Efforts to improve the quality of American education often focus, implicitly or explicitly, on students who are achieving at levels far below their peers. That emphasis is reflected in equity debates about kids who are tragically under-equipped to thrive as adults, as well as policy remedies that target “failing” schools for their low test scores and rates of high school graduation.

But research released today suggests that access to educational opportunity is also unequally distributed among children at the top of the academic heap, and that even some of the brightest young students are at a high risk of being overlooked within their schools and districts.

The study, commissioned by the reform-oriented Thomas B. Fordham Institute, points to clear disparities in the prospects of high-achieving students along lines of race and class. Black and low-income elementary schoolers in Ohio who scored well on state exams were less likely to be classified as gifted and talented than comparable white and high-income children. Into middle and high school, they achieved at lower levels on standardized tests, Advanced Placement exams, and college entrance exams, and they were less likely to enroll in college.

Scott Imberman, the report’s author and an economist at Michigan State University, said that it wasn’t certain whether the lower rates of gifted identification exacerbated the performance gaps between student populations. Beginning in 2017, Ohio mandated more comprehensive screening for gifted status in the early grades, but historically, even some students who received that status have gone without gifted services.

“The main thing here is that there was, and probably still is, a problem with these gaps,” Imberman said. “These higher-achieving minority and disadvantaged students were not performing as well, over time, as high-achieving students who were advantaged, and they were also less likely to be enrolled in gifted programs.”

Read the full article about performance gaps across race and class lines by Kevin Mahnken at The 74.