The Gifted Gap

Writing for The 74, Kevin Mahnken recently released a piece updating readers on The Gifted Gap, or the gap between talented Black and low-income students and their whiter, more affluent peers. Excerpts of the piece appear below:

Efforts to improve the quality of American education often focus, implicitly or explicitly, on students who are achieving at levels far below their peers. But research released suggests that access to educational opportunity is also unequally distributed among children at the top of the academic heap, and that even some of the brightest young students are at a high risk of being overlooked within their schools and districts.

The study, commissioned by the reform-oriented Thomas B. Fordham Institute, points to clear disparities in the prospects of high-achieving students along lines of race and class. Black and low-income elementary schoolers in Ohio who scored well on state exams were less likely to be classified as gifted and talented than comparable white and high-income children. Into middle and high school, they achieved at lower levels on standardized tests, Advanced Placement exams, and college entrance exams, and they were less likely to enroll in college.

The report finds that simply being identified as gifted may carry some achievement benefits: Receiving the gifted classification in math led to a modest increase in reading scores of .02 standard deviations and a boost to math scores of .03 standard deviations — equivalent to a performance boost of roughly one percentile annually. What’s more, those effects were relatively larger for African American and Hispanic students than white ones.

The findings echo those of a 2016 paper published by economists David Card and Laura Giuliano, which found that when a large urban school district adopted universal gifted screening for second graders, it led to large increases in the number of minority and low-income students who were classified. 

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