Being a gifted Black student can be hard.
According to the November 21, 2019 Quartz article, “Gifted education in America is finally moving past its legacy of inequality” by Alexandra Ossola, gifted education has been criticized for decades for perpetuating inequality. Gifted-and-talented programs earned a reputation for segregating white and students of Asian descent, giving them more rigorous schoolwork and smaller classes, while other students of color were left behind or kept out.
This still happens in many places. Black students remain underrepresented in gifted programs and, even in diverse districts, enrollment in gifted programs may not reflect the make-up of the schools — often because the way students are selected for gifted programs hasn’t been equitable. School districts rely on teachers to refer students for gifted programs, but studies show teachers tend to recommend white kids more often than black kids and that potential giftedness in African American students is often overlooked.
In the article, “High-Ability African American Children: Navigating the Two-Edged Sword of Giftedness” by Jessa D. Luckey Goudelock in the June 2019 NAGC publication Parenting for High Potential, the author details four common racial issues that can be encountered by gifted African American students:
- Deficit thinking — blaming a lack of student achievement on either the student or their family circumstances instead of looking to make sure the lack of achievement doesn’t actually stem from academic needs not being met.
- Microaggressions — verbal, non-verbal, or environmental slights or insults that, whether intentional or unintentional, are based on a person’s background or characteristics. For gifted Black students, this often appears in the form of having their academic performance second-guessed which can then result in under-achievement and/or social-emotional issues.
- Stereotype threat — when someone fears their performance is being judged based on existing stereotypes. This fear can manifest in high-stakes testing situations and can lead to underperformance, which could, in turn, lead to not being given opportunities to participate in gifted education programming due to low test scores.
- “Acting White” — a form of race-based bullying in which Black students, concerned about being perceived as “acting White” become less likely to take advantage of educational opportunities which can accumulate over time to decrease students’ chances for higher education opportunities.
Goudeluck goes on to identify research that has been done on examining giftedness through a cultural lens. She points to Dr. Mary Frasier and her associates at the University of Georgia who developed the Traits, Aptitudes, and Behaviors Scale (TABS) identification tool which focuses on ten key traits — communication, motivation, interests, problem-solving abilities, memory, humor, inquiry, insight, reasoning, and imagination/creativity that parents and teachers should look for in identifying giftedness in culturally diverse children.
- the ability to express feelings and emotions
- the ability to improvise with common materials
- articulateness in role-playing and storytelling
- enjoyment of and ability in visual art
- enjoyment of and ability in creative movement, dance, and dramatics
- enjoyment of and ability in music and with rhythm
- expressive speech
- fluency and flexibility in non-verbal media
- enjoyment of and skills in small group activities
- responsiveness to the concrete
- responsiveness to the kinesthetic
- expressive body language
- richness of imagery in informal language
- originality of ideas in problem-solving
- emotional responsiveness
- quickness of warm-up
Additionally, the use of non-verbal tests, the use of local norms (scores being compared to other students in the school or district rather than being compared to students at a state or national level), the use of rating scales (going beyond simple test scores), and the use of portfolios are all methods that could potentially better identify Black students for gifted education services.
For positive change both academically and socially for Black children, it is critically important that parents and educators take the time to understand gifted characteristics, identification procedures, and programming options while also knowing the hurdles that Black children may face along the way.