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Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Identifying Underrepresented Students for Gifted Programs—What You Can Do

Have you ever overlooked a child for gifted education services?

Be honest—then again, maybe they slipped through the cracks because, as many teachers do, you operated from some partially or completely inaccurate preconceived notions when identifying gifted students.

I’m writing about an old problem. It’s nothing new. But, before you stop reading, understand that this problem will remain a large problem unless school administrators and teachers do something about it.

What I’m referring to is underrepresentation of students in U.S. public schools’ gifted education programs. Minority students (black, Hispanic) are grossly underrepresented in these programs. Asian students are overrepresented, but that’s a topic for another discussion. I’d like to focus this blog on underrepresentation among the low social-economic status students (SES). Students that come from families, where parents may have relatively low-income and education levels, who face a “special constraint” (VanTassel-Baska, Patton & Prillamon, 1991). Low SES students are part of a negative cycle; as these students are less likely to perform academically, they go unnoticed by teachers and are not considered for gifted programs. This creates a cyclical effect, where these students don’t get the services they need and thus continue to underperform and be overlooked (Stambaugh, 2007).

The situation has called into question the procedures and measures used by schools to identify students for gifted programs. So, what do the experts say teachers can do to improve this situation?

  1. Early identification - Start identifying students as early as kindergarten. Providing services to young children and engaging them in challenging coursework as they progress through elementary grades can prepare them to be successful with rigorous coursework in the upper grades (Trusty, Niles & Carney, 2005).
  2. Multiple identifying measures - Teachers can use behavior checklists in classrooms to identify diverse student populations for gifted programs. Schools can also use assessment requirements, such as portfolios, that don’t place emphasis on one subject or skill. For instance, low SES students have shown large gaps in scores on verbal assessment and non-verbal assessments, with the latter scores being higher (Kaya, Stough & Juntune, 2016). Students required varied ways of showing “giftedness” besides rigid intellectual quotient tests.
  3. Teacher training - Perhaps the biggest step teachers can take is to become educated about the needs and characteristics of gifted students. Attend district trainings, complete endorsement courses, take master's level classes in gifted education. A lack of training has been largely blamed for underrepresentation of low SES and minority students, since teachers often fail to refer these students due to bias, lower achievement expectations, and unfamiliarity with characteristics of gifted students (Speirs Neumeister, Adams, Pierce, Cassady & Dixon, 2007). You have to know what you are looking for, and this is accomplished by becoming very comfortable with what “gifted” looks like in the classroom.

Minority and low SES students deserve gifted education services as much as any other child. It is up to educators to provide these opportunities. Get training, become familiar with the gifted, lobby for using multiple ways to identify and assess students for gifted programs at your school. And—this is just my opinion—if you’re going to error, error on the side of optimism, not caution. Take a chance on a child, who may be gifted. In the 7 years I taught gifted students, I have been wrong about my share. I have recommended and tested a good number for gifted services, unsuccessfully. In some cases, they sought outside testing and later became identified for gifted programs. In other cases, maybe I was just off, incorrect. Regardless, I’d rather take a chance on a child.


Steve Haberlin is a graduate assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida and an educator with 10 years of experience.



Fatih, K., Stough, L., & Juntune, J. (2016). The effect of poverty on the verbal scores of gifted students. Educational Studies, 42(1), 85-97. doi:10.1080/030055698

Speirs Neumeister, K.L., Adams, C., Pierce, R.L., Cassady, J.C., & Dixon, F.A. (2007). Fourth-grade teachers’ perceptions of giftedness: Implications for identifying and serving diverse gifted students. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 30(4), 479-499.

Stambaugh, T. (2007). Next steps: An impetus for future directions in research, policy, and practice for low-income promising learners. In J. VanTassel-Baska & T. Stambaugh (Eds.), Overlooked gems: A national perspective on low-income promising learners (pp. 83-88). Washington, DC: National Association for Gifted Children.

Trusty, J., Niles, S.G., & Carney, J.V. (2005). Education-career planning and middle school counselors. Professional School Counseling, 9(2), 136-143.

VanTassel-Baska, J., Patton, J., & Prillaman, D. (1991). Gifted youth at risk: A report of a national study. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.