Just as educational programs and curricula for gifted children differ widely from state to state, so too do the requirements for teachers of gifted children. Since no national degree or certification requirements for gifted educators exist, all policy and funding mandates come from the state and local levels. As a result, requirements for teacher training and ongoing professional development vary widely from state to state and in many cases from district to district within a given state.
According to state-level statistics compiled by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), thirty-four states require that gifted students be identified and twenty-nine require that services be provided, yet only six—Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, Oregon, and Washington—mandate at the state level that regular classroom teachers receive training in gifted education. Since most gifted children in the elementary- and middle-school grades, whether identified or not, remain within a heterogeneous classroom setting for much of the instructional day, many may not be receiving optimum educational opportunities to meet their needs.
This data, however, does not account for the local educational agencies within states that identify and mandate teacher training or for states that require gifted resource teachers to receive special training. Of the states that mandate services, most require that gifted resource teachers and gifted education specialists at the administrative level have specific college-level studies or degrees or appropriate professional development courses, and some states require master’s degrees in gifted education. Currently, eighteen states mandate that teachers of gifted children receive specific training, though the number of hours needed for certification varies widely from state to state. Some states offer a twelve-hour endorsement track for teachers of gifted children, though training for endorsement is recommended rather than required. The NAGC identifies twenty-nine states with colleges and university programs offering coursework and degree programs in gifted education ranging from doctoral degrees in education or philosophy, masters’ degrees, certification or endorsement programs, and undergraduate degrees emphasizing gifted education.
To address the broad disparity in teacher training for teachers of gifted children the NAGC and the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), and its division, The Association for the Gifted (TAG), have recently completed a three-year collaborative project to develop a set of research-based standards for educators: The Teacher Knowledge and Skill Standards for Gifted and Talented. In developing the standards, the organizations worked closely with the Interstate New Teacher and Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), a division of the National Council for Accreditation for Teacher Education (NCATE), that provides a national forum to set and meet standards for teacher licensure and professional development. Closely aligned with INTASC’s ten Model Standards for Teacher Licensure, the Teacher Knowledge and Skill Standards for Gifted and Talented were created to assist state departments of public instruction in developing standards for teachers of gifted children, grades K-12, and to provide college and universities with a framework for teacher education programs.
Identification and summary of the ten standards include teacher knowledge and understanding of the following:
- Foundations, the research-based evidence, philosophies, laws and policies, and various historical and human perspectives in the evolving field of gifted education;
- Development and Characteristics of Learners, including those with exceptional learning needs and those without.
- Individual Learning Differences, which include the effects that giftedness as well as diversity can have on one’s learning;
- Instructional Strategies, which are based on evidence-based research and are specific to gifted and talented students;
- Learning Environments and Social Interactions that promote creativity, cultural understanding, diversity, safety and emotional well being, and full student engagement in the learning process;
- Language and Communication and the important role they play in talent development; effective teaching strategies for oral and written communication skills; and individual language proficiencies and cultural and linguistic differences;
- Instructional Planning that reflects both long- and short-range goals and objectives for individual giftedness;
- Assessment in multiple forms that can be used for identification, progress, instruction, and evaluation of gifted learners;
- Professional and Ethical Practice standards in all situations, both in dealing with students and in staying abreast of new evidence and more effective teaching techniques;
- Collaboration with families, other educators, and appropriate service and support personnel for gifted children and gifted programs.
The new standards represent an improvement over the older set developed in 1985 in that they require the most up-to-date research-based practices in gifted education and more in-depth preparation of teachers to implement higher-level thinking skills in their teaching; more attention to diversity among learners; deeper and broader implications for planning, implementing, assessing, and evaluating programs; and the broader connections to all levels of learning and fields of knowledge. Joyce Van Tassel-Baska and Susan Johnson, who served on the standards task force, recommend that the regulations overseeing the administration of gifted education programs in every state involve teacher training in conjunction with the new standards and that the standards be linked to state-based university programs in gifted teacher education. The standards became available for use in 2007 and required in 2008 by NCATE-accredited colleges and universities as a basis for institutional and gifted program reviews.
—Sarah Boone, MA , MFA
Sarah Boone has a master’s degree in teaching and is certified in gifted education. She also holds an MFA in creative writing.