June 14, 2015

Don't Let Minority Fortunes Flounder

By Naomi Kellogg

I will always remember the first play I was in. The “gifted” group in my first grade class put on a production of “Elmer’s Colors.” In the story, Elmer, who is an extremely colorful elephant, learns to accept his uniqueness around all of the other elephants that are shades of gray. Cast as Elmer, it took me only a few moments to realize the differences between my classmates and me. 

As I grew up, it seems the differences never disappeared. Years went by and I was still the only African American in my gifted classes. Fast forward to high school, and I am one of the two African Americans at my western Kentucky school for advanced math and science students wondering how the rest of my minority counterparts were left behind. Is it because my minority friends aren’t intelligent? Or are they simply not recognized? 

The achievement gap has been plaguing our country for decades and comes into especially stark relief when looking at the racial imbalance in gifted education. According to the National Educational Longitudinal Study, gifted and talented programs composed of only 16.7 percent of minority students. This lack of diversity is problematic for all students living and learning in a democratic society who stand to benefit from multiple perspectives and ideas.

Historically, many school districts have relied on IQ testing as a way to identify gifted youth. However, this method of identification has been shown to be racially biased because minority students statistically score lower than their non-minority peers on standardized tests.

The issue may also have social roots. High achieving black students are often rejected by their minority peers. All too often, we hear that we are “acting white” because of our lack of slang and increased motivation to do well in the classroom. If this is one of the most salient factors, the solution could require the involvement of parents or community leaders to create new models of expectation and lift the educational stereotypes.

Although there is no magic solution that will resolve the issue of education inequality for minority gifted students, an effort to change recruitment strategies along with more expansive identification instruments that take into account qualities other than high achievement test scores may be the winning combination. 

As one of only a handful of minority students in my former high school and now in my academically challenging college, I am left to wonder in my honors program exactly what I did so many years ago while playing the role of Elmer: Why are there so few others here who look like me?

This op-ed originally ran as part of a package in the Courier Journal reflecting on the release of Uncovering the Tripwires to Postsecondary Success.

Naomi Kellogg

Naomi Kellogg

Naomi is a Yoda Corps Advisor and co-founder of KSVT. She is a former member and was previously the Membership Director. She graduated from the Gatton Academy in 2014, Indiana University Bloomington in 2018, and the University of Copenhagen in 2021.