Teacher Race Affects Black Students’ Odds of Being Labeled ‘Gifted’

Emma Brown, Washington Post, January 21, 2016

Black students are half as likely as white students to be assigned to gifted programs, even when they have comparably high test scores. But the racial gap in “giftedness” largely evaporates when a black student is taught by a black teacher, according to new research published this week.

Black students taught by black teachers are assigned to gifted programs at almost the same rate as white students, and three times more often than black students with similar academic ability and family background who are taught by teachers of other races, according to the study by Vanderbilt researchers Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding. The race of a black child’s teacher made a particular difference in whether he or she was identified as gifted in reading.

The results raise “serious concerns,” the authors wrote, in a nation where 80 percent of black elementary school students are taught by teachers of other races.

Gifted programs are meant to help talented young people meet their potential. “Yet our results show that identification of gifted students depends, in part, on factors having little to do with student performance or ability that lead students to be assigned disproportionately on the basis of race and ethnicity,” the researchers wrote.

The study was published in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Educational Research Association.

Federal data show that 6.6 percent of all students are labeled gifted, but there are big differences among groups: 12 percent of Asians and 7.9 percent of Whites are in gifted programs, compared to 3.9 percent of blacks and 4.6 percent of Latinos. {snip}

Many schools have tried to develop holistic ways of identifying gifted students so as not to be limited by one-size-fits-all standardized tests that some educators believe fail to fairly judge the potential of all children, especially those who are poor, black and Latino. Those holistic approaches, Grissom and Redding wrote, can include factors like creativity, artistic ability and leadership.

But because those characteristics are more subjective than test scores, they are more prone to teacher bias, including racial bias, the authors wrote.

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The racial gap might also be explained in other ways, the authors wrote. For example, perhaps black students respond differently to black teachers, or perhaps parents of black students are more comfortable with black teachers and therefore more likely to successfully advocate for their children to be placed in gifted programs.

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Previous studies also didn’t filter out the effects of students’ test scores, gender, socioeconomic status, health or age when they started kindergarten. The new study did look at those factors and found that they did not explain the underrepresentation of black (and Latino) children in gifted programs.

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