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  • Writer's pictureRachel Langan

Solutions: Building Diverse College Campuses Starts in Kindergarten

We've talked a lot about the problems facing WCASD.

It's time to offer solutions.

The academic gap (exacerbated by Covid) is not unique to WCASD: this is happening all over America.

As reported by Education Next, "On virtually any measure, there’s an “excellence gap” among students coming out of 12th grade. Students reaching the highest levels of performance—whether measured by test scores, grade-point average, or the number of Advanced Placement courses—are more likely to be Asian or white than Latino or Black. This excellence gap means that white and Asian teenagers are disproportionately represented among the top 10 percent of U.S. students, while Latino and Black students are significantly underrepresented."

If we focused on what schools can do to recognize and nurture excellence in all students, instead of just trying to work around the gaps at the end of their high-school careers, we could make significant progress toward the inclusive college campuses we all want to see.

But how do we do this? Education Next offers 3 solution-oriented steps:

  1. The first step is called “frontloading,” a type of enrichment provided to young children before they are old enough to be assessed for advanced learning opportunities like gifted and talented programs. High-quality enrichment programs can help young students build knowledge and vocabulary to improve their reading skills and get them on the path to success.

  2. The next step is to use “universal screening” to find every single child who could benefit from enrichment, acceleration, and other advanced learning opportunities. Schools and districts can use valid and reliable assessments—such as IQ tests, diagnostic exams, or state achievement tests—to identify all kids with the potential to do advanced-level work. That’s a big change from how many school districts do things today, which is to ask parents or teachers to nominate children for their gifted programs (or later, Advanced Placement courses). It’s not hard to see how that approach can bring with it racial and socioeconomic biases. Affluent, college-educated parents tend to be more aware of these programs and know how to advocate for their kids. And classroom teachers, however fair-minded, might overlook some talented students because they don’t fit a stereotype of a high achiever.

  3. Once students are identified as highly capable, they need the programs and opportunities that can help them realize their potential: + allow students to study and engage with academic materials more broadly and deeply than the typical class; + allow students to skip an entire grade if that’s what a child needs; + once students get to middle and high school, they automatically are enrolled in honors and Advanced Placement classes. In other words, no more gatekeeping that tends to dissuade kids on the bubble from giving these tougher classes a shot.

Doing this work and doing it well will take leadership and commitment from district and charter network leaders. Educators will have to view greater equity in education as crucial—and not just for their lowest-achieving students, but also for their highest-achieving ones.

They will have to reexamine how a student’s potential is measured, and when. And they will have to focus on supporting more students to excel, including by looking closely at how students are identified to participate in advanced coursework and enrichment programs.

The absolute worst thing schools could do is to eliminate advanced learning opportunities, like gifted and talented programs or honors classes, which have disproportionate white and Asian enrollments that mirror the “excellence gap.”

True equity demands that we mend, rather than end, such programs—and extend these opportunities to many more kids.


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