Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Putting Gifted ELLs on the Radar

Contributed by: Angela Sawyer, Guest Blogger

It is well documented that too often, ELLS are an overlooked group for gifted services.  According to Duke Tip, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving academically and talented youth, “Among all the subgroups of students whose performance in school is commonly studied, English language learners (ELLs) are the least represented in gifted education programs.”  (Matthew, 2011).  I have also observed in my experience as an ESL teacher that obviously gifted ESL students are rarely identified for gifted services.  While conducting an action research paper on this issue as part of my requirements for the MAED in ESL, I discovered some ways that might help put more ELLS on the radar to access gifted programs.

Educate parents:  Before a student can be considered for gifted services he or she has to be nominated.  Parents need to be aware that they are able to nominate their child and feel comfortable in doing so.  Taking extra steps to educate ESL parents about the gifted identification process, such as offering periodic ESL parent meetings to explain gifted services and requirements, could be an important step in increasing ESL student nominations. 

School-wide collaboration and training:  All teachers and staff need training on the topic of gifted education and ESL students.  Educators need to be aware of the potential signs of giftedness and how to identify ESL students who show these traits.  Collaboration between ESL teachers, gifted teachers, and mainstream teachers is also essential in identifying potentially gifted ESL students.

Varied assessments: The Duke Tip site reports that for most gifted programs some kind of standardized test in English is used in the identification process, and that because of this the tests “may inadvertently be measuring English language ability rather than academic or intellectual ability” (Matthews, 2011, para. 3).  Districts can get a better idea of ESL student abilities by looking at a variety of assessment tools.  One type of commonly used measure to identify ESL students for gifted education is nonverbal intelligence assessments.  While these kinds of tests can be helpful tools in identifying gifted students, they should not be used as the sole measure for identifying ESL students.  Nonverbal tests, like standardized tests, can also contain cultural biases.   

Rethink AIG:  With our ever changing society and student populations, AIG programs will need to evolve as well.  Programs will need to consider how to include the linguistic competency of ELLs in identifying gifted ELL students, rather than allowing ELLs to be excluded from gifted programs due to limited English proficiency. 


Matthew, M.S. (2011).  English Language Learner Students and Gifted Identification.  Retrieved            from