Challenges to the Pursuit of Equity in Excellence (3-23-16)

A recent report showing low levels of participation by black, Hispanic, and low-income students in the gifted and talented programs of Montgomery County underscores the significant challenges before our nation in the pursuit of equity in excellence.

Montgomery County school officials should be applauded for commissioning the study and for announcing plans to hold community meetings to discuss the findings later this spring. But ultimately, meaningful reforms will require actions, not words. This is particularly true of changes to the practices and policies serving gifted students from historically underrepresented populations.

The report highlights the need for families to be fully aware of the existence of gifted education programs and the ways their children can be identified for participation. Gifted identification would ideally begin early in a student’s career to allow for planning and early intervention. This requires a change in attitude; chiefly, it demands that we drive a stake through the dangerous fallacy that gifted students don’t exist in disadvantaged or diverse populations.

County school officials must also ensure that multiple criteria are used to identify students as gifted and that universal screening procedures are in place. These practices do not water down the talent pool. Instead, they aim to cast the broadest possible net for high-potential students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds like English language learners and children in poverty, who may not perform strongly on typical measures used for identifying gifted students.

After years of neglecting this population of learners, Congress included unprecedented provisions in the rewrite of No Child Left Behind to better support gifted, disadvantaged students. Districts like Montgomery County Public Schools have an opportunity to put these new tools to work and show what is possible when we change attitudes, practices, and policies.

M. René Islas is the Executive Director of NAGC, and Keri Guilbault is an NAGC Board Member and Assistant Professor at Notre Dame of Maryland University.

Editor's note: This is part of a series of blog posts that is collaboratively published every week by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and National Association for Gifted Children. Each post in the series exists both here on the NAGC Blog and on Fordham's Flypaper.