Common Sense about the Under-Representation Issue

Joseph Renzulli
Laurel Brandon

The lack of opportunity for high-potential youth from low-income, language-minority, and cultural-minority backgrounds to participate in advanced programming is an issue that researchers and practitioners have discussed and have attempted to remedy for decades.

Recent research has revealed that even students with high achievement are less likely to be identified for gifted programming if they are members of these groups. Additionally, schools with large populations of students from underrepresented groups are less likely to offer the kinds of advanced programming that might promote academic and creative opportunities for these students. Identifying talented students from historically underrepresented groups is an ongoing challenge.

But what if we step back from the problem of identification? Rather than focusing our attention on assigning the label of “gifted” based on status information, we can focus our attention on performance based assessment by encouraging educators to examine students’ responses to opportunities for demonstrating talent and developing gifted behaviors.

Without diminishing the importance of accelerated and advanced programming for students at the very top levels of ability and achievement, it is possible to provide students with engaging and challenging experiences and encourage teachers to be “talent scouts.” Just as they attend to the possibility that any student may need additional support, talent scout teachers watch for responses to opportunity that indicate students may benefit from advanced follow-up programming.

In our article, “Common Sense about the Under-Representation Issue: A School-Wide Approach to Increase Participation of Diverse Students in Programs that Develop Talents and Gifted Behaviors in Young People” (International Journal for Talent Development and Creativity, 2017), we discuss the following:

  • How the meaning of the word “gifted” informs identification and programming
  • General recommendations for improving identification of underrepresented students
  • How the Schoolwide Enrichment Model’s flexible, locally-normed, performance-based identification plan can be used to include more students in advanced programming
  • An example of success using the Schoolwide Enrichment Model with above-average students in a district with a large population of students from historically underrepresented groups

We hope that this article contributes to the discussions taking place in many schools and districts about how best to help every student develop their talents and realize their potential.

Joseph Renzulli is a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. Laurel Brandon is a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the authors and not necessarily the National Association for Gifted Children.