New Research from NWEA Examines the Identification of Gifted and Talented English Learners and Students with Disabilities

The study highlights that state policies impact representation in gifted/talented (GT) programs and the characteristics of schools with greater GT enrollment challenge typical stereotypes

Portland, Ore. — March 16, 2023 — NWEA–  a not-for-profit, research and educational services organization serving K-12 students – announced today a new study focusing on the identification of gifted and talented (GT) students who are English Learners (EL) and/or students with disabilities (SWD). Using data from the 2017 – 2018 Civil Rights Data Collection, the Stanford Education Data Archive, and the researchers’ own coding of individual states’ policies toward gifted and talented education, these key themes emerged:

  • The study confirms that ELs and SWD are identified at rates that are 1/8 to 1/6 of their representation in the overall student population.
  • State mandates for schools to offer services, requirements for formal gifted education plans, and regular audits for compliance are correlated with much higher rates of gifted service availability and equity for ELs and SWD.
  • The top 5% of schools with the highest equity of EL students identified as gifted were relatively lower achieving and had higher enrollments of students from low-income families.
  • The top 5% of schools with the highest equity of SWD identified as gifted were similar in size, achievement, and SES to the overall sample, but were smaller than the average school in the sample and had smaller, if more equitable, GT enrollment.

“One of the clearest takeaways from examining these data is the correlation between state policies and the more-equitable identification of gifted and talented students,” said Dr. Scott Peters, senior research scientist at NWEA.

States that had specific policies and mandates had greater enrollment in gifted and talented programs by ELs and SWD. For example, if schools were required to have and maintain formal plans for gifted services, they were 10 percentage points more likely to offer services. In addition, those same schools were 23 percentage points more likely to offer gifted services if their home state proactively conducted audits for compliance.

However, Peters added, “Where the data got more complex and less clear is in the characteristics of schools who identify GT English learners and students with disabilities at higher rates.”

The findings challenged typical stereotypes of schools that had the most proportional rates for EL and SWDs in GT programs. For ELs, these schools were smaller, had lower average socio-economic status, had more students eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch program, were located in lower achieving districts, and were lower average achieving themselves. For SWD, the characteristics were less clear, with the only standout being that the schools were smaller than the average school in the sample and had smaller, if more equitable, GT enrollment. In addition, equity went up in schools in states that had GT under the office of Special Education.

“These findings suggest there is much more that needs to be studied about how these schools found success identifying English learners and students with disabilities for GT programs at greater rates,” said Dr. Angela Johnson, research scientist at NWEA and co-author of the study.

Learn more about the study at:

About NWEA

NWEA® (formerly known as Northwest Evaluation Association) is a mission-driven, not-for-profit organization that supports students and educators in more than 146 countries through research, assessment solutions, policy and advocacy services, professional learning and school improvement services that fight for equity, drive classroom impact and push for systemic change in our educational communities. Visit to learn more about how we’re partnering with educators to help all kids learn.

Contact: Simona Beattie, Sr. Manager, Public Relations, or 971.361.9526