Alberta’s Code 80 Program: The Way We Handle Gifted Youth

When my eldest sister was in grade four, she was placed into a program through the Calgary Board of Education called “Code 80.” Code 80 is a code entered into the evaluation of the students that signifies that the student is, for lack of a better word, gifted. (Code 80 Information, 2012) Her grade three teacher had seen that she performed exceptionally well in the grade three class — far beyond the likes of any of her classmates. The grade three and four teachers had a meeting with my mother and grandmother (our caregivers), and together they decided that upon her entrance into grade four, she would be granted an aid to offer her more challenging work to do during and outside of class time, as my sister always finished assignments four times faster than the rest of her peers, and would spend the rest of her class time reading and for the most part, wasting her time. When grade four started, she was hauled into a room with three other students in her grade to explain the code 80 program that they were now a part of. From grade four on, my sister was in and out of the class room, working on advanced book reports, designing a mathematics curriculum that suited her intelligence better, and ultimately working on assignments that were different from the rest of her peers.

Much to my Mother and her teachers’ surprise, my sister hated the Code 80 program. It was designed as though other students wouldn’t even notice when she left the room, and yet, children are not stupid. To her, especially as she was entering junior high in Grades Seven and Eight, it felt like social stratification. Peers and friends alike would realize she was going out during class time, and they became petty that she was not stuck in the same class room working on the same work with the rest of them.

The purpose of this long-winded introduction is to illustrate what this program looks like when it is applied to actual students. This is very much a perspective piece, as I know that administrators are very proud of their Code 80 program. It is my belief, and also backed by solid scientific research, that the Code 80 programs, as well as other gifted child programs across Canada, the United States and the UK are counterproductive for the child’s actual learning. Extra assignments and projects catered to children who need more than the curriculum set up for them do not help the gifted children to learn more if the child them-self feel socially separated.

Sternberg and Davidson wrote a book called “Conceptions of Giftedness”, which covers the way Gifted Children programs are viewed by administration, teachers, parents, and the gifted students themselves. This book is definitely pro-gifted children program, but the authors present perspectives on gifted education from both sides of the proverbial fence  of the argument. Chapter Six is titled “Permission to be Gifted” and shows how gifted students who are identified and entered into these programs feel about being labeled “gifted”. Data collected in high, or medium income communities varied drastically from children who were from more humble upbringings. Children that were taken aside from their peers and friends in low income communities and proclaimed gifted faced trouble – especially at the onset of puberty – when it came to fitting in with their peers. When a child is proclaimed “gifted” among a group of children who dislike school, it can create isolating barriers between students and cause a depletion to the child’s self-esteem. As mentioned in my last blog, low self-esteem can lead to disinterest in school, which is the opposite outcome of a gifted program. (Sternberg, 2005)

Being a gifted child in a group of friends who are non-academic can lead to underachievement by gifted students. In an article by Dowdall and Colangello, it was revealed that the group’s with the highest incidence rates of underachievement in gifted students were by females in male dominated classrooms, and by males of colour. A chart below shows the difference in attributes between underachievers, average achievers, and gifted underachievers. Gifted underachievers are dubbed socially immature, anti-social, and have low self-esteem. (Dowdall & Colangelo, 1982)

psychblog

After researching and analyzing the information on gifted programs, such as the Code 80 program here in Alberta, it became clear that the problem in administration is not getting gifted children the extra stimulus they need to fulfill their intellectual buckets, but the way “gifted” students are separated from the rest of the class and made to feel as if they are odd or disliked because of their differences. So how do we re-frame Code 80 to ensure a positive outlook on students who take part in it? In the article by Dowdall and Colangello, there were two experimental tools for underachieving or disinterested gifted children. The first experimental tool was to seek counselling for the students with low self concept. This was a direct method of solving isolated problems, but it doesn’t solve the institution already in place.  The second experimental tool was to manipulate the classroom environment. This experimental tool is more in line with what we are trying to do in this course. It involves A) intervening in elementary school (before the child has a chance to get too comfortable in their self doubt) and B) altering attitudes of collective students on how they view both gifted students, and students with low academic success alike. By fostering a classroom model based on kindness, acceptance, and acknowledgment of intellectual ability (such as  the Value Education Program mentioned in my previous blog) Gifted, regular, and under-performing students alike can all find self confidence that comes from respect, or validation.

An interesting development in this area of education would be to put these tools to task in elementary and junior high schools. By no means should students who require additional assignments and materials be denied the chance to learn beyond the curriculum — I believe any initiative to break the bonds of standardized curriculum to be a good thing. The challenge is to continue the work being done in the Code 80 program, while still allowing students to maintain self-confidence, a positive self concept, and the ability to continue their intrinsic motivation to learn.

Academic Sources:

Code 80. 2012. “Code 80 Information”. Retrieved from: http://www.lss.ecsd.net/gifted/code80.html on August 18, 2017

Dowdall, C. B., & Colangelo, N. (1982). Underachieving Gifted Students: Review and Implications. The Gifted Child Quarterly, 26(4), 179–184.

Marsh, H. W., Chessor, D., Craven, R., & Roche, L. (1995). The Effects of Gifted and Talented Programs on Academic Self-Concept: The Big Fish Strikes Again. American Educational Research Journal, 32(2), 285.

Sternberg, R. J. (2005). Conceptions of Giftedness. Cambridge University Press.

 

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4 thoughts on “Alberta’s Code 80 Program: The Way We Handle Gifted Youth

  1. Hey Anthony!
    Really well-written, informational and thoughtful blog, as per usual. This is a phenomenon that I wasn’t previously aware of, because surprisingly we had no gifted students in my pincher creek highschool graduation class of 11 people (either that, or we were all ‘gifted’). Ironically, it seems that not being gifted has been a gift in and of itself. That being said, I’m sorry about what happened to your sister, especially because the influence of peers can be so instrumental at that age. I think that you bring up an interesting problem, which is that sometimes what sounds good in theory, and what is backed by paper evidence, might not actually achieve the desired result in reality due to overlooked details, this one being the effects of social exclusion. It was really eye-opening and saddening to see the results of the Dowdall study that you posted, where “gifted underachievers” ended fairing worse off emotionally than “standard underachievers”, as well as having the same antisocial and esteem problems associated with “non-gifted” underachievers. It would be a great thing to see the experimental tools that you mentioned be actually implemented, though who knows how long it would take to change the bureaucratic status quo.

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    • Thanks for commenting! Pretty comprehensive comment yourself! I found myself drawn to the idea of researching something that was actually extremely popular, and yet, did not yield positive results in some cases, because I think sometimes when adults create curriculums for adolescent students, they simply forget what it was like to be an adolescent themselves! Who has time (or even wants to) study the Renaissance, when young teenagers are going through fundamental changes that are very much affecting their lives? I think the least that administrators can do is try to lighten that load. By any means necessary. I think that gifted programs are a very good idea for children who are bored to tears, but it’s only its most effective when the student is able to get validation from both the teacher, and their peers. Another quick way to cater specialized education to different students is by the teachers making discussion groups themselves. While the students might think the groups were created on accident, the groups would have to be made with great insight before hand. Pairing students with similar processing speeds and attention spans could be a great way to subtly give the more advanced (and less advanced) students what they need. But this is merely a suggestion. Thanks for the comment!

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  2. I can relate with Micah’s comment aside from the different small town. Also about how well articulated your blog is, also like he said- as per usual. I looked further into social acceptance in gifted students for the reason that social acceptance is so neat to study, especially with young kids. In this article it used participants in Slovenian elementary students and also conducted two groups. One group intelligence test and teacher assessment while the other group was social acceptance by gender. Gifted students received less negative nominations an had lower social impact but were more accepted by their peers. Just like your sister experienced, less peer relations self concept, but unidentified in your blog, these students reported in higher academic. It’s interesting to know about this program! Thanks for sharing a personal story. I bet you were asked to join that program too. 😉

    Košir, K., Horvat, M., Aram, U., Jurinec, N. (2016) Is being gifted always an advantage? Peer relations and self-concept of gifted students. High Ability Studies, 27(2), 129-148. DOI: 10.1080/13598139.2015.1108186

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  3. Great blog post! The same situation happened to my cousin where she was asked if she would like to skip Grade 8 and start Grade 9 or 10. She declined as she didn’t want to leave her friends behind and begin post secondary too early. They continued to try to push her and her family to agree to her skipping a grade or two as (they were from a very small town) but her parents continuously said it was her decision. The school did not have extra work for her to do and did not offer her different assignments but she ended up learning just as much as every other student, graduated the top of her class, and just got accepted in to medical school in Calgary. Honestly, if she would have jumped a grade she may not have had the same outcome. I looked up how parents feel about having a gifted child and it seems that the majority aren’t sure what to do! It does show that if the decision is left up to the child the outcome is beneficial, but if the child does not have a say the program is often detrimental to their learning.

    http://www.gatecalgary.ca/?page_id=206

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