Report on Equity Issues in CPS’s EEE Program July 2021


Report on Equity Issues in CPS
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Between January and June 2021, Worley Street Roundtable formed a working group to research equity issues within CPS’s EEE (gifted) program. We have heard stories from parents and students for years about their concerns about EEE, especially in regard to racial inequities. Our goal was to understand the situation better and share our findings with the Superintendent and School Board so that the program could be made more accessible to marginalized groups.
To gain insights into CPS’s EEE program, we analyzed data using CPS’s District Details/Demographics tool. To seek out solutions, we consulted DESE’s recommendations for gifted programs as well as current research on diversifying gifted education.
To understand people’s experiences of inequity within CPS’s EEE program, we gathered oral responses from attendees at Worley Street Roundtable Community meetings, as well as written responses from 9 current and former CPS students, parents, and teacher via Google Forms and personal communications. We also drew on a published essay by a former EEE student.
Below, we summarize demographic inequities within CPS’s EEE program; describe how the identification process may contribute to those inequities; share the impacts these identification procedures have had on the stakeholders we heard from; and make recommendations about how identification could be done more equitably. Next, we explain how the program structure leads to inequity; share the impacts that the program structure has had on the stakeholders we heard from; and make recommendations about how the program could be structured more equitably. Finally, we share the ideas of students, parents, and teachers about how to improve EEE. The written responses we collected are located in Appendix A at the end of this report.

Demographic Inequities within CPS’s EEE Program

The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) asserts, and CPS’s EEE program affirms, that gifted students “come from all racial, ethnic, and cultural populations, as well as all economic strata.” Yet in 2020-2021, according to CPS’s District Details/Demographics tool, EEE served students who were 78% white (60% of CPS students are white), 2.5% Black (20% of CPS), 9% Asian (5% of CPS) and 7% multiracial (9% of CPS); only 11% of gifted students qualified for free and reduced lunch, compared to 44% districtwide.
Participation in EEE was correlated with the racial and socioeconomic characteristics of different schools. Schools with majority white middle-class students had the highest participation in EEE. For instance, Mill Creek Elementary (72% white and only 19% qualifying for free or reduced lunch) sent 66 students (12% of its student body) to EEE, only 1 of whom was Black. Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary, on the other hand (where most students are Black or multiracial, and 100% qualify for free or reduced lunch), sent 4 students (1% of its student body) to EEE, 3 of whom were white.
In other words, EEE primarily served middle-class white and Asian students concentrated in privileged areas of the city, who are already advantaged within our educational system. In doing so, EEE helped to create a school system internally segregated by race, in which a school-to-college pipeline for middle-class white and Asian students may run parallel to a school-to-prison pipeline for Black and Brown students with lower socioeconomic status. These inequities are glaring, serious, and need to be addressed.

How does the identification process lead to inequity?

The NAGC defines students with gifts and talents those who “perform - or have the capability to perform - at higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains.” Yet CPS does not take experience or environment into account; instead, it uses nationally-normed standardized tests to identify students. Specifically, CPS uses the NNAT-3 (a test of non-verbal ability) as a universal screener, and then qualifies students for EEE based on whether they score at or above 130 on the General Abilities Index of the WISC-V (an IQ test).
Using these tests is problematic for several reasons. First, many intelligence tests, including IQ tests, contain cultural biases that result in differential scores among different groups; for instance, on average, Black people score lower on IQ tests than white people do. Second, the WISC-V score offers a limited perspective on students’ performance or capability for performance. Also, these tests identify only verbal and fluid reasoning skills--other kinds of gifts, including in creative arts or performance, are not identified.
This identification process is also problematic because it does not align with state law. Section 162.675. RSMo defines gifted children as “those children who exhibit precocious development of mental capacity and learning potential as determined by competent professional evaluation to the extent that continued educational growth and stimulation could best be served by an academic environment beyond that offered through a standard grade level curriculum." CPS’s procedures do not identify children who fit into that category; they identify only those who score at or above 130 on the General Abilities Index of the WISC-V. This over-reliance on a standardized test, cautioned against by the NAGC and DESE, seems to bring CPS out of compliance with state law.
Technically, it is possible for CPS staff to assemble a portfolio for students who don’t meet the score cut-offs to be considered for admission. However, there are no instructions for doing so on the EEE website. Most teachers we talked to were unaware of the option, and some who were aware said that they’d had negative experiences with the process--it created a great deal of extra work for them, and the students they were advocating for didn’t end up qualifying.
Finally, the notification procedures involved in identification may restrict participation in the program. Parents are sent a generic email, without the child’s name mentioned, when their child qualifies to take the WISC-V (i.e., “Your third grader has qualified…”). The email is sent in English, with no provision for parents/guardians who are not proficient, and no apparent follow-up if families don’t respond. Thus, even when diverse learners are eligible, they may not complete the identification process.

What impact has this identification process had on students, families, and teachers in CPS?

Our research has indicated that the identification process has not served all students and parents equally well. One Black mother reported that she was denied the right to see her children’s test scores by the former director of the Elementary EEE program. Another Black mother reported that her son was denied re-testing opportunities at the elementary level, and that when he was finally identified for participation at the middle school level, she hesitated to have him participate because of her concerns about bias within the program. One mother of a Black son reported that her son was tested on Field Day, which made it difficult for him to concentrate on the test; EEE staff were “dismissive” of her concerns and only agreed to have him re-tested after months of meetings and emails. She wondered if “unconscious bias” of the staff administering the WISC-V led Black students like her son not to qualify. One teacher at a Title I building reported that her student, an English Learner whose parents had limited English proficiency, was not aware that he had qualified for the program because the parents had not understood the email they had received. Even white parents whose children qualified for EEE were concerned that the identification process wasn’t fair. One wrote that the “identification process [...] favored people like me- [...] The testing was with people who looked and sounded like my kids, so they felt comfortable.”

How could identification be done differently?

Both DESE and the NAGC are aligned in their recommendations for identifying gifted student from diverse backgrounds. DESE recommends using “local norms” when this increases the identification of under-represented groups. In socioeconomically and racially segregated communities like Columbia, this means selecting the most qualified students from each school--in other words, comparing kids at Alpha Hart to other kids at Alpha Hart, not to those at Mill Creek.
DESE also recommends using “multiple criteria” to identify gifted students (especially those from under-represented groups including English Learners, “twice exceptional” students who are neurodivergent and/or have special needs, those from racial and ethnic subgroups, and those with low SES). For instance, students could qualify not only based on WISC-V scores, but also based on a combination of STAR or IREADY Reading and Math scores; grades or performance-based assessments; and a Gifted Behaviors Rating Scale filled out by a teacher. The NAGC also recommends using multiple measures to identify gifted students, including interviews, portfolios, and teacher recommendations, instead of relying only on nationally-normed standardized tests.
Dr. Scott Peters of the University of Wisconsin, a researcher who advocates for and studies this change in identification processes for gifted education, suggests that there can be two routes to qualify for gifted programs--through national norms, OR through building norms. This could reduce opposition of parents at schools like Mill Creek, who would otherwise see participation at their school decrease. The new system could also be piloted at certain schools with particularly low participation.
The “portfolio option” for qualification could also be expanded. Clear instructions could be provided for creating a portfolio for gifted students whose standardized test scores or multiple measures don’t qualify them for the program. Models of successful portfolios could be shared. EEE could do outreach to teachers and parents (e.g., through PTAs) to inform them of the portfolio option. Additionally, CPS could work to identify giftedness in more areas, such as art and music, and expand programs to include those areas, as current measures only identify giftedness in verbal and quantitative dimensions.
Notification practices could also be modified to accommodate families not proficient in English. Follow-up phone calls could be done to such families to explain the benefits of the program, with the aid of an interpreter if necessary.
To address concerns about bias in the administering of the WISC-V, CPS could prioritize hiring a Black or Latinx educational diagnostician whose unconscious biases might restrict them less from identifying gifted children from those demographic groups. Diversification of staffing could also provide a more welcoming environment at the testing center; and/or free testing options could be expanded to meet the needs of a greater variety of families.

How does the program structure lead to inequity?

One issue with program structure is the lack of diversity among EEE staff. Currently, 8 of 9 elementary EEE teachers appear to be white women, while 1 appears to be a white man. 3 Secondary EEE teachers appear to be white women, and 3 appear to be white men. The coordinators of elementary and secondary gifted programs both appear to be white women. Because EEE participants are mostly white and Asian students from middle-class backgrounds, students from other backgrounds may not feel welcomed or be successful in EEE.
Another problem is the lack of a range of services. Currently, only pull-out services are offered. No gifted teachers push into classrooms, so elementary students who prefer to remain at their home school fulltime, and middle and high school students who prefer to remain in their main classrooms fulltime, cannot access services. Options for academic acceleration outside of EEE are limited, except with AP classes at the high school level.

What impact has the program structure had on students, families, and teachers in CPS?

The program structure has led some students not to be able to participate equitably. One principal from a Title 1 building reported that the families of some students identified as gifted decided not to participate in the program, because they felt their children’s needs were better served in their home school where teachers had an understanding of and familiarity with their culture and needs.
White parents whose white children attend the program report disappointment and confusion about the lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity. One reported feeling “conflicted” about his daughter’s participation. Another said, “I worry that having [my children] surrounded in that program by mostly white and Asian middle-class children will reinforce the false idea that Black and brown kids are not gifted or smart.” One set of white parents drew attention to the socioeconomic inequities involved in EEE Summer school; until this year, sign-ups were on a first-come, first-served basis starting with 6:00 am online registration. They were concerned that because busing is not provided for EEE summer school, opportunities are limited for families who rely on public or school transportation.
A former EEE student who described herself as a “brown-skinned, Muslim girl,” and who participated at the high school level in EEE noticed and was disturbed by the inequities she witnessed: “EEE advisory was when I began to recognize the divisiveness, classism, racism, and elitism that undercut one’s prized status as a gifted student. For starters, there were no black students in our EEE advisory. In fact, there were rarely any black students in the EEE room on any given day.” These concerns echo those brought by a group of Black students to the school board in 2020. It is crucial for administrators to realize that students are acutely aware of how EEE demographics differ from those in their schools as a whole.
EEE also seems to have a particular problem handling “twice exceptional” students who are gifted and also have IEPs, 504s, or need other accommodations. One teacher reported that her neurodivergent student was expelled from EEE on his first day because he “threw a piece of paper down the stairs,” and then he was denied re-entry into the program for the remainder of the year. A parent of a student with a 504 plan was told “EEE could not handle any behavioral issues,” and EEE staff did not follow the 504 plan. A parent whose son had “emotional and mental heath issues in addition to being gifted” opted out of EEE at the middle school level because of “ridiculous, arbitrary rules like no using slang or "like" in the classroom [...] taking into zero account that some of that would have cultural impacts with some populations.” These concerns highlight the need to make EEE more welcoming to a wider range of students.

How could the program be structured differently?

First, the gifted program could be expanded beyond EEE’s pull-out program. DESE recommends providing four “Levels of Service” in gifted education (services needed by all students, many students, some students, and few students) so that all students are challenged. An example of a service needed by all students is “project and problem-based learning,” which currently not all students have access to in their main classrooms, and which is provided in EEE to a select group of students. An example of a service needed by many students is “individualized instruction” that serves them at their cognitive level, rather than at their grade level; this kind of differentiation can benefit students who do and don’t participate in pull-out programs. An example of a service needed by some students would be “advanced materials” and opportunities for academic acceleration at all levels, which is currently lacking in CPS. According to DESE, EEE’s pull-out program would be an example of a service needed by “few” students. Right now, CPS is providing only for the needs of the “few” in regard to gifted education.
Another option would be to implement the Schoolwide Enrichment Model as described by the Renzulli Center for Creativity, Gifted Education, and Talent Development. This model would offer avenues for: developing talents in all children; providing a broad range of advanced-level enrichment experiences for all students; and providing advanced follow-up opportunities for young people based on their strengths and interests.
Moreover, “gifted behaviors” could be explicitly taught to all students, as Project Bright Idea has done. This would reflect a “growth mindset” about students’ capabilities. Instead of classifying some students as “gifted” and others as “not gifted,” CPS could cultivate cognitive, meta-cognitive, and creative skills in all students.
With any of these changes, hiring a Gifted Education Instructional Coach (or to re-assigning an EEE teacher to this role) could be beneficial. This instructional coach could help teachers differentiate instruction for all students, including those identified as gifted. They could also assist in identifying gifted students who may be missed by standardized tests, and help teachers assemble portfolios for them. The instructional coach could push into classrooms to help teachers develop projects involving freedom and creativity that are accessible to all students, not only those identified as gifted.
Whatever changes are made to the program, it should be a priority to actively recruit and hire Black and/or Latinx gifted teachers, or those from other groups under-represented in EEE. This could increase a sense of belonging and aid in the retention for students from under-represented groups who join EEE. Dr. Joy Lawson Davis has many other ideas for how to do this as well.
As the program diversifies, it will be necessary to increase supports for students from under-represented groups who have different levels of academic preparation. There should also be measures in place to support twice exceptional students who may have IEPs, 504s, or need other accommodations. CPS can prepare in advance for how to support newly admitted students from under-represented groups to be sure they are successful in the program. These changes are key, because only changing identification procedures will not necessarily lead to the creation of a program that is truly equitable. To not only identify but also retain and support a broader range of students, foundational changes will be necessary.

Ideas of Parents, Students and Teachers for Improving EEE

Our stakeholders also had ideas about improving the program. Teachers requested more communication about students in EEE. One noted, “we get zero communication all year.” Another teacher requested more accommodations for “twice exceptional” students who might need support once admitted to the program. Consistent with the “four levels of service” and “schoolwide enrichment” models, one parent noted, “Why not have ALL kids do the kind of creative, independent groupwork projects that kids do in EEE? This is just good instruction and should be available to everyone.” Another set of parents expressed a similar view, that “Gifted/Talented instruction should be integrated as supplementary education enrichment on a weekly basis at the home schools for all.”
It is important to acknowledge the sad reality that some former EEE students had such a negative experience that they think the program should be ended. One student, who felt that the process of identifying certain students as gifted was harmful to herself and others, wrote, “You cannot reform something to be equitable that was never intended to be equitable in the first place.” Similarly, the Black students speaking out about racism at CPS in 2020 voiced a demand that the EEE program be disbanded, and the funds directed to underprivileged students. It would be up to CPS to convince people with similar perspectives that a revamped gifted education program could indeed promote equity.

Conclusion

We are hopeful that CPS, under the leadership of Superintendent Yearwood and the recently elected School Board, will take action to investigate inequities in the EEE program and implement the solutions suggested by Worley Street Roundtable and our stakeholders, as well as by DESE and the NAGC. We offer this report in the spirit of collaborative dialogue around improving our school district, and we look forward to discussions with district leaders about how we can help a reform process move forward.
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