How Being in Gifted Programs Can Affect Students


Belle R. LeDuc, Editor

In Utah, Gifted Kids are defined as “ students in grades K-8 that the LEA [ Local Education Authority] identifies as having an ability that is significantly above the typical ability of a student within the same age group.” Gifted Kids are moved from regularly paced classes to classes specially catered to their needs and academic abilities with the goal to foster their minds and help them grow. 

When I tested into a gifted program, I wore it as a badge of honor. I saw myself as better than everyone else in my classes and was determined to become the next Einstein or Hawkings. That hope and pride died out within the first month of being in the program.

 I was compared  to other students both in and out of the program, my straight A’s became all I lived for, my social life was restricted to the same 30 students all day,  my mental health failed, and my greatest fear is to end up being average

How did this happen? How did a program that was meant to help become so destructive to the students in it? 

According to the American Research Journal, being placed in gifted programs had a direct correlation to worse academic self-concept. Much like me, students across the nation saw their self-esteem become worse and with time. It is theorized to be due to the Big Fish Little Pond Effect: the phenomena where students go from being the best in their class, but their brightness was only in comparison to the other students (a big fish in a pond is nothing compared to a shark in the ocean). 

To the gifted students, the program taught them to fear the idea of being average. Despite the fact that 64% of the population will be in the middle of the bell-curve, students could not accept the fact that they could be part of the majority. Excellence was the expectation for so long that it became tied to their identity. I strived for straight A’s not because I wanted to learn but because I felt I had to. 

Especially during the pandemic, my mental health in relation to school and my performance in it plummeted. Distance learning was the worst part of the experience, and my grades suffered. For the first time in my life, I didn’t get perfect scores, and my spirit was having none of it. The effects of tying my self-worth to grades was obvious and that was when I learned that it needed to change. It was nice to have classes that catered to my ability to learn a bit faster, but it was not worth the mental turmoil that it put me through. 

Being placed in advanced classes impacts self-esteem not just for the students in it, but the students out of it. The few friends I had outside of the program often talked about how the gifted class was described as perfect and used as examples to belittle them. Especially to the people who applied but were rejected, the gifted program served as a reminder that they were not smart enough for special treatment. 

The education system has a lot of issues and no student will leave their 12 years of school fully satisfied. Gifted Students face unique problems in and out of school, and that needs to change. Students were unduly compared to each other during the most formative years of their life, Gifted kids were forced to hold themselves to standards higher than possible, and the last pandemic only worsened the situation.