Op-Ed

Miami-Dade schools’ gifted programs are diverse, inclusive

TNS

Miami-Dade County Public Schools leads the state and surpasses many school districts across the nation in the number of gifted students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Unlike many school districts, the gifted demographic in Miami-Dade more closely parallels the overall student population.

In Miami-Dade, 6.9 percent of African American/black students are represented in the gifted program, while only 2.4 percent and 3.6 percent are represented at the state and national levels respectively.

Among Hispanic students, 10.2 percent are represented in the gifted program versus 5.3 percent in Florida and 4.2 percent nationally. These statistics are a result of the Miami-Dade School Board’s strong commitment to one of the most diverse communities in the world.

While there is no standardized test that is completely unbiased, the school district has conscientiously invested in a wide array of standardized-test instruments that have been statistically determined to be culturally fair — meaning that the test items have been vetted across subgroups to determine whether different groups of children react differently to test items.

Miami-Dade school psychologists have access to more than 10 different standardized gifted test instruments that account for dual-language status, prior exposure to cultural opportunities, socio-economic isolation and other fairness factors, meaning the public school system is equipped with a panoply of resources that is out of reach for many private practitioners.

In Florida, as an alternative to the traditional model of gifted eligibility based predominantly on a high IQ score, students who with limited English proficiency or from a low socio-economic status, as evidenced by eligibility for the federally subsidized lunch program, may be considered for gifted eligibility with a lower standardized test score that is balanced by other factors.

Race and ethnicity are not included in the Florida Department of Education’s definition of “under-represented groups” because the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited the use of stringent racial classifications in education programming. Still, race and ethnicity data may still be considered in finding ways to reduce racial isolation.

As a result of Miami-Dade’s plan to increase the participation of under-represented groups, there are more students that qualify for gifted services under the alternative approach to eligibility than the traditional IQ score model. It should be noted that use of this alternative option for identification is not required, and M-DCPS is one of only 35 districts in Florida that utilizes this approach.

Miami-Dade also employs a district-wide, universal gifted screening process for all students scoring high on academic achievement tests and takes into consideration a student’s highest three scores in four areas of assessment — standardized intelligence testing, creativity scales, gifted characteristics, and classroom performance/grades. Continuous training of teachers, administrators, staffing specialists and school psychologists remains an integral part of Miami-Dade Public Schools’ commitment to this endeavor.

Finally, in Florida, parents have a right to seek a private evaluation for gifted. Evaluations conducted by qualified private providers utilizing appropriate testing instruments within the previous two years are considered by the district and eligibility for the program is determined after review of all available data. The school district does not currently collect data on public versus private testing of students. Finding this information would require staff to comb through more than 40,000 student files that are exempt from public-records disclosure.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools understands the value of strengthening programs and initiatives that provide greater opportunities for students to explore educational possibilities and excel academically. That is why, in 2013 the superintendent recommended, and the School Board created, the Office of Educational Equity, Access and Diversity to provide ongoing district oversight for all issues affecting equity, opportunity, and access for students.

Not only is a quality education the great equalizer, but it is a civil and human right.

While we work vigorously and with a sense of urgency to address outliers, there can be no doubt that Miami-Dade schools continues to open doors for students from all cultural backgrounds. Through innovative and strategic measures, we have expanded access to rigorous academic programs and initiatives that encourage diverse student participation and inclusion. Every child deserves access to an educational experience that fully prepares them for success in our evolving global, digital economy, and Miami-Dade County Public Schools is making that access possible.

Marie Izquierdo is chief academic officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

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