The Blaine County School District’s push to reach more students with its Gifted and Talented Education program has shown progress, but Hispanic students are still far less likely to enroll than their white classmates.

Across all grades, white students are three and a half times more likely to be in the program, with 13.4 percent enrolled compared to 3.8 percent of Latinos, according to a 2019 audit compiled by district staff and presented to the school board during its regular meeting Tuesday.

Of the 300 students in GATE —about one in 11 kids districtwide—80 percent are white, 18 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent identify as another race.

That’s a significant improvement over the state of GATE in 2014, when the district began its annual reviews of program demographics. Back then, Hispanics represented around 40 percent of the student body writ large, but only 7 percent of the GATE program. Just 13 Hispanic students were in GATE across the district’s 13 grades—1.1 percent of all Hispanic students—compared to 157 white students, 8.2 percent of all white students.

Back then, the district set goals to reach more south-valley students, and “to increase the representation of students identified and served commensurate with overall enrollment

demographics,” wrote Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Angie Martinez and Data and Assessment Coordinator Marcia Grabow, who co-authored the report.

“Whether or not you qualified depended on your zip code,” Superintendent Gwen-Carol Holmes said of the program. “We’ve made great progress, but we have miles to go before we rest.”

The disparity is not isolated to Blaine County, though the gaps here appear wider. Nationwide analysis of participation lags years behind the current class. The federal government’s 2017 Digest of Education Statistics—an exhaustive dive into figures underpinning the American school system—was published by the National Center for Education Statistics on Jan. 30, 2019. But, its data on gifted students only extends to 2013-14—when Blaine County began the review of its program. At that time, 6.7 percent of students nationwide enrolled in gifted coursework—7.7 percent of white students and 4.9 percent of Hispanics. Participation in Idaho schools was rarer, with 3 percent of total students involved—4.1 percent of white kids and 1.4 percent of Hispanics.

It’s important to catch exceptional students early because, paradoxically, they’re less likely to finish high school than typical students. GATE serves more than the “pleasantly gifted”—an actual term used in GATE circles to describe kid who show up, sit down, and do well in school, Martinez said.

In other words, there is no typical gifted student, and most don’t fit popular whiz-kid stereotypes. In fact, an individual student’s GATE curriculum is often similar to an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, prescribed for students with disabilities. (Almost one in 10 GATE students have both.)

“We have lot of talented students who are underperforming,” she said. “They’re starting to disengage in school, showing social and emotional issues.”

To find them, district staff screen at every grade level, using an expanded set of criteria. The IQ scores used to identify intellectual talent—the sole determinant in 2013-14—are now just part of a body of evidence and language-neutral assessments weighed by an “eligibility determination team” of specialists to determine qualification. Following state guidelines, kids can qualify in specific Academic, Leadership, Creativity and Visual/Performing Arts categories, in addition to Intellectual giftedness.

For students who don’t speak English, the speed of their language acquisition now counts as an indicator. And, the district is reaching out to more parents—particularly Hispanic ones—to make sure GATE is better understood. It’s also trying to understand more itself, identifying what giftedness looks like among different demographics, cultures and income brackets.

“Research doesn’t give you a uniform way of approaching these gaps,” Grabow said. “It’s a national issue. But they say that as long as you’re committed, you’re on the right path.”

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