By Stephanie McCauley
Gifted education often does not reach the students who need it most, especially minority populations. Many of these children are English language learners (or ELLs). Tens of thousands of gifted ELLs, many of them Hispanic, are never identified. Being labeled ELL can lead to fewer learning opportunities; many educators assume that English skills should come first, meaning the curriculum may not be challenging enough for gifted learners. (For more information on ELLs, see NPR’s “Gifted But Still Learning English.”)
Other minority populations are underrepresented for more complicated reasons. According to a recent study, Black children are 66% less likely to be assigned to a gifted program than their White peers. An article from The Atlantic explored why so few Black children are assigned to gifted programs. Some of the disparity involves test scores, but teacher bias and inadequate resources also play a part. Diverse schools in areas with higher poverty tend to devote fewer resources toward gifted children.
To address this inequality, the New York City Department of Education announced that new gifted and talented programs would open in four districts in 2017. The addition is part of a plan to make gifted education equally accessible in every district. Still, disparities will remain. Children in wealthier districts are far more likely to score well on identification tests than children in poorer districts. Poorer families simply cannot afford some of the advantages (e.g., personal tutoring and private testing) that wealthier families can.
Consequently, some educators are pushing to expand the criteria used to identify gifted children. Identification measures, they say, should include both verbal and nonverbal components to avoid discrimination against ELLs and minorities. Without these alternate methods of identification, these children will continue to fall behind (see: “Why Talented Black and Hispanic Students Can Go Undiscovered.”).
Although the problem will continue for some time, researchers and educators are keeping track of the numbers. If the trend continues, more and more cities will implement programs and new methods of identification that can give all gifted children the chance to excel.
For more reading and practical advice, check out Talent Development for English Language Learners and Recruiting and Retaining Culturally Different Students in Gifted Education, both available from Prufrock Press.