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Assessment and identification of African-American learners with gifts and talents.

* Several researchers (e.g. Richert, 1987; Van Tassel-Baska, Patton, & Prillaman, 1989) have observed that those whose gifts and talents are masked because they are racially and culturally different or socioeconomically at risk are often neglected within programs for gifted and talented students. Educators' philosophies, definitions, and identification processes related to these students are often contradictory, ineffective, and insufficient (Patton, Prillaman, & VanTasselBaska, 1990). This observation is not new. More than a half-century ago, Jenkins (1936) observed:

The gifted child has been the subject of extended research during the past fifteen years. Numerous studies, notably those of Terman, Witty, and Hollingworth have revealed much of psychological and educational significance concerning the incidence and characteristics of American children of superior intelligence. The Negro child of superior intelligence, however, has been almost altogether neglected; little is known about the incidence and characteristics of such children. (p. 175)

One problem is that there is no systematic, well-defined logic of inquiry for assessing and identifying gifts and talents among African-American learners. Instead, attempts to identify gifts and talents among African-Americans have frequently relied on assessment approaches that are not grounded in African-American worldviews, ethos, and culture and do not consider the types of intelligences African-Americans have developed consonant with tasks viewed important by this group of individuals.

The purpose of this article is to offer a schema designed to guide theory and the development of assessment methodology and tests that should enhance our capacities to identify gifts and talents among African-American learners.


Theory, methodology, and practice in the social sciences emanate partially from one's set of philosophical premises or worldviews. This worldview shapes a specific logic of inquiry, modes of knowing, and ways of organizing and verifying knowledge, all of which are culture bound (Gordon, 1985). The seminal works of Gould (1977, 1981), Hilliard (1984), Nobles (1983), and Kamin (1974, 1975) have provided a thorough analysis of the shared cultural, philosophical, and political worldviews of the early European and Euro-Amefican developers of intelligence tests. These Europeans shared a particular worldview and a perspective on the constructs of intelligence and giftedness that were reflected in their assessment theories and methodologies and are fundamental to the tenets of contemporary norm-referenced testing. These early test developers had a tradition of positivism and a penchant for valuing knowledge well adapted for deductive scientific analysis, knowledge that could be reduced to discrete measurement (Dixon, 1976). This orientation assumed not only hierarchical levels of abilities within limited constructs of intelligence, but also notions that IQ tests accurately measured intelligence and tapped universal mental aptitudes and abilities. Nobles (1987), Hilliard (1984), Guthrie (1976), Ogbu (1988), and others (e.g., Cole & Scribner, 1973; Sattier, Hilliard, Lambert, Albee, & Jensen, 1981; Vernon, 1969) have argued, however, that IQ tests more closely sample discrete, cognitive behavior valued by middle-class, Western-oriented societies, not universal cognitive capacities or processes.

According to Ogbu (1988), IQ tests measure distinct, Euro-centric cognitive skills, specific to Western culture. Because these tests are grounded on samplings of cognition and behavior valued by "the middle class in Western societies, they inevitably discriminate against members of other cultures" (p. 29) and cannot adequately measure intelligence of African Americans.

Despite abundant evidence of the shortcomings of traditional assessment and identification procedures, the practice of using unidimensional IQ tests and other norm-referenced tests continues unabated. In fact, VanTassel-Baska et al. (1989) found that 88.5% of the states responding to a national survey indicated use of traditional, norm-referenced tests in the identification of atrisk, gifted learners. Judge Peckham's ban on the use of IQ tests in assessing African-American learners in California is clearly the exception (Jensen, 1980).

Although African Americans compose approximately 16.2% of all students enrolled in America's public schools, they make up only 8.4% of those enrolled in programs for the gifted (Alamprese & Erlanger, 1988). Creating definitions of giftedness and psychoeducational assessment theory, methodology, practice, and tests that consider philosophical worldviews and cultural systems of African Americans should contribute to increasing the numbers of African-Americans identified as gifted.


Theory has been defined as a symbolic representation of experience (Kaplan, 1964). Theory serves as a medium through which experiences can be constructed and subsequently analyzed, synthesized, measured, interpreted, and criticized. Psychoeducational assessment is guided, shaped, and influenced by theory. Use of a particular test or method presupposes some implicit or explicit theory about the construct or attribute being measured and the inquiry method being employed (Kaplan, 1964). The selection of theory and method not only flows from one's culturally based philosophical worldviews but also influences the results of tests (Dixon, 1976).

Table 1 identifies aspects of a "pure" African-American philosophical system that could guide theory development related to the identification and development of constructs of intelligence and giftedness as well as subsequent selection of psychoeducational assessment methodologies and practices. The orientation in Table 1 is defined as "pure" because it reflects historical, classical, African-oriented, philosophical worldviews and ethos that provide the foundation for the deep structure unifying cultural themes of African Americans (Dixon, 1976).

As noted in the first column, African Americans embrace a holistic view of reality, or metaphysics, and incorporate a concern for contextual factors in all interpretations of knowledge. This view recognizes the functional connectedness of the whole and its parts and the importance placed on the unity of ideas and the unity of people in African-Arnerican culture. Knowledge is advanced through a union of seemingly opposite realities; the unknown is revealed by a logic of inquiry that pulls together what appears to be contradictions. Distinctions are not made between beliefs and actions and intelligence and doing. Accordingly, intelligence must be mediated in "doing" something; it must be applied for some purpose. Also, this holistic metaphysical orientation coexists with a complementary belief system consistent with this view of ultimate reality.

According to the axiological and epistemological orientations offered in Table 1, interpersonal relationships have ultimate value. Relationships with people are valued over all interactions. The ability to use skills in interpersonal relations in the development of leadership gifts and talents is strongly valued in this belief system. Further, knowledge is gained through affective as well as cognitive processes; in fact, this schema presumes that a false dichotomy exists between the two.

Certainly, all African Americans do not embrace this "pure" philosophical system. Nevertheless, many young African-American learners relate strongly to the conceptual framework outlined in Table 1 and reconstruct life experiences through lenses affected by the worldviews incorporated in that table. For example, many perceive often contradictory elements as part of a total picture existing within various contexts, and often combine seemingly disparate experiences into insightful "wholes." Sternberg ( 1991 ) referred to this type of intelligence as synthetic giftedness. Hilliard (1976) and Anderson (1988) inform us that many of these students do best in response to oral tasks when the communicator is perceived to "be all fight." Many young African Americans learn information better when it has human social content and is characterized by fantasy and humor. Their performance is influenced often by authorizing figures' expression of confidence or doubt, invitation or rejection.

The preceding philosophical worldviews, values, and behaviors of African Americans auger for the development of assessment and identification systems that are grounded in pluralistic definitions and theories of the giftedness construct and that include cognition skills other than analytical abilities. Other forms of giftedness such as creativity, personality dispositions, and motivational states (Harris & Ford, 1991; Sternberg, 1991) are recognized as well. Ogbu (1988) informs us that African Americans, like other cultural groups, have formed and developed a set of intelligences suited for their cultural tasks. As such, the disparate manifestations of intelligences as expressed through the worldviews, values, and behaviors of African Americans must be included in definitions and theories of giftedness and subsequent assessment and identification systems.

The recent works of Gardner (1983) and Sternberg (1985, 1991), as well as the earlier works of Renzulli (1973), Torrance (1977), and Hilliard (1976), represent examples of pluralistic views of intelligence and giftedness that recognize giftedness within the context of one's own culture and allow for a variety of ways of expressing giftedness. Harris and Ford ( 1991 ) reminded us that Sternberg's triarchic view of intelligence (i.e., analytic, synthetic, and practical) and Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (i.e., linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and personal [interpersonal and intrapersonal]) are more culturally sensitive and represent definitions of intelligence that recognize the interrelationship of the culture, language, worldview, values, and behaviors of African Americans. Surely, it would follow that employing a multidimensional definition of giftedness, incorporating the previously mentioned cultural and contextual norms into assessment and identification systems, and using multimodal assessment systems reflective of the multidimensional nature of giftedness, should result in the increase in the number and kinds of African-American children and youth identified as gifted.

By defining the giftedness construct broadly, one acknowledges the many possible blends of giftedness and the multiple forms this construct may take. For example, a person could be gifted if he or she were superior in breaking problems down into little pieces and understanding all of their parts. Another person could have a superior ability in "reading" his or her environment, figuring out the norms and conventions of that environment, and engaging in certain behavior patterns to succeed in that environment. And yet, a third person may have superior musical or spatial intelligence and be considered gifted. The first person mentioned generally does well on conventional intelligence and achievement tests. The other two people, however, manifest forms of giftedness not easily measured by traditional tests. Assessment and identification systems based on a unidimensional construct of intelligence may identify the first person as being gifted and miss the remaining ones. In reality, all these people may be gifted with respect to a multidimensional view of giftedness. We need to investigate the use of identification procedures that include standardized and nonstandardized quantitative (i.e., aptitude, achievement, creativity, and personality measures) and qualitative (i.e., home, peer, and community nominations; observational checklists; interview techniques; and student products and portfolio assessments) measures. Such measures might accommodate multiple and contextual definitions of intelligence and the various expressions of intelligence inherent in African-American worldviews, values, and customs. I suggest that a culturally sensitive, multimodal assessment and identification approach be used to identify gifted, African-American learners.


Within the past 15 years, researchers have made advances toward appropriate assessment and identification of gifted African-American learners. In fact, a 1981 National Identification Conference (Richert, Alvino, & McDonnel, 1982) attempted to identify a comprehensive listing of promising practices in the identification of "disadvantaged" gifted. A body of literature based on theory, research, and experiences suggests the use of certain instruments and procedures for assessing and identifying young, gifted African-American learners. A sample of those identified in the literature as effective in assessing and identifying gifted African Americans follows. Table 2 lists selected tests and approaches most consistent with African-American cultural norms and conventions.


Hilliard (1976) and Torrance (1977) have developed checklists and rating scales for assessing the distinct social and psychological indicators of giftedness and creativity within a context of African-American culture. Inclusion of these rating scales and checklists in the initial screening of potentially gifted and talented learners has been purported to increase the number of African-Americans thereby identified (Frasier, 1989).

The Hilliard checklists were developed at the request of the San Francisco Unified School District. The task was to devise prescreening devices that would recognize the "basic AfricanAmerican cultural contributions to patrems of human behavior" (1976, p. 14). Hilliard's resulting checklists, the "Who" and "O," are based on the uniqueness and commonalities of the deepstructure culture of African Americans. These checklists emphasize synthetic-personal stylistic characteristics of African-American learners and place value on behavior that characterizes divergent experimentation, improvisation, inferential reasoning, and harmonious interaction with the environment (Hilliard, 1976). The checklists include items that reflect behavioral styles of African Americans, such as "seems to notice everything"; "always asks the best questions"; "seems to know how people feel"; and "is really hard to COn."

The "Who" and "O" scales provide an excellent opportunity to gain subjective, culturally relevant information useful in the identification process. The scales were designed as prescreening devices only; when they have been used in concert with traditional prescreening procedures, previously overlooked gifted African-American learners have been identified (Frasier, 1989; Hilliard, 1976).

Torrance (1977) identified a set of behaviors of African Americans that provided the basis for the development of his Checklist of Creative Positives (CCP). He identified a "set of characteristics that helped to guide the search for strengths of culturally different students for giftedness among such students" (p. 25). These 18 characteristics were called "creative positives." Torrance argued that indicators of these creative positives, such as articulateness in role playing, sociodrama, storytelling, use of expressive speech, responsiveness to the kinesthetic, originality of ideas in problem solving, and humor, could best be assessed through observational techniques with results recorded on a checklist. The CCP enjoys wide use as a prescreening instrument for those wishing to predict and identify a gifted-and-talented candidate pool of African-American learners.


This use of traditional, norm-referenced, intelligence tests has not resulted in the proportionate identification of African-American learners with gifts and talents. However, some intelligence tests, as a result of their attempts to be less culturally and class biased, show promise (Baska, 1986,t, 1986b; Frasier, 1989; VanTassel-Baska et al., 1989). For example, the Coloured, Standard, and Advanced Progressive Matrices (Raven, 1938; 1947a, 1947b) are frequently used by school systems to identify learners for gifted programs and were selected by a panel of experts in 1981 (Richert et al., 1982) as useful in the identification of potentially gifted African Americans. Though the heavy reliance on these tests is not sufficient grounds to recommend their use, their high-to-moderate positive correlations with other intelligence and achievement tests and their high concurrent validity of use with African-Americans (Court & Raven, 1982; Sattier, 1982; Valencia, 1979) are strong arguments for their use with African-American learners. Other attractive features of these tests are their quick and simple, untimed administration and the option of individual or group administration.

Another test, the Matrix Analogies Test-Expanded and Short Form (MAT-EF and MATSF), has been normed on a large, representative sample in the United States with regard to gender, race, ethnicity, geographic region, and socioeconomic status. The test has a high degree of internal reliability and evidence of validity. It measures nonverbal ability through the use of figural matrices and is useful with people whose scores may be influenced by speed (Naglieri & Prewett, 1990). A recent study by Ward, Ward, and Patton (1992) showed that the MAT-EF correlated with the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised (WISC-R) and the Peabody Individual Achievement Test-Revised (PIAT-R) in a pattern that validated the test as a nonverbal measure of general intellectual ability. Results indicate that the MAT-EF was the highest estimate of general intellectual ability for a large portion of African-Americans tested as a part of a federally funded program, entitled Project Mandala. The newness of the MAT instruments and the use of updated norms, however, may result in students' obtaining lower scores than they would on other aptitude measures.

Frasier (1989) reported that considerable evidence has been accumulated that the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (K-ABC) (Kaufman & Kaufman, 1983)"is fair to minorities" (p. 281); African Americans, as a group, have scored higher on the K-ABC than on more traditional intelligence tests. The developers attribute these higher scores to the test's emphasis on a multidimensional concept of intelligence and "de-emphasis of applied skills and verbal expression'' (Kaufman & Harrison, 1986, p. 157). However, the K-ABC has been faulted for its low ceiling for gifted populations (Sattier, 1982); and there is little evidence of the test's validity (Salvia & Ysseldyke, 1988).

The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT) is frequently used to identify gifted African-American learners (Torrance, 1987). Not only does this test measure an important dimension of giftedness, creativity, but it has also been found to do so in a culture-fair way. This test enjoys moderate levels of reliability based on recent data obtained from longitudinal studies of its ability to "predict quantity and quality of public personal creative achievements" (Torrance, in press). And, although scoring is time consuming and complex, the test is quick and easy to administer; and it may be used with individuals or groups and in grades K through graduate school. These features make the TTCT appealing, especially in light of the paucity of other tests of creativity.

Matrix and Profile Approaches

Several assessment models take a more comprehensive or holistic approach to identifying gifted African-American learners. As previously stated, a holistic approach closely fits the worldview and cultural manifestations of African-American cultures. The Baldwin Identification Matrix (BIM) (Baldwin, 1984) and its modifications (Dabney, 1983, 1988) have been reported as effective approaches to identifying high numbers and different types of gifted African-American learners. These matrix approaches were designed to allow the results of objective and subjective data sources to be juxtaposed with data from multiple sources and collected, reviewed, and interpreted before making a decision about the selection of individuals for inclusion in programs for the gifted.

More recently, Frasier's work on the development of assessment "profiles" holds promise for enhancing our capacity to identify more and diverse kinds of gifted and talented African-American learners. The Frasier Talent Assessment Profile (F-TAP) (Frasier, 1990) requires the collection of quantitative and qualitative data from multiple sources (e.g., aptitude, achievement, performance, creativity, and psychosocial attributes). From these data, the user develops an individual profile, from which further data can be collected, reviewed, and interpreted. Identification and selection decisions are based on multiple, broad indicators of potential giftedness. As a result, completed profiles demonstrate the often disparate and unequal performance in the various domains 0f intelligence of gifted African-American learners and result in these individuals being considered superior in one area (e.g., creativity) and maybe average in another area (e.g., achievement).

A recent study designed to determine the reliability of this profile-identification process has been successful in establishing its reliability (Ward, Ward, Landrum, & Patton, 1992). Further, this research, conducted as a part of Project Mandala (Patton, Prillaman, Laycock, & Van Tassel-Baska, 1989), also found that this profile approach was not influenced by race or culture. Its use resulted in the identification of large numbers of young (children in the 4-8 and 11-14 age ranges), gifted, African Americans who exhibited disparate gifts and talents across the previously cited domains of intelligence.

Intervention Planning

Several curriculum-based assessment models have been documented as being useful in increasing the inclusion of African-American learners in programs for the gifted and talented. Based on "dynamic assessment" models advocated by Haywood (1988) and popularized previously by Feuerstein (1968, 1977), an "identification through teaching" approach (test, teach, retest) is used as the basis for assessment, identification, and instruction. The procedure allows students to exhibit their skills over extended periods of time, enabling the students to further refine these skills while project staff refine their judgments about the abilities and talents of students to meet the demands of a gifted program (Johnson, Starnes, Gregory, & Blaylock, 1985). Responsiveness to differentiated classroom cumcula, then, becomes a part of the gifted-program selection paradigm.

The Program of Assessment, Diagnosis, and Instruction (PADI) reported by Johnson et al. (1985) and the Potentially Gifted Minority Student Project, recently described by Alamprese and Erlanger (1988), are sterling examples of the effectiveness of an ongoing-activity approach to increasing the number of identified gifted and talented African Americans. Both use the identification-through-teaching approach and employ several additional strategies that have resulted in increased numbers of African Americans being identified as gifted and talented. First, both programs use assessment instruments that are known to tap the reasoning and creativity potential of African-American learners (Johnson et al., 1985). Second, both programs employ multidimensional, diagnostic batteries. These batteries include assessment instruments and procedures that yield objective and subjective information from multiple data sources and are reflective of an expanded vision of the giftedness construct. Last, the curriculum-based-measurement (CBM) emphasis of both programs allows teachers to use assessment data to teach students, not just rank them.

Although the tests, assessment models, and procedures of these two programs are not in every case consonant with African-American worldviews and culture, they represent less culturally biased approaches and attempts to address the cultural norms, conventions, ethos, and behaviors of African Americans. We need more study of such programs, guided by sound and appropriate philosophical and theoretical principles and research, consistent with African-American worldviews.

Emerging Alternative-Assessment Approaches

As previously mentioned, despite the recommendations made in the past 15 years to change the way school systems identify young, gifted or potentially gifted African Americans, heavy reliance on the use of norm-referenced intelligence tests and teacher nominations continues (Van Tassel-Baska et al., 1989). Other measures are required. We must bridge the dissonance between the culture of African Americans and that of school practices and assessment practices. We need to continually modify traditional measures of general aptitude by removing tasks unsuitable for African-American children and by adding standardized tasks based on the previously discussed ethos and deep-structure culture of African Americans. We must continue to explore alternative-assessment approaches to the identification of gifted and talented African-American children, approaches that employ techniques other than pencil-and-paper tests and multiple choice formats. Some promising research emphasizes the use of alternative forms of performance and portfolio assessment, asking students "to perform tasks that closely emulate the mental tasks of life" (Archambault, 1992, p. 5). In addition, the involvement of parents in these alternative-assessment approaches has been advocated by Howard (1990).


Tests are not neutral. They reflect in their content, style, administration, and interpretation the predominant culture of their developers. This fact has led to the political use of psychoeducational assessment and testing, to the disservice of African Americans as a collective body. There are ways to overcome this problem. Research and development is needed to advance test development and gifted education in several ways:

1. New and expanded visions about the constructs of intelligence and giftedness have emerged (Asante, 1988; Gardner, 1983; Ogbu, 1988; Steinberg, 1985, 1991) and should provide a solid foundation for future research.

2. Pluralistic procedures for identifying gifted African Americans, which use multiple, qualitative and quantitative measures, are available and should be used.

3. CBM approaches, which purport to improve the correspondence between testing and teaching the school's curriculum (i.e., curricular validity, Fuchs & Fuchs, 1986) and enhance the communication of assessment data (Deno & Fuchs, 1987) have been incorporated into new pluralistic assessment approaches.

4. Research guided by the principles of alternative, qualitative assessment approaches must be increased and expanded and must address reliability and validity issues.

5. All assessment efforts should focus on the identification of strengths of African Americans, as manifested in diverse ways, and should recognize the unique traits and psychosocial characteristics of achieving African-Americans. Shade's (1978) research related to psychosocial traits of gifted African-American learners points the way to appropriate indicators of giftedness among African-Americans.

6. Though the deep-structure culture of African-Americans is unique and common to people of African descent, there exists some diversity in its sociopsychological manifestations. Recognition and understanding of both of these factors should lead to the development of psychoeducational assessment theory, methodology, instruments, and practice based on intragroup research and study. More work needs to be undertaken to uncover intragroup differences in cognition, behavior, and motivation before comparisons can be made between two different cultural groups (Gordon, 1985).

The identification of gifts and talents of African-American learners continues to loom as a challenge. New theories, paradigms, methodology, tests, and practices are begging for special educators' attention. A reconceptualization of theory and methodology related to assessment, testing, and the construct of giftedness in which Afro-centric worldviews guide and serve as a foundation represents an essential first step in the process. Until this is undertaken, neither psychometry nor the field of gifted education will enjoy the liberating qualities needed for progress in social sciences.

 Selective Assessment Approaches, Tests, and
Checklists Potentially Useful in Screening,
Assessing, and Identifying Gifts and Talents of
Young African-American Learners
 Screening measures that attempt to incorporate knowl
-edge and understanding of African-American culture:
 * The "Who" and "0" Checklists (Hilliard, 1976)
 * Checklist of Creative Positives (CCP) (Tor
-rance, 1977)
 Assessment measures with psychometric designs and
practices that recognize culturally relevant norms:
 * The Coloured, Standard, and Advanced Pro
-gressive Matrices (Raven, 1930, 1947a, 1947b)
 * The Matrix Analogies Test-Expanded and Short
Form (MAT-EF and MAT-SF) (Naglieri,
1985a, 1985b; Naglieri & Prewett, 1990)
 * The Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children
(K-ABC) (Kaufman & Kaufman, 1983)
 * Torrance Test for Creative Thinking (TTCT)
(Torrance, 1987)
 Assessment models useful in intervention and program
 * The Baldwin Identification Matrix (Baldwin,
 * The Frasier Talent Assessment Profile (F-TAP)
(Frasier, 1990)
 * The Program of Assessment Diagnosis and In
-struction (PADI) (Johnson, Starnes, Gregory, &
Blaylock, 1985)
 * The Potentially Gifted Minority Student Project
(Alamprese & Erlanger, 1988)


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JAMES M. PATTON (CEC VA Federation) is an Associate Professor of Education and Associate Dean of the School of Education at The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia.
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Title Annotation:Issues in the Education of African-American Youth in Special Education Settings
Author:Patton, James M.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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