Thanks to legislative action requiring school districts to improve outreach to low-income students, diversity is likely to grow in Washington gifted education.

Share story

Noticing inequity is relatively easy. Speaking up about it is a little harder. But when state government officials notice a problem and then try to do something to fix it, that’s a moment worth noting.

For a while now, The Seattle Times’ Education Lab has been writing about inequity involving which students benefit from gifted education and advanced-placement classes. During the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers increased funding for gifted education but also demanded more attention to equity within those programs. Now every Washington school district is figuring out how to bring more low-income students into accelerated classes. Thanks to the Legislature, which smartly combined an increase in funding with a new form of accountability, progress may be made on eliminating this long-standing inequity in Washington public schools.

Traditionally, schools have depended on recommendations from parents and teachers for gifted-education testing. The result is accelerated programs filled with white and Asian children. There are many possible barriers including language, and parents unfamiliar with the benefits of gifted education or worried about student transportation to the program, or who can’t get their children to Saturday testing.

The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is helping districts get creative to improve their recruitment and selection approaches.

A few districts, like Federal Way, are already making progress by testing all their students. Jody Hess, who oversees highly-capable programs at OSPI, welcomes the new requirement from the Legislature and is happy to work with districts that need extra help to move along the path toward equity.

Many school administrators do not realize how much of a barrier exists for students to access the program. After a statewide education conference that included sessions around equity and access to gifted education, Hess reports school districts are showing a lot of curiosity and creativity around this issue.

This new requirement smartly looks for local innovation and does not put a lot of requirements around how the new rules should be met. School districts should take this money and figure out some effective new ways to reach out to families and get more kids challenged and moving toward college and successful careers, no matter their economic situation or where their parents grew up.