Equity Audit 2020-21
Concerns about disproportionality in overall identified gifted student demographics led the Gifted Department to commission an Equity Audit of Gifted Programs in the fall of 2020. The Department of Teaching Learning, and Innovation along with support from the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Opportunity, conducted an independent audit of our elementary gifted identification process and overall equity of services.
The HCPS Gifted Equity Audit was completed by Dr. Jonathan Plucker, PhD, Stanley Endowed Professor of Talent Development, Johns Hopkins University, and President of the National Association for Gifted Children. This audit included interviews of 28 stakeholders including Directors, Administrators, teachers, gifted staff, Gifted Education Advisory Committee members, parents, and School Board members. In an effort to get a complete picture of elementary gifted identification and programming, Dr. Plucker analyzed Henrico’s policies and processes as well as annual reporting data from HCPS Department of Assessment, Research and Evaluation and feedback from the Virginia Department of Education.
Across the stakeholder groups, Dr. Plucker mentioned there is a strong sense that HCPS programming is good and even better than opportunities offered in surrounding school divisions. Another commendation noted in the report was the gifted resource teachers who are widely respected for the training and expertise they bring to each school. The range of diverse program offerings was seen as a better alternative than a one-size-fits-all model for advanced learning; and the use of a universal, multiple-criteria identification system was frequently mentioned as a strength by stakeholders interviewed.
Dr. Plucker’s report cited a lack of “similar lived experiences” for the students residing in our five magisterial districts. He also highlighted trends in Henrico county’s student demographics, both racially and economically. These trends show Henrico becoming more and more diverse over time.
Dr. Plucker analyzed student participation rates in our advanced programs that showed evidence of significant discrepancies between overall HCPS student demographics and those receiving access to advanced services through gifted program referrals and gifted identification.
Dr. Plucker pointed out that equity of instruction must be ensured across Henrico’s 46 elementary buildings and suggested a comprehensive curriculum audit.
Suggestions regarding Henrico’s gifted identification process revolved around Henrico moving to an “or” approach whereby student profiles could be considered more flexibly. For example, students could possibly meet 3 supporting criteria of 5, rather than a 4 out of 5 requirement in our current system. Requiring students to meet 4 out of 5 criteria tends to exclude Black, Hispanic, multilingual, and twice-exceptional students.
Additional report details highlighted barriers in gifted identification for families who have to navigate the appeals process. Dr. Plucker recommended reviewing and improving the appeals process to ensure equity and to remove barriers to the process.
As part of the Equity Audit findings, Dr. Plucker emphasized the need for increased communication to the Henrico school community about gifted and advanced programs, especially to our parents of economically disadvantaged students and those living in the eastern part of the county.
He also encouraged Henrico Gifted Programs staff to communicate to families the importance of advanced academic and gifted services to ensure parent/guardians understand the opportunities that follow when students participate in advanced classes beyond elementary school and how taking Algebra in 8th grade is a gateway to success in advanced high school math courses and programs such as Specialty Centers or Governor’s School for many students.
To facilitate increased and enhanced communication, Dr. Plucker suggested in his report that Henrico hire additional Gifted Resource Teachers. Providing more GRTs would allow for more parent outreach, staff professional development for teachers on giftedness and gifted education, time to work with students, time to prepare students for the identification process and time to implement a talent development plan.
Dr. Plucker supported the fall EDAC report recommendations for addressing teacher turnover and teacher diversity in Henrico County Public Schools stating that Black and Hispanic gifted resource teachers may, over time, increase understanding of advanced programs among Black and Hispanic families through their student advocacy.
Frontloading, or long term Talent Development efforts to support high achievement among disadvantaged groups of students, was a major emphasis in the Equity Audit. Early intervention by educators to provide support and opportunities to students who otherwise would not have had them is the best strategy for achieving equity in advanced academic programs.
Another recommendation was the utilization of local norms for test instruments used in the gifted identification process, rather than national norms. Dr. Plucker pointed out the use of local norms would significantly increase equity in the identification of gifted students.
Finally, professional development was cited as a need for both classroom teachers and building-level leaders. Characteristics of high-potential Black, Hispanic, ELL, economically disadvantaged, and twice exceptional students, and how to meet their needs were topics teachers expressed interest in pursuing.
The biggest takeaway from the audit was the idea of “growing the pie.” In order for Henrico to make significant and impactful changes to its gifted programs, leadership and staff need to incorporate practices that expand current services and programing to address inequities and disproportionality, rather than simply redistributing services.