University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

30% of Highest Achievers not Identified as Gifted and Talented

In The View from the OEP on November 4, 2020 at 1:17 pm

Did you know that 30% of Arkansas’ highest achieving elementary students are not identified as Gifted and Talented? It’s true. And the bad news is that if a high achieving student is economically disadvantaged, they are 11 percentage points less likely than their more affluent peers to be provided G/T services despite similar academic achievement.

New research out today from OEP examines the likelihood that the highest achieving 3rd grade students are identified G/T by 4th grade. Our sample includes of five cohorts of 3rd graders that scored in the top 5% statewide in both reading and math (N=4,330). This rigorous definition of high achieving identifies students that are the most likely to benefit from G/T services.

The figure below shows the relationship for the students in 4th grade in 2019. The yellow circle represents all 4,067 G/T students, while the blue circle identifies the 1,011 that scores in the top 5% on the 3rd grade state assessments. The area where the circles overlap reflects that 70% of these highest achieving students were identified G/T, but there are 30% of top 5% students that were not. The pattern in consistent across the most recent five years of 3rd to 4th grade cohorts.

Venn Diagram for 2019 4th Grade G/T Students and Top 5% Students on 2018 3rd Grade Reading and Mathematics Assessments

How are students identified as G/T?

In Arkansas, students are identified as G/T at the school district level. While the process varies by district, it typically begins with a nomination from a teacher, counselor, parent, or peer. Arkansas law requires G/T identification include two objective and two subjective measures, with at least one being a measure of creativity. Districts select their own assessments and process for identification. Unlike SPED or ELL identification that is sustained when students transfer districts, the G/T label may or may not still apply.

Are there differences by student demographics?

Examining trends in G/T identification by student demographics reveals that students from different populations are more or less likely to score in the top 5% on the 3rd grade state assessment, as well as differences by student demographic characteristics in the percentage of those high achievers being identified as G/T. The summary descriptives for all five cohorts examined is presented in the table below. You can see that 12% of our sample was identified G/T, while only 2.5% of the sample scored in the top 5% in both reading and mathematics on 3rd grade state assessments. Of those highest achieving students, 70% were identified G/T by 4th grade. When we further examine our sample, we see that although 65% of students participate in the federal Free/Reduced Lunch program (FRL), only 8% of them are identified G/T. Just over 1% of FRL students scored in the top 5% on 3rd grade assessments, but only 64% of those highest achieving FRL students were identified G/T. We also see evidence of lower rates of G/T identification for high achieving students that are Hispanic (67%) or receive Special Education (SPED) services (60%).

Summary descriptive statistics by G/T and Top 5% Achievers, 3rd to 4th grade cohorts

These descriptive summaries give us a sense that there may be certain types of students that are less likely to be identified as G/T, even though they are high achieving. Because many of the variables of interest are interrelated, we ran a multivariate regression including the listed student demographic characteristics. We also included district characteristics (district size, %FRL, urbanicity, and geographic region) in our model because identification occurs at the district level and we wondered if specific district types were related to the likelihood of high achieving students being identified as G/T.

You can read the policy brief or full paper if you want more details, but we find that after controlling for student and district characteristics, high achieving FRL students are 11 percentage points less likely to be identified as G/T. We found no significant differences in G/T identification rates of high achievers by student gender or race- which is great! While there was some significant variation in the likelihood of G/T identification by geographic region and district size, the main district findings were that high achieving students from lower poverty districts (<52% FRL) were 8 percentage points less likely to be identified as G/T and that students in larger districts (>2,500 students) were much more likely to be identified for G/T services.

Why are students being missed?

Perhaps these high achieving students were tested for G/T and failed to meet the district criteria, but we don’t have the data to determine that since it is not collected by the state. Another option is that these high achieving students were never nominated for G/T testing. Some students, particularly those from low-income households, may be less likely to have a parent that is comfortable with or informed about the process for nominating a student for G/T consideration. This is one reason that we suggest using state standardized tests as universal screeners could be a move toward greater equity in G/T identification.

There was wide variation at the district level the percentage of students in the top 5% of achievers on 3rd grade assessments that were identified as G/T. When we limit our sample to districts that had at least ten 3rd grade students in the top 5% over the five years examined, the G/T identification rates for these high achievers ranges from 0 to 100%. When we similarly examine high achieving FRL students, the district-level G/T identification rates range from 22 to 78%.

As it might be helpful for districts to examine their G/T identification rates of the highest achieving 3rd graders, district identification rates are available to district Superintendents and G/T coordinators upon request to oep@uark.edu.

Here at OEP, we value the services that G/T programs provide for students, and are not proposing that state standardized test scores should be the sole consideration in G/T identification. Rather, we suggest that examining these universally administrated state assessments could be a time and cost effective way for districts to find students that may not have been considered for G/T, but would likely benefit from receiving services.

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