March 4, 2008

Denver Goosing Gifted Classes

The racial balancers are at it again--this time in Denver.

More minority and poor students in Denver are being classified as highly gifted under a new system that gives extra credit to children who are economically disadvantaged or nonnative English speakers.

Denver Public Schools is trying to fix a disparity in the program that serves its smartest and most talented students — which up until now has drawn mostly white students in a district that is mostly Latino.

Here we go again.

The article gives us some data to work with.

  • More than 1,800 students in Denver Public Schools — about 3 percent — fit the highly gifted classification
  • DPS's student population is 57 percent Latino, 20 percent white and 19 percent black. But the highly gifted and talented program serves only 25 percent ethnic minorities, Howard said.

Using that data I was able to roughly determine the criteria for the previous DPS gifted program. I assumed normal distributions and that black and Hispanic IQ scores would be able a standard deviation below the IQ scores of white students. I fiddled with the numbers in excel and came up with this:

With an estimated IQ gap of 1.1 standard deviation, the cut-off point for DPS gifted students would be an IQ of about 118.5 for about 25% of the gifted students to be minorities.

This means that about 11% of white students are classified as gifted. But. only about 1% of black and Hispanic students are classified as gifted. This is the result of an IQ gap of 1.1 standard deviation.

IQ's of 118.5 are not exactly Einsteinian, but at least these kids get out of those awful heterogeneously grouped classrooms they are forced to endure.

The meddlers in the DPS don't like that racial balance; they want a racial balance of 33%.

One way to achieve this 33% is to simply lower the cut score until we start hitting a fatter part of the black and Hispanic IQ tail.

I did the calculation for you already. If the cut score were lowered by 6 IQ points (to 112.5) the racial balance would be increased to nearly 34%. Now, nearly 20% of white students would qualify and over 2.5% of black and Hispanic students would qualify.

There is an unfortunate side effect though. At these not so-gifted levels, the number of "gifted" students would double in size and probably break the DPS budget.

So, DPS gets around this little problem by cheating:

To make things more equitable, the district now relies on a sum of measures to determine eligibility into the highly gifted program — cognitive tests, annual assessments, reading tests and teacher nominations. Next year, the district will consider artwork and writings.

Translation: Anything goes.

For example, a student who scores as low as the 75th percentile on cognitive tests could be considered, Howard said. Previously, that child would not have been admitted.

Now, that is overkill. The 75th percentile equates to an IQ of 110. DPS only needs to allow in 170 additional minorities into the gifted program to achieve their 33% balance rate. By my calculations, they'd only have to lower the IQ cut score t0 116.5 to attract this number of students, assuming that all the new students were minorities.

No doubt they're paving the way for the future when they can up the balance even more. I'm wondering at what point they'll stop calling them gifted classes?

"We want to find the gifts that these children have, not exclude them," she said.

It appears those gifts aren't going to be related to cognitive ability.

Update: Alan Gottlieb of Head First Colorado also has a post on this story.


Anonymous said...

I have a great deal of respect for the idea of eliminating testing bias that favors any group, whether gender, socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, or religious, particularly when that bias comes at the expense of another. However, what you appear to be speaking of is something altogether different -- and in its own way, also racist.

Gifted minority children absolutely deserve to be looked for, included, encouraged, and guided into programs for the gifted and highly gifted, but what you're talking about is watering down the criteria of a program to the point where practically everyone who isn't designated as special needs is by default designated as gifted in order to meet racial quotas.

The terrible message that many minority children may receive from a move like this is, "We have to lower the bar for you." What a burden to carry around.

Very thought-provoking.

Ben said...

Professor Gottfredson has some excellent papers discussing these issues on her faculty page: