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Is there still a need for gifted education? An examination of current research

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What recent research has been conducted about gifted and talented students and their learning experiences in school? As we complete the first decade of the new century we are entering a time when much attention is focused on remediation and test preparation; it only seems appropriate to reflect upon what has been learned about gifted education during the last few decades and consider the compelling evidence that may or may not support special services for gifted and talented. Consensus on which research themes and studies should be included in this type of examination would difficult to reach, but we have identified six important themes that are discussed in the article. This review of research strongly suggests that the need for gifted education programs remains critical during the current time period in American education when our nation's creative productivity is being challenged by European and Asian nations.
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Is There Still A Need for Gifted Education?
An Examination of Current Research
Sally M. Reis
Abstract
What recent research has been conducted about gifted and talented students and their
learning experiences in school? As we complete the first decade of the new century we are
entering a time when much attention is focused on remediation and test preparation; it only
seems appropriate to reflect upon what has been learned about gifted education during the last
few decades and consider the compelling evidence that may or may not support special services
for gifted and talented. Consensus on which research themes and studies should be included in
this type of examination would difficult to reach, but we have identified six important themes
that are discussed in the article. This review of research strongly suggests that the need for gifted
education programs remains critical during the current time period in American education when
our nation’s creative productivity is being challenged by European and Asian nations.
What learning experiences do gifted and high-potential students currently encounter in
schools? Are they challenged and engaged in their classes and content areas? Is differentiated
instruction given to them on a regular basis? Does research suggest that certain types of
provisions result in higher engagement, motivation, and creative productivity? In this article,
recent research related to gifted education is summarized across six important research themes:
(a) expanded conceptions of giftedness and talent development; (b) the continued absence of
challenge for gifted and high potential students; (c) grouping patterns for gifted students; (d) the
effects of differentiation, acceleration, and enrichment on both achievement and other important
outcomes; (e) the use of gifted education programs and pedagogy to serve gifted and high-ability
students from diverse populations as well as high-potential students who underachieve or have
learning disabilities; and (f) longitudinal effects of gifted education programs and pedagogy.
Expanded Conceptions of Giftedness and Talent Development
Research about gifted and talented learners points to the great diversity among this
heterogeneous group of young people (Neihart, Reis, Robinson, & Moon, 2001) and the fact that
many do not realize their potential, in part, because of school factors that contribute to
underachievement. In recent years, research about the development of giftedness suggests that
personality, environment, school, home, and chance factors all interact with demonstrated
potential and whether or not that potential eventually develops into demonstrated gifts and
talents (Renzulli, 2006; Sternberg & Davidson, 1986, 2005). Difficulty exists in finding one
research-based definition to describe the diversity of the gifted and talented population, and the
number of overlapping definitions of giftedness that are proposed in educational research
(Sternberg & Davidson, 2005) underlie the complexity of defining with certainty who is and who
is not gifted. In describing this diverse group of learners, many educators interchangeably use
expanded definitions of giftedness and talent. This was not always the case; for decades past,
researchers and psychologists, following in the footsteps of Lewis Terman, equated “giftedness”
with high IQ (Terman, 1925). More recently, however, definitions of giftedness or talent have
become more multi-dimensional and include the interplay of culture and values on the
development of talents and gifts (Sternberg & Davidson, 2005). Current research on the multiple
perspectives of conceptions of giftedness range from general, broad characterizations to more
targeted definitions of giftedness identified by specific actions, products, or abilities within
domains (Sternberg & Davidson, 1986, 2005). This collection of research studies, conducted
over the last few decades, supports a broader-based conception of giftedness which combines
non-intellectual qualities and intellectual potential, such as motivation, self-concept, and
creativity (Sternberg & Davidson, 2005).
Broadened Multidimensional Conceptions of Giftedness
Current research has expanded to include a multidimensional construct of giftedness
that incorporates a variety of traits, skills, and abilities which are manifested in multiple ways.
This belief is particularly evident in Conceptions of Giftedness (Sternberg & Davidson, 1986,
2005) of conceptions of giftedness, in which most contributors proposed conceptions of
giftedness that extended beyond IQ. Rapid learning as compared to others in the population;
attention control, memory efficiency, and characteristics of perception; desire to develop one’s
gifts; and task commitment are all proposed as aspects of giftedness in and across the different
models in this collection (Heller, Perleth, & Lim, 2005; Reis, 2005; Renzulli, 2005). Those
labeled gifted as children and/or adults are found in every ethnic and socioeconomic group and
in every culture (Sternberg, 2004). They exhibit an unlimited range of personal and learning
characteristics and differ in effort, temperament, educational and vocational attainment,
productivity, creativity, risk-taking, introversion, and extraversion (Renzulli & Park, 2002;
Renzulli & Reis, 2003). They have varying abilities to self-regulate and sustain the effort needed
to achieve personally, academically, and in their careers (Housand & Reis, 2009). And despite
the label that this diverse population has been given, some do and some do not demonstrate high
levels of accomplishment in their education or their chosen professions and work (Reis &
McCoach, 2000; Renzulli & Park, 2002).
In research on the characteristics of this diverse population, Frasier and Passow (1994)
synthesized traits, aptitudes, and behaviors consistently identified by researchers as common to
gifted students across cultures, noting that these basic elements of giftedness appear to be similar
across cultures (though each is not displayed by every student). These traits, aptitudes, and
behaviors include: motivation, advanced interests, communication skills, memory, insight,
imagination, creativity, problem solving, inquiry, reasoning, and humor. Each of these common
characteristics may be manifested in different ways in different students; educators should be
especially careful in attempting to identify these characteristics in students from diverse
backgrounds as behavioral manifestations of the characteristics may vary with context (Frasier &
Passow, 1994; Tomlinson, Ford, Reis, Briggs, & Strickland, 2004).
Joseph Renzulli was one of the earliest theorists to propose a research-based multifaceted
conception of giftedness. The theory of his three-ring conception has prompted widespread
research and gained popular appeal. It supports the idea that “gifted behaviors” result from the
interaction among distinct intrapersonal characteristics, as is outlined in the excerpt below.
Gifted behavior consists of behaviors that reflect an interaction among three basic
clusters of human traits—above average ability, high levels of task commitment, and high
levels of creativity. Individuals capable of developing gifted behavior are those
possessing or capable of developing this composite set of traits and applying them to any
potentially valuable area of human performance. Persons who manifest or are capable of
developing an interaction among the three clusters require a wide variety of educational
opportunities and services that are not ordinarily provided through regular instructional
programs. (Renzulli & Reis, 1997, p. 8)
Underrepresentation of Giftedness in Diverse Populations
The last few decades of the 20
th
century were marked by an increasing interest in diverse
gifted students who can be described as ethnic, racial, and linguistic minorities, economically
disadvantaged, gifted females, gifted underachievers, and the gifted/learning disabled. Despite
this interest and the recent research cited above that expanded conceptions of giftedness, the
majority of young people identified as gifted continue to represent the majority culture, as
economically disadvantaged and other diverse student populations continue to be
underrepresented in gifted programs (Donovan & Cross, 2002). For example, Frasier and Passow
(1994) indicate that identification and selection procedures may be ineffective and inappropriate
for the identification of these young people. Educator bias, for example, may occur when
preconceived ideas about what constitutes giftedness results in teachers’ failure to recognize and
nominate indicators of giftedness in culturally, linguistically diverse (CLD) students with high
potential (Ford & Grantham, 2003; Frasier & Passow, 1994). Groups that have been traditionally
underrepresented in gifted programs could be better served (Ford & Grantham, 2003; Frasier &
Passow, 1994) if the more expanded notions of giftedness and more flexible forms of
identification are translated from research conducted to state and local guidelines and
regulations. Little doubt exists about the widening acceptance of a broadened conception of
giftedness and talent in the research and scholarly literature (Sternberg & Davidson, 2005),
however translating this research into policy and practice continues to remain an elusive goal.
Continuing Absence of Challenge for Gifted and Talented Students
In National Excellence: A Case for Developing America's Talent (U.S. Department of
Education, 1993), a federal report on the status of education for our nation's academically
talented students, the education of talented students in the United States was described as a quiet
crisis. The National Excellence report indicates the absence of attention paid to this population
and the absence of challenge that confronts them:
Despite sporadic attention over the years to the needs of bright students, most of them
continue to spend time in school working well below their capabilities. The belief
espoused in school reform that children from all economic and cultural backgrounds must
reach their full potential has not been extended to America's most talented students. They
are underchallenged and therefore underachieve. (U.S. Department of Education, 1993, p.
5)
The report further indicates that our nation’s talented students are offered a less rigorous
curriculum, read fewer demanding books, and are less prepared for work or postsecondary
education than top students in many other industrialized countries. Talented children from
economically disadvantaged homes or from culturally or linguistically diverse groups were
found to be especially neglected, the report indicates, and many of them will not realize their
potential without some type of intervention.
Current research suggests that gifted and talented students fail to be challenged in school,
especially in elementary and middle school (Archambault, Westberg, Brown, Hallmark,
Emmons, & Zhang, 1993; Reis et al., l993; Reis et al., 2004; Westberg, Archambault, Dobyns, &
Salvin, 1993). Research conducted by researchers at the National Research Center on the Gifted
and Talented have identified what occurs in American classrooms for high ability students and
the results describe a disturbing pattern (Archambault et al., 1993). The Classroom Practices
Survey was conducted to determine the extent to which gifted and talented students receive
differentiated education in regular classrooms. Sixty-one percent of slightly more than 7,300
randomly selected third- and fourth-grade teachers in public and private schools in the United
States reported that they had never had any training in teaching gifted students. Classroom
teachers, responding to a survey, reported making only minor modifications in curriculum and
instruction on a very irregular basis to meet the needs of gifted students. This result was
consistent for all types of schools sampled, for classrooms in various parts of the country, and for
various types of communities (Archambault et al.,1993).
The Classroom Practices Observational Study (Westberg et al., 1993) examined
instructional and curricular practices in 46 regular elementary classrooms throughout the United
States. Two students, one identified gifted student and one average ability student, were selected
for each of two observation days and the types and frequencies of instruction that both students
received through modifications in curricular activities, materials, and teacher-student verbal
interactions were documented by trained observers. The results indicated little differentiation in
the instructional and curricular practices, including grouping arrangements and verbal
interactions, for gifted students in the regular classroom. Over 92 observation days, gifted
students rarely received instruction in homogeneous groups (only 21% of the time), and more
alarmingly, the target gifted students experienced no instructional or curricular differentiation in
84% of the instructional activities in which they participated.
In a study on curriculum differentiation (Reis et al., l993), the effects of using curriculum
compacting (Reis, Burns, & Renzulli, 1992) were examined; curriculum compacting is the
process of modifying the curriculum and eliminating previously mastered work for high ability
students. The content that is eliminated is usually repeated from previous textbooks or even
content that may be new in the curriculum but that some students already know. In this study,
after a few hours of training, classroom teachers learned how to differentiate curriculum and
instruction, and they were able to eliminate between 40-50% of previously mastered regular
curriculum for high ability students. However, they were less effective at replacing what they
eliminated with high quality, challenging curriculum and instruction (Reis et al., l993). No
differences were found in the achievement scores of gifted students whose work was compacted
and students who did all the work in reading, math computation, social studies, and spelling. In
science and math concepts, students whose curriculum was compacted scored significantly
higher than control group in achievement (Reis et al., 1993).
Little differentiation in reading was found for third- or seventh-grade gifted readers who
read several grade levels ahead in reading (Reis et al., 2004). Research conducted in 12 different
third- and seventh-grade reading classrooms in both urban and suburban school districts over a 9-
month period showed that little purposeful or meaningful differentiated reading instruction was
given for talented readers in any of the classrooms (Reis et al., 2004). Above-grade level books
were seldom available for these students in their classrooms, and students were not encouraged
to select more challenging books and so made little continuous progress. Other research related
to the absence of middle school differentiation and attitudes of teachers and administrators about
differentiation (Moon, Tomlinson, & Callahan, 1995) suggests that advanced students continue
to remain under-challenged in many middle school classrooms in the United States.
The research studies summarized in this section suggest that that gifted and high potential
students in American schools are under-challenged. In a data-based longitudinal study (Reis,
Hébert, Diaz, Maxfield, & Rattley, 1995) conducted with gifted, urban, high school students, half
of these previously identified students were found to be underachieving in high school. These
students provided insight about why they did poorly, blaming an elementary and middle school
program that was too easy. The problem of systematically learning not to work exists in rural,
suburban, and urban areas and seems to be an area of increasing importance in the education of
gifted and talented students
This section has summarized studies showing a pattern of little differentiation occurring
in randomly selected classrooms (Archambault et al., l993; Reis et al., l993; Reis et al., 2004;
Westberg et al., 1993). Many classroom teachers have not received training in differentiation or
gifted education pedagogy and fail to use it regularly or effectively in their classrooms
(Archambault et al., 1993; Reis et al., 2004). When they do receive training, they can often
eliminate redundant content through procedures such as curriculum compacting but often have
few resources to use with their students (Reis et al., l993). This lack of challenge and
differentiation is one reason that some gifted students drop out (Renzulli & Park, 2000) or
underachieve in school (Reis et al., 1995).
Research on Grouping Patterns for Gifted Students
Although research on tracking has been shown to produce detrimental effects for some
students (Oakes, 2005), we make a distinction between tracking and instructional grouping. We
define tracking as the permanent placement of students into a class that is often remedial or
advanced in nature with little chance of exit or entrance over the years. In contrast, several types
of instructional grouping exist for academically talented students, and the ones reviewed in this
article enable flexible movement in and out of grouping patterns. Several studies have proven
that grouping gifted students together for differentiated curriculum and instruction increases
achievement for gifted students and, in some cases, also for students who are achieving at
average and below average levels (Gentry & Owen, 1999; Kulik, 1992; Rogers, 1991; Tieso,
2002). Kulik’s (1992) meta-analysis of grouping found that achievement is increased when
gifted and talented students are grouped together for enriched, advanced, or accelerated learning
in classes. Kulik further found, in this meta-analysis, that ability grouping without curricular
acceleration or enrichment produces little or no differences in student achievement. Kulik’s
research found positive effects for students at all achievement levels; gifted, average, and
struggling students were all found to benefit from being grouped with others in
ability/instructional groups when the curriculum is adjusted to the aptitude levels of the group.
Gifted students who were grouped together and received advanced enrichment or acceleration
benefitted the most because they outperformed control group students who were not grouped and
did not receive enrichment or acceleration by 5 months to a full year on achievement tests
(Kulik, 1992).
Rogers (1991), in a separate meta-analysis, found similar results showing grouping gifted
and talented students for instruction in advanced classes improves their achievement, and that
full-time ability/instructional grouping produces substantial academic gains in these students.
She also found that pullout enrichment grouping options produce substantial academic gains in
general achievement, critical thinking, and creativity, and that within-class grouping and
regrouping for specific instruction options produce substantial academic gains provided the
instruction is differentiated, more advanced, or infused with enrichment opportunities (Rogers,
1991). More recently, Tieso (2002) studied grouping patterns and found similar results, as
treatment group students outperformed students who were grouped for an enriched math lesson
scored higher than comparison groups. Further, results indicated significant differences favoring
the group that received a modified and differentiated curriculum in a grouped class (Tieso,
2002). Gentry & Owen (1999), in a quasi-experimental cluster group study of high ability
students, found that students at high, medium, and low levels all benefited from cluster grouping
and other forms of instructional grouping accompanied by differentiated instruction and content.
Cluster groups of students, usually those who score at the very high or low end of achievement,
are grouped in a cluster and then placed in a class with other students. Students who were in
cluster groups and who received advanced and enriched learning opportunities scored
significantly higher than students who were not cluster grouped (Gentry & Owen, 1999).
The more recent research on various forms of grouping gifted and high potential students
strongly supports the use of this instructional strategy for higher achievement and also suggests
benefits for children of other achievement levels as well. Flexible grouping (Tieso, 2002), class
grouping (Rogers, 1999), or cluster grouping (Gentry & Owen, 1999; Tieso, 2002), when
combined with advanced content and differentiated instruction, has been shown to be an
effective strategy for challenging gifted and talented learners, as well as students from other
bands of achievement as well.
Achievement Increases from Accelerated and Enriched Programs
The use of enrichment, differentiation, acceleration, and curriculum enhancement has
resulted in higher achievement for gifted and talented learners as well as other students when it is
applied to a broader population of high and average achievers (Colangelo, Assouline, & Gross,
2004; Field, 2009; Gavin et al., 2007; Gentry & Owen, 1999; Gubbins et al., 2007; Kulik, 1992;
Reis et al., 2007; Rogers, 1991; Tieso, 2002). For example, in one experimental study, teachers
used curriculum compacting and enrichment for gifted students, finding that elimination of work
already mastered by gifted and talented students followed by the replacement of enriched
learning opportunities such as self-selected independent study resulted in higher or similar
achievement scores (Reis, Westberg, Kulikowich, & Purcell, 1998).
Colangelo, Assouline, and Gross (2004), in the most comprehensive meta-analysis of
acceleration to date, studied many different types of acceleration practices. They summarized
research proving that, over decaded, these practices resulted in both higher achievement and
higher standardized scores for gifted and talented learners. Students whose grade level was
accelerated tended to be more ambitious, and they earned graduate degrees at higher rates than
other students. Interviewed years later, accelerated students were uniformly positive about their
experiences, reporting that they were academically challenged, socially accepted, and did not fall
prey to the boredom, as do highly capable students who are forced to follow the curriculum for
their age-peers (Colangelo et al., 2004).
Gavin et al. (2007) used quasi-experimental methods in intact classrooms to investigate
the use of more challenging math curriculum for gifted students; findings showed that talented
third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade math students had significant gains in achievement in math
concepts, computation, and problem solving each year over a 3-year period. Reis and colleagues
(Reis et al., 2007; Reis, Eckert, McCoach, Jacob, & Coyne, 2008), using experimental research
methods, found that students, including gifted students, benefitted from an enriched and
accelerated reading intervention. Gifted students as well as randomly assigned students who
participated in the enriched and accelerated SEM-R program had significantly higher scores in
reading fluency and comprehension than students in the control group, who did not participate in
the SEM-R. Results show achievement differences favoring the SEM-R treatment across all
levels, including students who read well above, at, and below grade level (Reis et al., 2007,
2008).
Field (2009) studied the use Renzulli Learning, an innovative on-line enrichment
program based on the Enrichment Triad Model, for students in both an urban and suburban
school. In this 16-week experimental study, both gifted and non-gifted students who participated
in this enrichment program and used Renzulli Learning for 2-3 hours each week demonstrated
significantly higher growth in reading comprehension than control group students who did not
participate in the program. Students also demonstrated significantly higher growth in oral
reading fluency and in social studies achievement than those students who did not participate
(Field, 2009).
Using quasi-experimental methods in intact classrooms, VanTassel-Baska, Zuo, Avery,
and Little (2002) investigated the use of advanced content with gifted students in units developed
across content areas. They found significant differences favoring students using this content in
language arts, critical reading, persuasive writing, and scientific research design skills. Little,
Feng, VanTassel-Baska, Rogers, and Avery (2007) used quasi-experimental methods to examine
whether the advanced curriculum units respond
to the needs of high-ability students in
elementary and middle
school social studies. Results demonstrate significant differences between
treatment and comparison groups in the area
of content learning, favoring the treatment group.
The studies summarized in this section have demonstrated that enrichment pedagogy
(Field, 2009; Reis et al., 2007, 2008), differentiation (Gentry & Owen, 1999; Reis et al., 1993;
Tieso, 2002), acceleration (Colangelo et al., 2004), and curriculum enhancement and advanced
lessons (Gavin et al., 2007; VanTassel-Baska et al., 2002) have resulted in higher achievement
for gifted and talented learners as well as other students when they are applied to both gifted and
other lower achieving students.
Benefits of Gifted Education Programs and Pedagogy for Diverse Populations
and Twice Exceptional Students
Recent research has also documented positive effects regarding the use of gifted
education programs and strategies when serving gifted and high-ability students from diverse
cultural groups (Gavin et al., 2007; Hébert & Reis, 1999; Little et al., 2007; Reis & Diaz, 1999;
Reis et al., 2007, 2008) as well as when serving those with special education needs and those
who have high ability but underachieve in school. Work in mathematics conducted by Gavin and
colleagues (2007) has been extended to culturally diverse children, as has been reading
instruction differentiation and enrichment by Reis and her colleagues (2007, 2008) as well as
curriculum enhancement in social studies and language arts by Van-Tassel-Baska and her
colleagues. Underrepresentation of black and Latino students in gifted programs has been an
ongoing problem in the field (Cunningham, Callahan, Plucker, Roberson, & Rapkin, 1998;
Donovan & Cross, 2002; Frasier, 1991; Harris & Ford, 1991) and so these curriculum outreach
efforts have been promising.
Approximately 50% of culturally diverse gifted students underachieved in a longitudinal
study conducted in an urban high school (Reis et al., 1995). Some underachievement can be
reversed (Baum, Hébert, & Renzulli, 1999); when teachers served as mentors for a gifted
program self-selected independent study, 82% of gifted underachieving students reversed their
underachievement (Baum et al., 1999). An analysis of one large national database found that 5%
of identified gifted students dropped out of high school (Renzulli & Park, 2000). Students’
reasons for dropping out related to failures in school, disliking school, finding a job, or becoming
pregnant, although many other related reasons also existed. The majority of gifted students who
dropped out of school participated in fewer extracurricular activities, were from low SES
families and/or racial minority groups, and had parents with low levels of education.
During the last two decades, increasing attention has also been given to the perplexing
problem of gifted and high ability/talented students who also have learning disabilities (Baum,
1988). In one qualitative case study, participants who were both gifted and learning disabled had
the opportunity to participate in gifted education programs and work on advanced projects;
results included improved behavior, self-regulation, and self-esteem (Baum, 1988). Little
research exists on program outcomes for these students as so few are able to participate in gifted
programs. Due to the difficulty in identification and the lack of services for this population, some
research suggests that these “twice exceptional” students may be at risk for social and emotional
adjustment challenges. In one study, for example, half of the gifted students with learning
disabilities enrolled in a competitive university experienced emotional difficulties and sought
counseling (Reis, Neu, & McGuire, 1997). Learning disability programs are often targeted for
less advanced students and differentiation is necessary if gifted students with learning disabilities
are to be both challenged and learn how to use compensation strategies to learn how to be
successful in an academic setting (Reis, McGuire, & Neu, 2000; Reis et al., 1997).
Longitudinal Benefits of Gifted Education Programs and Pedagogy for Gifted and Talented
Students
Gifted education programs and strategies have been found to longitudinally benefit gifted
and talented students, helping students increase aspirations for college and careers (Taylor,
1992), determine post-secondary and career plans (Delcourt, 1993; Hébert, 1993; Lubinski,
Webb, Morelock, & Benbow, 2001; Taylor, 1992), develop creativity and motivation that was
applied to later work (Delcourt, 1993; Hébert, 1993), and achieve more advanced degrees
(Lubinski et al., 2001). Hébert (1993) and Delcourt (1993) found that gifted programs which
were based on Renzulli’s Triad/SEM approach (Renzulli, 1977; Renzulli & Reis, 1985, 1997)
and focused on interest development and productivity in areas of interest, had a positive effect
students’ subsequent interests, positively affected post-secondary plans; Renzulli and Reis (187,
1995) also found that early advanced project work in gifted programs served as important
training for later productivity. Hébert (1993) also found that non-intellectual characteristics, such
as creativity, interests, and task commitment, remain consistent in gifted and talented students
over time. Westberg (1999), investigating longitudinal findings of students who participated in
the same type of program, found that students maintained interests and were still involved in
both interests and creative productive work after they finished college and graduate school.
Delcourt (1993) identified benefits of gifted programs, including students’ ability to maintain
interests over time and continue to be involved in creative productive work. Students who
participated in gifted programs in elementary and secondary school maintained academic
interests and increased career aspirations in college (Taylor, 1992). Taylor (1992) also studied
longitudinal effects of Renzulli’s interest and project-based enrichment program and found that
students’ involvement in gifted programs in high school expanded potential career interests.
Moon, Feldhusen, and Dillon (1994) conducted a retrospective study on the effects of an
elementary pull-out gifted program based on the Purdue Three-Stage Model. Students and their
families indicated that the program had a long-term positive impact on the cognitive, affective,
and social development of most participating students. Lubinski, Webb, Morelock, and Benbow
(2001), in follow-up studies of gifted students who participated in an academic Talent-search for
mathematically advanced students, found that 320 gifted students who were identified as
adolescents pursued doctoral degrees at over 50x the base rate expectations (for the general
population is 1%--1 in 100). The same group of researchers (Lubinski, Benbow, Webb, &
Bleske-Rechek, 2006) tracked 286 males and 94 females (Talent-search participants scoring in
the top .01% on cognitive-ability measures who were identified before age 13) for over 20 years.
They were compared with graduate students (299 males, 287 females) enrolled in top-ranked
U.S. mathematics, engineering, and physical science programs in 1992 who were tracked for
over 10 years. By their mid-30s, the two groups achieved comparable and exceptional success
(e.g., securing top tenure-track positions) and reported high and commensurate career and life
satisfaction. Park, Lubinski, and Benbow (2007) studied a sample of 2,409 intellectually talented
adolescents (top 1%) who were assessed on the SAT at age 13 and tracked them longitudinally
for more than 25 years. Their creative accomplishments, with particular emphasis on literary
achievement and scientific-technical innovation, were examined and results showed that the
distinct ability patterns identified by age 13 were associated with similar forms of creative
expression by middle age.
In summary, both qualitative and quantitative longitudinal studies of gifted programs
demonstrate positive outcomes in cognitive, affective, and social development of participating
students. The participants also pursued doctoral degrees at higher levels than expected, increased
their college and work aspirations, and maintained interests and creative productive work that
begin in gifted programs after they finished college and graduate school.
Summary and Discussion
What can be learned from this examination of recent research on gifted and talented
students and the programs and services in which they participate? First, research detailing less
restrictive and more expanded conceptions of giftedness and talent development are more the
norm than the exception in recent research that extends giftedness beyond IQ scores (Sternberg
& Davidson, 2005). This review also found that the needs of many gifted and talented students
are not addressed in many regular classroom settings across our country (Archambault et al.,
1993; Moon et al., 1995; Reis et al., 2004; Reis & Purcell, 1993; Westberg et al., 1993).
Classroom teachers can, however, learn to differentiate curriculum and instruction in their
regular classrooms (Reis et al., 1993) and to implement gifted education strategies and pedagogy,
such as acceleration (Colangelo et al., 2004), content and instructional differentiation and
enrichment, and interest-based projects across all content areas (Field, 2009; Gavin et al., 2007;
Little et al., 2007; Reis et al., 2007; Reis, Gentry, & Maxfield, 1998; Reis et al., 1998; Tieso,
2002).
A large body of research supports the finding that various forms of acceleration result in
higher achievement for gifted and talented learners (Colangelo et al., 2004; Rogers, 1991). In
addition, the use of enrichment and curriculum enhancement results in higher achievement for
gifted and talented learners as well as other students (Field, 2009; Gavin et al., 2007; Gentry &
Owen, 1999; Kulik, 1992; Reis et al., 2007; Gubbins et al., 2007; Rogers, 1991; Tieso, 2002).
Positive findings and results have also been found relating to the use of gifted education
programs and strategies that been found to be effective at serving gifted and high-ability students
in a variety of educational settings and students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic
populations (Baum, 1988; Colangelo et al., 2004; Gavin et al., 2007; Hébert & Reis, 1999; Little
et al., 2007; Reis & Diaz, 1999; Reis et al., 2007). Some enrichment pedagogy has even been
found to benefit struggling and special needs students when implemented in a wide variety of
settings (Baum, 1988; Field, 2009; Gavin et al., 2007; Gentry, 1999; Kulik, 1992; Little et al.,
2007; Reis, Schader, Milne, & Stephens, 2003; Reis et al., 2007, 2008; VanTassel-Baska et al.,
2002). While not all forms of pedagogy can be extended to all students, some reading and
technology enrichment programs (Field, 2009; Reis et al., 2007, 2008), some content based
enrichment (VanTassel-Baska et al., 2002), and some differentiation and enrichment project-
based learning have been found to benefit students of all achievement levels.
Some gifted students with learning disabilities who are not identified and served
experience emotional difficulties and seek counseling (Reis et al., 1997). Many gifted students
underachieve in school, but this underachievement can be reversed if programmatic interventions
are implemented (Baum et al., 1999; Hébert & Reis, 1999). And some gifted students do,
unfortunately, drop out of high school due to lack of engagement and success in school (Renzulli
& Park, 2000). Finally, gifted education programs and strategies have been found to benefit
gifted and talented students longitudinally, helping them to increase aspirations for college and
careers, determine post-secondary and career plans, develop creativity and motivation that is
applied to later work, and achieving more advanced degrees (Delcourt, 1993; Hébert, 1993;
Lubinski et al., 2001; Taylor, 1992).
What implications emerge from this review of recent research? Gifted and talented
students need programs and services that challenge them in regular classroom settings and enable
them to experience enrichment (Gavin, 2007; Reis et al., 2007; Reis, Gentry, & Maxfield, 1998)
and accelerated programs (Colangelo et al., 2004) to enable them to make continuous progress in
school. Many gifted students underachieve in school (Reis & McCoach, 2000) and some even
drop out of high school (Renzulli & Park, 2000); without programming and adequate challenge,
this trend will continue. Gifted students who do underachieve can be helped; over 80 % of those
who underachieved reversed their underachievement when provided with challenging enriched
learning opportunities in areas of interest (Baum et al., 1999).
The lack of teacher training and professional development in gifted education for
classroom teachers (Archambault et al., 1993) may result in fewer challenges, less
differentiation, more underachievement and dropping-out, and lower achievement for all gifted
and talented students. Teachers who receive professional development can learn how to
differentiate and compact curriculum in order to provide more challenge to all students (Reis et
al., 1993); integral to this is that teachers have adequate training, time, and support to learn how
to effectively implement these skills and strategies.
Longitudinal research demonstrates the effectiveness of gifted education programs and
curriculum in raising student achievement, as well as helping students to develop interests,
creativity, and productivity, and career goals (Delcourt, 1993; Hébert, 1993; Lubinski et al.,
2001; Taylor, 1992). Gifted education curriculum, services, and programs often benefit other
students in addition to identified gifted students, including those who with special needs, such as
twice exceptional children. With so much at stake, including the absence of challenge and
increased levels of underachievement, coupled with the documented recorded benefits of so
many gifted program services to identified and non-identified students, why isn’t more being
done to challenge our most able students? We must conclude that there is indeed a need for
programs and services for this population. Indeed, the need may be more critical than in any time
period in recent history for gifted education programs to continue to extend and enrich the
educational experiences of high potential and gifted students of all racial and ethnic groups.
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Table 1.
Research Studies
Author & Date Title of Study Sample Major Results and Findings
The Needs of Gifted and Talented Students Are Not Often Addressed
in American Classrooms.
Archambault, Westberg,
Brown, Hallmark,
Emmons, & Zhang (1993)
The Classroom
Practices Survey N=7300
randomly
selected 3
rd
and
4
th
grade
teachers
Sixty-one percent of approximately 7300 randomly
selected third and fourth grade teachers in public and
private schools in the United States reported that they had
never had any training in teaching gifted students. The
major finding of this study is that classroom teachers make
only minor modifications on a very irregular basis in the
regular curriculum to meet the needs of gifted students.
This result was consistent for all types of schools sampled
and for classrooms in various parts of the country and for
various types of communities.
Westberg, Archambault,
Dobyns, & Salvin (1993) Classroom Practices
Observational Study N=46 teachers
N=96 students
E
Systematic observations conducted in 46 third or fourth
grade classrooms with two students, one high ability
student and one average ability student, found that little
differentiation in the instructional and curricular practices,
including grouping arrangements and verbal interactions,
for gifted students in the regular classroom. In all content
areas in 92 observation days, gifted students rarely
received instruction in homogeneous groups (only 21% of
the time), and targeted gifted students experienced no
instructional or curricular differentiation in 84% of the
instructional activities in which they participated.
Reis & Purcell (1993)
Reis, Westberg,
Kulikowich, & Purcell
(1998)
An analysis of content
elimination and
strategies used by
elementary classroom
teachers in the
curriculum compacting
process.
N=46 3
rd
- 4
th
grade classroom
teachers;
N=150 students;
random
assignment
E
The use of curriculum compacting was examined to
modify the curriculum and eliminate previously mastered
work for high ability/gifted students. When classroom
teachers eliminated between 40-50% of the previously
mastered regular curriculum for high ability students, no
differences were found between students whose work was
compacted and students who did all the work in reading,
math computation, social studies and spelling. Almost all
classroom teachers learned to use compacting, but needed
coaching and help to substitute appropriately challenging
options.
Reis, Gubbins, Briggs,
Schreiber, Richards,
Jacobs, Eckert, &
Renzulli (2004)
Reading instruction for
talented readers: Case
studies documenting
few opportunities for
continuous progress
N=12 teachers;
N=350 students
E, M
Research was conducted in 12 different third and seventh
grade reading classrooms in both urban and suburban
school districts over a 9-month period. Results indicated
that little purposeful or meaningful differentiated reading
instruction was provided for talented readers in any of the
classrooms. Above-grade level books were seldom
available for these students in their classrooms, and they
were not often encouraged to select more challenging
books from the school library. Talented readers seldom
encountered challenging reading material during regular
classroom instruction. Even less advanced content and
instruction was made available for urban students than for
suburban.
Moon, Tomlinson, &
Callahan (1995) Academic diversity in
the middle school:
Results of a national
survey of middle
school administrators
and teachers
N= 449
Teachers (61 %
response rate);
N= 500
Principals (25 %
response rate)
Teachers and principals admitted that academically diverse
populations receive very little, if any, targeted attention in
their schools. Teachers report the use of little
differentiation for gifted middle school students. Both
principals and teachers hold beliefs that may deny
challenge to advanced middle school students, as the
overwhelming majority believe that these students are
more social than academic. Half of the principals and
teachers believe that middle school learners are in a
plateau learning period when little new learning takes
place—a theory which supports the idea that basic skills
instruction, low level thinking, and small assignments are
appropriate.
Hébert & Reis (1999)
Reis & Diaz (1999) Case Studies of
Talented Students Who
Achieve and
Underachieve in an
Urban High School
N=35 high
school students
S
Half of the 35 students who participated in this
longitudinal study conducted in an urban high school were
underachieving in school. Some of the high achieving
students also experienced periods of underachievement in
school. Talented students who achieve in school
acknowledged the importance of being grouped together in
honors and advanced classes for academically talented
students. Underachievement for the other students began in
elementary school when they were not provided with
appropriate levels of challenge and never learned to work.
Renzulli & Park (2000) Gifted Dropouts: The
Who and the Why N=12, 625 high
school students
S
National
Education
Longitudinal
Study (NELS:
1988)
Approximately 5 % of a large, national sample of gifted
students dropped out of high school. Gifted students left
school because they were failing school, didn't like school,
got a job, or were pregnant, although there are many other
related reasons. Many gifted students who dropped out of
school participated less in extracurricular activities. Many
gifted students who dropped out of school were from low
SES families and racial minority groups, and had parents
with low levels of education.
Benefits of Gifted Programs for Gifted Students with LD and Special Needs
Baum (1988) An enrichment
program for gifted
learning disabled
students
N=7
E
Participants who were both gifted and learning disabled
had the opportunity to participate in gifted education
programs and work on advanced projects, resulting in
improved behavior, self-regulation and self-esteem.
Baum, Hébert, & Renzulli
(1999) Students who
underachieve N=17
E, M
When given gifted programming options (self-selected
independent study with a mentor), 82% of gifted
underachieving students reversed their underachievement
when they had the opportunities for strength-based gifted
programming.
Reis, Schader, Milne, &
Stephens (2003) Music & minds: Using
a talent development
approach for young
adults with Williams
syndrome
N=16
S
The use of participants’ interests and the opportunity to
participate in advanced training in music was found to
significantly increase achievement in math, enhance all
participants’ understanding of mathematics and to provide
opportunities for the further development of their interests
and abilities, especially their potential in music.
Longitudinal Benefits Of Gifted Programs
Hébert (1993)
Reflections at
graduation: The long-
term impact of
elementary school
experiences in creative
productivity
N=9
S
Gifted programs had a positive effect on subsequent
interests of students affect post-secondary plans; early
advanced project work serves as important training for
later productivity; non-intellectual characteristics with
students remain consistent over time.
Lubinski, Webb,
Morelock, & Benbow
(2001)
Top 1 in 10,000: A
10-Year Follow-up of
the Profoundly Gifted
N=320 students
PS
Follow-up studies found that 320 gifted students identified
as adolescents pursued doctoral degrees at over 50X the
base rate expectations. The base rate expectation for the
general population is 1%--1 in 100.
Westberg (1999) A longitudinal study of
students who
participated in a
program based on the
Enrichment Triad
Model in 1981-1984
N=15
E, S
Students maintained interests and were still involved in
both interests and creative productive work after they
finished college and graduate school.
Delcourt (1993) Creative productivity
among secondary
school students:
Combining energy,
interest, and
imagination.
N=18
S
Benefits of gifted programs indicate that students
maintained interests over time and were still involved in
creative productive work. Students who had participated in
gifted programs, maintained interests and career
aspirations in college. Students’ gifts and talents could be
predicted by their elementary school creative/productive
behaviors.
Taylor (1992) The effects of the
Secondary Enrichment
Triad Model on the
career development of
vocational-technical
school students
N=60
S
Students’ involvement in gifted programs in high school
enabled them to explore potential career interests and
allow students to see themselves in the role of practicing
professionals and visualize a different sense of self.
Students had
increased post-secondary education plans
(from attending 2.6 years to attending 4.0 years).
Moon, Feldhusen, &
Dillon (1994) Long-Term Effects of
an Enrichment
Program Based on the
Purdue Three-Stage
Model
N=23 students
N=22 parents
E
This retrospective study investigated the effects
of an elementary pull-out program gifted program based on
the Purdue Three-Stage Model. Students and their families
indicated the program had a long-term positive impact on
the cognitive, affective, and social development of most
participating students.
Lubinski, Benbow,Webb,
& Bleske-Rechek (2006)
Tracking Exceptional
Human Capital Over
Two Decades
Participants:
286 males, 94
females
Talent-search participants scoring in the top .01% on
cognitive-ability measures were identified before age 13
and tracked over 20 years. Their creative, occupational,
and life accomplishments are compared with those of
graduate students (299 males, 287 females) enrolled in top-
ranked U.S. mathematics, engineering, and physical
science programs in 1992 and tracked over 10 years. By
their mid-30s, the two groups achieved comparable and
exceptional success (e.g., securing top tenure-track
positions) and reported high and commensurate career and
life satisfaction.
Park, Lubinski, &
Benbow (2007) Contrasting
Intellectual Patterns
Predict Creativity in
the Arts and Sciences:
Tracking Intellectually
Precocious Youth Over
25 Years
N=2409
PS
A sample of 2,409 intellectually talented adolescents (top
1%) who were assessed on the SAT by age 13 was tracked
longitudinally for more than 25 years. Their creative
accomplishments, with particular emphasis on literary
achievement and scientific-technical innovation, were
examined and results showed that distinct ability patterns
identified by age 13 portend contrasting forms of creative
expression by middle age.
Student Achievement Increases/Gains Using Gifted Education Curriculum and/or
Grouping Strategies
Reis, Westberg,
Kulikowich, & Purcell
(1998)
Curriculum
compacting and
achievement test
scores: What does the
research say?
N=336
E, M
Teachers using curriculum compacting for gifted students
could eliminate 40%-50% of regular curriculum for gifted
students and produced achievement scores that were either
the same as a control group or higher math and science,
regardless of what they did instead (independent study in a
different content area).
Reis, McCoach, Coyne,
Schreiber, Eckert, &
Gubbins (2007)
The Schoolwide
Enrichment Model in
Reading
N=1,500
E, M
All students, including gifted students, were randomly
assigned to the SEM-R intervention or to continue with the
regular reading program as control students. Those who
participated in the enriched and accelerated SEM-R program
had significantly higher scores in reading fluency and
attitudes toward reading than students in the control group,
who did not participate. Students in the SEM-R treatment
group scored statistically significantly higher than those in
the control group in both oral reading fluency and
comprehension, as well as attitudes toward reading.
Gentry & Owen (1999) Promoting Student
Achievement and
Exemplary Classroom
Practices Through
Cluster Grouping: A
Research-Based
Alternative to
Heterogeneous
Elementary
Classrooms
N=226
E
Students at all achievement levels (high, medium and low)
benefited from cluster grouping and other forms of
instructional grouping accompanied by differentiated
instruction and content. Students who were in cluster groups
scored significantly higher than students who did More
students were identified as high achieving during the three
years that cluster grouping was used in the school.
Kulik (1992) An analysis of the
research on ability
grouping: Historical
and contemporary
perspectives
Research
Synthesis
Achievement is increased when gifted and talented students
are grouped together for enriched or accelerated learning.
Ability grouping without curricular acceleration or
enrichment produces little or no differences in student
achievement. Bright, average, and struggling students all
benefit from being grouped with others in their
ability/instructional groups when the curriculum is adjusted
to the aptitude levels of the group. When gifted students are
grouped together and receive advanced enrichment or
acceleration, they benefit the most because they outperform
control group students who are not grouped and do not
receive enrichment or acceleration by five months to a full
year on achievement tests.
Rogers (1991) The Relationship of
Grouping Practices to
the Education of the
Gifted and Talented
Learner
Research
Syntheses
Grouping gifted and talented students for instruction
improves their achievement. Full-time ability/instructional
grouping produces substantial academic gains in these
students. Pullout enrichment grouping options produce
substantial academic gains in general achievement, critical
thinking, and creativity. Within-class grouping and
regrouping for specific instruction options produce
substantial academic gains provided the instruction is
differentiated. Cross-grade grouping produces substantial
academic gains. Several forms of acceleration also produced
substantial academic effects. Cluster grouping produces
substantial academic effects.
Field (2009) An experimental study
using Renzulli
Learning to investigate
reading fluency and
comprehension as well
as social studies
achievement
N=383
E, M
After 16 weeks, students who participated in enrichment and
differentiated programs using Renzulli Learning for 2-3
hours each week demonstrated significantly higher growth in
reading comprehension than control group students who did
not participate in the program. Students who participated in
Renzulli Learning demonstrated significantly higher growth
in oral reading fluency and in social studies achievement than
those students who did not participate.
Colangelo, Assouline, &
Gross (2004) Benefits of various
forms of acceleration Research
Syntheses The use of many different types of acceleration practices
results in higher achievement for gifted and talented learners.
Students who are accelerated tend to be more ambitious, and
they earn graduate degrees at higher rates than other students.
Interviewed years later, an overwhelming majority of
accelerated students say that acceleration was an excellent
experience for them. Accelerated students feel academically
challenged and socially accepted, and they do not fall prey to
the boredom, as do so many highly capable students who are
forced to follow the curriculum for their age-peers.
Gubbins, Housand,
Oliver, Schader, & De
Wet (2007)
Unclogging the
mathematics pipeline
through access to
algebraic
understanding
N=5 teachers
N=73
students
M
Elementary grade students identified for an after-school
program in algebra using grade 8, norm-referenced
achievement and algebra aptitude tests; the 30 hour
intervention yielded significant pre/post achievement results
in problem solving and data interpretation (17-point gain),
and algebra tests.
Gavin, Casa, Adelson,
Carrol, Sheffield, &
Spinelli (2007)
Gavin, Casa, Adelsonm,
Carrol, & Sheffield
(2009)
Math achievement was
investigated using
Project M
3
: Mentoring
Mathematical Minds
curriculum units for
mathematically
talented students
N=41
teachers
N=800
students
E
Challenging math curriculum resulted in significant gains in
achievement in math concepts, computation, and problem
solving each year over a 3-year period for talented math
students in grades 3, 4, and 5. Students using the curriculum
outperformed a comparison group of students of like ability
from the same schools. Significant gains were found on
challenging open-ended problems adapted from international
and national assessments in favor of students using the
project m
3
curriculum over the comparison group. Students
receiving the advanced math achieved significant gains in all
mathematical concepts across grade levels.
Tieso (2002)
The Effects of
Grouping and
Curricular Practices on
Intermediate Students'
Math Achievement
N= 31
teachers
N=645
students
E, M
Results indicated significant differences on math
achievement for treatment group students (who were grouped
for an enriched math lesson and exposed to an enhanced unit)
when compared to the comparison groups. Further, results
indicated significant differences favoring the group that
received a modified and differentiated curriculum in a
grouped class.
Reis, Neu, & McGuire
(1997) Talents in Two Places:
Case Studies of High
Ability Students
N=12
currently
enrolled
college or
university
students
PS
Gifted students with learning disabilities in this study
encountered many negative experiences in school, often
failed to be identified as either gifted or learning disabled,
and half had psychological problems that required
professional help and support in subsequent years.
Little, Feng,VanTassel-
Baska, Rogers, & Avery
(2007)
A Study of Curriculum
Effectiveness in Social
Studies
N=1,200
(Treatment -
941
Comparison –
251)
A quasi-experimental study examined the effects on student
performance of a Javits-funded curriculum designed to
respond
to the needs of high-ability students in elementary
and middle
school social studies. Results demonstrate
significant differences between treatment and comparison
groups in the area
of content learning, favoring the treatment
group; but no significant
differences are found for the small
sub-sample of gifted students.
VanTassel-Baska, Bass,
Ries, Poland, & Avery
(1998)
A National Pilot Study
of Science Curriculum
Effectiveness for High
Ability Students.
N=1,471
E
Results indicate small but significant gains for students using
a unit on the dimension of integrated science process skills
when compared to equally able students not using the units.
VanTassel-Baska, Zuo,
Avery, & Little (2002) Gifted Students'
Learning Using the
Integrated Curriculum
Model (Icm): Impacts
and Perceptions of the
William and Mary
Language Arts and
Science Curriculum
N=2,189
E
Findings suggest that gifted student learning at grades 3 to 5
was enhanced at significant and important levels in language
arts critical reading and persuasive writing and scientific
research design skills, through the use of the curriculum
across individual academic years.
Vaughn, Feldhusen, &
Asher (1991) Meta-Analyses and
Review of Research on
Pull-Out Programs in
Gifted Education
Research
synthesis
The purpose of this research was to evaluate the effectiveness
of pull-out programs in gifted education. Nine experimental
studies were located that dealt with pull-out programs for
gifted
students. The variables of self-concept, achievement,
critical
thinking, and creativity were quantified via meta-
analysis.
The results indicate that pull-out models in gifted
education
have significant positive effects for the variables of
achievement,
critical thinking, and creativity
*P=Primary grades, K-2; E=Elementary grades, 3-5; M=Middle grades, 6-8; S, H=Secondary or High School
grades, 9-12. PS=Post secondary grades.
... Research indicates that gifted students need learning experiences that are commensurate with their abilities (Assouline et al. 2015;Reis & Baum, 2014;Renzulli, 2010;VanTassel-Baska, 1998). Curricula and instruction need to be adjusted to their level of challenge, depth, complexity, and pace (Assouline et al., 2015;Van Tassel-Baska, 2017). ...
... Understanding gifted children's unique educational needs is foundational for teachers of the gifted (NAGC, 2016;Jolly & Robins, 2016;Reis, 2016;Reis & Renzulli, 2010;Reis, McCoach, Little, Muller, & Kaniskan, 2011). One way to achieve such understanding is through specific training in gifted education. ...
... Indeed, good or even very good cognitive abilities, as revealed by standardized tests, do not prevent some of these children from underachieving at school and/or receiving poor grades (Kolb and Jussim 1994). They also do not prevent them from being insufficiently stimulated (Reis and Renzulli 2010). The aforementioned asynchronous development of the gifted child undoubtedly explains in large part why these children are not exempt from the possibility of encountering difficulties and/or underachieving at school. ...
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... Many gifted students spend most of their time in standard classroom settings (National Association for Gifted Children, 2009). This situation causes students not to receive adequate and appropriate education (Reis & Renzulli, 2010). For this reason, teachers can use various strategies to provide education that meets the needs of gifted students (National Research Council, 2013). ...
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... Most COVID-19 studies investigated the effects of the lockdown on students in general. However, little is known about possible effects on gifted students, who need special educational adaptions to flourish, such as curriculum compacting, enrichment or special pull-out programmes (for a review, see Reis and Renzulli, 2010). Even though many gifted students attend school together with non-gifted students, or received the same distance education, their giftedness can influence their perceived autonomy, competence and relatedness. ...
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This is a reprint of an article originally published in November 1978. A new one-page introduction by the author appears in the print and digital editions. After reviewing old definitions of giftedness and research dealing with characteristics of the gifted, the author presents a definition that focuses on three clusters of traits: above-average general ability, high levels of task commitment, and high levels of creativity. The author holds copyright to this article. Distributed by Phi Delta Kappa International with permission.
Chapter
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Book
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