Even when they include them, gifted programs do not serve black or low-income children

PICTURE: “We’re not saying these programs don’t have benefits. But as states and school districts assess them, we have to ask ourselves, ‘How can we do this best for all the gifted … see After

Credit: Shannon Alexander / University of Florida

After years of criticism for their lack of diversity, programs aimed at high-performing students may not adequately serve their black and low-income students, according to a new study.

“The potential benefits are not evenly distributed,” said Christopher Redding, Ph.D., senior author and professor at the College of Education at the University of Florida, who assessed data from gifted programs in elementary schools nationwide. . “The conversation so far has been about access, with less emphasis on how students do once in gifted programs.”

While the gains in academic performance for students overall were modest – dropping from the 78th to 80th percentile in reading and increasing only a third more in math – low-income students and gifted black students, on average, did not see any yield gain. When the researchers looked at factors beyond scores, including engagement, attendance, and whether a student left or stayed in a school, they found little evidence to suggest that gifted participation had influenced these measurements for any group.

“We’re not saying these programs don’t have benefits,” Redding said. “But as states and school districts assess them, we need to ask ourselves, ‘How can we best do this for both all gifted students and diverse student populations?

The content of the programs could be a barrier to effectively serving a diverse gifted population. If the program reflects only the affluent, predominantly white population that has traditionally served, it may not meet the needs of its other students, Redding says. As a success, he cites the example of Illinois’ second-largest school district, which diversified its curriculum – but the impetus for that change was a federal class action lawsuit.

“Unfortunately, unless there is this strong pressure from the courts, many districts are not taking these steps that could be taken,” Redding said.

Another culprit could be the structure of the programs. While some students receive gifted instruction all day, others may only get one hour every two weeks. In “light” programs like these, a better option might be what education researchers call acceleration: skipping a grade or taking fifth grade math in fourth grade, for example.

Redding doesn’t want gifted programs to go away, but he wants educators to take a close look at how their program fits in with the students they are trying to reach – and for policymakers to better understand what programs are. actually achieve.

“It’s not just a question of access,” he said.

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The study, carried out with Jason A. Grissom of Vanderbilt University, was published in the journal Educational evaluation and policy analysis.

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