Special Education

Gifted Education for Underrepresented Students Gets $4 Million Federal Boost

By Christina A. Samuels — October 14, 2015 3 min read
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Nine states, a university system, and a school district will split a little bit over $4 million from the U.S. Department of Education in order to increase the enrollment of underrepresented students in gifted education.

The money comes from the Jacob K. Javits grant program for gifted education, which had been absent from the Education Department’s budget for three fiscal years. U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland, helped restore funding to the Javits program.

The grant money will be used by states to expand models that have proven successful on a small scale. For example, the Seminole County district in Florida was awarded $500,000 (the first part of a five-year grant) to expand the use of alternative identification methods. The district plans a particular focus on its schools serving English-language learners.

The Education Department released a full list of grantees and award amounts Oct. 9.

“This grant program will help these schools replicate success and challenge the opportunity gap for students who far too often are not given a fair shot at success in college, careers and life,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a statement.

Tackling Underrepresentation in Gifted Education

The news of the grant awards comes on the heels of recent research that found that alternative identification methods can help boost gifted enrollment among black and Hispanic children as well as children eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

Researchers David Card and Laura Giuliano studied the experience of a large, diverse urban school district in the study, titled Can Universal Screening Increase the Representation of Low Income and Minority Students in Gifted Education? and published in September by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The district was unnamed in the study.

State law governing the district requires students in gifted education to score 130 on an IQ test. English-language learners and students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were allowed to meet a lower IQ threshold of 116. To be evaluated, students had to be referred by their teachers, or their parents could pay for private assessments.

Despite underrepresented students having to meet a lower bar, the district’s population of gifted students was mainly white and from higher-income households. For example, black and Hispanic children made up 28 percent of the gifted population, in contrast to being 60 percent of the district’s population as a whole.

To address the issue, the district created a universal screening program in 2005, which would be used along with the teacher and parent referrals to identify potentially gifted students. Those students still had to take an IQ test to meet state requirements.

While the universal screening program was in place, gifted enrollment went up for students who were black, Hispanic, or whose parents’ native language was not English. Many of the “newly identifed” students had IQs well above the minimum eligibility standard of 116. The district ended up having to cut the universal screening program after two academic years, due to financial pressures. Without the program, the enrollment in gifted education shifted to the same demographic makeup that it had before, the researchers noted.

“We hypothesize that parents and teachers often fail to recognize the potential of many poor and immigrant children with less than stellar achievement levels, accounting for their likelihood of being under‐referred,” the paper said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.