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Schools Can Expand Equity in Gifted Programs, Conference Attendees Told

How can schools ensure that all deserving students have access to gifted programs?

Presenters from Arizona tackled that topic in a session called “Equitable Identification of All Gifted Students: Obstacles and Solutions” on Friday afternoon at AASA’s national conference in Nashville.

The current gifted student identification process can overlook students, according to Kimberly Lansdowne, executive director of Herberger Scholars Academy in Glendale, Ariz., and Dina Brulles, director of gifted education in the Arizona’s Paradise Valley Unified School District.

Schools improve equity by expanding the definition of giftedness, they said. And schools can use newer methods of identifying gifted students to ensure equity.

The speakers highlighted the difference between high ability and high achievement. High achievement is measured by performance on standardized tests. High ability, however, is based on identifying relationships between ideas and things, acquiring and retaining information quickly and learning advanced content at a faster pace than their peers, said Lansdowne.

Brulles listed different types of high-ability students who often are not included in gifted classrooms, such as gifted perfectionists, culturally and linguistically diverse students, non-productive gifted students, and others.

Brulles and Lansdowne said schools can find better methods to identify gifted students than subjective nominations by parents or teachers, which can involve cultural biases.

Ways to identify gifted students include:

  • Universal testing;
  • Using new kinds of tests to measure general ability; and
  • Establishing local norms to identify gifted students.

Tests such as the NNAT and CogAT have directions that are in English, excluding students who do not have a good command of the English language. The presenters said they prefer a test developed by former University of Virginia research professor Jack Naglieri that enables students to show their understanding about the relationships between ideas. It includes no written or spoken directions.

In the eyes of Bulles and Lansdowne, the best way to ensure an equitable gifted class is by using local norms to evaluate the intelligence of the students. By using local norms, schools can seek to have a proportional group of students in reference to their community is accepted to the gifted program.

Another way to improve the equitability of the gifted program is to constantly measure and record gifted populations. Evaluating ethnic representation and the academic achievement of students can help districts modify their practices in the interest of equity.

Research during the last two years has provided a platform to reshape the world of gifted education, Landsdowne said.

Mark Joraanstad, executive director of the Arizona School Administration, moderated the session.

(Ava Sjursen is a reporting intern with Conference Daily Online and a junior at Harpeth Hall in Nashville.)

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