Underserved, Underrepresented, Underestimated

A gifted education advisory committee meets to discuss long-term program planning. A new member of the committee introduces the issue of underserved students and is met with mixed reactions from the educators and parents on the committee.

The gifted education advisory board considers a proposed policy change that would provide for the identification and service of traditionally underserved gifted students.

Adams County is a suburb of a moderately sized metropolitan area. Gifted students in the county’s public school system are identified based on performance on group achievement and intelligence tests administered in the second grade. Gifted students in grades 3-6 attend a center for the gifted one day each week. Teachers at the center develop and implement thematic instructional units for participating students in areas of interest not addressed in the regular school program.

Maureen Booker, chair of the advisory board and a parent, opened the meeting by first introducing a new parent representative, Julio Gonzalez. Then moved on to the request to review and revise a policy on the identification of underserved populations. Teachers realized that almost none of their poor or minority students were formally identified or served by the district’s gifted education program. They asked their assistant principal, Jim Lewis, to raise the issue. The teachers shared materials from a workshop with Jim, including a definition of underserved gifted students and a set of national standards for gifted education programming in grades pre-K-12.

Maureen asked Jim to address the group about the new policy statement. Glancing at his notes, he began, “Several teachers have asked for a new policy statement regarding underserved populations of gifted learners. They recently attended a workshop and became aware of the under-representation of poor and minority students in our gifted program.”

Julio asked, “How many students from your school are in the gifted program?”

“Not many,” Lynn Elliott, the gifted education coordinator, admitted. “In fact, over the past five years, only three children out of 438 have attended the program.”

“And isn’t this one of the poorest and most culturally diverse schools in the district?” Julio asked pointedly.

“Yes, it is.” Lynn confirmed.

See Underserved Definition below:

NAGC Pre-K-12 Gifted Programming Standards

Some advisory group members are surprised by these concerns and wonder if serving this group should be the purpose of the current program.

Julio raised his hand, “Can someone clarify for me the district’s definition of a gifted student?”

“Sure,” said Lynn. “Turn to page 13 in the advisory board notebook; you’ll find the US Department of Education’s definition of a gifted learner.”

Mary Taylor, one of the teachers at the Gifted Center hesitantly spoke up. “I’m a bit confused,” she said, turning to Jim. “Why are the teachers at your school asking for this policy change? What do they expect to happen?”

“Well, I think the teachers would like to see expanded access to the county’s gifted services,” Jim replied. “They’re concerned that gifted students at our school aren’t being identified and are slipping through the cracks. I think the teachers and a lot of other people believe the way we do things now is a little unfair.”

“Is this an issue of entitlement for the students and teachers at your school?” asked one of the committee members.

Not missing a beat, Julio quickly replied, “Well, is gifted education a privilege or a right in this school district?”

No one answered.

Most of the members of the advisory group have not given much thought to the underserved populations of gifted learners in their district.

“I move that the board develop a policy advocating appropriate identification and service of underserved populations of gifted learners in the Adams County School District,” said Jim. The motion was seconded by Julio, and Maureen asked for discussion.

Mr. Riley, a parent of a gifted elementary student began the discussion. “I have some concerns about what this proposal will mean for children currently in the gifted program. If these “underserved populations” children are gifted, then why haven’t they been identified? We test every student in the district and anyone can nominate students for the program. Why can’t your teachers nominate students for the Center next year?” He said, looking at Jim. “It seems to me that all the procedures are in place. Maybe the teachers and parents at your school haven’t taken full advantage of the services available to them.”

“What type of testing is done?” asked Julio.

Lynn Elliott explains, “Every first-grader takes a standardized achievement test in the spring. Then during second grade, any child can be nominated for gifted education services. Nominated students are screened using a group ability or intelligence test. Any students who exhibit both superior ability and achievement are admitted to the program.”

“What do you mean by achievement and ability testing?” Julio continues.

“Generally, achievement tests measure what students know or what they have learned. Ability or intelligence tests measure students’ capacity for learning. We believe that gifted learners should demonstrate superior performance on both tests,” Lynn replied.

See the transcript from the meeting below:

The focus shifts to which identification and service modifications would make the gifted program more inclusive.

Lynn summarized the group’s discussion. “I think Mr. Lewis and his staff have pinpointed a problem that exists for most gifted education programs. We are not currently identifying all of the gifted students in our district. It’s naïve to think that there are not a significant number of underserved students in our system. We’re going to have to expand our identification procedures to include methods more sensitive to underserved populations.”

“The recognition of these gifted learners is only significant if it leads to appropriate educational services,” Julio interjected.

Jim nodded in agreement. “I agree. Some of the services for gifted learners are important for ALL gifted students, while some modifications are important to nurture giftedness and talent in underserved populations. You only have to walk around my school to see that the students in our classrooms have a lot of the same characteristics as the students at the Gifted Center. But the gifted students in our building also possess other unique qualities.”

Identification PowerPoint

The committee fails to reach an agreement on how to better identify and serve underserved populations of gifted learners.

“If I could, I would just like to share one more thing with the board,” Jim said. “There was a quote posted at the gifted workshop my teachers attended that struck a chord with me. It reads: ‘School is a society of many abilities (Kaplan, 1989), including those of special populations of gifted learners. Gifted education programming is a reflection of society as well as other parts of school. Therefore, all groups of students within the school society should be recognized, addressed, and nurtured. The provision of educational services for all gifted learners respects and embraces the many different abilities as well as abilities in many different peoples (Maker, 1989).’

“Finally, I ask the members of the board to bear in mind that the society and cultures represented in my school are no less important than those in the other elementary schools. My students deserve the same access to the services we offer as every other student in the county,” Jim concluded. “Thank you.”

Maureen called for a vote on the motion.

One resource teacher, however, spoke up, “I think this request could have a tremendous impact on our program. I’d like to hear what other parents and teachers think. I move that we table the vote so that we can look into the issue more thoroughly.”

The board voted to table the issue until a later date. Jim was disappointed and discouraged. Several days later, though, he received an e-mail that Julio sent to the board. It read:

Gifted Advisory Committee:

I would like to thank Mr. Jim Lewis and his staff for their diligent efforts on behalf of ALL of the gifted learners in the county. I have begun to read more about the topic. I found a quote that I think deserves consideration by all the committee members.

“To disregard the needs of ALL gifted learners may irreparably change the credibility of gifted programs (Udall, 1989). There is no accountability in the provision of services to gifted learners that excludes special populations of students. Therefore, gifted education programming that does not include underserved populations is not defensible (Maker, 1989).”

I hope that we all use the time before our next meeting to learn more about this issue and that when we meet again, we are adequately prepared to deal with it.

After reading the email, Jim started thinking of ways that he could revitalize his staff’s enthusiasm and dedication. This was a setback, after all, but it certainly wasn’t over.


Kaplan, S. N. (1989). “The gifted Asian-American child: A general response to specific issues” (pp. 189-191) in Maker, C. J., & Schiever, S. W. (Eds.). Critical issues in gifted education: Defensible programs for cultural and ethnic minorities. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Maker, C. J., & Schiever, S. W. (Eds.). (1989). Critical issues in gifted education: Defensible programs for cultural and ethnic minorities. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.