The Underrepresentation of Diverse Populations in Gifted Programs

It’s 2011 and we’re still discussing the fact that minority and economically disadvantaged populations continue to be underrepresented in gifted programs in our nation’s schools.

If you read current articles on the subject, you might think this is a new problem. However, a little research reveals that this topic has been around for decades … Gallagher & Kinney, 1974; Bacca & Chin, 1982; Frasier, 1987; Hunsaker, 1994; Kingore, 2001; Bridgeland & Diiulio, 2007; Feng & Van Tassel-Baska, 2008 … to name a few!

So, why hasn’t any progress been made to include these children in greater numbers? Statistics for these groups skew the numbers of the total population at every turn – twice as likely to drop out of high school; 44 % who are identified in first grade no longer qualify for services by 5th grade; the achievement gap grows twice as fast as that of their white counterparts throughout high school; poor students are less likely to attend ivy-leagues and fewer even graduate from any college.

Perhaps the most decisive reason is the way in which children are identified for gifted services. You may be surprised to learn that there are significant differences in the identification process in the U.S. and in other countries. Also, there are many influences in the process that need to be removed.

In a majority of states, IQ scores are still considered the single most important determining factor followed by a series of tests usually administered by school psychologists. Teacher and parent referrals are considered but to a lesser degree. Too often, student behavior is weighted in the process and can have a disproportionately negative impact on minority or lower income students. It has been noted that when teacher awareness of gifted traits increased, more teachers referred these students for evaluations.

In other countries, much greater importance is placed upon parent nomination. Parents are actually respected for their opinions. Community, peer and self-nomination are also acceptable.

Changing the way gifted children are identified can change the make up of programs. This year, a school district in New Haven, California decided to make such a change in their identification process. Now, the GATE population more closely reflects the overall make up of the district as a whole. The district identifies students by using 2 different criteria – academic achievement and also a checklist system to see where student strengths may exist in areas such as creativity and leadership in addition to being gifted and talented.

Bright, high-ability students exist in all socio-economic levels, cultures, and ethnic races. It is imperative that they be identified and receive gifted services if the U.S. is to continue to be an innovative and creative leader in the world.


  1. Thank you for writing this post! Under representation of diverse populations of gifted students still exists in many U.S. schools and raising awareness on characteristics and referral processes are a must. I am on the look out for instruments that can identify ELL gifted students, which many times are overlooked when verbal or IQ tests are used.

  2. It's exciting to see this Gifted Parent Support Group advocating for culturally diverse gifted students. WE need everyone to reach out and share the word about the travesty of under-representation of children of color, those from low income backgrounds and those whose first language may not be English. I invite advocates to take a look at my book: 'Bright, Talented & Black: A guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners' - it is the first book of its kind to direct attention to the needs of Black Gifted Children providing guidance for their families and educators. All gifted learners need strong advocates!! Please continue to SPREAD THE WORD about the loss of precious gifts occuring in communities around the world due to the phenomenon of 'under-representation'!!


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