The Excellence Gap
These slippages in performance are highlighted further in the gaps we see across high performance across diverse learners. For example, students with high potential, but in low income areas, are less likely to reach advanced levels of academic development. This ‘excellence gap’ - high poverty levels, not surprisingly, resulting in lower achievement – must be assumed to exist in New Zealand where 1 in 4 children are living in poverty and 1 in 5 children are performing below expectations.
“It is a story of demography predetermining destiny, with bright low-income students becoming what one research team referred to as a “persistent talent underclass” (Plucker et al., 2015). Plucker and his colleagues identified the excellence gap by examining three key elements:
1. Inputs (identification of able students, allocation of resources, policies, and tracking of student achievement)
2. Student participation (opportunities in and out of school, acceleration, equity of participation)
3. Outcomes (percentage of students achieving highly, excellence gaps in representation of low-income and other students at high level)
We cannot conduct a similar exercise in determining how wide the excellence gap in NZ might be, because of the invisibility of our gifted students created by the lack of policy and data collection by the Ministry of Education, and all the aforementioned factor. We must, however, work towards closing the excellence gap by
• making high performing students more visible,
• removing barriers that prevent students from moving at the pave that matches their achievement levels
• ensuring high ability students have access to advanced educational opportunities, and
• holding schools accountable for the performance of high ability students.
These visibility factors can only be made possible through ongoing teacher education and professional learning. Raising awareness at pre- and in-service levels for all teachers is a necessity we must meet, yet, in the Ministry of Education’s accredited providers list only 2% of providers use the key identifier of ‘gifted’ in describing their specialisation, and most universities do not offer in-depth study at undergraduate or postgraduate levels. This is despite evidence from the preferred Ministry of Education providers of profdessional learning and development, Te Toi Topu, reporting in 2014 that, “an effective lever for raising school wide achievement because it has an explicit focus on identifying and nurturing student potential.”
I have shared just some of the ways in which gifted learners have become invisible in our education system in New Zealand, and there are many other possibilities to explore: identification practices, provisions, funding models (or lack of funding models) – but my investigation left me pondering, why are gifted learners invisible? What lies beneath it? Is it our she’ll be right attitude? Or is it our yeah right humour? Are gifted students simply off our radar and simply out of our sights? What are the cloaks of invisibility at play here?
You don’t look through an invisibility cloak, you look around it.
To make something invisible, hide the light that bounces off it.