Gifted and talented program numbers fail to add up

Problems with traditional methods of identifying gifted students can be solved
By: | February 14, 2019
Mankato Area Public Schools diversified its gifted and talented program by changing the way it identified students for advanced instruction.Mankato Area Public Schools diversified its gifted and talented program by changing the way it identified students for advanced instruction.

Graph the racial and ethnic makeup of the typical gifted and talented program over the past 25 years. The lines stay mostly flat. Whites and Asians remain overrepresented relative to their numbers in the population, while African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans remain underrepresented.

Discussion of the problem has become widespread among gifted and talented program educators. But the numbers have rstayed “shockingly stable,” says Scott J. Peters, associate professor of educational foundations at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

A recent study of gifted and talented program data in three states, conducted by the National Center for Research on Gifted Education, found that even with identical achievement test scores, schools less frequently identify low-income, black or Hispanic students and those still learning English as gifted.

For students scoring at the 90th percentile on achievement tests, the difference in identification rates amounted to 20 percentage points, says Del Siegle, the center’s director and a professor of gifted education at the University of Connecticut.

Gifted and talented program solutions

In effect, says M. René Islas, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children, “it’s taking students and sorting them based on the color of their skin, not on their achievement and performance.”

In part, the problem stems from larger societal forces. “In this country, systematic barriers limit access to opportunities,” addss Peters. “We shouldn’t be surprised that we’re seeing this inequality.”

But the imbalances also reflect problems with traditional methods of identifying gifted students, educators say—and such problems can be solved, one school district at a time.


Main story: Gifted and talented diversification reaches for full potential