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"There are sometimes appropriate criticisms about gifted and talented programs," says Dr. Katie McClarty, who directs Pearson's Center for College and Career Success. "For example, some systems are accused of being elitist because they are primarily comprised of children from affluent families. But you shouldn't throw out entire programs."
"Every gifted child—whatever her background or experience—deserves a gifted learning education. All children deserve to have their horizons expanded."
Barriers and Challenges to Diversity in Gifted Programs
A recent study from Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding at Vanderbilt University tries to unpack the reasons behind "substantial race disparities" that exist in America's gifted and talented education systems.
Katie suggests at least two reasons for these disparities. They are summarized below.
"Research shows that some students from impoverished backgrounds show up in kindergarten already behind academically," Katie says. "So if schools rely entirely on test scores for placement in programs, more affluent students might benefit disproportionately."
School systems have addressed this challenge in different ways.
"Some schools adjust identification cut-off scores for students depending on their background," Katie says. "Other schools look for assessments with less reliance on prior knowledge such as non-verbal ability tests."
"For many, the gold standard for identifying gifted and talented students is the use of multiple measures and looking at a portfolio of the whole child," Katie says. "Using this approach, there are multiple ways for a student to get in to be identified and receive services."
"Still, this approach is time consuming for schools who want to do it right."
Katie also points out that, for school systems like the one in Broward County, Florida, a "universal screening" approach—that is, administering an ability test to every student in the school, rathan than a preselected few—has actually improved diversity in their gifted education program. She's referring to reporting presented in this article in The Atlantic.
In many gifted programs, teacher nomination or teacher ratings are part of the identification process. "The Grissom and Reading article suggests that teacher race may play an important role in identifying students for gifted and talented programs, perhaps through implicit biases" Katie says.
"For example," she says, "after controlling for academic achievement as well as student, teacher, and school characteristics, Asian students were more likely to be identified for gifted math programs—reflecting a stereotype of their better performance in mathematics."
"In addition," Katie says, "Black students taught by Black teachers were three times more likely to be identified for gifted reading programs than Black students taught by non-Black teachers."
This may be related to biases, but Katie also says a lot of teachers don't have experience identifying gifted and talented students, particularly from different backgrounds. "Many teachers have no real training," she says.
Why Minorities Can't Be Left Out
“By not identifying students in low-income and minority groups," Katie says, "you’re effectively overlooking half the student population.”
“Studies show that students with high potential who are challenged early in their education go on to be future leaders and make significant contributions in companies and universities,” she says.
Katie says: "Diversity benefits everyone.”
"It’s important that these future leaders have the opportunity to learn what they learn alongside people from different backgrounds."