise, then, that such tests often fail to predict overall superior performance and success.
The DISCOVER Assessment was designed to be well
rounded, measuring up to nine aspects of intelligence,
using the five-tiered rating system described
DISCOVER Assessment Rating System
D Definitely a Superior Problem Solver
P Probably a Superior Problem Solver
M Maybe a Superior Problem Solver
U Unknown If a Superior Problem Solver
The DISCOVER Assessment does not, as can be surmised from the above discussion of giftedness, produce a number that says, “This child is gifted or not gifted”. It does produce what we call a “map of strengths” that can be used by schools to determine eligibility for gifted student programs and to customize aspects of curriculum. Each student assessed receives one of the above ratings, for each assessment category. Thus in a typical school-based group Assessment (which measures seven intelligence components) the student’s profile shows seven categories, each rated as a W, D, P, M, or U.
Each school decides how they will service the students, based on the rating combinations. Some schools, for example, offer special services to all students who receive a “Definitely” rating or higher on at least three categories. The number of such students, typically, is approximately 5%. Other schools use a criterion of two “Definitely”s and at least one “Probably”, approximately 10% of those assessed, or simply two “Definitely”s, approximately 14%. Still other schools provide special enrichment tracks to each student who receives at least one “Definitely” in any category. The “Wow” rating affects decision-making, as well, but it is not seen often; the “Wow” rating is reserved for cases where a student’s demonstrated ability is so far above normal that it is removed from the regular rating process…so as to not bias the results for other students.
One of the most important features of the Assessment, as relates to giftedness, is its capacity to accurately measure strengths for individuals from any linguistic or cultural background, or race. As discussed in the Diversity section, programs for the gifted using DISCOVER tend to have roughly the same ethnic proportions as are present in the general student population. This “leveling of the playing field” phenomenon is a natural result of the Assessment’s design and results in a more fair distribution of services…making resources available to individuals who truly warrant them, due to naturally superior abilities.
We draw attention to this point loudly and often, because bias in the educational system clearly exists, often unintentionally. Teachers sometimes unwittingly contribute to the problem by failing to recognize true potential or by looking for the wrong things. DISCOVER researchers recently interviewed 110 classroom teachers and asked them what characteristics gifted students typically exhibit. Some of the responses appear below and are divided into two groups.
Approximately 75% of the teachers gave responses such as those on the left, responses considered by DISCOVER researchers to be only marginally, or occasionally, associated with true giftedness. The responses on the right, given by the remaining 25%, are definitely supported by DISCOVER research as associated with giftedness. In other words, ¾ of the teachers surveyed may be missing the most important indicators of potential, consequently failing to develop areas of natural abilities in their students.
Most traditional programs for the gifted use teacher referrals as part of the placement process and, by doing so, expose the entire program to unintended bias. All of us (teachers included) are subject to making decisions based upon perceptions. A student who is neat, pleasant, attractive, willing to cooperate, and involved, is likely to receive more attention, perhaps better grades, and is more likely to be viewed as possessing superior abilities. In reality the anti-social, uncooperative, high-energy, “messy-dressed” individual might have hidden abilities that go unnoticed and undeveloped. In the same way, a gifted student from a different cultural background, and possessing marginal English language skills, might fail to exhibit most of the teacher expectations above, yet blossom when placed in a problem solving, multiple intelligence-based, enriched program.
With this in mind, the DISCOVER Assessment was developed to minimize the external factors and focuses attention on the underlying innate strengths that really matter. DISCOVER staff members remain committed to changing perspectives so that giftedness is viewed as multidimensional and moldable, and is assessed with a minimum of bias or misconceptions.