Left Behind? Actually, More Boys Take 'Gifted' Test

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

News stories abound about girls suddenly outperforming boys in the very early grades, obscuring the fact that increasingly more boys than girls are taking "gifted" tests. Either way, Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers say kids are getting tested too young.

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.

Caryl Rivers /Rosalind C. Barnett(WOMENSENEWS)--It's a major recurring narrative in the news media: Girls are succeeding, boys are failing. Civilization as we know it is coming to an end.

The most recent evidence is a May 31 New York Times story headlined "Gender Gap for the Gifted," reporting that young girls are outnumbering young boys in gifted programs in New York City.

"Around the city, the current crop of gifted kindergartners, for example, is 56 percent girls, and in the 2008-9 year, 55 percent were girls," it says.

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This would appear to be a local New York City story, but it quickly resonated nationally. The story was picked up by, among others, Education Week, Atlantic, PBS, MSNBC, Philadelphia Inquirer and a number of education Web sites.

What tends to get less noticed is a gender testing gap, in which more boys than girls at any age are being brought for testing by their parents, an inequity that the Gifted Development Center in Denver says is getting worse. It finds that between 1979 and 1989, 57 percent of the children brought for testing were male and 43 percent were female. In 2008, 68 percent were male and only 32 percent female.

Apparently parents are paying more intellectual respect to their sons than their daughters, or else they believe that it is more important for boys to be seen as very smart.

Either way, it's off base and obscures what we might as well start accepting is a basic intellectual parity between boys and girls. The federal Education Resources Information Center in Washington notes that overall data indicate only small differences between the IQ scores of boys and girls evaluated for entrance into gifted education programs. The group says it supports the assumption that intelligence is "equally distributed between the sexes." Bravo!

An Old Story

Meanwhile, the media focus on girls being more advanced cognitively than boys at early ages isn't a news flash.

It's an old, old story established in a number of studies. Lewis Terman, director of a famous longitudinal study of gifted children that began in 1921, found that girls had a decided edge over boys in the early years, but by middle-school years boys had caught up. This continues to be the case.

Boys mature later than girls; at any given age in the early years, girls on average outscore boys. Researchers have known for a long time not to put too much weight on these kinds of results, because they will change with time. The boy who doesn't score in the gifted range at the age of 5 may very well do so a year or two later. The Times story, in fact, duly noted this, but the editors still chose to run it as a news story for some reason.

Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin, a nationally known expert on children's math and verbal achievement, says it doesn't make sense to test kids as young as 5 or 6 for giftedness. Results of early testing, she has said, are so unstable as to be relatively meaningless for predicting the future.

Po Bronson, co-author of "Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children," agrees, noting the odds that a child who has been labeled gifted at 5 will still test as gifted even a couple of years later are surprisingly poor.

"The tests work for measuring current intelligence," he writes. "But it's a bad bet, and a bad investment, if we're counting on any test to predict a young child's future."

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