students in that school division from 0.2 percent to 2 percent (Feiring et al., 1997).
All the approaches noted above focused on identification and traditional conceptions of giftedness. Other nontraditional strategies with promise for identification are based on alternative conceptions of intellectual ability and include studies of the effects of curricular adaptations on identified students. One strategy, based on adopting an alternative conception of giftedness derived from Howard Gardner’s model of intellectual functioning and employing a set of performance assessment tasks, provided evidence that minority or economically disadvantaged students selected using this model during kindergarten and provided with systematic curricular intervention were more likely to be selected for programs for the gifted in 3rd grade (Callahan et al., 1995). Students at the high school level identified using Sternberg’s triarchic conception of intelligence and students who were instructed using strategies that matched their patterns of identified areas of strength performed better than students who were mismatched across a broad range of assessments (Sternberg et al., 1996).
A theme that runs through this chapter and, indeed, through the entire report warrants repeating here: addressing disproportion is far more complex than changing the participation numbers by adopting assessment tools that will identify a different racial/ethnic mix of students. The goal must be to better serve the educational needs of all students. Success in that endeavor will depend first on the alignment of program interventions to the educational needs of students, and only then on crafting better assessment tools and procedures. While the tools must be valid, reliable, and culturally unbiased, they must also effectively identify those students who need and can profit from the interventions made available at the school. Certainly as the needs of atypical learners are better understood, the interventions we design may, and should, change. Assessment practices must then evolve to serve the purpose of linking student need to program intervention.
The research base that highlights the challenge of designing and administering assessments for students from very different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds suggests, however, that persistent attention to the ability of the assessment tool to reliably identify educational need is warranted. In the next chapter we look at the major challenges to current assessment practices in this regard, and at alternatives that in the committee’s view would better serve the end of linking educational need to special and gifted program interventions.