Is the GATE test ultimately beneficial for students?

Japneet Kaur

Staff Writer

     Third grade is an important period in a student’s academic journey. It’s the year when students master the art of cursive, become experts in multiplication time tables, and expand their knowledge of the world. It’s also the year where students in California take the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) test.

     For many high school students, this test is a distant memory. After enduring the pressure of the SAT, SBAC testing, and district benchmark tests, GATE is the furthest thing from their minds. There are even some students and teachers who aren’t familiar with the test at all. Of those who are somewhat familiar with it, many feel they are not knowledgeable enough on the subject to provide insight.

     The topic of GATE is very indistinct, and not much is known about the background of the test. 

     “I feel like GATE has just always been there. Even when I was in school, they had GATE but I don’t know where the test came from,” says assistant principal Mrs. Pelayo. “I didn’t take the GATE test when I was a student and I didn’t see the GATE test when I was a teacher because I never taught third grade.”

     According to the Gifted and Talented Education Program Resource Guide, found on the website of the California Department of Education, the GATE program was administered “to develop unique education opportunities for high-achieving and underachieving pupils in the California public elementary and secondary schools.” The exam tests students on their intellectual ability, creative ability, specific academic ability, leadership ability, high achievement, and visual and performing arts talent, according to the guide. 

     The guide also provides descriptions of various special programs that the GATE program can offer, depending on the choice of the governing boards of school districts, including special day classes, enrichment activities, independent study, and postsecondary education opportunities, as well as services for “underachieving, linguistically diverse, culturally divergent, and/or economically disadvantaged” GATE testers. 

     Additionally, the GATE handbook, linked in the Fremont Unified School District website, also includes a section entitled, “What Opportunities are Provided to Gifted Students?” and lists under the section, “Elementary students who qualify as gifted will be placed in a classroom with a trained GATE-certified teacher when available. Students will receive instruction aligned to the state standards. Instruction will be differentiated allowing them to reach their full academic potential.”

     For Hansa Atreya (11), however, the actual outcome of the test has been pretty disappointing. “We were all told that if you get a good grade on the GATE test, then there will be some special programs you can get into. They said that it would give us opportunities. [But], after receiving the news whether or not you got into the GATE program, that was kind of it. No one ever mentioned it again until sixth grade when you automatically got into the Honors English and science classes.”

     Some students did have experiences with different opportunities being offered to students who qualified for the program. Jessica Le (11) reveals her school set aside separate activities, but her experience with the situation was negative. “What really struck me was how throughout the whole year, all the gifted kids would have different activities than the non-gifted kids. They would get to build gingerbread houses and build airplanes and the non gifted kids would just stay in doors and work on math worksheets. Most of us felt like we weren’t really special or worth it because we weren’t given that title of being gifted.”

     The idea of labelling certain kids as gifted doesn’t sit right with many students. Manasa Maddi (11) believes that rather than being an educational boost for students, the GATE test only brings them down in terms of their education. “When people who don’t qualify learn that they’re not as smart as everyone else, it demotivates them. It just makes them feel worse about themselves and makes them not want to try as hard in school. It’s not a good mindset to have.”

     Mrs. Mehta, a Living Earth teacher at American, feels that the GATE test is the first step in evoking feelings of stress within students. “This is the age where students need to enjoy their childhood and make more memories. It’s not a time where students should be put through that stress. They are told that if you want to qualify, you have to study, and hence parents put on more pressure. They learn to get into that stressful condition from a very early age.”

     Not only do many people feel the GATE test is detrimental to the students who did not qualify, but it also doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on those who did. “I don’t know if it was because the school didn’t have the money and other schools that had more money were able to do more with the GATE program, but at least for us, the parents really expected that getting into GATE would open a lot of doors for their kids,” Atreya says. “There are some kids who are super interested in science and math and they would benefit from extra learning in those areas. But the GATE program never brought that to them.”

     The reliance on a single test score to determine whether or not a child is gifted is another factor in many people’s disapproval of the GATE test. Mrs. Mehta believes that such a narrow range of factors isn’t enough to label a child “talented…Every child is different and has their own share of weaknesses and strengths. Letting a child know that they are gifted only because they are academically driven, or academically doing well, is not the right way of assessing someone.”

     She asserts that passing this academic test at such a young age is not enough to guarantee success in their secondary education. “I’ve seen many students qualifying for the GATE test, but then when they come to high school, the pressure is something that they are not able to handle. They have to be holistically developed. They have to holistically do well and then we can qualify them as a gifted student.”

     As of right now, GATE testing, at least in Fremont, seems to have more drawbacks than advantages. Although the intentions seem promising, the results just don’t reflect the program’s true intent.  

     Like Mrs. Mehta says, “It would have benefits if it was implemented well. If there is a set curriculum for the gifted students, then yes, [it would be beneficial]. If not, then putting everyone through the rat race doesn’t make any sense.”

The future of the GATE program in Fremont seems pretty rocky at the moment, especially with the Fremont Unified School District’s website revealing that the coGAT testing, which “has been the primary means of qualifying students for GATE identification,” has now been discontinued due to budget savings. The district’s statement under the section “GATE overview” claims that FUSD is “now in the process of identifying an alternative way of identifying students.” The website reveals that “We are currently revising the GATE identification process and handbook FUSD will have an update by Spring 2022.” 
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