Journal for the Education of the Gifted
2017, Vol. 40(1) 79 –95
© The Author(s) 2017
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Enhancing Gifted Education
Meghan Ecker-Lyster1 and Christopher Niileksela1
For decades, our educational system has been criticized for the limited recruitment
and retention of minority students in gifted education programs. Unfortunately,
relatively little progress has been made to alleviate these concerns. An examination
of the literature on gifted education for underrepresented students reveals a dearth
of information regarding effective programming practices. This article seeks to fill
this void by exploring promising best practices for recruitment and retention of
underrepresented students in gifted education. Multicultural education, mentoring,
and noncognitive skill development are three promising areas that gifted educators
can use to enhance programming.
minority students, literature review, gifted programming, underrepresentation
Equal educational opportunity has long been a battle cry for the American educational
system. Throughout history, there has been a wealth of political, social, and legal
attention centered on the inequalities that litter our educational system, and as a result
of this national attention, several federal mandates have been put into action, such as
the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1990). This act ensures that
children with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate education. With each
1University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA
Meghan Ecker-Lyster, Educational Psychology Department, University of Kansas, Joseph R. Pearson Hall,
Room 608, 1122 West Campus Rd., Lawrence, KS 66045, USA.
686216JEGXXX10.1177/0162353216686216Journal for the Education of the GiftedEcker-Lyster and Niileksela
80 Journal for the Education of the Gifted 40(1)
new mandate, the face of education was reshaped, and supports were developed to
ensure greater access to education for individuals with disabilities.
Although special education programs, including gifted programs, were developed
with the intent of improving educational opportunity for students with unique educa-
tional needs, inequality continues to exist across our nation’s special education pro-
grams (Borland, 2004). However, the consensus on the degree of disproportionality in
special education is mixed (cf. Morgan et al., 2015; Skiba et al., 2008). Researchers
who argue that disproportionality continues to exist cite the fact that minority students
are still significantly underrepresented within gifted education programs (Borland,
2004; Skiba et al., 2008). This concern was recently highlighted in a 2014 special issue
of Gifted Child Today, which showcased the unique challenges that racially, ethnically,
and linguistically different (RELD) students encounter and their underrepresentation
in gifted education. One cause of this disproportionate representation is that RELD
students are being recruited into gifted programs and advanced-level courses at sig-
nificantly lower rates than White children (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Ford, Coleman,
& Davis, 2014; McBee, 2006; Olszewski-Kubilius & Thomson, 2003). The problem is
further perpetuated once these students enter gifted programs. Research shows minor-
ity students are more likely to drop out of gifted programs than White students (Ford,
2012; Grantham, 2004a). This disproportionate representation of minority students
within gifted education is often referred to as the excellence gap (Plucker, Burroughs,
& Song, 2010).
As our nation becomes increasingly more diverse, the educational system is tasked
with the responsibility of developing high levels of talent among all groups of children
by providing equitable education (Olszewski-Kubilius & Clarenbach, 2014). The pur-
pose of this article is to examine the research on promising best practices for effective
recruitment and programming strategies specifically designed for gifted minority
Recruitment and Identification
A major criticism of gifted education is the underrepresentation of RELD students
within these programs. Donovan and Cross (2002) examined nationally representative
data from the 1998 Office for Civil Rights (OCR) survey and found that 6.2% of all
public school children were placed into gifted education programs; however, place-
ment rates varied dramatically across racial groups.1 The highest rates were for Asian/
Pacific Islander students who had a 9.98% placement rate (i.e., one in 10 students from
this minority group were in a gifted program). Non-Hispanic White students had a
7.75% rate, whereas the lowest rates were for Black students at a 3.04% placement
rate, Hispanic students at 3.57%, and American Indian/Alaskan native students at
Problems with the identification and recruitment methods used to solicit students
for gifted education are frequently cited as major contributing factors to the underrep-
resentation of low-income and minority students (Olszewski-Kubilius & Thomson,
2003). Research has found that traditional intelligence tests, such as the Wechsler
Ecker-Lyster and Niileksela 81
Intelligence Scale for Children–Fourth Edition (WISC-IV; Wechsler, 2003), have
yielded lower scores for minority children (Naglieri & Ford, 2003). To address this
concern, several states have developed guidelines specifying identification procedures
that encourage schools to identify greater numbers of minority students (Donovan &
Cross, 2002). For instance, some state guidelines suggest the use of nonverbal intelli-
gence measures, such as the Comprehensive Test of Nonverbal Intelligence, Second
Edition (CTONI-2; Hammill, Pearson, & Wiederholt, 2009); Universal Nonverbal
Intelligence Test, Second Edition (UNIT2; Bracken & McCallum, 2016); Naglieri
Nonverbal Ability Test (Naglieri, 2003); and Raven’s Progressive Matrices (Raven,
2003), to identify gifted minority students. In addition to the measures specifically
designed as nonverbal assessments, practitioners have the option to choose from non-
verbal indices built into traditional cognitive assessments, such as the mental process-
ing index or the nonverbal index found on the Kaufman Assessment Battery for
Children, Second Edition (KABC-II; Kaufman & Kaufman, 2004) or the nonverbal
index found on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children–Fifth Edition (WISC-V;
Wechsler, 2014). These nonverbal tests have been deemed more culturally sensitive
because they place greater emphasis on fluid reasoning ability, which relies less on
language and academically acquired knowledge (Naglieri & Ford, 2003; Olszewski-
Kubilius & Thomson, 2003).
Unfortunately, merely selecting an alternative intelligence measure and/or index
does not necessarily redress the problem of underrepresentation. Rather, this alterna-
tive method often creates more problems and controversy. The research literature sug-
gests that nonverbal intelligence tests have several problems when used as an
identification measure for gifted education. Giessman, Gambrell, and Stebbins (2013)
cautioned against sole reliance on nonverbal screening measures as a means of address-
ing minority underrepresentation. In a comparison of the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability
Test, Second Edition (NNAT2; Naglieri, 2008) and Form 6 of the Cognitive Abilities
Test (CogAT-6; Lohman & Hagen, 2001), Giessman et al. (2013) found both measures
produced performance gaps among participants. Neither the NNAT2 nor the CogAT-6
yielded similar mean performances across racial and ethnic subgroups.
In a similar vein, nonverbal assessments have been found to lead to more classifica-
tion errors and frequently fail to identify a higher percentage of minority students than
traditional IQ measures (Lakin & Lohman, 2011). Lakin (2012) found that nonverbal
IQ measures were a poor predictor of academic achievement than verbal or quantita-
tive IQ measures. In her study, Lakin examined the predictive validity of CogAT-6
(Lohman & Hagen, 2001) in predicting reading and math achievement, as measured
by a standardized state assessment. The CogAT-6 includes verbal, nonverbal, and
quantitative batteries. The study’s sample consisted of third- and fifth-grade Hispanic
English Language Learners (ELL; n = 124), Hispanic non-ELL (n = 161), and White
non-ELL (n = 72) students. Lakin found that the 2-year predictive relationship between
ability and achievement scores was weaker for nonverbal scores than both quantitative
and verbal reasoning scores for both ELL and non-ELL students. For example, the
predictive validity for reading at Year 2 was .54 for verbal measures, .47 for quantita-
tive measures, and .41 for nonverbal measures for Hispanic ELL students; for Hispanic
82 Journal for the Education of the Gifted 40(1)
non-ELL students, the results were .67, .54, and .47, respectively; and for White non-
ELL students, the predictive validity were .74, .66, and .62, respectively. Based on the
results of this study, it could be argued that screening minority students for academi-
cally oriented gifted programs using nonverbal assessments may be inappropriate.
Another common gifted identification method that has received criticism for per-
petuating the underrepresentation of minority and low-income students in gifted pro-
grams is teacher nomination and referral. McBee (2006) found significant differences
in teacher referral rates across students’ race and class background. Specifically,
McBee found that Asian and White students were more likely to be referred for evalu-
ation for gifted programming compared with Black and Hispanic students. McBee
also reported that students receiving free or reduced lunch were less likely to receive a
teacher referral compared with their wealthier peers. Speirs Neumeister, Adams,
Pierce, Cassady, and Dixon (2007) found experienced gifted education teachers were
unaware of how cultural and environmental factors influence the expression of gifted-
ness in minority and economically disadvantaged students. The manifestation of gifted
abilities within these populations may be mediated by their cultural and economic
experiences. For example, economically disadvantaged students who live in a food-
scarce home may not demonstrate peak performance on exams if they are worried
about getting their next meal. In their study, Speirs Neumeister and colleagues sur-
veyed 27 fourth-grade gifted teachers from an urban school district and found the most
common characteristic that teachers identified as an indicator of giftedness was high
abilities in reading/vocabulary/and writing. Using this indicator as a marker of gifted-
ness may be inappropriate for minority students because it does not take cultural and
background experiences of the students into account when interpreting their abilities.
Acknowledging the concern and criticism of overreliance on traditional IQ mea-
sures and teacher referrals, districts are seeking out more robust identification proce-
dures. Standardized rubrics offer educators a supplemental screening method to
identify underrepresented students for a more comprehensive gifted evaluation.
Currently, there are several rating scales and rubrics available that practitioners can
incorporate into their gifted assessment battery including the Gifted Education Scale
(GES-2; McCarney & Anderson, 1998), Gifted Rating Scale (GRS; Pfeiffer &
Jarosewich, 2003), Scales for Identifying Gifted Students (SIGS; Ryser & McConnell,
2004), and Scales for Rating the Behavioral Characteristics of Superior Students
(SRBCSS; Renzulli et al., 2002).
Research indicates promising results for the use of rating scales and rubrics for
increasing access to gifted programs for underrepresented students. For example,
Pfeiffer, Kumtepe, and Rosado (2006) evaluated the efficacy of the Gifted Rating
Scales–Preschool/Kindergarten (GRS-P) form as a gifted screening initiative. To evalu-
ate the instrument, teachers were asked to submit one classroom product for each stu-
dent that showcased the student’s academic/intellectual ability. Each student’s product
was assessed using the GRS-P, and any kindergarten student who obtained a 3 or 4 on
the rubric (t score >60) was recommended for a full gifted evaluation. The results of the
investigation indicated that the GRS-P increased the number of minority students iden-
tified for a gifted evaluation than traditional cognitive screening measures.
Ecker-Lyster and Niileksela 83
Recruiting students into gifted services is only half the battle to closing the excel-
lence gap. Research has found that minority students are more likely to drop out of
advanced courses and gifted programs compared with their White peers (Grantham,
2004a). Because of this issue, school districts are tasked with providing students
appropriate programming activities and services that promote retention among under-
Intervention and Retention Programming
A large portion of the gifted literature has been devoted to investigating issues with the
identification process and how these issues create barriers for minority and economi-
cally disadvantaged students (e.g., Borland, 2004; Ford, Grantham, & Whiting, 2008).
However, recruitment issues are not the only barriers minority students face with
regard to accessing gifted education. Issues with intervention and retention program-
ming must also be considered after students have been identified and placed in gifted
programs (Ford et al., 2008). Research suggests that minority students face a number
of social and psychological experiences that perpetuate negative self-beliefs and
expectations regarding the value of participating in gifted education or advanced-level
courses (Grantham, 2004a). Black male students have reported declining enrollment
in gifted education or Advanced Placement (AP) courses because their peers accused
them of acting White (Grantham, 2004a). To mitigate the negative associations of
gifted education and encourage retention of underrepresented students within these
programs, educators must seek out interventions that are culturally sensitive and have
demonstrated effectiveness with minority students. Three potential approaches that
have some promise in the retention of gifted minority students are multicultural educa-
tion (Ford, Moore, & Harmon, 2005), mentoring (Grantham, 2004a), and noncogni-
tive skill development (Olszewski-Kubilius & Clarenbach, 2014).
Integrating a multicultural curricular framework into gifted education may be a poten-
tially effective practice to increase retention of minority students. Research has found
that incorporating culture and everyday experiences specific to the target population of
students enhances learning (Milner & Ford, 2007). A prevalent movement within edu-
cational reform that embraces this research as a vehicle to increase the engagement
and motivation of RELD students is culturally responsive teaching (CRT) practices
(Vavrus, 2008; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). The development of CRT practices was in
direct response to the performance gap among American students based on race and
socioeconomic status (Gay, 2002, 2010).
Unfortunately, few publications and curricular frameworks exist that are specifi-
cally designed for gifted education that addresses multicultural factors (Ford et al.,
2005). Given the limited literature in this area, many researchers rely on the in-depth
conceptual framework for multicultural education developed by James Banks (1993)
as a guideline for designing a multicultural curriculum for gifted education. Although
84 Journal for the Education of the Gifted 40(1)
additional curriculum needs to be developed within the field of gifted education, it is
important to note that Banks’s (1993) early framework fits elegantly into current CRT
practices (Gay, 2010; Vavrus, 2008).
Banks (1993) defined multicultural education as
an educational reform movement designed to change the total educational environment
so that students from diverse racial and ethnic groups, both genders, exceptional students,
and students from each social-class group will experience equal educational opportunities
in schools, colleges, and universities. (p. 359)
To accomplish this mission, Banks (1993) created a hierarchical model with four lev-
els that educators can use to incorporate multicultural content into their curriculum.
Aligning with CRT practices, Banks’s framework embraces a student-focused model
that incorporates student’s culture and experiences into the curriculum to create a more
welcoming learning environment.
In Level 1, the Contribution Approach, educators recognize and adopt discrete ele-
ments (e.g., holidays, famous individuals) from the minority student’s culture. The key
characteristic to this level is that the traditional, ethnocentric curriculum remains
intact, with minority recognition sprinkled in juxtaposition to the traditional view-
point. For example, in this level, Martin Luther King Jr. is more likely to be discussed
than Malcolm X in relation to civil rights because Martin Luther King Jr.’s views are
more in line with the traditional curriculum (Grantham, 2004a). This low-level
approach offers students an incomplete view of the subject being taught; however, it
affords teachers an easy way to incorporate nonthreatening cultural material into their
curriculum (Ford et al., 2005). Furthermore, this low-level approach can be appropri-
ate when students are not emotionally, psychologically, or socially ready to critically
analyze sensitive issues related to racial topics (Grantham, 2004a).
Level 2 of Banks’s (1993) model is the Additive Approach. In this level, the content,
concepts, themes, and perspectives of RELD students are added to the curriculum
(Ford et al., 2005). What this means is educators will incorporate an activity or assign-
ment highlighting an important event involving a minority group (e.g., an English
class reading The Color Purple). Where this approach falls short is the lack of back-
ground information that is provided prior to the activity, which fails to provide stu-
dents the appropriate lens to digest the cultural implications of the material (Ford
et al., 2005). Ford and colleagues (2005) referred to this level as a “superficial”
approach that requires little commitment or training from an educator.
The Transformational Approach is the third level in Banks’s (1993) model of mul-
ticultural education. In this level, the structure of the curriculum is changed to enable
students to view concepts, issues, events, and themes through a cultural lens (Ford
et al., 2005). This level is fundamentally different from the prior levels, because stu-
dents are provided the knowledge and background skills to better understand the per-
spectives of minority students. To adequately achieve success within this level,
educators must make significant curricular changes and undergo additional prepara-
tion to understand issues through a multicultural lens (Grantham, 2004a). This level of
Ecker-Lyster and Niileksela 85
teaching extends beyond presenting mere facts but rather encourages students to
develop the cognitive tools and insight to understand issues from another person’s
The fourth level of the model is the Social Action Approach. This is the most exten-
sive level in the model and requires a deeper understanding of the material educators
are presenting. With the Social Action Approach, educators help students make deci-
sions and take action about important social issues (Ford et al., 2005). Self-examination
is the key component to this stage, as students are encouraged to engage in problem
solving, decision making, and value analysis activities. This level of multicultural edu-
cation encourages students to develop a personal sense of independence and responsi-
bility (Ford et al., 2005).
For educators to effectively infuse multicultural education and CRT practices into
gifted programming, it is necessary for them to have a comprehensive understanding
of cultural topics and events relevant to their student population (Gay, 2010). In addi-
tion, it is important for gifted education teachers to recognize institutional barriers that
prevent minority students from obtaining an equal education and become an advocate
for these students within the educational system (Ford et al., 2005).
Within the gifted education literature, several articles provide recommendations for
adopting Banks’s (1993) multicultural model, which embraces CRT practices, as part
of their curriculum for gifted programming (e.g., Ford et al., 2005; Harris, Brown,
Ford, & Richardson, 2004; Milner & Ford, 2007). Recommendations specify that
gifted educators who do not have experience with multicultural education are encour-
aged to begin with Level 1 and seek guidance from more experienced multicultural
educators as they move through the hierarchy. However, to our knowledge, no empiri-
cal research has investigated the impact and efficacy of this educational framework on
enhancing gifted education for RELD students. As it stands now, adopting a multicul-
tural curriculum within gifted education is a recommendation for best practice, but not
necessarily an empirically validated best practice.
General educational research has found that supportive adults can serve as a protective
factor against stress and adversity, enhance resilience (e.g., Wentzel, 1999; Woolley &
Grogan-Kaylor, 2006), and positively impact a student’s academic success (Woolley
& Bowen, 2007). Similar impacts have been documented within the gifted education
literature as well (e.g., Grassinger, Porath, & Ziegler, 2010; Hébert, 2002; Hébert &
Reis, 1999). Hébert and Reis (1999) analyzed ethnographic and case study data from
a 3-year longitudinal investigation of the culture of high-ability, high-achieving stu-
dents within a diverse, urban school district. Through their investigation, Hébert and
Reis identified specific factors that students attributed to their academic success,
which included the development of a belief in themselves, personal characteristics
(e.g., motivation and resilience), supportive adults, family support, and interactions
with high-achieving peers. Baum, Renzulli, and Hébert (1995) also examined the ben-
efits of positive adult relationships for gifted students. They studied the impact of a
86 Journal for the Education of the Gifted 40(1)
teacher serving as a mentor for underachieving gifted students. In this paradigm,
teachers incorporated a strengths-based approach, where they focused on students’
positive traits and behaviors. The researchers found that 82% of students who partici-
pated in the mentoring program were able to reverse their patterns of underachieve-
ment and began to excel within the gifted education program.
To reap these benefits, gifted educators are encouraged to adopt mentoring strate-
gies as part of their gifted programming. To further strengthen the impact of the men-
toring strategies for RELD students, Grantham (2004a) created a multicultural
mentoring model in which he espouses Banks’s (1993) multicultural hierarchical
framework. Grantham’s (2004a) framework—a Participation Motivation–Racial
Identity Choice Model—was specifically designed to address motivational and racial
identity issues that preclude Black males from pursuing gifted education and advanced-
level courses. Grantham draws from the Participation Motivation Expectancy-Value
Model (PMEVM; Grantham, 2004b) and Nigrescence theory (Cross & Vandiver,
2001) to bolster his model.
The PMEVM (Grantham, 2004b) suggests that Black males will decline participat-
ing in gifted programs because of three primary reasons: (a) negative participation
competence expectancy, (b) negative outcome attainment expectancy, and (c) negative
value of gifted program outcomes. Participation competence expectancy is the belief
that one will perform at a desired level. For example, minority students may not
believe they have the ability to perform at the high level gifted programs require.
Outcome attainment expectancy refers to the belief that one’s efforts will lead to ben-
efits. Students who believe that participation in gifted education will lead to excessive
homework, which leaves less time for fun, may choose to not participate in the pro-
gram due to the perceived negative outcomes. Finally, value of outcome is just as it
sounds—the value the individual places on the perceived outcome. If a student places
a high enough value on the outcome, this will outweigh the negative outcome attain-
ment expectancy. For example, if a student finds value in an advanced-level course
because participating will increase his or her chance of getting into college, the student
may choose to participate in the program, despite the expectation that he or she will
have excessive homework.
Nigrescence theory (Cross & Vandiver, 2001) suggests that racial identity is clus-
tered into three major stages: pre-encounter, immersion–emersion, and internalization.
The pre-encounter stage is divided into two subtypes: assimilation and miseducation.
In the pre-encounter assimilation stage, an individual’s sense of self is defined by the
larger society in which they live. For minority students, this would include recogniz-
ing themselves as an American and an individual, but not emphasizing their racial
identity (Vandiver, 2001). In the pre-encounter miseducation stage, individuals accept
the negative stereotypes and images about their minority group. Researchers have
deemed this stage of development as one of racial self-hatred (Grantham, 2004a;
Vandiver, 2001). The second stage in the model is the immersion–emersion stage,
which occurs after the individual experiences a significant encounter that causes them
to reconsider their current identity. As individuals progress through this stage, they
feel a sense of anger and rage at the majority population, namely, the White majority
Ecker-Lyster and Niileksela 87
in the United States. The final stage of the Nigrescence theory is internalization. In this
stage, individuals embrace and celebrate both their minority identity and their more
macro American identity. Individuals in the internalization stage are able to integrate
both identities and feel comfortable and confident in multiple groups (Grantham,
2004a). It is important to note that these stages are not intended to be linear, and indi-
viduals can regress or become fixed at certain stages (Grantham, 2004a; Vandiver,
2001). Together, the PMEVM and Nigrescence theory help provide a framework for
understanding why Black males are less likely to join gifted programs. This theoretical
lens serves as a vehicle for developing effective interventions designed to increase
retention among gifted minority students.
To successfully incorporate the Participation Motivation–Racial Identity Choice
Model into a mentor/mentee intervention model, mentors must be familiar with the
social pressures facing their mentees and should seek to provide mentees culturally
relevant experiences to foster a sense of self-perseverance (Grantham, 2004a).
Specifically, Grantham’s (2004a) model aims to equip students with the belief that
they can overcome institutional barriers and succeed in advanced-level courses and
programs. Grantham (2004a) drew on Banks’s (1993) model to provide mentoring
strategies at each level of multicultural education:
Level 1 (contributions) mentors should acknowledge and celebrate heroes, hol-
idays, and cultural events related to their mentee’s culture. By recognizing
important cultural events, mentors will begin to foster their mentees’ belief in
their ability to succeed in gifted education. At this level, mentors will engage in
conversations with the mentee that examine the pros and cons of participating
in advanced-level course or gifted programs. The aim of these conversations is
to help the mentee understand that advanced-level courses can play a role in
their identity development and academic pursuits.
Level 2 (additive) mentors should begin to have meaningful discussions about
topics and issues regarding race that push the student to extend his or her think-
ing beyond the majority group. In the additive stage, mentors may encourage
mentees to critically examine the benefits of advanced-level courses and gifted
programs, in light of the negative stereotypes these programs may receive from
members of their minority group. The goals of the strategies used at this level
are to increase a mentee’s belief that participation in gifted education is worth
Level 3 (transformation) mentors should construct situations where mentees
are encouraged to examine issues from other minority viewpoints. In this level,
mentors should model empathy and discuss how multiple viewpoints are con-
structed. The goals of strategies used at this level are to help mentees resolve
their internal conflict with their racial identity with respect to others and their
decision to pursue advanced education.
Level 4 (social action) mentors model responsible decision-making techniques
and encourage mentees to contribute solutions to important social issues and
problems. Mentors should help shape mentees’ belief that participation in gifted
88 Journal for the Education of the Gifted 40(1)
education and advanced-level courses is worth the effort and their participation
may impact other minority students to also engage in these types of programs.
At this level, mentees should be encouraged to serve as peer models and advo-
cates for other underrepresented students.
Grantham (2004a) suggested that merely following this model will not result in
success. Rather the success of these strategies hinges on three key attributes of the
mentor: love, commitment, and responsibility. Grantham (2004a) argued that love is
the most important attribute for success, as many RELD students face social injustices,
which leave them feeling isolated. The second attribute that Grantham includes is
commitment. Mentors must be willing to commit their time and effort to demonstrate
their support and love for the mentee. Finally, being committed means mentors must
demonstrate a certain level of responsibility and maintain a consistent relationship
with the mentee to achieve success.
Similar to Banks’s (1993) multicultural model, a dearth of empirical studies exists
within the gifted education literature specifically examining the application of
Grantham’s (2004a) proposed multicultural mentoring model. As it stands now, the
majority of literature on this topic is limited to articles describing how multicultural
mentoring will impact identity development (e.g., Ford et al., 2008; Grantham & Ford,
2003). However, extrapolating findings from the broader mentoring literature high-
lights the potential impact multicultural mentoring strategies may have on educating
gifted minority students. Freeman (1999) conducted interviews with 21 high-achiev-
ing minority students and found that students credited mentors for providing a sense
of encouragement and support, which helped increase students’ academic and career
aspirations. Given the findings from previous research (e.g., Freeman, 1999), it is
posited that future research will find multicultural mentoring as an effective strategy
to serve minority students within gifted education.
There is a growing body of research that emphasizes the importance of noncognitive
factors in academic achievement (e.g., Duckworth, Kirby, Tsukayama, Berstein, &
Ericsson, 2010). These personal attributes include grit, motivation, persistence, self-
control, and mindset toward ability and effort (Duckworth et al., 2010; Dweck, 1986,
2012; Olszewski-Kubilius & Clarenbach, 2014). Noncognitive factors are uniquely
positioned within the educational literature because research has found that these attri-
butes are malleable and can be deliberately cultivated in students (Olszewski-Kubilius
& Clarenbach, 2014). In her seminal work, Carol Dweck (1986) outlined the incre-
mental theory of intelligence (also referred to as growth mindset), which refers to
students’ beliefs that ability and intelligence are malleable and that they can improve
their abilities with increased effort and learning.
Recently, interventions and programming centered on enhancing and improving
noncognitive factors have gained momentum in the gifted literature. Because gifted
students are praised for their high achievement, which often requires little effort from
Ecker-Lyster and Niileksela 89
the student, researchers are concerned that gifted students are at risk for developing a
fixed mindset, where they believe that their intelligence and talent are fixed and effort
and persistence is unrelated to performance (Dweck, 2012). As a result of this fixed
mindset, Dweck (2012) argued that gifted learners will demonstrate avoidance behav-
iors where they evade areas that may challenge or threaten their ability and sense of
intelligence. To help students overcome these potential downfalls, Duckworth and col-
leagues (2010), as well as Dweck (2012), have encouraged educators to help students
learn about the malleability of the brain as a method to develop an academic mindset,
which emphasizes the concept of talent development through hard work and deliberate
In addition to preventing all gifted students from developing a fixed mindset, non-
cognitive factors also may help underrepresented gifted students overcome institu-
tional and social barriers that often preclude their participation in gifted services.
Students who adopt a growth mindset exhibit a stronger pattern of academic risk tak-
ing and persistence than students who adhere to a fixed mindset (Dweck, 2012). If an
academic mindset encourages students to pursue endeavors outside of their comfort
zone, this strategy would be a logical choice to encourage underrepresented students
to pursue gifted programs and advanced-level courses. Thus, it is hypothesized that
fostering a growth mindset will help RELD students break down institutional and
social barriers, which will in turn increase retention rates within gifted programs for
this population of students.
Research has found that noncognitive skill development increases self-esteem and
academic self-efficacy (Aaronson & Juarez, 2012). These changes may help RELD
students overcome negative stereotypes, including the idea that gifted education is a
“White” activity (Grantham, 2004a). Farrington and colleagues (2012) recommended
that educators develop noncognitive skills by altering classroom conditions. Teachers
should provide students with the appropriate support and tools to make success seem
more attainable. Furthermore, teachers should articulate high expectations for student
learning and continually remind students of the importance and value of their educa-
tion. Finally, educators should praise students’ effort or choice of problem-solving
strategy rather than students’ talent or ability, because praising effort reinforces and
encourages students to pursue challenges (Mueller & Dweck, 1998).
Noncognitive skill development, like multicultural education and mentoring, is cur-
rently a promising practice to serve RELD students in gifted education. Although this
practice has not yet been empirically validated specifically for gifted minority students,
research has demonstrated promising results within the general field of education.
Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, and Schellinger (2011) conducted a meta-analysis of
more than 200 interventions designed to increase the social and emotional learning of
children from kindergarten through high school and found that, on average, students
who participated in these programs exhibited higher academic achievement than those
who did not participate. The higher education literature has also demonstrated the link
between noncognitive skill development and academic achievement. Walton and
Cohen (2011) conducted a randomized controlled trial examining an intervention tar-
geted at cultivating noncognitive skills—specifically, a sense of belonging—among
90 Journal for the Education of the Gifted 40(1)
college freshman. Walton and Cohen found that over a 3-year observation period,
African American students who participated in the program demonstrated significantly
higher grade point averages (GPAs) compared with students in the control group.
Walton and Cohen found that the increased GPA was mediated by the student’s sense of
belonging. Given the positive impact that noncognitive development has on academic
success, it is hypothesized that fostering the development of these skills will provide
gifted minority students critical skills to help them overcome institutional and social
barriers that preclude them from succeeding in gifted education (i.e., feeling like they
do not belong in the gifted program). However, similar to the models described above,
there has not been any empirical work specifically targeting noncognitive skill develop-
ment in minority students in gifted education programs.
If our educational system seeks to provide equitable educational services to all chil-
dren, then increasing underrepresented student populations in gifted programming is
essential. To accomplish this goal, a paradigm shift must occur that includes embrac-
ing more culturally sensitive identification methods and more appropriate program-
ming strategies. This article outlined a few of the barriers RELD students face in
accessing and persisting in gifted services. More importantly, this article proposed
several strategies and interventions, including a multicultural curriculum, mentoring,
and noncognitive skill development to increase retention rates for RELD students in
gifted education. Although continued research is still needed in the area of gifted pro-
gramming designed to serve underrepresented populations, the strategies outlined
throughout this article provide a foundational base for future research.
Implications and Future Directions
As mentioned above, the present literature review highlights the need for additional
research on effective programming strategies designed specifically for underrepre-
sented gifted students. The success schools achieve in implementing the recommended
models will largely be influenced by their willingness to critically examine their cur-
rent philosophy of gifted education. If districts’ current philosophy of gifted education
does not address the influence of cultural diversity, they may need to redefine what it
means to be gifted as a first step toward a more inclusive gifted education program.
Next, it will be important for researchers and districts alike to continue to examine
gifted identification practices. This is a difficult area to research, because the provision
of gifted services is not necessarily required by law, and school districts have very dif-
ferent practices and requirements for gifted identification (McClain & Pfeiffer, 2012).
However, it will be important to examine the current methods that are used and evalu-
ate whether other methods may show less disproportionality in identification prac-
tices. Along with this, education of teachers regarding the ways in which giftedness
may appear in economically disadvantaged or minority students is also important.
This will hopefully reduce the reliance on only looking for students with strong lan-
guage, reading, or writing skills.
Ecker-Lyster and Niileksela 91
To further ensure the success of these models, districts will need to provide oppor-
tunities for continuing professional development in gifted and multicultural education
for teachers and staff. Given the variability across teacher preparation programs with
regard to gifted programming (Cho & DeCastro-Ambrosetti, 2005–2006) and multi-
cultural education (Salvia, Ysseldyke, & Bolt, 2010), districts are encouraged to offer
diversity trainings focused on curriculum enhancement. Ford and Grantham (2003)
recommended that districts provide an up-to-date library for teachers and students that
contains relevant multicultural resources (e.g., books, newsletters, videos, journals,
Finally, teachers are encouraged to adopt a pluralistic curriculum that reflects many
aspects of diversity (e.g., ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender). Through the expla-
nation of the curriculum, teachers will provide students a genuine opportunity to
understand themselves and diverse cultures (Ford & Grantham, 2003).
Despite numerous attempts to increase RELD student representation within the
field of gifted education, outcomes remain largely the same—minority students con-
tinue to be underrepresented (Borland, 2004; Ford & Grantham, 2003; Skiba et al.,
2008). To continue to try and remediate this concern, this article highlighted three
potential models to enhance gifted education programs for minority students. As dis-
tricts begin to explore the recommended models, critical self-examination will be nec-
essary to judge the efficacy of these programs in the identification, retention, and
success of minority students in gifted programs. Specifically, districts should examine
whether gifted programs that emphasize multicultural education (Banks, 1993),
include a mentoring component (Grantham, 2004a), and focus on the development of
noncognitive skills help improve the identification and retention of RELD students. If
so, which of these components are most important for students?
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
The authors received no financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article.
1. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) survey measures race/ethnicity using five groups:
American Indian/Alaskan Natives, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Blacks, and non-His-
panic Whites. Unfortunately, the OCR data do not currently allow individuals the option to
select multiple racial identities and “mixed race” is not an option.
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Meghan Ecker-Lyster is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Psychology at
the University of Kansas. Her research interest includes program evaluation, educational oppor-
tunity, and risk and resilience in youth.
Christopher Niileksela, PhD, is a lecturer in the Department of Educational Psychology at the
University of Kansas where he teaches courses in applied behavior analysis, consultation, and
field-based experiences for school psychology students. His research interests include consulta-
tion, assessment of academic achievement and intelligence, and learning disabilities.