Learning While Black and Gifted

This article highlights segments from a personal account given by a parent educator. 


On the S-Team conference day, we meet with the principal, psychologist, counselor, and teachers. We sat down, and our son’s teacher enthusiastically spoke with us. Our son’s first-grade school teacher recommended a formal promotion above his fellow students. We had provided independent test results that proved he was performing middle school-wise. The school had already tested him and found he was extremely advanced. An IEP for giftedness was issued, and a plan was put into place.

However, the counselor suggested that our son was just too young and that he could not be provided the advanced placement services for gifted children, because it was ‘too late in the year’.

It was October.

School began in August. We requested the S-Team evaluation for giftedness earlier in the summer.

The only reason we met in the fall vs. summer was that it took 60 days to schedule the official testing date, then another two weeks to sit for the test and wait for results. The S-Team decided to promote him one grade up to second grade, though his tests were on a middle school level, according to the psychologist. (I found out later that this happens to many parents; either they are outright refused their petition to have a gifted test, or they are heavily discouraged or delayed to exhaustion)

Here is a good thing; They did follow federal rules and provided an IEP for giftedness and constructed an experimental advanced program. The experimental program was not as successful as we hoped, as our son came home increasingly miserable and demotivated. We visited the school to shadow his day and discovered the problem; Their answer to an advanced or gifted student was to shift him around from class to class with older peers. He was 6 years old. This was in 2016.

We did not blame the school, as they probably believed they were providing the best they could with their resources. It just was not a good fit for us.

We finished out the fall and transferred to another school in the spring. They believed in teaching two to three grade levels ahead while customizing the curriculum to core groups. That was a great concept! Jackpot, we thought.

One exception; our son likes to interact, and very little talking was allowed. At the end of the year, he was the only one in his class that did not receive a class award for good behavior-though he consistently had the highest test scores in the class. We did not receive any noted demerits for persistent or open defiance, violence, or other delinquent behaviors. Our son protested the strict environment by putting a fictitious name at the top of his papers.

My husband and I reasoned that our son would not be the standard of the smart student the school district considered him to be. Rather than ping-pong back and forth between school scenarios, we decided to make the transition to homeschool to protect his academic ambitions while still honoring the social-emotional needs of his childhood.

As our son begins high school and pre-college academics at age 11, we’re concerned about his potential to face these challenges again.

  • Will he be able to move forward without tarnishing his record with a behavioral issue?
  • Will my child be excluded from scholarly programs because his impressionable nature may cause him to make immature and irreparable decisions?
  • Will my gifted son be the recipient of perpetual bias, or can we break free from these limitations?

Believe it or not, Black students are more likely to be suspended and expelled from school, even though they often excel in academics. Boys in general, of any race, also have a higher probability of leaving high school with a delinquent record.

This disparity is due in part to racial and gender bias in schools and an “epidemic” of zero-tolerance policies. Therefore, it is important for parents to be engaged with their son’s academic development. There is no such thing as ‘too much’ involvement, especially during the early stages.

Here are some helpful guides for parents and teachers to consider when educating gifted students of underrepresented ethnicities.

How to Identify Giftedness in Students of All Ethnicities

Identifying giftedness in black students is not as simple as it may seem. While there are general characteristics that are common to all gifted students, the definition of “gifted” can vary depending on which experts you ask. Additionally, many black students who are considered gifted by one measure may not be identified as such by another. Furthermore, the cultural expectations may not fit societal norms. This may not translate to some assessments that still have cultural biases included in the testing language.

Include Wholistic Key Indicators of Giftedness

For this reason, it is important for educators and parents to have a broad understanding of what constitutes giftedness before attempting to identify it in a student. Some key indicators of potential giftedness in black students include high IQs, superior academic performance, and creativity.

Recognize Cultural Bias in Gifted Testing

Black students also have a cultural bias to overcome in gifted testing, which also makes it difficult to identify. The assessment of giftedness also differs by age. In pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, the focus is on identifying students who will achieve high academic levels as they grow into a more traditional school system. Many parents of black children may not have access to talent identification programs in their pre-K or kindergarten programs. This leaves many at a disparity, even before beginning traditional school programs. However, social-interactive or Montessori style learning is likely to be engaged through black populations, which does not always translate to traditional standardized gifted assessments in the early years.

Reconsider a Learning Disability as “Unidentified Giftedness”

Another problem is that Black American children are more likely to be identified by teachers as having learning disabilities. Rather than viewing academic challenges as unidentified giftedness, some research has suggested that black students may be more often placed in special education classes than their white counterparts.

This happened to our son. Though we are educators, we did not start a formal program for reading, writing, and math until kindergarten. He was considered ‘behind’ because he did not recognize letters and numbers, so the teachers placed him with the ‘special needs’ children (those on the spectrum). However, our son rose to become the first student to master all sight words among other core competencies. He finished all of his Kindergarten benchmarks and was more than halfway done with 1st-grade benchmarks by February of his kindergarten year.

At the end of the school year, his progress impressed the librarian so much that she hunted me down in the carpool lane and told me he was one of the top 10 best readers in the entire 600+ student school (to include the 4th graders).

Unique Challenges Faced by Gifted Black Students

There are unique challenges faced by gifted black students, and educators must be aware of these in order to provide the best possible education for these students.

Some of the challenges include:

  • a lack of role models and mentors,
  • implicit bias against black students,
  • limited resources, and
  • the need for enrichment opportunities.

Educators can help combat these challenges by;

  1. creating a supportive environment,
  2. providing opportunities for enrichment, and
  3. encouraging black students to pursue interests outside of school.

How Educators Can Meet the Needs of Gifted Black Students

Schools can better meet the needs of gifted black students by identifying and providing enrichment opportunities for students in early grades when their potential for academic excellence is greatest. Studies from several research organizations, such as the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of Education showed that there are many factors that contribute to success for gifted black students, including access to quality enrichment programs in early grades. By providing these opportunities from an early stage, schools can help ensure that all gifted black students have the best chance for success.

Gifted black students have a lot to offer the world, and it is up to educators to help them reach their potential.


Authored by: Chris C, Contributor, Educational Advocate and Homeschool Parent based in TN.  The name is abbreviated for privacy.