The numbers came back bleak, from the standpoint of the new AIM program being able to identify blacks and Hispanics, as just four of the 72 identified students were from those traditionally disadvantaged populations, while their percentage of the district population suggested the numbers should have been closer to 17 or 18 of those 72 students.
Board member Susan Lovenburg, in reacting to the initial set of results, told the Vanguard, “I do have a concern that the protocol is not yet identifying an AIM cohort that matches the student demographic profile of our district. I reject the notion that some races or ethnicities have a higher incidence of giftedness than others.”
As a New York Times piece by University of Michigan Professor of Education Susan Dynarski that has made the rounds suggests, Davis is not alone here. However, that is hardly an excuse to simply throw up our hands. The Times article frames the issue in the appropriate way: “Why Talented Black and Hispanic Students Can Go Undiscovered.” This is not, as some might suggest, an article for quotas, but rather an exercise in finding talent and developing that talent appropriately.
Professor Dynarski notes: “Public schools are increasingly filled with black and Hispanic students, but the children identified as ‘gifted’ in those schools are overwhelmingly white and Asian.”
“The numbers are startling,” Professor Dynarski continues. “Black third graders are half as likely as whites to be included in programs for the gifted, and the deficit is nearly as large for Hispanics, according to work by two Vanderbilt researchers, Jason Grissom and Christopher Redding.”
The Times writes, “New evidence indicates that schools have contributed to these disparities by underestimating the potential of black and Hispanic children.”
Professor Dynarski found some success, however, in a large school district in Broward County, Florida, which “altered how it screened children,” causing “the number of black and Hispanic children identified as gifted” to double.
The question we should be asking is, how did they do it and how do we replicate it here and elsewhere?
Ten years ago the diverse students, more than half of whom were black or Hispanic with similar proportions from low-income families, were identified, and only “28 percent of the third graders who were identified as gifted were black or Hispanic.”
Writes Professor Dynarski, “In 2005, in an effort to reduce that disparity, Broward County introduced a universal screening program, requiring that all second graders take a short nonverbal test, with high scorers referred for I.Q. testing. Under the previous system, the district had relied on teachers and parents to make those referrals.”
When economists David Card of the University of California, Berkeley, and Laura Giuliano of the University of Miami “studied the effects of this policy shift – the results were striking.”
“The share of Hispanic children identified as gifted tripled, to 6 percent from 2 percent. The share of black children rose to 3 percent from 1 percent. For whites, the gain was more muted, to 8 percent from 6 percent.”
One finding should be troubling for Davis. One answer was that the new system did not rely on teachers and parents. “The researchers found that teachers and parents were less likely to refer high-ability blacks and Hispanics, as well as children learning English as a second language, for I.Q. testing. The universal test leveled the playing field.”
Davis has in part pinned its hopes on the HOPE Scale – allowing teachers to, in part, identify students with risk factors. We know a decade ago that teacher evaluators were not identifying black and Hispanic kids as gifted. That caused the district to cease that method.
Professor Dynarski notes, “Multiple factors could be at work here: Teachers may have lower expectations for these children, and their parents may be unfamiliar with the process and the programs. Whatever the reason, the evidence indicates that relying on teachers and parents increases racial and ethnic disparities.”
“The gifted program was not a panacea. The researchers found that the district’s specialized classes had little effect on the academic achievement of students who had been specifically identified as gifted, through I.Q. tests,” Professor Dynarski writes. “They are not sure why.”
However, “the separate classes did produce enormous, positive effects for children who were high achievers but did not qualify based on the I.Q. test. A quirk in the rules helped these children: Broward requires that schools with even one child who tests above the I.Q. cutoff devote an entire classroom to gifted and high-achieving children.”
“Since a school in Broward rarely had enough gifted children to fill a class, these classrooms were topped off with children from the same school who scored high on the district’s standardized test. These high achievers, especially black and Hispanics, showed large increases in math and reading when placed in a class for the gifted, and these effects persisted,” Professor Dynarski continues.
Unfortunately, “Despite these positive results, Broward County suspended its universal screening program in 2010 in a spate of budget cutting after the Great Recession. Racial and ethnic disparities re-emerged, as large as they were before the policy change. In 2012 the district reinstated a modified version of universal screening, but it has not achieved the same results.”
One problem that the researchers discovered: “One problem with the new screening program is that the previous nonverbal test, which psychologists say they believe to be culturally neutral, has been replaced with one that relies more on verbal ability. Another is that Broward parents and teachers can still influence whether children are selected.”
Professor Dynarski writes, “Given these problems, we might be tempted to abandon these programs for gifted and high-achieving children entirely. After all, distinguishing between gifted students and everybody else could lock some children, especially disadvantaged children, into a long-term track with low expectations that, too often, are self-fulfilling.
“But without some method of identifying talented students, disadvantaged children may fall even further behind those from affluent families, whose parents can afford niceties like private tutors, Kumon math courses and coding camps. Low-income parents just can’t afford these extras.”
Professor Dynarski concludes, “That’s why the research in Broward County is so important. It shows that there is a fairer way to identify gifted children, and that placing each school’s gifted and achieving students in advanced classes can shrink, rather than expand, racial and ethnic differences in achievement. Universal screening, with a standardized process that does not rely on teachers and parents, can reveal talented, disadvantaged children who would otherwise go undiscovered. Challenging classes for these children can help them to reach their full potential.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting