Socioeconomic status dictates which children get into gifted programs


Jason Grissom (Vanderbilt)

Elementary school children from higher income families are far more likely to be in gifted education programs than those from lower income families, according to a new Vanderbilt University study, published in Harvard Educational Review.

“Using nationally representative longitudinal data, we found that gaps in the receipt of gifted services between students with the highest and lowest socioeconomic status are profound,” said lead author Jason Grissom, associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development. “A student from a family in the top 20 percent of socioeconomic status is more than six times more likely to receive gifted services than a student in the bottom 20 percent.”

These gaps remain substantial even after taking into account students’ achievement levels and other background factors, and sorting of students across schools.

“Even when comparing students with the same math and reading scores in the same schools, students from the highest-status families are about twice as likely to receive gifted services as their classmates who come from families with the fewest advantages,” Grissom says.

The socioeconomic gap, which is especially large for White and Asian students, could arise through multiple channels. Prior research suggests that parents with higher socioeconomic status are more knowledgeable about school processes like gifted assignment.

“… students from the highest-status families are about twice as likely to receive gifted services as their classmates who come from families with the fewest advantages.”

-Jason Grissom

They also use their economic resources to provide their children with extracurricular activities that may strengthen their case for gifted identification, and are more likely to engage private psychologists to evaluate their children for giftedness.

There are several potential approaches schools and districts can use to ameliorate the apparent advantages for students from high socioeconomic status families:

  • Train teachers to identify giftedness among low-income students
  • Implement universal gifted screening procedures that reduce parent involvement and teacher discretion in placement processes.
  • Use assessments that are not biased against students from low socioeconomic families.

Read “Money over Merit? Socioeconomic Gaps in Receipt of Gifted Services,” in Harvard Educational Review.

CO-AUTHORS

Christopher Redding, University of Florida

Joshua F. Bleiberg, Vanderbilt University

Download a PDF of the report.

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