District seeks to close ethnic disparity in gifted program

Hispanic and black students are usually few and far between in Gifted and Talented Education programs, but they're becoming more common in the Clark County School District.

About 24 percent of the district's GATE students were Hispanic or black in 2009, but the percentage grew to 32 percent last year. Yet, these minority students still are underrepresented considering they're actually not a minority in Clark County but total more than half of all students.

The number of gifted Hispanic and black students is expected to leap higher this school year, Chief Student Services Officer Kim Wooden said. But it's not because these students are being given a leg up. It's because more of them will be screened for inclusion in the program.

To be accepted into GATE, second-grade students must score in the top 2 percent compared with their peers on the Nagileri Non-Verbal Abilities Test. They then receive 150 minutes of differentiated instruction per week for third through fifth grade. But school staff has to nominate second-grade students to take the test, and minority students seem to be missing out, which is a key concern, Wooden said.

That is why, in 2009, the district started screening every second-grade student attending a Title 1 school, she said. At the time, at least three quarters of a school's students had to be living in poverty for that school to be deemed Title I and receive extra federal funding. That extra funding paid for the universal GATE screening and is the reason for 32 percent of GATE students now being black and Hispanic.

But, starting this year, only 40 percent of a school's students must be living in poverty for a Clark County school to be Title I. That means an unprecedented 18,600 Title I second-graders will be screened, a 30 percent jump from the 13,700 Title I students screened last year, most of whom are Hispanic or black.

With 4 percent of these students usually making it into GATE, the screening will add about 700 more poor but gifted students, narrowing the disparity a little more for Hispanic and black children.

"That's a concern around the world," School Board member Lorraine Alderman said of inequality between ethnic groups.

The additional screening will cost about $167,000 and be funded through federal Title I money.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.