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Gifted students are outstanding learners who are not usually considered risking academic failure or problems. However, gifted students can still underachieve. There are risks related to the student's giftedness. This concept was formally set forth in 1972 in the U.S. in the Marland Report:
Gifted and talented children are, in fact, deprived and can suffer psychological damage and permanent impairment of their abilities to function well which is equal to or greater than the similar deprivation suffered by any other population with special needs served by the Office of Education.
At first glance, labeling gifted children ‘at-risk’ seems to be questionable to those who are unfamiliar with the research. However, the following risks are listed in The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children:
- frustration, irritability, anxiety, tedium, and social isolation (p. 11)
- intense social isolation and stress among those with IQ greater than 160 (p. 14)
- difficulty making friends due to advanced concept of friendship, mostly among those less than age 10 (p. 23)
- de-motivation, low self-esteem, and social rejection among the exceptionally gifted (p. 26)
- emotional awareness beyond their ability to control (p. 34)
- difficulty with peer relations proportional to their IQ (p. 35)
- loneliness, anxieties, phobias, interpersonal problems, fear of failure, and perfectionism (p. 43)
- underachievement for social acceptance (p. 64)
- lack of resilience reinforced by easy work and well-intentioned but misguided praise (p. 65)
- increasing perfectionism throughout school years among girls (p. 75)
- fear of failure and risk avoidance due to perfectionism (p. 75)
- depression among creatively gifted (p. 93)
There is a cause-and-effect relationship between the unmet learning needs of gifted students and the above risks. “Research indicates that many of the emotional and social difficulties gifted students experience disappear when their educational climates are adapted to their level and pace of learning.”
Linda Kreger Silverman enumerates these additional risks:
- refusal to do routine, repetitive assignments
- inappropriate criticism of others
- lack of awareness of impact on others
- difficulty accepting criticism
- hiding talents to fit in with peers
- nonconformity and resistance to authority
- poor study habits
Further, there exists anecdotal evidence of truancy problems with gifted children, who sometimes miss school because of disengagement, and worse, fear of bullying. In 1999, legislation was introduced in Colorado to recognize gifted students as at-risk, with truancy as a factor, but the bill did not become law.
Lastly, meta-analysis from the paper “Gifted Students Who Drop Out—Who and Why: A Meta-Analytical Review of the Literature” by Kaskaloglu shows two key points. First, 4.5% of high school dropouts are gifted, and they leave school in part because of school-related issues. To understand the drop out rate, one must consider that the study cited indicates the percentage of children who both dropped out and who scored above 130 on an IQ test. One would expect a very small percentage of such children to drop out, given the ease with which they can excel in school. To expect more than one in ten would be hard to justify. Therefore, with only 2.27% of people scoring above 130 on IQ tests, to expect greater than 0.227% of dropouts to be gifted would be ostensibly far-fetched. Unfortunately, the actual percentage is closer to twenty times that. According to the Achievement Trap, this problem is even more pronounced among economically disadvantaged children.
- D. Betsy McCoach, Del Siegle (Spring 2003). "Factors That Differentiate Underachieving Gifted Students From High-Achieving Gifted Students" (PDF). Gifted Child Quarterly. 47 (2): 144–154. doi:10.1177/001698620304700205.
- Marland, S. P., Jr. (1972). Education of the gifted and talented Report to the Congress of the United States by the U.S. Commissioner of Education and background papers submitted to the U.S. Office of Education, 2 vols. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. (Government Documents Y4.L 11/2: G36), pp. xi-xii.
- The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know?, Edited by Maureen Neihart, Sally M. Reis, Nancy M. Robinson, and Sidney M. Moon; National Association of Gifted Children (Prufrock Press, Inc.), 2002
- Neihart et al., p. 287.
- Silverman, L.K. (1987). ‘Applying knowledge about social development to the counseling process with gifted adolescents.’ in T.M. Buescher (Ed.). Understanding Gifted and Talented Adolescents (pp. 40-44). Evanston, IL: The Center for Talent Development.
- Kaskaloglu, E. (2003). “Gifted Students Who Drop Out—Who and Why: A Meta-Analytical Review of the Literature”, Proceedings of the Hawaii International Conference on Education.
- Wyner, J., Bridgeland, J., and DiIulio, Jr., J.. Achievement Trap: How America Is Failing Millions of High-Achieving Students from Lower-Income Families. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation & Civic Enterprises, p. 5.
- Davidson, Jan and Bob, with Vanderkam, Laura (2004). Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
- Neihart, M., Reis, S., Robinson, N., Moon, S. Ed. (2002). The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know? Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
- Silverman, L. K. (1993). Counseling the Gifted and Talented. Denver, CO: Love Publishing Company.