States can improve equity and outcomes in gifted education, but too many aren’t trying

Writing for Fordham, Brandon Wright recently reviewed evidence that many states are not making effort to improve the equitable implementation of gifted education. Excerpts of the piece appear below: 

Last month, the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) released the 2020–21 edition of its “State of the States in Gifted Education.” Published every two to four years, it’s the nation’s only broad summary of state-level policies, or lack thereof, concerning advanced education programs in K–12 schools.

At 228 pages, it provides an enormous trove of data on a host of topics. One big takeaway leaps out: Most states aren’t doing enough to ensure that these programs exist throughout their districts and that districts equitably identify and serve all the students who would benefit from them. This is especially clear in light of a new study by NWEA researchers Scott Peters and Angela Johnson, who found that state policies significantly impact the equitable identification of advanced children who are English learners or students with disabilities.

Multiple editions of the NAGC report have shown the extent to which states vary when it comes to mandating and guiding advanced education. According to the new release, for example, forty-one of them require that students be identified for such services, but just ten provide criteria for doing so, while twenty defer to local leaders and twelve have some other arrangement. Only twenty-eight states mandate that advanced programs exist for those students who are identified, and just twenty-three set standards and guidelines for those offerings. A paltry fourteen specify the amount of instruction or school time these services should occupy, thirteen have an acceleration policy wherein students learn at a faster rate or at a higher level than is typical for their age, and just ten have a policy addressing equity problems in their advanced programs. That’s despite ample evidence that Black, Hispanic, and Native American children are persistently underrepresented in almost every state in these services since their inception.

Most recently, the aforementioned NWEA study by Peters and Johnson, released just this month, found that three common state policies for advanced education—mandating that districts offer programs, requiring that they have formal plans for those programs, and regularly auditing districts for compliance—were correlated with increased access to and enrollment in those programs for English learners and students with disabilities. These are the two most underrepresented student groups in advanced education, with the former identified nationwide at one-eight of their proportion of the overall student population, the latter at one-sixth. 

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