The Racial Gap in the Selection of Students for Gifted Education Programs

vanderbiltA new study by researchers at Vanderbilt University finds that Black elementary school students are about half as likely as their White peers with similar standardized test scores to be assigned to gifted education classes. However, when the gifted education teacher is Black, the study found that the racial gap among students with similar test scores disappears.

The authors examined the records of more than 10,000 elementary school students. When controlling for student gender, socioeconomic status, health, and age Blacks were half as likely to be assigned to gifted classes than White students with similar test scores. But when the gifted education program teacher was Black, African American students were three times as likely to be selected for the program.

Lead author Jason Grissom, an associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development and the lead author of the study, said that ““it is startling that two elementary school students, one Black and the other White, with identical math and reading achievement, will have substantially different probabilities of assignment to gifted services. This is especially troubling since previous studies have linked participation in gifted programs to improved academic performance, improvements in student motivation and engagement, less overall stress and other positive outcomes.”

The authors note that one factor in the racial gap is that gifted programs are less likely to be offered in schools attended by Black students. Only 83 percent of Black students attend a school where there is a gifted program. For Whites, 90 percent of all students attend a school where there is a gifted program.

The authors suggest universal screening of students for gifted programs and training to help teachers recognize giftedness in diverse populations to improve the rate at which qualified students are recognized for gifted placement.

The study, “Discretion and Disproportionality: Explaining the Underrepresentation of High-Achieving Students of Color in Gifted Programs,” was published in AERA Open, a journal of the American Educational Research Association. It may be accessed here.

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  1. This is a huge problem. If parents are not inquiring and pushy, in some cases very bright children get left out of gifted programs. Some majority persons just don’t imagine our kids as academically smart. It is easier for them to imagine minority kids as entertainers or sports figures.

  2. the problem is in the initial classroom recognition. in most cases, a child has to be referred to be tested for ‘giftedness’ to begin with. so if the gatekeepers aren’t referring black children to get tested, it’s up to black parents to advocate for their child to take the test. don’t wait for the classroom teacher; go to an administrator and ask that your child be tested.

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