Boosting Minorites In Gifted Programs Poses Dilemmas

Wall Street Journal 4/7/04 - condensed lead article


Nontraditional Criteria Lift Admissions of Blacks, Poor

Around the country and especially in the South, new tests are propelling more minority students into predominantly white gifted education programs. Some minority students identified as gifted are actually struggling in regular classes, raising questions about whether the new criteria accurately gauge academic ability.

Gifted programs emerged nationwide in the 1970's to give talented elementary school students extra challenges. Districts typically identified students as gifted who scored in the top 5% - 130 or above - on traditional intelligence tests measuring verbal and math skills. Whites tend to outscore minorities on these tests, which made gifted programs overwhelmingly white.

In the 1990's, the Clinton administration began pushing to desegregate gifted education, particularly in the South. Civil rights officials reviewed state and districts with the largest racial disparities in gifted education, questioning their reliance on traditional intelligence tests.

(Some students now) can make the grade by doing well on alternative tests. The newest tests are designed to identify gifted minority and low-income white children whose language skills lag because of deficiencies in early schooling or home environment.

Some of the alternative tests don't use words at all. Elementary school students, for instance, might be required to detect patterns of geometric shapes. Others let students manipulate tangible objects, such as letter tiles. Research shows minority children tend to score higher on these tests than on traditional ones. In Alabama, students who fall just short on these alternative tests may still qualify by getting credit for leadership, motivation or creativity. Florida maintained a separate track into gifted programs for minority and low-income students until 2002, when it eliminated the racial preferences in response to lawsuits by white students denied gifted status.

In Charleston W. Va., most white students take a traditional intelligence test, but most minority, as well as some low-income students are given a nontraditional test. Cut-off scores vary too. Whites must score 127 or above overall, while "historically underrepresented groups" - black, low-income and disabled students - need only 120 on any of three sections of the nontraditional test, along with strong grades and achievement scores.

Go to: Florida gifted programs look beyond IQ

Go to: Are there Multiple Intelligences - beyond verbal and math?

Go to: Importance of IQ vs other skills in one's success

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