A new study from researchers in the Department of Education Reform found that high-achieving students from low income backgrounds are only half as likely to be placed in a program for gifted students as their more affluent peers. Note that this does not mean that low-income students are less likely to succeed, but that those who do succeed are still less likely to be recognized as gifted.
Researchers examined the standardized test scores of Arkansas third-graders from 2014 to 2019 to determine the likelihood that a high-achieving student would be identified as gifted, and found that approximately 30% of the highest-scoring students for both math and literacy were not selected for gifted programming.
Co-author Bich Tran wrote in a research brief in The Conversation that “This rate of identification was about equal across various racial backgrounds, but economic differences mattered. Among low-income students, about 37% were missed, a greater proportion than the overall number. Once we statistically controlled for variation in district enrollment, location, region and differences in gifted selection or school policies, being from a low-income family was associated with a 50% lower likelihood of being identified as gifted relative to similarly high achieving peers from higher-income backgrounds.”
One of the primary reasons for this disparity, the study hypothesizes, is the methods used for selecting gifted students. Every state has its own system, and in Arkansas, students have to be nominated by a parent, teacher, or community member. They are then evaluated on a variety of measures including a creativity test, before a team of educators makes the final decision of where to place them. Across the country, students from low-income communities and communities of color are underrepresented in gifted programs, but this is particularly true when nomination is the first requirement, as they are less likely to be nominated. As a result, the researchers have suggested that the nomination system should be replaced by standardized tests to serve as universal screeners, reducing the possibility of bias and hopefully increasing the representation of low-income students. Because these standardized tests are already given to all students, such a change would not require any extra expenses.