The neglected of the neglected of the neglected: a case study of gifted English learners in two Austin elementary schools



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The identification of gifted children — beginning with the landmark study of “genius” by Lewis Terman (1925) — has relied heavily on intelligence test scores to determine eligibility for gifted programs. Racial/ethnic minority students, especially Latinos and African Americans, however, continue to be underidentified as gifted (Chinn & Hughes, 1987; Harris & Ford, 1991; Valencia & Suzuki, 2001). Gifted English learners (ELs), coined “the neglected of the neglected of the neglected” by Valencia and Villarreal (2001), are even less likely to be identified as gifted. Valencia, Villarreal, and Salinas (2002) offered four promising best-case practices that might serve to increase minority representation in programs for the gifted, including gifted EL Latinos. Little research has been conducted to examine, however, if schools actually employ alternative practices, and to what extent schools are successful in increasing the number of ELs identified as gifted. This dissertation explored the question: How can the representation of EL Latinos in gifted programs be improved? Although this pervasive pattern of underrepresentation of gifted EL Latinos in most schools in AISD has been documented (Valencia & Suzuki, 2001; Valencia et al., 2002), some schools defy this pattern and identify ELs at relatively higher rates when compared to other schools. The purpose of this study was twofold. First, quantitative analyses of incidence data for the Austin Independent School District (AISD) revealed that, as a group, EL Latinos are underrepresented in gifted programs at rates above and beyond the rates of English-speaking Latino children. This study also explored the factors that contribute to the successful identification and placement of gifted EL Latinos in these schools. Interviews with school administrators, teachers, and assessment personnel and observations of selection committee meetings were conducted that validated two hypothesized factors that promote the successful identification and placement of EL Latinos in gifted programs.