Faced with a lack of diversity in its gifted and talented program, Minnesota’s Mankato Area Public Schools adjusted its screening process and increased participation by black, Latino and Native American students to 11%, up from 3% in 2013-14, District Administration reports.
The changes included screening all students and choosing tests that don’t favor middle-class English speakers, in addition to widening the circle of adults asked to seek student talent and relying on local norms to identify students rather than national ones.
Traditionally, identifying gifted and talented students is done by testing those nominated by parents or teachers, but testing all students, regardless of recommendation, is the best way to ensure all students have the opportunity to be selected if they qualify.
The narrow scope through which students are identified as gifted and talented may, in fact, be a detriment to all students and districts. The programs do tend to lack diversity, but the testing-in systems can often miss students who may have unidentified learning disabilities.
One option is to do away with the elite gifted and talented system all together and move to a blended curriculum that includes mastery-based technology. That way, students can move at their own pace. If they miss a concept, they can continue to work on it until mastery is achieved. This would allow all students to move forward at a pace best for them and may result in higher test scores.
However, many advocate keeping gifted and talented programs intact so those identified don’t become bored and lose motivation in the classroom. Sometimes, these students may act out or use drugs in order to “fit in” if they aren’t properly challenged.
Vanderbuilt University’s Tamra Stambaugh lays out some best practices for identification. These include using at least three criteria to identify students, a two-stage process of screening, and ensuring administrators verify the testing methods are sensitive enough to include minority, low-income and disabled students. Also, identification should be ongoing. Just because a student doesn’t qualify in kindergarten doesn’t mean they won’t qualify in 6th grade. Tests should also seek to identify different areas of talent, not just math and reading.
Most likely, the sweet spot in best identification practices will vary from district to district and will be a hybrid of a variety of screenings and use of technology where it is warranted.