“Only 9% of students in gifted and talented programs were categorized in the bottom quartile of family income.” (Callahan, 2005).

This shocking statistic demonstrates the dire situation gifted education is in within this country. Students with low socioeconomic statuses are severely underrepresented in gifted programs. Many misconceptions exist surrounding the possible reasons behind this lack of representation, but research shows clear and consistent factors contributing to this ratio. Assessment tools readily used for the identification of gifted and talented students as well as the overall view and definition of giftedness contribute to this inequality in gifted education.

As Mary Frasier of The University of Georgia put it, “Most standardized tests are not designed to evaluate the abilities of children who come from economically disadvantaged families and also do not adequately account for incongruences between the language of the test giver and culturally different test takers” (Frasier,1995). Students from poverty-stricken families do not always encompass the same characteristics as their economically-stable gifted peers. Their abilities include problem solving skills, social and emotional intelligence, and creative/imaginative thinking. Traditional identification tools, such as intelligence, achievement, and aptitude tests, do not always assess for these gifted skills. Even more, these tests often carry biases from the test makers, who assume that all students have been exposed to the life experiences and vocabulary used in the test.

Because students with low family income have been raised in different cultural environments from many other students, some of their life experiences can be viewed as disadvantages. VanTassel-Baska explains in her book, Alternative Assessments with Gifted and Talented Students, “low ses students not only have the disadvantage of poverty, but can also be products of single-parent families and parents with little education. These environmentally factors can negatively impact a child’s educational opportunities. (VanTassel-Baska, 2007).

Instead of solely relying on these traditional assessments in order to identify low SES students, educators should be using non-traditional tools, such as non-verbal skills tests, creativity tests, student portfolios, parent/peer/self-recommendations, and student behavior and attitude checklists. These tests allow gifted students from culturally diverse backgrounds, like those from poverty, to be recognized for their unique skills outside of the constraints of standardized tests. However, nonverbal tests are not the catch-all for underrepresented gifted populations. It is merely a more reliable assessment to put in educator’s identification tool bags.

The attempt by educational leaders to find the one test that will identify every gifted student is counter-productive, and frankly, goes against everything we value in our gifted and creative learners: their uniqueness. Emphasis should be on the profile of the student created by all assessments, traditional and non-traditional, not just a one-dimensional view of a single standardized test (Callahan 2005).

Carolyn Callahan offers some solutions to the underrepresentation of underrepresented populations. For the identification of students from low SES situations, these recommendations are most fitting. Three of the most noteworthy solutions include:

  • Expanding the community’s conception of intelligence and giftedness so as to include students from all backgrounds and with diverse skills.
  • Gather data over time and use portfolios to best track and identify underrepresented gifted students
  • Eliminate policies or practices that limit the number served in the local gifted program. (2005)

The identification of students from low SES families means that there needs to be a plethora of reliable assessment tools, both traditional and nontraditional that can accurately identify these disadvantaged students. Furthermore, educators, administrators, and policy makers must shift their understandings and definitions of gifted and talent so as to ensure that students from all walks of life are getting the instruction and support that they deserve.

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