Black students with high test scores are less likely to be placed in gifted programs in elementary schools compared to White students with similarly high test scores. However, when Black students are taught by a teacher of color, that disparity disappears, according to a new study published in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed Journal of the American Educational Research Association.

The study, conducted by researchers with Vanderbilt University and entitled “Discretion and Disproportionality: Explaining the Underrepresentation of High Achieving Students of Color in Gifted Programs,” looks to identify why students of color are underrepresented in gifted programs.

Racial disparities among the placement of minorities in gifted programs have been prevalent for years. Surveys from the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S Department of Education showed that in 1998, 6.2 percent of students were placed in gifted programs. Of those, 10 percent were Asian, 7.5 percent were White, 3.6 were Hispanic and 3.0 percent were Black. A decade later, in 2009, the number of students put in gifted programs increased to 6.6 percent, while the percent of Black students in those programs climbed to 3.9 percent.

The authors of the study analyzed records of more than 10,000 elementary school students and found that Black students were 66 percent less likely than White students to be placed in gifted classes. 

“It is startling that two elementary school students, one Black and the other White, with identical math and reading achievement, will have substantially different probabilities of assignment to gifted services,” the study’s lead author, Jason Grissom, an associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development said in a statement.

“This is especially troubling since previous studies have linked participation in gifted programs to improved academic performance, improvements in student motivation and engagement, less overall stress and other positive outcomes,” he added.

Researchers did find that Black students are three times more likely to be placed into gifted programs when the teacher is Black, compared to a teacher that is non-Black. Researchers also noted that gifted programs are less likely to be offered in schools were Black students attend, which could be another factor fueling the gap. Only 83 percent of Black students attend a school where there is gifted program, while 90 percent of White students attend schools with gifted programs.

The authors believe one solution for the problem is to implement universal screening of students and offer training to help teachers better detect giftedness among diverse populations.