Welcome to THE G WORD blog where we will be posting our thoughts and commentary on the state of gifted education in the United States. You can expect to hear from a variety of voices from our advisory board, our producers, director/producer Marc Smolowitz and other experts and thought leaders close to the film project. First up is an inaugural piece from our intern Holden Aguirre who is taking a look back at a recent development in Aurora, CO. We hope you enjoy!
EXPERT EDUCATOR SAYS UNIVERSAL SCREENING NOT ENOUGH TO DIVERSIFY GIFTED AND TALENTED PROGRAMS IN AURORA, CO
BY HOLDEN AGUIRRE
The number of black and hispanic students in Aurora Public School’s (APS) gifted and talented programs increased after the district began using universal screening methods to assess all students in 10 pilot schools, rather than depend on teacher identification and referral.
While more students of color are being identified as gifted and talented within the district, education expert Dr. Kate Bachtel, founder of SoulSpark Learning, a non-profit aimed at helping and advising youth and their educators, says more can be done.
APS is one of the most diverse school districts in Colorado, and the country. As of January 2019, Hispanic students made up 54.1 percent of the district population, with black students comprising 19.4 percent.
“The universal screening practices adopted by Aurora and other districts combat biases that continue to be a barrier to identification for bright Black, Latinx, Native American, and bilingual youth,” says Bachtel.
According to U.S. Census Bureau, 20 percent of the overall population in Aurora are foreign-born. Within APS, students come from over 130 different countries and speak 167 different languages. For many of these students, English is a second language.
Adoption of a universal screening methods reveals that, often times, black and latino students, free/reduced price lunch participants, and English-learners are under-referred when placement relies on teacher and parent nomination.
Bachtel says since APS enacted universal screening in its pilot schools, the district has seen a 17 percent increase in identification of students of color. Although she is happy to see a more diversified set of gifted and talented students in the pilot program, disparities still exist in the district population overall.
Outside of the pilot program numbers, the Hispanic population is still underrepresented within APS gifted and talented programs across the district, increasing from a 16 to 19.5 point imbalance, since last reported by the state of Colorado in 2018.
“While universal screening helps, it is not enough,” says Bachtel.
The underrepresentation of black and latino youth in gifted and talented programs, or what is commonly referred to as an “excellence gap”, does not only exist in Colorado, but in fact, occurs at a national level.
According to a 2018 report published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit specializing in education research, while many states offer gifted and talented programs, a consistent overrepresentation of white and asian students in these programs exist.
Bachtel hopes APS, and other districts across the country, will continue to develop programs that are inclusive of all students, while increasing their understanding of what it takes to help gifted students thrive.
Yet, what works in Aurora, when it comes to diversifying gifted and talented programs, will not necessarily work in other districts in Colorado, or the U.S. for that matter. Every district, every zip code, requires its own unique set of practices in creating programs that are inclusive of all students.
“I dream of a day when every student is seen through the lens of their strengths independent of labels,” says Bachtel.
Holden Aguirre is a Journalism Major at San Francisco State University minoring in LGBT Studies. As someone who thrives in a diverse environment, Holden transferred from American River College in Sacramento to pursue interests in film, music, the arts, and education.
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