English-Language Learners

Gifted English-Learners Often Ignored, Overlooked

By Corey Mitchell — July 10, 2017 1 min read
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English-language learners are severely underrepresented in gifted education programs in the nation’s K-12 schools.

While it’s something that ELL educators have likely long known, my colleagues Sarah Sparks and Alex Harwin delve into just how widespread the dilemma is in an exclusive Education Week analysis.

Nationwide, the students who don’t yet communicate fluently in English account for about 10 percent of the nation’s K-12 students, but only 3 percent of those enrolled in gifted programs.

Providing equal opportunities and access for ELLs has long been an issue in K-12 education.

Recent research from Ilana Umansky at the University of Oregon found that even the practice of classifying students as English-learners can impede their academic growth. Umansky found that the designation often leads to diminished teacher expectations and sets up a tiered education system that restricts ELLs’ access to a school’s or district’s full catalogue of courses and academic resources.

Apparently that extends to gifted and talented education because many schools don’t even test ELLs for giftedness.

Some school systems, including Tulsa, Okla. and Seminole County, Fla., are trying to buck the trend. But while there’s a growing acknowledgement that students’ developing English skills can mask their academic talents, the problem is pervasive.

The gaps between the share of students who are English-learners and the percentage of English-learners in gifted education was largest in California, which enrolls nearly a quarter of ELLs nationwide.

The state isn’t alone. Sarah and Alex’s reporting found that ELLs are underrepresented in gifted programs in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

In West Virginia, the lone state where ELLs weren’t underrepresented, only one percent of students have limited English skills. So efforts to get more support for gifted ELLs are almost nonexistent.

For Further Reading

Teaching America’s English-Language Learners: A Special Report

Casting a Wider Net for Giftedness

Schools Are Falling Short For Many English-Learners

English-Language-Learner Classification Can Impede Student Growth

Spanish, Arabic, Chinese Are the Top Home Languages for ELLs in U.S. Schools

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.