GAINESVILLE, Fla., May 11, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- After years of criticism for their lack of diversity, programs for high achievers may not be adequately serving their Black and low-income students, a new study shows.
"The potential benefits aren't equally distributed," said lead author and University of Florida College of Education professor Chris Jennings, who evaluated nationwide data from elementary schools in the study, published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
"The conversation up to this point has been about access, but no one's really considering what the effects are for different subgroups."
While achievement gains overall were modest — two percentage points in reading and just a third of that in math — low-income and Black gifted students on average saw no academic achievement gains. When the researchers looked at factors such as engagement, attendance, and whether a student leaves or stays in a school, they found little evidence to suggest gifted participation boosts those measures among any group.
"We're not saying these programs don't have positive effects, but as states and school districts evaluate them, we need to ask, 'How can we do this best both for all gifted students and for diverse student populations?'"
A barrier to effectively serving a diverse gifted population could be content. If the curriculum reflects the affluent, predominantly white students that gifted has traditionally served, it might not meet the needs of other students, Redding says. He points to the example of Illinois' second-largest school district, which successfully diversified its curriculum — but the impetus for that shift was a federal class-action suit.
"Unfortunately, unless there's this strong pressure from the courts, lots of districts aren't taking these steps that could be taken," Redding said.
Another possible culprit: While some students receive all-day gifted instruction, others might only get an hour every other week. In "light touch" programs, a better option might be what education researchers call acceleration: skipping a grade or taking 5th grade math while in 4th grade, for example.
Redding doesn't want to see gifted programs go away, but he wants teachers to take a hard look at how their curriculum meshes with who they're trying to reach, and policy makers to understand of what the programs are achieving.
"The conversation can't stop at access," he said.
SOURCE University of Florida