Complex Societal Issues Reflected in Gifted & Talented Education Discussions

It remains a challenge in the world of gifted education: Kids from affluent neighborhoods are highly represented in Gifted & Talented (GT) programs while those from poverty and/or diverse backgrounds are frequently underserved. Over the years it has become clear that the problem is not only one of identification, outreach, and evaluation intended to include these gifted students in their elementary years, but also of promoting long-term retention. The reasons are varied and don’t reflect well on us as a society, having more to do with opportunity than actual intelligence. So the big question keeps being asked—and it’s surprising that we’re still asking this in 2012: How can we effectively reach and continue to serve gifted kids from diverse populations?

Bubble test: (c) Lbarn | Dreamstime.com

© Lbarn | Dreamstime.com

According to the New York Times article “After Number of Gifted Soars, a Fight for Kindergarten Slots,” last year NYC experienced a 22 percent increase in the number of kindergarten students qualifying for GT programs. But the increase came mostly from economically stable or advantaged areas, with two districts showing that 90 percent of all kindergarten admissions qualified for GT programs. Some individual districts have more than 2,000 students qualifying for GT, but only 400 spaces in their programs.

NYC schools switched to a test-based GT admission system four years ago, and the number of students qualifying has grown every year since then. A big reason is families with the resources are preparing their kids for the test in a way that other families can’t. In a city where admission to particular public schools is highly coveted, a new private industry of prekindergarten tutoring and test preparation has found a foothold. Recently, administrators in the city committed to changing their testing system to minimize the effect of paid preparatory tutoring.

Definitions of “gifted” and funding for GT students vary by state, and in most cases it is up to the school district to establish its own criteria for evaluating and admitting students. When funding levels do not meet the needs for the number of students eligible for programs, some students will not find space in advanced classes. Outside of NYC, other cities are questioning their own testing standards. The Texas Watchdog’s January 2012 article, “Lots of Einsteins or Too Low a Bar?,” reported that a high percentage of Houston’s students fell into the GT range—nearly 16 percent as compared to the national norm of around 7 percent. Texas funding levels assume that 5 percent of students need the advanced coursework that GT programs offer. This has left the district wrestling with dual issues—reviewing their criteria for inclusion, and how to distribute funding to best serve gifted students. Compounding this is the impact on low-income students. “Even under the current gifted program, Hispanic, African-American, and low-income students are underrepresented,” according to Houston district spokesperson Jason Spencer.

Kid with workbook: (c) Michaeljung | Dreamstime.com

© Michaeljung | Dreamstime.com

In late May, the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) held the National Summit on Low-Income, High-Ability Learners, which featured two days of speakers and discussions on how poverty can impact various demographic groups in the United States. In all parts of the United States this group of students faces unique challenges at every stage of schooling, from getting into GT programs to staying in. The conference offered educators, administrators, and researchers an opportunity to share insights and help find new approaches to serving populations where unique types of support may be needed. The NAGC National Summit website has links to several papers discussed at the conference and related reports.

In Education Week’s newsletter article “Experts Advise on Supporting Low-Income Gifted, Talented Students,” reporter Nirvi Shah shares highlights from some presentations at the NAGC Summit. These focused on building identity and social skills for promising learners from poverty. Getting past the challenge of gifted identification is one step, but remaining in gifted programs all the way to graduation can be a larger hurdle for these students. Within schools, the lack of funding for GT programming in some areas means minimal support beyond classes. Outside of school, families may need support and even coaching on how to help their gifted children. Students may need help dealing with issues like violence or homelessness.

Dr. Joy Lawson Davis, a panelist at the NAGC Summit, started the blog WeAreGifted2, seeking to support culturally diverse gifted students. Davis writes that these students may “find themselves often having to live in three worlds simultaneously: Being a member of an oppressed culturally diverse/minority group; being gifted; and being a participant in mainstream society.” WeAreGifted2 also features some thoughtful discussions on the unique challenges that culturally and/or linguistically diverse (CLD) students of all abilities have in navigating school to graduation.

The discussions shared at the NAGC Summit need to be continued in communities and legislatures. As Dr. Davis states on WeAreGifted2, “These young people are counting on us to believe that they have what it takes to succeed even if they sometimes feel like they are in a ‘strange predicament’ or feel ‘out of place’ or that no one understands their plight.”

What does your school offer in terms of ongoing support to ensure that minority and low-income, high-ability learners stay in school? How do you encourage GT learners who do not have a support system at home?


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Suggested Resources
National Association for Gifted Children


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About Mary Stennes Wilbourn

Blogger for Free Spirit Publishing.
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2 Responses to Complex Societal Issues Reflected in Gifted & Talented Education Discussions

  1. Sally smith says:

    Great article. My school district choose to add more time and resources to the schools who had more students that scored high on achievement tests so the schools with lower minority and underrepresented populations got half the time and resources…what a disservice to this population

  2. Many thanks for supporting my blogsite and for sharing some of our comments from the Research Summit here on your blog. So glad to network w/ you!!

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