OREM — If two students in Utah perform the same in school, the minority student is more likely to be labeled as gifted than the white student, according to a new study from Utah Valley University.
Researchers analyzed data from six Utah school districts that were representative of the state as a whole. They identified which students were being labeled as gifted and then controlled for the "achievement gap."
“Much to our surprise, we found that after you control for achievement that the white students in Utah were the least likely to be labeled as gifted," said assistant professor Russell Warne. "So in other words, if you have a white student and a student who is Hispanic and they do equally well in school, then the Hispanic student is more likely to be labeled as gifted than the white student is.”
Warne said the achievement gap, a trend where minority students tend to perform worse in school, is well-known in the educational community, but other researchers have not factored it into their study of gifted programs. The UVU study concluded Hispanic and African-American students' underrepresentation in gifted programs may be explained by this gap.
“There’s no racism going on at most of these schools, or if it is, it doesn’t fully explain the issue," Warne said. "It’s not that people aren’t looking for diverse, gifted kids, it just might be a consequence of the achievement gap and the only way to fix that is to raise the achievement of all of the performers of all races.”
He said they were surprised by the results since it was the first study of its kind. The study was published in the "Journal for the Education of the Gifted." The findings could influence civil rights cases that look into whether different ethnic groups are over or underrepresented in special needs and gifted programs, Warne said.
You can't say that you have evidence of racism going on or neglecting certain ethnic or racial groups unless you have controlled for academic achievement and those differences still exist.
"It’s still important to pay attention to diverse groups because gifted kids can come from all ethnicities and races and socioeconomic classes, so you have to pay attention to them, but you can’t cry foul unless you control for academic achievement," he said. "You can’t say that you have evidence of racism going on or neglecting certain ethnic or racial groups unless you have controlled for academic achievement and those differences still exist.”
The good news is, Utah seems to be doing a good job of spotting giftedness where it is often overlooked and making programs available to students of all backgrounds, Warne said. He said, however, more research is needed.
“I think the next step is to examine how well these children are being served," Warne said. "It’s not enough to say ‘you’re gifted,’ shake your hand and move on. There is a lot of strong science and research showing that children who are above average in ability and intelligence and motivation have different educational needs from the general population.”
Warne said he hopes future researchers will take the achivement gap into consideration. Different groups can't be compared apples to apples, he said.
"It’s not enough to compare the percentages, you also have to control for the fact that some groups are arriving at school less prepared than others and we need to work hard to get every child who is struggling up so more children from all races qualify for special programs,” he said.