Another Curious Statistic

In their May, 2007 document, the Special Assistance Team for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board notes that 3.56% of the total student population is identified as gifted; they comment that this is 1.7 times the percentage in the rest of the school boards in Ontario.

There are many ways of identifying giftedness. In the province of Ontario, the most common identifier is an Intelligence Quotient in the 98th percentile. In other words, the student must test higher than 98% of children his age. The equivalent in IQ scores is about 135. This is between two and three standard deviations above the norm. I suspect the reason that percentiles are preferred to IQ scores is that the general population is steadily scoring higher on IQ tests but that is another story.

Many boards include teacher checklists and parent checklists of the student characteristics and a point system. Some times these seriously affect identification but generally the IQ percentile rules in making a decision, especially if the score is particularly high or particularly low. Most boards use a paper and pencil test such as the Canadian Cognitive Abilities Test (CGAT) to determine IQ. If the parents are unhappy with the results and can afford it, they can and often do go outside the board. They pay a psychologist qualified to administer a one on one test such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) to their child. The cost can run as high as $1500. The psychologist’s written report will overrule the board’s findings as few boards can afford to do one-on-one testing to identify gifted students.

The joke that IQ tests measure the ability to take IQ tests is not far from the truth. They are intended to predict the subject’s ability to be successful academically, all things being equal. However, success requires other factors such as work, initiative and creativity. IQ tests do not measure that.

The Special Assistance Team’s report mentions that the OCDSB’s explanation for their unusually high gifted population was that Ottawa has an unusually high population of people holding graduate degrees. As a specialist in gifted education who is interested in the nature/nurture debate on ability, I was intrigued and decided to explore the argument.

Although extremely high intelligence is helpful, it is not necessary to be in the 98th percentile of IQs to earn a graduate degree; usually it is sufficient to be very bright and hard working. Nor has it been clearly demonstrated that gifted parents will necessarily have gifted children. There is no one gene for intelligence. In the great nature versus nurture debate , the best that can be said is that a child’s talents may be stronger in certain areas and often in the areas where the parents have talent. The strength of the talent is rarely inherited. There is no record of Jane Austen’s parents writing with her wit and style, nor is there any record of Dickens’ children showing the same prodigious talent for novel writing as he did. With luck a talented child may be born to parents whose parenting style will be a fit with the child’s personality. The resulting combination of nature and nurture may result in an IQ in the 98th percentile or a gifted musician or a Wayne Gretzky or a Nelson Mandela.

However, a large pool of very bright people is more likely to produce gifted children than the general population. I could not find a reliable source for the common belief that the capital city is unduly blessed with holders of doctorates and masters degrees. The belief is mentioned frequently by real estate agents, the Chamber of Commerce and anything that promoted Ottawa but only in the vaguest of terms. No statistics are ever given.

I checked Statistics Canada. I did find that there is a higher proportion of people with degrees in urban populations. By degrees, Statistics Canada meant any kind of degree from the bachelor to the PhD. Twenty five percent of people in Ontario have a degree. Ottawa-Gatineau has the highest proportion of degrees of all the urban populations with 35%, followed by Toronto with 34%. In 2006, roughly 20% of all degrees granted in Canada were graduate degrees. Where those graduates and their predecessors live I have yet to discover.

I did not learn enough in a course in research and statistics to discern whether the 1% difference between Ottawa and Toronto is significant, but I doubt that it is enough to account for Toronto board identifying 1.55% of its student population as gifted and Ottawa 3.56%. Aha! You say. Those statistics include all degrees; they are not just the graduate degrees. Perhaps the ratio between bachelor and graduate degrees is different? Perhaps it is, but I could not find the data to confirm it. The most I could assume is that 7% of Ottawa’s population hold graduate degrees and 6.8% of Toronto’s; that assumes that they have the same ratios of degree holders to graduate degree holders as the Canadian average.

Even if Ottawa had a substantially higher population of graduate degree holders who were all gifted and even if giftedness were always genetic, the combination of circumstances would not be sufficient to increase the population of gifted students in Ottawa by 70%. In the end, the Special Assistance Team’s question has not yet been satisfactorily answered: why are 3.56% of the student population in the Ottawa Carleton District School Board identified as gifted?  Once again, I would be delighted to hear from any reader who can correct my understanding of this curious statistic.

Diane Scaiff

For More Information on Intelligence, Gifted Children, Their Identification and Parenting and Teaching Them:

[1] Joseph Renzulli proposes a very different way of identifying gifted students.  He suggests that giftedness is shown at the intersection of above average ability, creativity and task commitment.  At some point or another, this includes most students, so Renzulli proposes a different, revolving door form of enriching students.  See The Schoolwide Enrichment Model.

[1] At most, IQ tests measure academic ability which accounts for two* of the nine intelligences Howard Gardner describes in Frames of Mind.  The nine are:

1. Naturalist Intelligence (“Nature Smart”)

2. Musical Intelligence (“Musical Smart”)

*3. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (Number/Reasoning Smart) academic

4. Existential Intelligence

5. Interpersonal Intelligence (People Smart”)

6. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (“Body Smart”)

*7. Linguistic Intelligence (Word Smart) academic

8. Intra-personal Intelligence (Self Smart”)

9. Spatial Intelligence (“Picture Smart”)

From: Overview of the Multiple Intelligences Theory.  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and Thomas

[1] For an excellent discussion of the origins of giftedness see Origins of Exceptional Abilities by Howe, Michael J. A. (1990)

[1] For the an excellent, thorough and recent book on gifted children see Being Smart About Gifted Children: A Guidebook for Parents and Educators by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster.© 2005

© Sheila Diane Scaiff and Teachers Outside the Box, 2008, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sheila Diane Scaiff and Teachers Outside the Box with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

2 responses to “Another Curious Statistic

  1. doting daughter

    mom: a factchecking machine. Hey… do you know what my IQ is?

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