Bilingual and Gifted Education

By: Jennifer Godbout

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"Proficiency in more than one language is a valuable skill to be cultivated and nurtured in our schools and communities" (CAL, 2016).

"Both society and individuals benefit when a linguistically and culturally diverse population is tapped for talent potential" (Harris, 1993).


Students with special gifts and talents come from all cultural and linguistic backgrounds . While, the gifted talents that these students possess are valued in their own cultures, in the American culture that are underrepresented (Cohen, 1990). Unfortunately, there is an increasing number of unidentified gifted bilingual students (Esquierdo, 2012). The gifted programs that are available in today's public schools have been tailored for the white upper middle class students. As the bilingual population grows, there is a need for bilingual gifted programs to grow. In 2006, the bilingual representation in gifted/talented in the U.S. was still underrepresented. The image below compares the total enrollment of students based upon ethnicity to the percentage of these students that are enrolled in GT programs (Esquierdo, 2012).
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Identification Process

While most states still require standardized assessments to determine a student's basic knowledge and skills, there are other ways that bilingual gifted students can be identified. Here are some suggested ways to identify gifted bilingual students (Burnette, 2000):

  • Convening a full, multidisciplinary assessment team—, educators, and assessors are part of any assessment team. Other integral members of the team include interpreters, bilingual educators, and a person who is familiar with the student's culture and language.

  • Using pre-referral strategies and interventions— a student is having difficulties, information should be gathered to determine whether these difficulties stem from language or cultural differences, from a lack of opportunity to learn, or from a disability.

  • Determining the language to be used in testing— of language dominance and proficiency should be completed before further testing is conducted for students whose home language is other than English.

  • Conducting a tailored, appropriate assessment of the child and environment—, nonbiased, appropriate instruments should be combined with other sources of information (observations, interviews) from a variety of environments (school, home, community) to produce a multidimensional assessment.

What some school districts are doing to address the Identification Process

The 38 school districts in Texas' Rio Grande Valley in which Spanish-speaking students are predominant have difficulty identifying gifted students. Texas mandates that five criteria be used in the identification of gifted students. Texas requires multiple criteria because research indicates that atypical populations i.e. economically disadvantaged, culturally diverse, linguistically different, etc., are more frequently identified for gifted programs when multiple criteria, including both quantitative and qualitative data, are used (Kolesinski, 1992) .Texas uses two nonverbal testing methods to identify bilingual gifted students:

  • Raven's Colored and Advanced Progressive Matrices Test, instead of the Stanford Binet IV Test
  • Creative Ability is assessed through an analysis of nonverbal responses to the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, instead of verbal format.

In Ontario, Canada, the English sector schools invite students to attend enrichment classes. However, the preferred method for bilingual gifted students in Ontario is full-immersion into the French-speaking schools. The following tests are used to determine a students eligibility into a gifted program (Kolesinski, 1992):

  • Canadian Cognitive Achievement Tests (CCAT),
  • Slossen Intelligence Test, California Test of Basic Skills (CTBS)
  • Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children - Revised (WISC-R)
  • general screening questionnaires devised by local school boards
  • parent checklists
  • assessment of creative or productive thinking, such as the Torrance or Williams' batteries of tests

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What has been done so far to address these issues

  • Bilingual education movements have been connected to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lau vs. Nichols that California schools without special provisions to educate language minority students were violating the students civil rights (Cortina, 2015).
  • International agreements such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 have recognized that "the education of the child should be directed to ... the development for the child's parents, his or her cultural identity and values" (Article 29) and that "a child belonging to an [ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority] should not be denied the right to use his or her own language" (Article 30) (Cortina, 2015)
  • Creation of Dual Language Programs in Manhattan, New York (Cortina, 2015).
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What Teachers Can Do

  • Broaden their knowledge on all gifted/talented students
  • Research giftedness of bilingual students
  • Receive more training
  • Be aware of students' school and home environment
  • Value all student cultures
  • Be aware of state and national laws that require all students to have equal opportunities
  • Building a community and communication with these bilingual students and their parents


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Cortina, R., Makar, C., & Mount-Ocrs, M. F. (2015). Dual Language as a Social Movement: Putting Languages on a Level Playing Field. Current Issues in Comparative Education, 17(1), 5-16. Retrieved October 01, 2016.

Esquierdo, J. J., & Arreguin-Anderson, M. (2012). Journal for the Education of the Gifted. The "Invisible" Gifted and Talented Bilingual Students: A Current Report on Enrollment in GT Programs, 35(1), 35-47. Retrieved October 01, 2016, from

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Kolesinski, M. T., & Leroux, J. A. (1992, May). The Bilingual Education Experience, French-English, Spanish-English: From a Perspective of Gifted Students. Roper Review, 14(4), 221-224. Retrieved October 01, 2016.


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