Gifted and Talented of Wealthy and Privledged?

Irie Sentner, Specials Editor

In 6th grade, I sat down with the rest of my class to take a standardized test. I was confused: it asked me about shapes and patterns instead of the questions about math and archaic literature that I was used to answering. It was the CoGAT, a national exam that quantifies K-12 student’s reasoning and problem-solving skills. Three weeks later, I was pulled out of class and into a counseling office. They told me that I had scored extremely high, that I thought differently than other people, and that they were going to label me as Gifted and Talented.

It’s been four years and the 9R school district in Southwest Colorado still considers me as GT. In that time, I’ve met the other gifted kids in my grade. We share many classes and have become friends…its inadvertent, but our academic goals and abilities often place us together.

It’s become apparent to me that this pool of students holds little diversity – even less than our already monochrome and unvarying student body. Growing up, my academic experiences have mainly taken place around white, upper class peers. The same holds true nationwide: students of color, religious minorities, and low income brackets are wildly underrepresented in almost every state’s GT program.

This is incredibly dangerous.

Disparities in ethnic demographics among Gifted and Talented students are extreme. According to the American Education Research Association, the odds of being placed into a GT program are 66% lower for black students and 47% lower for Hispanic students than for white students. Students of low income backgrounds are also much less likely to be labeled as gifted- of the students surveyed by the National Association for Gifted Children, less than 1% of those eligible for the free or reduced lunch program qualified as GT, as opposed to 6% of non-eligible students. In other words, students whose parents’ income falls near or below the poverty line are much less likely to be labeled as gifted than students of higher socioeconomic privilege.

This is no coincidence – the American Gifted education system is inherently racist and classist. In the United States, caucasians and Asian Americans are statistically most likely to be high-income. Most parents want their children to have access to the educational opportunities that GT programs provide, so those who can afford it often schedule tutoring and practice CoGAT tests for their children. Furthermore, young students can be labeled as GT by parent or teacher advocation, but knowledge of GT is highest in wealthy, white communities, and lowest in urban minority populations. The issue widens for English Language Learning families, who linguistically do not have the ability to advocate for their children.

Not only is this detrimental for gifted students who have slipped through the cracks and cannot utilize enriched programs, but for both GT identified and non-GT student populations. The terminology alone is confidence building and carries a tone of superiority. Many of my peers were labeled in early elementary school – they’ve been told that they are gifted and talented for their entire cognitive lives. We are grouped together in advanced classes, hold group meetings, and meet with counselors to discuss Advanced Learning Plans. As a GT student, it was always strange for all of the people around me to be well-off and caucasian. I could only imagine what it would be like for someone of even steeper minority to grouped in with them, or conversely for a non-GT student to see the gifted kids as rich and white. It carries severe psychological ramifications – from as early as first grade a flawed system teaches developing children that a racial and economic divide correlates with academic achievement and excellence. These skewed viewpoints may continue to affect views on excellence after graduation, contributing to racist societal stereotypes in professional, ‘real world’ settings.   

I understand that Gifted and Talented programs are important, and that giftedness should be recognized, embraced, and nurtured. I also recognize that there is nothing wrong with being high-income or white. But, when it comes to demographic gaps, something needs to change. Every child in this country, no matter their race, class, or creed, deserves the right to be recognized for their brilliance.

 

Statistics in this article come from:

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2332858415622175