Several news reports are raising alarms about the nation’s gifted and talented programs, which are dominated by white and Asian students.
A ThinkProgress article says that Black students aren’t being given a fair shake at these programs and that Black students are often not referred to these programs because of teacher bias. Most of the nation’s teachers are white, and some of these teachers doubt the academic ability of Black students.
According to a study in the journal AERA Open, which is published by the American Educational Research Association, the odds of a Black student getting into a gifted and talented program are 66 percent lower than a white student.
“Large disparities exist in gifted assignment by race and ethnicity in elementary schools with gifted programs, and either math and reading assessment scores nor other background characteristics fully account for the disproportionately low assignment of Black students, in particular,” according to the study authored by Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding. “Nor are the disparities explained by the kinds of schools Black students attend. There is some suggestion that the race of the teacher to which a student is assigned does predict a student’s assignment probability.”
However, according to the AERO Open study, having a Black teacher increased the chances of Black students getting placed in a gifted and talented program. Black teachers were three times more likely to assign Black students to advanced programs.
The ThinkProgress article also pointed out that in many cases, gifted and talented programs tend to reinforce racial and class divides. Getting accepted into an advanced program can come down to how much money your parents have.
David Card, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley and author of a study of test scores published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that students who were tested by private psychologists were more likely to be referred to advanced programs. However, private testing costs up to $1,000, so this benefits children from middle-income and wealthy families.
“If you look at the scores of kids who are tested by private psychologists, you see a huge number of kids who just barely pass [to get into the programs]. So it looks like the private psychologists are basically gaming the system, and I think almost everybody knows that that’s true,” said Card.
The ThinkProgress article also raised another interesting point about children who are labeled with behavioral problems. Sometimes these children act out and make jokes in class because they are bored with the classwork, which is moving at what they perceive as a slow pace. In many cases these children are bright and could be placed in advanced programs.
“They may be pretty brilliant, but you have to challenge them with the material and have a class that keeps up with them and their brain,” said Jose Vilson, a New York-based teacher and author of This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education.
Vilson recommends that teachers move away from assigning children to gifted and talented programs based on testing and gut feelings. He said recommendations should be based on long-term observation of a child’s academic prowess.
According to The Atlanta Black Star, changing the screening standards has had a positive effect. When Broward County, Florida public schools started doing universal testing (testing all students for potential placement into advanced programs), it led to an 80 percent increase in Black students being placed in gifted-and-talented programs.