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HomeLiteracy/ESLRecognizing Gifted English Learners

Recognizing Gifted English Learners

The National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCREGE) has published a study, commissioned during the Obama administration, with funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s office of English-language acquisition, to help improve the identification of English Learners (ELs) as gifted and talented by better understand the following: 

What are the patterns of underrepresentation in gifted and talented programs for ELs by grade level?

What procedures, practices, and instruments are used to assess and identify ELs for gifted and talented programs?

What are the roles, backgrounds, and qualification of district and school personnel involved in the assessment and identification of ELs for gifted and talented programs?

What challenges do districts and schools encounter in the assessment and identification of ELs for gifted and talented programs?

To what extent do the findings from the qualitative study map onto the preliminary NCRGE EL Theory of Change?

“Exploratory Study on the Identification of English Learners for Gifted and Talented Programs” states that “despite the growing numbers of ELs, their representation in gifted identification and programming continues to lag behind not only traditional populations of learners from advantaged communities (Callahan, 2005), but also other underserved populations of learners (Iowa Department of Education, 2008; Matthews, 2014). The United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (2014) indicated that 2% of ELs are enrolled in gifted and talented programs, as compared to 7% of non-ELs.”

NCRGE researchers visited 16 elementary and middle schools across the three states, selected because they were exemplary in their identification of gifted ELs. The NCRGE team conducted group and individual interviews with a total of 225 administrators; district gifted coordinators; gifted specialists; classroom teachers; parents/guardians/caretakers; and school psychologists or counselors, yielding a total of 84 transcripts. Group and individual interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed.  The research findings led to the following recommendations for review and reflection for stakeholders involved in designing and implementing gifted and talented programs.

Adopt a policy of universal screening of all students in one or more grade levels for the identification process.

Create alternative pathways to identification, allowing schools to use a variety of different assessment instruments (including native language ability and achievement assessments and reliable and valid nonverbal ability assessments) and to apply flexible criteria to ensure that students’ talents and abilities are recognized.

Establish a web of communication to ensure that all stakeholders (administrators, district gifted coordinators, classroom teachers, gifted specialists, psychologists, multilingual teachers, and parents/guardians/caretakers) are aware of the identification system in its entirety and are empowered to interact with one another in all components (i.e., screening, nomination, identification, and placement).

View professional development as a lever for change, providing information to gifted specialists, classroom teachers, psychologists, and parents/guardians/caretakers on identifying giftedness in multiple ways and creating a school climate with the goal of identifying students’ strengths rather than weaknesses.

The full report is available at:

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