Education News

What It Takes To Enroll In A Gifted And Talented Class

Getting better information to parents is one way to make HISD’s gifted program more diverse. Another proposal is to change the screening test.

Liana Silva with her daughter Elena
Liana Silva wanted her daughter, Elena, 5, to attend a good school close to their home. She found the vanguard program at Askew Elementary for gifted and talented students.
 

One mother’s experience shows that it can take a lot of legwork and some luck to get a child enrolled in a gifted class.

“My name is Elena, this is my mother named mom,” said Elena Ford, 5, introducing herself.

Her mom’s real name is Liana Silva.

In Elena’s bedroom, there’s a shelf overflowing with books.

Elena pulled one off the shelf and started describing the pictures.

“She’s not the queen anymore,” she said, turning the page.

Elena, 5, used to attend a private pre-K.

Now she’s in a gifted kindergarten class at Askew Elementary in west Houston.

It’s a new experience for both Elena and her mom.

 

“In a way, I don’t know what to expect because I don’t know what the gifted and talented program is,” Silva said.

This is Silva’s first foray into Houston public schools. She grew up in a tiny town in Puerto Rico with one high school.

She now has a PhD and found the information about gifted and talented options overwhelming.

“Looking back at my experience, I would have like to have known when to do stuff and what I had to do in a very clear way,” she said. “Because I know the information is there on the site but it takes you a while.”

Silva said that the entire process was confusing. It took lots of legwork and some luck to get Elena enrolled.

Not many students like her end up in gifted classes. She’s biracial — Latina and black.

However, students of color are under-represented in the program.

A report this year found racial bias in those programs, and that thousands of black and Hispanic students are missing out on challenging courses that can better prepare them for college and other opportunities.

Getting better information to parents is one way to fix that. But it will take much more, according to one researcher.

“The district has to be bold, aggressive, un-apologetic about changing those numbers,” said Donna Ford with Vanderbilt University.

She has given the Houston school district a failing grade for how it identifies gifted and talented students.

Her recommendations involve every piece of the process.

“Teacher referral matters, parent referral matters, what check list is used matters, the test that’s being used matters, when children are tested that’s important. The retesting is an issue,” Ford said.

Currently, there are two main ways to get into the gifted program. First is universal screening in kindergarten and fifth grade.

The second is on a case-by-case basis. A parent can request their child to be tested again – up to once a calendar year.

Liana Silva had her daughter tested early for her new gifted kindergarten class.

She had no idea what the exam would cover and couldn’t watch Elena take it.

“But I’m nosy so when I saw that he took her into a room, I tiptoed over to see if I could see what was going on,” she said.

Silva peeked through the window and saw her daughter working on a flip book and a puzzle.

Parents-in-the-know can go online and find video tutorials for this test.

And for $150, they can buy a packet to prepare their kindergartner.

Changing the screening test is another step Houston school leaders are considering to close enrollment gaps.

“I think it’s safe to say at this point there are no sacred cows,” said Adam Stephens, HISD’s officer for innovative curriculum and who oversees advanced academics.

Stephens said that Ford’s report has put a spotlight on the problem and the district needs to address it, though he doesn’t think the enrollment gaps are on purpose.

“We’re looking at the testing that we use, we’re looking at how we identify students at   the campuses. And if it feels like it’s really going to allow us to really meet the needs of students in HISD, then it’s something that we’re committed to moving forward,” he said.

The district’s equity council, which formed in part because of the disparity in gifted enrollment, is reviewing Ford’s recommendations. It’s expected to release its own later this fall.

Stephens said that all options are on the table. However, it would be too expensive to test every child every year.

If changes are going to happen for next school year, they need to take place before applications open this fall.

 

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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