Inclusive Gifted Programs

By Steve Gill and Ushani Nanayakkara

Do you think a 7-year-old, who has lived in the U.S. for only one year and who is still learning English, could qualify for a district gifted or highly capable education program? What if the child wrote poetry in her new language?

The issue came to our attention when a neighbor, to support the parent’s effort, appealed our decision not to place this child in our district’s highly capable education program. How could someone learn a new language well enough in a year to write poetry, but not demonstrate the characteristics of a highly capable learner?

In the U.S., we have a long and well-documented history of underidentification of some minority students for our gifted programs. Research on this topic abounds, and grants are available to address the issue. Also well documented is the fact that we are not identifying our English language learners (ELLs) for these programs at a rate that is representative of the population.

Educational staff and districts have unwittingly developed systems in which some minority students are consistently overrepresented and others underrepresented in the gifted/highly capable populations. This institutional bias has existed for as long as statistics have been kept on this area.

All the studies we reviewed indicate that white students are roughly twice as likely, relative to their percentage of the population, to be identified as gifted students than are black or Hispanic students. Asian students are three times as likely to be identified. This is measured by comparing the percentage of students within a racial group within the district with the percentage of students of this group within the gifted/highly capable programs. These numbers should be the same, but they are not.

Without a systematic effort to address these problems, we will continue this institutional bias. However, one step in solving the problem is easy to achieve.

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