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Talent and Diversity: The Emerging World of Limited English Proficient Students in Gifted Education - August 1998

Introduction

What can be done to dramatically, but authentically, increase the number of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students in gifted education programs? Are there specific, concrete steps that practitioners can take to encourage greater inclusion of LEP students in gifted programs while maintaining high programmatic standards? How can school staff in both gifted education and bilingual education work collaboratively to foster improved talent development for students from different cultures and linguistic backgrounds?

To extend the dialogue about these questions and to contribute to the knowledge base about LEP students and gifted education, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) and the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs (OBEMLA) sponsored a 2-day invitational national conference in Washington, DC in January 1997 for researchers and practitioners from both gifted and bilingual education. This conference was the starting point of the OERI/OBEMLA Initiative on LEP Students With Outstanding Talents.

The meeting encouraged a lively and productive exchange between individuals who might not ordinarily enjoy such dialogue—and nudged thoughtful, small-group discussion of thorny, controversial concepts. The conference concluded with broad recommendations for improved identification of LEP students for gifted programs and suggestions for nurturing LEP students so they can attain maximum development of their talents once they enter gifted programs. However, the conference—while useful to participants—should only be considered a promising first step toward reaching a solution to a complicated problem.

The practitioners and researchers who attended the conference from both fields learned each other’s educational vocabulary, such as the meaning of terms special to bilingual and gifted education, worked to break down barriers between the two programs, and listened attentively to each other’s experiences developing inclusive talent development programs for English language learners. Yet although conference participants appeared to agree that their dialogue was illuminating and helpful, they concurred that one meeting alone is clearly not sufficient to solve such a complex problem.

In this publication, we focus on some of the key issues that surround any substantive discussion of LEP students and gifted education. We discuss the goals, rationale, and criticisms of gifted education, and seek answers to how high-ability LEP students might better be served in these programs. We examine expanding views of ability and talent, and discuss the issue of identification of high-potential LEP students. We conclude this section by looking at specific levers for change that school staff need to consider and enact before gifted education can truly serve English language learners.

Next, we illustrate how one school system worked to include and nurture its English language learners in its gifted programs. Rosa Perez, the manager and author of two federally funded projects that combined bilingual education and gifted education, describes how the San Diego City Schools dramatically increased its numbers of LEP students in gifted programs through a broad reform of its entire gifted program. She speaks of the practical and carefully conceived steps the district took to ensure that teachers were adequately prepared to teach LEP students, and from her experience, suggests how any school district might proceed on a similar course.

We also sought the view of a renowned psychologist and researcher on the nature of intelligence, Robert J. Sternberg. Sternberg argues that schooling practices must change to reflect the new value that should be placed on high ability students, rather than on intelligence as identified and conceived in narrow, traditional terms. Such a shift, he contends, is not only desirable, but mandatory as we look to the next millennium and the demands of an increasingly complicated society. Sternberg insists that American educators move beyond the highly politicized context of both gifted and bilingual education to achieve a new and productive means to identify and develop talent in Limited English Proficient learners—something that he argues is much more possible than many educators may realize.

The publication concludes with a brief action plan for school personnel in both bilingual and gifted education. While this publication cannot report the full richness and the widely ranging discussion of the OERI/OBEMLA conference, it is its intent to encourage broader national discussion and implementation of the recommendations and dialogue of the conference participants.

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