The Gifted Gap: The best and brightest among black, low-income students lag behind their whiter, better-off peers, study finds

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Efforts to improve the quality of American education often focus, implicitly or explicitly, on students who achieve levels well below their peers. This emphasis is reflected in the fairness debates over children who are tragically under-equipped to thrive as adults, as well as in policy remedies that target “failing” schools for their poor test scores. and their high school graduation rates.

But research published today suggests that access to educational opportunities is also unevenly distributed among children at the top of the academic hierarchy, and that even some of the brightest young students are at high risk of being overlooked in the workplace. their schools and districts.

The study, commissioned by the reform-oriented Thomas B. Fordham Institute, highlights marked disparities in the prospects of top-performing students by race and class. Black and low-income Ohio school children who performed well on state exams were less likely to be classified as gifted and talented than comparable white and high-income children. In middle and high school, they scored lower on standardized tests, advanced placement exams, and college entrance exams, and they were less likely to enroll in college.

Scott Imberman, author of the report and an economist at Michigan State University, said it was uncertain whether lower gifted identification rates exacerbated performance gaps between student populations. Starting in 2017, Ohio made more comprehensive screening for gifted status mandatory in the early grades, but historically even some students who have received gifted status have remained without gifted services.

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“The main thing here is that there was, and probably still is, a problem with these shortcomings,” Imberman said. “These top performing minority and disadvantaged students were not doing as well over time as the top performing students who were advantaged, and they were also less likely to be enrolled in gifted programs.”

To study the long-term trajectories of academically promising students, Imberman searched for student-level records from the Ohio Longitudinal Data Archive, which included third-year performance on the State of the State standardized test. Ohio for more than 900,000 participants between the years 2005-06 and 2011-12. years. Imberman focused on students from all walks of life who scored in the top 20% of the state – a sample of around 180,000 people – and compared those results to ACT and SAT scores, as well as the enrollment figures for the National Student Clearinghouse college.

In terms of short- and long-term academic performance, poor and African American students who scored in the top 20% lagged behind their peers. The results of subsequent standardized tests in Grades 4-8 revealed that high-performing students generally lost ground to their classmates in the bottom 80%, mainly due to improvement in lower-performing students in the lower 80%. late childhood and early adolescence. But in both reading and math, the relative performance of top-performing students who were white, Hispanic, Asian-American, and high-income American fared much better than their economically disadvantaged and African-American classmates.

High school assessments showed evidence of the same persistent differences. Black and underprivileged students who performed well in third grade were less likely to take the ACT and AP tests, and scored lower than other high achievers when they did. The average AP scores for wealthier students (3.2 on a five-point scale) and white students (3.1) were significantly higher than those of less well-off students (2.6) and African Americans ( 2.3).

Finally, 57% of top performing whites went on to enroll in a four-year college, compared to 53% of Asian Americans, 30% of Hispanics, and 26% of African Americans; among students who were not classified as economically disadvantaged, 58% went on to enroll in a four-year college, compared to 35% of top performers who received this classification.

In a separate set of findings that may offer a partial explanation for these stark discrepancies, Imberman found that students from different demographic groups were identified for gifted and talented service at vastly different rates. Blacks and top performing low-income students are less likely to be identified in third grade than other groups of students, and the gaps widen considerably by the time they reach eighth grade.

In fact, the report finds that just being identified as gifted can bring certain benefits in terms of achievement: receiving the classification gifted in math resulted in a slight increase in reading scores of 0.02 standard deviations and an increase in reading scores. math scores of 0.03 standard deviation – equivalent to an increase in performance of about one percentile per year. In addition, these effects were relatively greater for African American and Hispanic students than for white students.

The findings echo those of a 2016 article 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 a sharp increase in the number of minority and low-income students who have been classified. A 2018 Fordham study found that only 61.5% of K-12 schools in Ohio offered gifted programs, and less than 8% of students enrolled in those schools had access to them.

Imberman called the effects on success “causally plausible,” noting that social factors other than identifying the gifted might play a role in explaining the effects.

“I would say this provides At first glance, suggestive evidence that expanding access to education for the gifted among minorities, in particular, could be a way to help reduce these gaps among top performing students, ”he said. at The 74.

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