A central challenge and critical goal in the field of gifted and talented education is to increase identification and services for students from underrepresented, underserved groups. Students from low-income families and from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds have historically tended to be underrepresented in gifted programs (Castellano & Frazier, 2010; National Association for Gifted Children, 2011). Although some evidence suggests that the representation of some racial and ethnic groups is increasing, identification of these students still lags, and students of poverty continue to be highly underrepresented; in a recent national survey, less than 20% of school districts reported close alignment between the percentage of students of poverty in the district overall and the percentage in gifted programs at the elementary level (Callahan, Moon, & Oh, 2014). These identification issues reflect similar issues in achievement; recent research has demonstrated significant gaps at high levels of achievement between students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and between students from higher and lower income groups (Plucker, Hardesty, & Burroughs, 2013). Moreover, some evidence also indicates that high-achieving students from low-income homes struggle more than their higher-income peers to maintain high levels of achievement (Wyner, Bridgeland, & DiIulio, 2007).

For several decades, national reports have emphasized the need for access to advanced learning opportunities and attention to specific group and individual characteristics among underrepresented students of high potential (e.g., Olszewski-Kubilius & Clarenbach, 2012; U.S. Department of Education, 1993). Several recent publications have highlighted approaches that have demonstrated effectiveness with underserved populations of promising learners (Adams & Chandler, 2014; Briggs, Reis, & Sullivan, 2008; Olszewski-Kubilius & Clarenbach, 2012). This project seeks to use one of these highlighted models in a new context.

What is SPARK?

Project SPARK responds to the absolute priority for the Javits Demonstration Programs by scaling up the Young Scholars Model, which was designed to increase participation of underrepresented groups in gifted and talented programs, to support their achievement in the core subject areas, and to promote their readiness for participation in advanced coursework (The Development of the Young Scholars Model). The project builds on the previous success of the Young Scholars Model in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, scaling up the model by implementing it in New England, a region with high achievement gaps and limited state support for gifted programming, and by incorporating an experimental design to examine the model’s effectiveness. We will assess the project’s influence in promoting both achievement and identification for gifted programming, specifically focusing on students from underrepresented minorities, students from low-income families, and students who are English Language Learners.

Project Goals

The specific goals of the project are outlined below:

  1. To increase the rate of identification of and services to students from underrepresented groups in gifted programs.
  2. To promote achievement of high-potential students from underrepresented groups; thereby, reducing the excellence gap.
  3. To increase student readiness for gifted program participation through engagement in challenging curriculum and cluster grouping for instruction.
  4. To promote professional practice that will support the identification and development of emergent talent.
  5. To disseminate results of the project and resources for replication.

Methods and Expectations

The project will focus on finding and nurturing students with high potential in grades K-2 and providing services for them through summer programming, cluster grouping during the school year, and professional development to support both identification procedures and implementation of advanced curriculum. We will gather observational and assessment data on students, including use of the NWEA’s MAP and MPG assessments and the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test – Second Edition. Interventions will focus on grades K-2, but students will complete MAP assessments throughout the duration of the grant, even as they progress to higher grades.

We expect that students involved in Young Scholars will demonstrate higher levels of achievement and higher levels of identification for gifted programs than similar students in comparison schools. We also expect that the percentage of students from underrepresented groups identified for their school gifted programs will increase in each district as compared to the gifted program demographics at the beginning of the project. Finally, we expect that teachers will show change in their perceptions of giftedness in underrepresented populations and that they will increase their use of specific instructional strategies that support advanced learning.