August 25, 2016

Racial Disparities Persist in Gifted Student Programs

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Black and Hispanic students are much less likely to be identified as “gifted” than their white and Asian counterparts — a disparity found in Oklahoma that mirrors national statistics on gifted and talented education.

In Oklahoma, black students make up 9 percent of all students but 4.5 percent of students in gifted and talented programs. Similarly, Hispanic students comprise 16 percent of all students but 10 percent of students classified as gifted and talented.

White students, on the other hand, represent 50 percent of the total student population in Oklahoma but 60 percent of students in gifted and talented. Asian students make up 2 percent of all students but 3.5 percent of gifted and talented participants, according to the latest state Education Department report.

“We are always looking to close gender gaps, ethnicity gaps,” said Rebecca McLaughlin, the department’s director of gifted and talented education.

Gifted and talented is defined by the state as students who score in the top 3 percent on any nationally standardized test of intellectual ability or who excel academically in other areas. The process for selecting students for gifted and talented programs is up to individual school districts.

In the 2015-2016 school year, 96,847 Oklahoma students participated in gifted and talented programs, the department reported. Participants’ demographics are similar to the previous year.

Minority students’ under-representation in gifted and talented programs has been documented by numerous studies. One explanation given in this study by the National Bureau of Economic Research is that identifying gifted students through parent and teacher referrals misses potentially qualified students. In the study, a diverse Florida school district implemented a universal screening program for gifted programs, and the number of black and Hispanic children identified as gifted increased.

Another study, published by the American Educational Research Association, found the race of the teacher played a role. Black students were less like to be placed in gifted programs when their teacher was not black.