Aurora Public Schools’ pilot program centers equity in GT identification, finds many more gifted black and Hispanic/Latino students who were previously overlooked

Written by: Erica Manoatl
Date Posted: August 30, 2019

In Colorado and across the U.S., black and Hispanic/Latino students, as well as students from low-income families, continue to be significantly under identified in gifted and talented (GT) programs. The causes behind this underrepresentation are complex; among them, research demonstrates educators’ racial/ethnic biases can impact which students they choose for gifted referrals, and the widespread use of national cognitive assessments for gifted identification compares low-income students to their high-income peers, yet fails to account for the stark difference in resources available to each group. A recent pilot program in 10 Aurora Public Schools (APS) aimed to respond to these inequities, and after making two minor changes to their referral and identification processes, their GT population changed substantially.

A common pathway to gifted identification requires a student to receive a teacher referral and subsequently score in the 95th percentile on a cognitive assessment. In APS and many other districts, the process often unfolds like this: a student is referred by a teacher based on quantitative and qualitative measures and takes the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT), a national assessment. The child’s performance on the CogAT is then compared to their peers around the country, which determines their percentile score and whether they qualify for GT education. The 10 schools in the APS pilot program did things differently: instead of using teacher referrals, all children were administered a localized assessment called iReady. Testing all students allowed for all children to have an opportunity to qualify for the gifted identification process, and using a localized assessment allowed for student scores to be compared to the scores of their local peers, who likely have similar access to educational resources.

The result? The GT population identified through this pilot program was much more representative of the district. Overall, the share of students of color in the GT program increased by 17 percent; representation of Hispanic/Latino students rose by 8 percent and the share of black students increased by 9 percent. The share of White students qualifying for GT fell by 10 percent and that of Asian students fell by 5 percent. APS also saw more students receiving free or reduced lunch, female students, immigrant students, and English Language Learners qualify for GT education. Next year, the pilot program will expand to 20 APS schools, and those results will be analyzed before district-wide expansion is considered.

Once identified, the learning trajectory of a child who is gifted shifts dramatically. The student, their parents or caretakers and school staff develop their Advanced Learning Plan (ALP), which outlines instruction to build on their unique potential and challenge them further, and the gifted designation often follows the child throughout their primary education. The GT referral and identification process is therefore a game-changer for gifted students and yet it continues to be marred by bias, overlooking some of Colorado’s most talented children. The thoughtful changes in APS appear to be a potential key to finding these children, and setting them up with the education they deserve.

Erica Manoatl

About Erica Manoatl

Erica Manoatl is the Manager of Research Initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. In this role she ensures the Children’s Campaign’s policy priorities are research- and data-informed, shares data on child well-being with stakeholders around the state, and leads our internal evaluation efforts to understand our impact. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from George Washington University and a Master of Public Health in Population and Family Health from Columbia University.