Eliminating Exams to Enter Gifted Programs?

The pandemic, inequities, and zip codes

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

I went to a high school that was 98 percent black. I had black classmates that were in a predominately black gifted program. Naturally, the gifted students were a tiny percentage out of the entire student body. However, no black parent, local black politician, or black community spokesperson complained about the disparity between the average black students and the gifted black students.

No one said, since the majority of the school’s black students maintained a C-average it was unfair that C-average students had no representation in the gifted program. No one suggested eliminating the criteria to enter the gifted program in order to include C-average students. And no one requested to set aside 2 percent of the gifted program’s seats for the minority white students so that the gifted program could match the racial make-up of the school.

No one complained.

It was simply accepted that a tiny portion of the student population possessed abilities above their peers. More importantly, since the school was 98 percent black, no one presupposed the disparities were caused by an injustice.

It only becomes a matter of injustice when different racial or ethnic groups are compared and disparities are found. For years statistics revealed that black and Latino students are “underrepresented” in gifted programs, classes, and schools when compared to Asians and whites. Therefore, efforts have intensified to desegregate gifted programs, classes, and schools. (Notice how the word “desegregate” is used to imply these efforts are correcting an injustice.) Some educators who feel morally obligated to cleanse the educational system of “racial segregation” propose eliminating all gifted programs. As of right now, entrance exams for gifted schools are considered the biggest barrier that prevent black and Latino students from having higher rates among the gifted. In order to include more black and Latino students in gifted programs, entrance exams are being eliminated.

Recently, the city of Boston engaged in a process of dual elimination.

Enrollment for Boston’s accelerated program for high performing fourth, fifth, and sixth graders was temporarily suspended after a district analysis of the gifted program found 70 percent of the enrollment was white and Asian. Since 80 percent of all Boston public school students are black and Hispanic this disparity is considered an injustice and is unacceptable. Boston’s School Superintendent explained the pandemic made it impossible to administer the program’s entrance exam. That’s a legitimate reason to suspend the enrollment for the accelerated program, but the Superintendent didn’t say that at first. The Superintendent said, “There’s been a lot of inequities that have been brought to light in the pandemic that we have to address. There’s a lot of work we have to do in the district to be antiracist and have policies where all of our students have a fair shot at an equitable and excellent education.”

Boston also has gifted institutions called “exam schools”. Last October a one-year plan was passed by the Boston School Committee to remove the admissions test due to challenges presented by the pandemic. For the first time, Boston will use zip codes to place students, along with their GPA’s, with priority given to low-income areas. Asian and white parents argued that the pandemic is an excuse to eliminate the entrance exams and have protested this new policy because their children will lose seats. The Boston Parents Coalition for Academic Excellence filed a lawsuit to stop the new plan. The lawsuit alleged, “By seeking to apportion admission seats to the exam schools according to zip codes, the School Committee’s purpose and intent is to decrease the number of children from certain racial and ethnic backgrounds from gaining admission to the exam schools, while increasing the number of children who gain admission to the exam schools from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.” The lawsuit states the new policy is in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.

Dante Dixon, a black assistant professor of school and educational psychology, has stated that tests are the most race-blind way to evaluate giftedness, but Boston’s School Superintendent wants the school district to become “antiracist” not race-blind, and according to the philosophy of antiracism “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.”

J. Pharoah Doss is a columnist for the New Pittsburgh Courier.

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