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How Young Is Too Young to Be Identified as Gifted and Talented?

Can kids be identified as gifted and talented as young as age 3?

That's what the Maryland State Board of Education seemed to be saying when it adopted regulations this week that define minimum standards for gifted and talented education in local school systems.

The new rules specify how school districts are to identify gifted students, provide programs and monitor their progress. School districts shall provide "different services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program" and "shall consider implementing" programs to serve gifted kids in prekindergarten through 12th grade, according to the regulations.

That means prekindergarten programs could be trying to determine whether 3- and 4-year-olds are gifted and talented.

The regulations require that districts use multiple indicators of potential, aptitude and achievement and implement an identification process that documents "early evidence of advanced learning behaviors."

The goal is to help local school systems trying to achieve equity among "gifted and talented students, English language learners, and students with special needs, by recommending early talent development for all students," says a release from the Maryland Department of Education.

"If there aren't minimal standards, we see that as an equity issue," Jeanne Paynter, department specialist for gifted and talented education, told The Washington Post.

Critics worry that the rules will promote tracking or labeling, which has historically hurt minority and low-income children, at even younger ages.

"When we saw pre-K, that's when we went ballistic," Maryland state Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, president of the Montgomery County Education Forum, which opposes the labeling of kids as gifted and talented, told The Post. "We already think second grade is too early. We're trying to do away with that in Montgomery County. . . . When you label kids, you have winners and you have losers, and the losers are black, Hispanic and low-income."

Whether children should be labeled as gifted and talented and at what age is an ongoing debate. But it seems that the idea of identifying kids as early as prekindergarten is not a new idea, although kindergarten is the more common time for evaluation.

In 2010, the National Association for Gifted Children released revised programming standards for prekindergarten through high school that are designed to be used in schools and districts across the country. The education departments of several states, including New Jersey, Minnesota and Wisconsin, recommend that their districts consider the standards when developing gifted and talented programs for K-12 students.

The association also points out something that we all should remember as we consider how and when to evaluate whether a child is gifted.

"The development of ability or talent is a lifelong process," the association says on its website. "It can be evident in young children as exceptional performance on tests and/or other measures of ability or as a rapid rate of learning, compared to other students of the same age, or in actual achievement in a domain. As individuals mature through childhood to adolescence, however, achievement and high levels of motivation in the domain become the primary characteristics of their giftedness."

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