Students from Underrepresented Communities Less Likely to be Nominated for Gifted Programs, study finds

Black student taking notes from an opened book

Photo via Unsplash by Wadi Lissa

By Pamela Acosta

High-achieving students from underrepresented communities, such as low-income families or people of color, are less likely to be nominated for gifted programs than their more affluent peers, according to a new study. 

Researchers in the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform found that of the 4,330 students who made up the top 5%, 1,310 – about 30% – were left out of gifted programs. That percentage is about 37% among low-income students, a greater proportion than the overall number. 

The research team examined the standardized test scores of 3rd-grade students in Arkansas over five years. Their findings were published in the Journal for the Education of the Gifted. 

“Once we statistically controlled for variation in district enrollment, location, region, and differences in gifted selection or school policies, being from a low-income family was associated with a 50% lower likelihood of being identified as gifted relative to similarly high achieving peers from higher-income backgrounds,” wrote co-author Bich Tran in a research brief.

The issue, researchers said, is the nomination process. 

A 2016 study published in Gifted Child Quarterly showed that identification systems requiring a nomination before testing caused many gifted students to be missed. In some cases, the false negative rate can easily exceed 60%.  

Researchers hypothesize that the gap in the nominations may be caused by inconsistent identification practices. In Arkansas, the first step for a student to enter a gifted program is a nomination by a parent, school personnel, or a community member. 

Students from minority groups and low-income households are simply not being nominated at the same rate as their peers, the researchers concluded. 

“Wealthy parents may be more active in seeking and providing services for their children. And low-income families may lack information, available programs, or access to testing services to identify gifted students,” wrote Tan in the research brief. 

The study goes on to advocate for Arkansas schools to screen every student to better determine gifted programs’ eligibility rather than relying on a nomination process. 

“We suggest using state standardized tests as universal screeners to increase the number of low-income and other disadvantaged students in gifted programs. These tests are already given to all students, so districts could use the tests without added expense.”