Local Norms to Support Equity in Gifted Assessment

Thalexis-brown--Xv7k95vOFA-unsplashe Gifted Rating Scales (GRS) are under revision. Our publisher, MHS, is looking at a 2020 release date for the new GRS-2. This version of the instrument will include a new parent rating scale and new standardization.

As the authors of the original GRS and now, the GRS-2, Steven Pfeiffer and I are focused on creating a fair, equitable, and scientifically valid, method to identify gifted students. One of the elements included in the GRS-2 is the use of local norms to support equity and to provide a fair and valid assessment.

Studies show that Black and Hispanic students, English language learners (ELL), and students from families with low socioeconomic status (SES) are less often identified to receive gifted education services than majority peers with similar skills. We have been reading recent academic research, policy discussions, and essays related to the question of equity in assessment and service delivery for gifted students, and have considered these issues in the recommendations for use that we offer in the GRS-2.

The idea of using local norms to mitigate bias and support equitable identification for students in the field of gifted education is not new. A 2005 report published by the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented recommended that eligibility for special services should depend on a student’s standing relative to classmates, not to a national sample of peers. The recommendation to use local norms was suggested as particularly important to increase equity in schools with racial, ethnic, academic, or socioeconomic compositions different from distributions in the standardization samples of the assessments that were used.

Research shows that using local group-specific achievement test norms can result in a more proportional distribution of students identified as gifted, particularly when a teacher rating scale is used in addition to standardized achievement tests. Teacher rating scales can identify students who many not perform well on achievement tests or who have not reached certain levels of achievement, but exhibit behaviors and attitudes that suggest a deep interest or engagement in academic or artistic areas.

Potential Challenges with Using Local Norms

While we support the use of local norms, we also feel that potential challenges must be acknowledged and need attention in order for this process to work successfully.

Managing teacher expectations. Training that helps teachers be attuned to and identify giftedness among non-dominant groups is an important component of any gifted identification process. This training should also help teachers be aware of and understand how local norms can help identify students who are achieving at levels higher than same-grade peers even though these same students may not have met teachers’ expectations or may not perform well on assessments that use national norms. Teacher training should also address the potential for negative stereotypes of students based on assessment and achievement data in order to not undermine student self-efficacy and achievement potential.

Communicating with parents. When a gifted assessment process changes, parents and community stakeholders will wonder how these new process will affect students. Communicating the benefits of local norms will help district stakeholders understand that all students in the district will receive appropriate support and rigorous educational experiences. Gifted coordinators may need to revise communications to emphasize the district’s commitment to effective differentiation and the power of local norms to support effective service delivery and talent development for all students.

Developing appropriate programming for all students. More careful, thoughtful, and inclusive assessment practices will provide information that can help educators create more careful and thoughtful educational opportunities for students. When we rely on local norms, we may gather a group of students with a wider range of academic skills than if we had used a narrow band of scores from a standardized assessment. Using local norms for identification will require more thought and possibly additional support to provide appropriate subject acceleration, advanced content, effective instruction and pedagogy, targeted differentiation, and other strategies to meet student needs.

How to Calculate Local Norms

Calculating local norms requires an extra, although not difficult, step. Once the process is established, a more equitable and targeted gifted screening system will be quickly available. A few considerations when starting to develop local norms:

  • use the largest group possible, at least 100 students
  • compare students at the same grade level
  • create local norms annually
  • hand-score or request a scoring company to send locally normed scores by grade level

Here is how this process could look with the Gifted Rating Scales. The gifted coordinator will enter all scores on the GRS-2 for all students at a given grade level into an Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheet, ranked from highest score to lowest. The top 25% of scores in each grade will create the pool for consideration for the gifted program. This process is that simple.

Or, to target the issue of equity more directly, sort the list by the categories of interest – top scores sorted by race or by SES level or by ethnicity – so that the top 25% of students in each category can be considered for further review. Using a combination of approaches, such as identifying the top students overall, as well as the top students by other parameters, will help your district cast a wide net to ensure that needs of all potentially gifted students is being met.

You can access a spreadsheet from The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) that can be used to calculate local norms to see one example of such a sheet.

Additional Resources

Here are a few additional resources if you would like to do some further reading on the topic.

Ford, D. Y. (2015). Recruiting and Retaining Black and Hispanic Students in Gifted Education: Equality Versus Equity Schools. Gifted Child Today, 38(3), pp. 187-191.

Lohman, D. F. (2005) Identifying academically talented minority students (Research Monograph No. RM05216). Storrs:  The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.

Peters, S. J., Rambo-Hernandez, K., Makel, M. C., Matthews, M. S., & Plucker, J. A. (2019). Effect of Local Norms on Racial and Ethnic Representation in Gifted Education. AERA Open, 5(2), pp 1-18.  Retrieved October 14, 2019, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2332858419848446 .

Pfeiffer, S. I. (2015). Essentials of Gifted Assessment. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.


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