Under-representation of minority and culturally different children in gifted education is a serious issue in the American education system. One of the main reasons that these students are under-identified centers around the use of identification methods that are culturally biased. Identification must be based on a student’s potential instead of his/her performance, and identification instruments must be culturally appropriate. School districts use various assessments to identify gifted students. Some of the assessments currently in use are the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children Fourth Edition (WISC-IV), the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) and, the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT), among others.
School districts across the globe have been using the WISC-IV tool for many years.This test measures children’s cognitive skills by evaluating their ability to understand, comprehend, and apply what they have learned. This is a helpful tool to identify all types of learners, especially minority students.
Another test that we can administer to identify our students is the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT). The general purpose of this assessment is to test the cognitive abilities of K-12 students relating to their verbal, quantitative, and non-verbal reasoning and problem-solving skills. The CogAT Form 7 is accessible to non-English speaking students, as it is in non-verbal format. It measures cognitive development and problem-solving skills. Some schools use Form 6 and some use Form 7. This is a helpful tool to identify non-English speaking students who are gifted.
The third IQ test that is often used to identify students is the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT). The NNAT is a measure of nonverbal intellectual ability presented in a matrix analogy format. Many districts administer this test to identify students who do not perform well in school due to language barriers or learning disabilities. The entire test is nonverbal and it includes different illustrations and diagrams with various patterns and shapes. This test is a good predictor for success in a school’s gifted program, and some sample tests are available online. If students practice beforehand by taking the sample tests, they might do well in this test, as it will give them the advantage of seeing the types of questions that will be on the NNAT.
Administering these tools help us get a general sense of a student’s abilities and learning style. They give us one view of a child’s ability to be successful in school. However, many other data sources can give us valuable information about students. Multiple data sources may include achievement tests like FORWARD, STAR or MAP, classroom assessments, teacher rating scales, parent nominations, teacher nominations, or classroom performance to identify students for the school’s gifted programming.
My school district is one of the most diverse school districts in the North Shore area of Milwaukee. 55% of our students are minority students and 33% of them are eligible to receive free and reduced lunch. Despite using all of these assessments, we still feel like we are not identifying all of our students who are gifted. When I first started my position as a gifted and talented teacher 11 years ago, I had only a few African American students in my GT Resource class. By using various assessments that are less biased, we are able to identify more minority students in our gifted program. Currently, we have 30 African American students, 2 Native American students, 5 EL students, 6 Asian students, and 7 Hispanic students in our GT Resource class. This is a prime example of the importance of using culturally unbiased instruments for identification purposes.
In conclusion, we should understand that human capabilities are much more diverse and complex than what is measured by achievement tests and ability tests alone. Nonverbal reasoning tests do help identify bright children, especially those who are poor or who are not fluent in the language of the dominant culture, but educators should compare the test scores of these children with other children who have had similar opportunities to develop the abilities that are measured. And once we identify students whose needs are not being met, we must act on that knowledge and provide adequate challenging accommodations.
by Lalitha Murali, WATG Board Member