Achieving Equity in Gifted Education

By Dina Brulles, Ph.D., Kimberly Lansdowne, Ph.D., and Jack A. Naglieri, Ph.D., authors of Understanding and Using the Naglieri General Ability Tests: A Call for Equity in Gifted Education

Achieving Equity in Gifted EducationIncreasing diversity and achieving equity has long been a goal of gifted education advocates, but school administrators have struggled to do so. Our recent book Understanding and Using the Naglieri General Ability Tests: A Call for Equity in Gifted Education offers new, culture-sensitive methods for identifying these historically marginalized students.

In this blog, we share an enlightened approach and actionable advice schools can use to improve their ability to identify and support previously under-served students in gifted education. We hope to provide you with brief insights and ideas introducing identification, grouping, programming, and instructional approaches that allow children to develop their potential, become confident learners, and ultimately advance academically.

We focus on three aspects involved in this process:

  1. Identifying who is absent from gifted programs
  2. Using building norms to group students according to learning needs
  3. Enhancing teachers’ understanding of how to teach gifted learners

1. Identifying who is absent from gifted programs

Widely used tests that measure intellectual ability use verbal, nonverbal, and quantitative test questions. Despite their widespread use, traditional ability tests historically yield low scores for students of color.

A major reason many marginalized students routinely have lower scores is that traditional tests require verbal comprehension of directions, academic knowledge, or proficiency in the English language. The Naglieri Verbal, Nonverbal, and Quantitative tests are different in that a student can answer the test items regardless of the language they speak or their current levels of knowledge because the tests do not contain words but rather pictures. To answer the questions, students must rely on thinking skills.

Measuring thinking in a way that is not confounded by learned knowledge identifies students with high ability and draws teachers’ awareness to their potential.

To determine whether to switch to these new tests consider the following:

  • Does your gifted student population reflect the demographics of your school’s student population?
  • Does entrance into your gifted program require that students demonstrate high academic achievement?
  • Do the teachers in your school recognize students with high potential who are not achieving highly in the regular curriculum?

2. Using universal assessment and building norms to group students according to learning need

The key to equitable identification of all gifted learners is to use equitable tests, but equitable tests alone do not solve the problem if they’re not used properly. Universal assessment of all students in a grade level eliminates the problems associated with teacher and parent referrals, and building norms also help.

Many schools are now using local norms, or more specifically, building norms to determine which students would benefit most from advanced-level curriculum and instruction. Simply stated, using building norms means identifying students within one school (or grade level) that demonstrate higher ability than most others in that setting.

Using building norms can be helpful in developing more inclusive gifted services.  Building norms can be used on their own, or in addition to national norms.

When using building norms to identify which students would benefit most from advanced learning opportunities, schools can test all students in a certain grade level and then determine their own cut-off criteria. Some examples include:

  • Test all second graders in a school building and then identify which students score in the top ten percentile.
  • Test all third graders in a school and then rank order the students based on their test scores. Then select the top twenty students to include in the gifted services at that school building.
  • Test all first-grade students in the district and invite the top five percent to attend a specific school designated to serve students of high ability.

3. Enhancing teachers’ understanding of how to teach gifted learners

When we increase equity in our identification procedures, we must also develop inclusive gifted programming. Incorporating local norms, and relying on building norms specifically, allows for inclusive practices at the school level.

These practices raise awareness among teachers and staff that some very smart students may think and learn differently, regardless of their current levels of achievement or level of fluency with the English language. This approach encourages appropriate modifications to student grouping and instruction to occur.

When increasing diversity within your gifted program, consider the following approaches:

  • Use a strengths-based approach to instruction that builds on students’ background
  • Build cultural awareness using culturally responsive curriculum and instruction
  • Appeal to the ideas and interests of diverse gifts learners to foster engagement and increase motivation

Incorporating equitable ability tests and using local norms leads to inclusive programs. We can then use culturally responsive teaching methods that reflect changing mindsets of what “giftedness” looks like. This new system of identification practices recognizes each student’s potential to ensure that they receive an appropriate education.

We hope our book can serve as a helpful guide on the road to accomplishing this goal. We can do better, and we must!

Dina Brulles, Ph.D.Dina Brulles, Ph.D., is a school administrator and the gifted-education director for Arizona’s Paradise Valley Unified School District. Recognized for her expertise in creating and supervising schoolwide cluster grouping, she also assists districts throughout the United States in developing gifted-education programs, including those districts serving culturally and linguistically diverse gifted students. She holds a Ph.D. in gifted education and an M.S. in curriculum and instruction and serves on the faculty of the Graduate College of Education at Arizona State University. Prior to becoming an administrator, Dina was an elementary classroom teacher, a bilingual teacher, an ESL teacher, and a gifted-cluster teacher. She lives in Peoria, Arizona.

Kimberly Lansdowne, Ph.D.Kimberly Lansdowne, Ph.D., is the founding executive director of the Herberger Young Scholars Academy, a secondary school for highly gifted students at Arizona State University (ASU). She received her doctorate at ASU and has a lengthy career in teaching and administration at universities, colleges, public and private schools. At ASU, she develops and teaches undergraduate and graduate level education classes on curriculum, instruction, testing, measurement, and special needs. Previously, Dr. Lansdowne was the director of gifted services at Scottsdale School District and now consults nationally with school districts on effective teaching strategies for gifted and talented students. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

Jack A. Naglieri, Ph.D.Jack A. Naglieri, Ph.D., has held faculty appointments at Northern Arizona University, The Ohio State University, and George Mason University. He is currently a research professor at the University of Virginia, senior research scientist at the Devereux Center for Resilient Children, and emeritus professor of psychology at George Mason University. Dr. Naglieri has developed many tests used by psychologists and educators such as the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, the Cognitive Assessment System, Autism Spectrum Rating Scale, Devereux Student Strength Assessment, and Comprehensive Executive Function Inventory. He is widely known for his efforts to increase participation of traditionally underrepresented students in gifted education and remains an active presenter on related topics. Dr. Naglieri is committed to equitable and valid assessment though high-quality tests and rating scales and a continual effort to help professionals make positive differences in the lives of the students they evaluate. He lives near Washington, D.C.

Understanding and Using the Naglieri General Ability Tests book coverDina, Kimberly, and Jack are authors of Understanding and Using the Naglieri General Ability Tests: A Call for Equity in Gifted Education.

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