Talented and Gifted (TAG) Program Does More Harm Than Good

TAG students are given the title at a young age and continue through high school. Program benefits are limited. Photo by Eric Schumock.

Inside the Portland Public School system is a program with the intention of improving the education of certain children who are labeled “Talented and Gifted” (TAG) in elementary school, but the immense pressure put on these children, along with essentially no benefits to justify this pressure, leads to more harm than good. After being assigned this title at as young as five years old, a student retains the status until they are 18. The goal of TAG is to give children a more fulfilling and individual education by assigning them more difficult work to match their level of academic ability. This is a wonderful goal; however, the execution could benefit from a long overdue examination.

One of the main issues is the lack of action issued by the program. According to Franklin student and TAG member Sydney George (11), after the assignment of the title, it is majorly up to the individual schools and families to provide a more advanced education. “I think we had one meeting when I was in first grade and nothing happened ever since,” she explains. Fellow TAG student Milly Baudhuin (11) shared this lack of benefits. Baudhuin says that while her elementary school had pull out math classes that she felt helped, they were taught by a classmate’s mother and not a member of the school. In both of their experiences, not many benefits had been exercised and those that were didn’t come from the program itself. To summarize, there is practically no consistency. “Basically it’s just a title; there’s nothing to it,” George says.

As to its purpose, PPS Program Administrator of TAG Andrew Johnson, says, “The main focus for services is in the classroom, which we call an inclusion model. There are no pull outs or systemic classes. Our main focus is around depth and complexity; meaning we want to see all kids have an engaging, authentic, relevant, and rigorous learning experience in every classroom.” This is all great in theory, but the problem is that without a set plan, there is no way for alterations to be measured or insured in any way. Johnson has no intention of implementing pull out classes, yet Baudhuin still had them as part of her TAG curriculum. In addition, Baudhuin and George went to different elementary and middle schools and consequently had different experiences with the program, with the only thing completely parallel being that it was quite minimal. Johnson mentions that events like Spelling Bees, Science Showcases, and OMSI Nights are geared towards TAG members. However, those events are open to anyone, and most TAG students do not experience any specific encouragement to attend.

There are official standards for how a child’s education should be altered, but that document is an 18 page long optional template available from their website filled with vague promises and very few definite guidelines. To be fair, the program is intended to be individually different for each child, and so the standards are vague to be applicable to all members. If certain concrete plans are set in place, then it could be that only some students in the program find it helpful, which completely defeats the purpose of having a program designed to help with their needs by placing them in yet another lesson that does not apply to them. However, most high school guidelines listed have the same problem as the targeted events mentioned earlier. Benefits include AP classes, dual credit classes, and optional extracurriculars, which are available to everyone, and the majority of TAG students make the decision to participate alone without any encouragement from the program (if they choose to participate at all). The program does not seem to have any consistent basis to provide any productivity whatsoever. In the optional template for TAG students is the idea of splitting up students between classes by grouping them into threes, which ensures an equal amount of TAG students per class, but also separates them from any other TAG kids that are not in their group. In addition, while this seems like a possibly reasonable process in elementary schools, it is also suggested for middle school and high school students. It is not productive to prioritize a child having a class with a certain other person over an effective class, teacher, or curriculum that would better their education.

A child can be entered into the program as young as five years old. According to the program, a child’s potential as a student is decided when they are in kindergarten. This high pressure can lead to harmful stress being placed on those labeled as Talented and Gifted and lower self esteem for those who are not. On the enrollment of students, Johnson shares that students take a norm-referenced assessment and score in the 97th percentile or higher. “We want the community to see the whole child and to consider a body of evidence in nomination and identification,” he explains. How can a child’s academic potential as well as the entirety of their identity be determined based off who they are at five years old? At that age, their intelligence has to be based off of more nature than nurture, and TAG’s projection of their potential cannot account for a variety of uncontrolled environmental and social factors that will contribute to their academic career and personal success in the next 13 years.

For years, the TAG program has been accepted as a part of the way PPS runs, with essentially no questioning. Several children enrolled in TAG forget that they are by the time they get to high school. This is because the program is nothing but an unnecessary title that pressures children and does not meaningfully impact their education. For a program with virtually no actual rules or regulations, Talented and Gifted has the potential to be surprisingly harmful if not examined and altered. PPS students and families have the responsibiliity to demand specific guidelines, better communication, and effective activities to be issued by the program, or else demolish it altogether.

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