Panel Paper: Can a Child be Poor and Gifted? Socioeconomic Gaps in Receipt of Gifted Services

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 11 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jason Grissom1, Christopher Redding2 and Joshua F. Bleiberg1, (1)Vanderbilt University, (2)University of Florida

Gifted programs provide enhancements and supports to high-ability students whose academic needs may not be met in typical general education settings. Research suggests that such programs may increase outcomes, including academic performance and engagement, for high-ability students. Unfortunately, studies also find that high-ability students from marginalized groups are less likely to receive gifted services. This research, which has focused largely on disproportionality in gifted services by race/ethnicity, suggests that gaps in representation can emerge from lack of access to gifted programming, failure of teachers to refer marginalized students for evaluation, biases in evaluation procedures, and differences in retention in gifted programs of students from diverse backgrounds.

This study extends prior work on underrepresentation in gifted services to examine gaps by measures of socioeconomic status (SES). Drawing on data from both iterations of the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten cohort (ECLS-K), we investigate the emergence of SES gaps in gifted services receipt as children move through elementary school. Because ECLS-K includes a continuous measure of SES (as opposed to binary free/reduced lunch eligibility measures that are typically available) created from income and measures of parental education and occupational prestige, we are able to investigate service receipt across the SES distribution. Moreover, availability of rich background information about students—including achievement measures collected at each wave—and the schools they attend in the ECLS-K permits us explore multiple potential explanations for any observed SES gaps. We ask, to what extent does a student’s socioeconomic status predict the likelihood that he or she will receive gifted services? Second, to what extent do achievement measures, measures of observable background factors (e.g., race/ethnicity), and the school a student attends explain any observed SES gaps?

We show that gaps in the receipt of gifted services between the highest- and lowest-SES students are profound; a student in the top SES quintile is more than six times more likely to receive gifted services than a student in the bottom quintile. The SES gap is especially larger for White and Asian students. Moreover, the gap remains substantial even after taking students’ achievement levels and other background factors into account via regression, and when estimating models with school fixed effects to account for school sorting. Even among observationally similar high-achieving students within the same school, we estimate that a high-SES student is about twice as likely to receive gifted services as a low-SES student.

These results suggest that school districts may need to take proactive steps to ameliorate the apparent advantages students from high-SES families enjoy in processes surrounding receipt of gifted services. Prior studies suggest that strategies that aim to close gaps in teacher referral may be particularly important. Training for teachers that emphasizes mindfulness of giftedness among nondominant groups (i.e., low-SES, ethnically diverse) may be one strategy. Alternatively, districts might implement universal gifted screening processes that reduce the role for parent involvement and teacher discretion in gifted evaluation.