What does it mean to be gifted? Experts in the field of gifted education have long debated over a universally accepted definition. The federal definition of the gifted and talented first appeared in the 1972 Marland Report to Congress and describes these students as those
…who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.
Most states have adopted some form of this definition. Many schools have focused on identifying and serving intellectually and academically gifted students, with little consideration given to recognizing advanced abilities in creative, artistic, and leadership domains. This is because most schools do not offer specialized programs for gifted students in these other areas.
This federal definition specifically indicates that there must be evidence of high achievement in order for a student to be considered gifted. Subsequent definitions, such as the one included in National Excellence: A Case for Developing America’s Talent (1993), have included students with potential to perform at high levels of accomplishment.
Both the 1972 and 1993 definitions indicate that gifted students require specialized services not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop their capabilities. A point which is often ignored, since the attitude that “gifted students will do fine on their own” still prevails in American society.
Numerous other definitions for the gifted exist—constructed by educational agencies, organizations, and experts in the field— all exploring the concept of giftedness from multiple perspectives. Having a definition that is agreed upon by states, schools, and citizens is crucial, because it serves as the foundation upon which identification methods and educational programs for these students are developed. Furthermore, a definition serves as a uniform vehicle for which the characteristics, nature, and needs of gifted students are communicated with the general public. The absence of a consistent definition weakens advocacy efforts for gifted education and supplies those opposing gifted programs and services with a means to further perpetrate myths that negate efforts in identifying and serving gifted students.
—Kristen R. Stephens, PhD