Increasing Identification of Gifted Learners from Diverse Backgrounds

Michael_Matthews_Network.jpgThe differential representation of some student populations in advanced academic programming has long been recognized as a glaring weakness of gifted education practice. Numerous authors have called for or investigated alternative means through which culturally and linguistically diverse students might demonstrate their academic potential and hence be included, as even a cursory search through articles in Gifted Child Quarterly and other academic journals in the field will confirm. But despite scholarly attention, the problem persists. What can we do about it? It is clear that there is no magic bullet—simply using different tests is not the answer. While high test scores are a very effective indicator of giftedness in the domain being tested, the lack of high scores is NOT reliable as an indicator of the absence of gifted abilities.

Many schools could help their gifted program enrollment to become more representative of the overall school population through one simple step: implementing systematic screening of all students. Often this can be accomplished at relatively low cost using scores from existing measures. If all students are tested regularly as part of other school initiatives, the missing step may be simply to find the time and delegate the authority to make someone responsible for systematically examining these scores, and then considering the students who score highly to see which learners have not been considered previously for possible gifted placement.

To find students of high learning potential who are not identified by their performance on traditional measures, we need to confront the issue differently. Two other promising approaches to find these students are the evaluation of student portfolio products, and an inter-related set of methods grounded in social contextual views of learning. The latter approach has been known by various names (such as dynamic assessment), but is now generally identified within the framework of response to intervention or RtI. Both portfolios and RtI approaches allow students to show what they can do using work that closely resembles work they might be asked to perform in a gifted classroom setting, whereas traditional tests are a step or more removed from actual classroom work. Additionally, both portfolios and the test-teach-retest approach in RtI are less influenced by students’ prior exposure to academic learning than other more traditional measures are. This may make them particularly well suited to the task of identifying high ability among students from linguistically diverse and low-socioeconomic backgrounds, as these learners are the most glaringly underrepresented in gifted and advanced academic programming.

If your school or district is not yet using any of these approaches, try to find out why, and see what you can do to help move them in these positive directions. Change always begins with a committed individual, and that could be you!

Michael S. Matthews, Ph.D., serves on the NAGC Board of Directors and is Associate Professor & Academically or Intellectually Gifted Program Coordinator at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.