English-Language Learners

Identifying Gifted and Talented English-Learners: Six Steps for District Leaders

By Corey Mitchell — February 04, 2020 2 min read
In this Thursday, May 23, 2013 photo, students in Lisa Cabrera-Terry's first grade class line up to go to recess at Jay W. Jeffers Elementary School, in Las Vegas. Caberera-Terry teaches about 20 of the 800 students that attend the school and where 83 percent of the incoming kindergartners don’t speak English.
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English-language learners are severely underrepresented in gifted and talented education programs in the nation’s K-12 schools—and the problem may be rooted in the procedures and policies that schools use to identify gifted students.

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, a 2017 Education Week report found.

A new guide from the Regional Education Laboratory Northwest at Education Northwest offers a series of recommendations, focused on rooting out educator and assessment bias, that could allow more English-learners access to gifted and talented education.

“It’s a shift in how we perceive what it means for somebody to be talented and gifted,” said said Kelli Scardina, the guide co-author and Education Northwest’s senior advisor for equity and systems improvement for emergent bilingual students. “It’s really important that we reflect that population shift with shifts in our thinking of how we approach selecting kiddos that can be tested for talented and gifted programs.”

The one-page infographic recommends that district leaders provide training to help educators:

  • examine their beliefs and biases about what giftedness looks and sounds like;
  • scrutinize how much English-language proficiency is valued as a characteristic of giftedness;
  • reconsider the tendency to reward behaviors, such as individualism and verbal expression, that reflect cultural values in the United States;
  • establish task forces that monitor the identification of English-learners to encourage proportional representation;
  • involve parents in the process, including reviewing the nomination and assessment process with them in their home language and helping them identify potential signs of giftedness in their children;
  • use assessments that rely on more than IQ or academic achievement tests and would allow English-learner students to “demonstrate their giftedness in nontraditional or unique ways.”

“One of the biggest pieces for identification purposes that we’re missing is that we’re not changing the way that we’re looking for those talented and gifted abilities in our kids,” Scardina said. “Some of the practices that we’ve been using in the past aren’t necessarily going to demonstrate talent and giftedness in a lot of our students who are linguistically and culturally diverse.”

The suggestions outlined in the REL Northwest guide that are similar to those put forth in a 2018 report from the National Center for Research on Gifted Education at the University of Connecticut.

Related Reading

Four Steps Schools Should Take to Identify Gifted English-Learners

Gifted English-Learners Often Ignored, Overlooked

Too Few ELL Students Land in Gifted Classes

Schools Are Falling Short for Many English-Learners

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


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