The push to find more gifted kids: What Washington can learn from Miami’s wins

Miami unapologetically uses two standards to identify gifted students — one for low-income kids and English-learners, another for everyone else. As a result, its advanced-learning classrooms roughly mirror the district’s overall makeup. Washington educators are taking note.

MIAMI — Every year, Lisette Rodriguez runs through the same conversation with angry, confused parents. No, she explains, their child does not qualify for a gifted-education program, despite having a high IQ score of 129. And yes, she adds, the child sitting at the next desk does qualify — despite scoring 117 — because his family is poor.

“You’re telling me that my child would have been in gifted but isn’t, just because I can pay for his lunch?” parents ask, incredulous. Yes, exactly, says Rodriguez, who directs advanced academic programs for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

The nation’s fourth-largest school district has been using this two-tier system since the early 1990s to broaden its pool of students deemed gifted, largely because research shows that a child’s IQ is not static and can stretch with exposure to books, museums and complex material. Or, conversely, shrink under stress, frequent moves and other realities common for low-income families.

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Across the nation, the definition of “gifted” is expanding beyond IQ scores, along with an understanding that the most creative thinkers are not always the best behaved or highest achieving. In that discussion, Miami has emerged as a front-runner in finding overlooked students and developing their talents.

Educators there have become so successful at such scouting that the College Board, which administers rigorous Advanced Placement exams, recently hailed Miami as District of the Year for high performance among typically struggling high-school students.

That success is due largely to two factors: first, an acknowledgment that kids who immigrated recently may struggle with English vocabulary — but still be gifted. (The same goes for students in low-income neighborhoods who might never have been exposed to advanced math.)

And second, that even high-IQ kids need tutoring…

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