Three things to know about gifted education

The sleepy issue of gifted education is poised to become a front-burner issue in 2014. The State Board of Education will soon rewrite Ohio’s operating standards, the controversial rules on how schools identify and serve gifted students. The state will release a second year of value-added data for gifted students, which indicate a school’s effect on these students’ learning gains. Columbus City Schools recently moved to seek approval from the state that would allow five of its high schools to adopt selective-admissions policies, based in part on gifted status. Finally, the time may be ripe for policymakers to create a statewide selective-admissions school for gifted students, as Illinois and Mississippi have done.

As gifted-education policies garner more attention, policymakers may want to know what data are available on gifted education in Ohio and what the data say (hint: they’re perplexing). Below are three points on Ohio’s gifted-education data.

1.) Gifted services data appear to be inconsistently reported by schools.

Ohio collects and reports two key data elements regarding gifted students: First, the state reports the number of students who are identified as gifted. Second, it reports the number of identified students who receive gifted services. The enrollment statistics for both gifted identification and services are reported at the school and district level. Schools are not required by law to serve their gifted students, only to identify them. Administrative code requires schools to report these data and submit an annual report, and it also requires an audit of a district’s gifted-education data once every three years—or more frequently, if there is suspicion of non-compliance [OAC 3301-51-15 (G)].

Despite these reporting requirements and accountability measures, the data on students receiving gifted services do not appear to be reported consistently across schools. In 2012–13, more than half of Ohio’s schools (1,576 out of 2,721) reported a trivial number of gifted students who received services.[1] Obviously, for some of these schools, the trivial number of gifted students served can be easily explained by a low number of gifted students identified: Roughly one-fourth of these 1,500 or so schools with fewer than ten students served reported that they enrolled fewer than twenty-five gifted students to begin with.

Still, a sizeable number of schools identified scores of students as gifted yet reported providing services to an inconsequential number of them. A majority of these schools were high schools: of the schools that enrolled more than fifty gifted students but reported serving a trivial number of them, And of these, 57 percent were high schools. For example, Centerville High School (in suburban Dayton) enrolled 981 gifted students but reported serving fewer than ten of them. Similarly, Walnut Hills High School (in the Cincinnati Public Schools system) reported having 957 gifted students but also reported serving inconsequential number of them. Something is amiss with how schools report gifted services. Check out the list of schools with their gifted-identification rate, gifted-service rate, and value-added data.

2.) Wealthy suburban districts identify relatively many students as gifted but serve relatively few of them.

Across the eight types of school districts in Ohio, schools from very high-wealth suburban districts identify the highest fraction of their students as gifted. However, among the district types, these provide services to the lowest fraction of their gifted kids.

Figure 1 shows that schools in Ohio’s wealthiest suburban districts identify, on average, 29 percent of their students as gifted. This identification rate comfortably exceeds those of other types of schools, and it nearly triples that of schools in urban districts.

Figure 1: Schools in high-wealth suburban districts identify the highest percentage of their students as gifted—Average gifted identification rate by district typology, 2012–13

Meanwhile, when it comes to reports of serving their gifted children, wealthy suburban districts lag. As Figure 2 shows, they serve the lowest fraction of their gifted children—on average 38 percent, a service rate that is 7 to 16 percentage points lower than other district types. (Excluded from the service-rate calculation are schools that reported fewer than ten gifted students as served. For more on this complication, see point 1 above.)

Figure 2: Schools in high-wealth suburban districts serve the lowest percentage of their gifted students—Average gifted service rate by district typology, 2012-13

Source: Ohio Department of Education Notes: Gifted service rate = N gifted students served/N students identified as gifted. Calculation for average service rate across each school district type excludes schools that reported less than 10 gifted students served.

3.)Thus far, one does not observe a relationship between the gifted-service rate and student growth.

One might reasonably expect that as a school’s service rate increases, its effect on the growth of gifted students—a school’s “value add”—should increase as well. (Value added is a statistical estimate of a school’s contribution to the academic growth of a group of students. A higher value-added score implies a stronger effect on growth.) This expectation, however, is not borne out by the data, at least not yet.

Figure 3 shows the relationship—and the lack thereof—between a school’s gifted value-added score (vertical axis) versus its gifted-service rate (horizontal axis). Each school is represented as a blue dot on the chart. There is no relationship between the two variables. The trend line is virtually flat, and the correlation is practically zero. Some schools look great on gifted value-added while serving few of their gifted students (top left portion of the chart). Meanwhile, some schools perform terribly on value-added while serving many of their gifted students (bottom right portion).

That being said, the value-added data are tentative. The 2012–13 school year was the first in which Ohio reported value-added scores for its gifted students. Hence, the state has calculated just one year of value-added data for its gifted children, compared to its three-year estimates for a school’s “overall” value-added score. As the state compiles more data on gifted kids, it will be interesting to see if a link between service rates and value-added scores emerges. But for now, one cannot make a case that gifted services have anything to do with gifted students’ growth, as measured by school-level results on the state’s standardized assessments.

Figure 3: No link between gifted service and student growth—Gifted service rate versus gifted value-added index score by school building, 2012–13  

Source: Ohio Department of Education Note: Number of schools = 890, r =  –0.07. Only schools containing a grade level between four and eight receive a value-added score. Schools reporting fewer than ten gifted students served are excluded.

* * *

Ohio’s gifted-education data are an enigma. How schools report gifted services does not seem to be consistent, despite the legal requirements that schools report the data with fidelity. There is also the curious case of schools in high-wealth suburban districts, which identify many children as gifted, but, puzzlingly, either don’t serve many of them or don’t bother reporting “service.” Finally, the absence of a relationship between inputs (gifted service) and outputs (value added) is a head-scratcher. Of course, one could offer any number of hypotheses for why these gifted-education data look the way they do. In the end, these data lead to more questions than answers, especially pertaining to the issue of gifted “service”—how schools report service, and, heck, whether it even matters. Hopefully, we’ll begin to crack some of these nuts in the New Year. Stay tuned.

[1] For the purposes of this article, saying that a school reports or serves a “trivial” and “inconsequential” number of gifted kids means that school reports or serves fewer than ten gifted students. The Ohio Department of Education does not report an enrollment figure when a group of students within a school has a population of fewer than ten. 


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