Education Opinion

Identifying Gifted Black and Hispanic Students

By Walt Gardner — April 13, 2016 1 min read
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Despite the importance of giftedness, public schools have been particularly remiss in identifying black and Hispanic students who fall into that category (“Why Talented Black and Hispanic Students Can Go Undiscovered,” The New York Times, Apr. 10). Recognizing the error, Broward County, Fla. changed the way it determined the status in 2005.

Rather than rely exclusively on recommendations of teachers or requests by parents, Broward County administered a nonverbal test, with high scorers then referred for I.Q. testing. As a result, the number of Hispanic students identified as gifted tripled, from two to six percent. The number of black students rose from one to three percent. The number of whites climbed from six to eight percent.

Yet the approach was not an unqualified success. Specialized classes for these students had little effect on academic achievement. That may have been due to the lack of suitable textbooks and the lack of teachers with special certification. In any case, Broward County suspended its universal screening program in 2010 because of budget cuts, with the result that racial and ethnic disparities arose once again.

The problem with determining which students are gifted is confusion about the term itself. Can any test now in existence provide evidence when experts themselves cannot agree? Broward County was correct in recognizing that nonverbal tests are fairer because they are culturally neutral. But critics argue that using a more holistic approach sets up students for failure since they often lack the verbal skills needed to handle gifted material. I also would like to know whether talent qualifies as giftedness. Are they synonymous?

Only the U.S. is reluctant to differentiate among students. Other countries have no problem doing so quite early in the lives of children (“High-Achieving Countries Leave America Behind,” Education Next, Spring 2016). We consider this strategy elitist, with most of our attention placed on the lowest performers. They certainly deserve support, but what about the gifted? They are treated as stepchildren, when in fact they can be our most precious assets. That’s why I’m glad that gifted black and Hispanic students are finally getting the attention they deserve.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.