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Equitable access to excellence: opportunities for gifted education to an underrepresented population through open enrollment.

Gifted education has served the educational community as a leader in curriculum designed for promoting excellence in our nation's classrooms. The apparent lack of equitable opportunities for entrance into gifted programs for certain segments of the school population have, justifiably, brought criticism of elitism. Inappropriate identification procedures create underrepresentation in programs. This paper describes a gifted program that identified students after entry into the program. Students are judged suitable for gifted education only after they have had the opportunity to develop and exhibit behaviors within a gifted classroom environment. The result has been student opportunities and achievements that span the chasm between excellence and equity.

The Proposal

I would like to make a radical proposal concerning gifted education. To promote equitable opportunities for underrepresented groups, what if we minimized the identification process and created a gifted program that allowed all students the opportunity to demonstrate "giftedness"? A radical proposal? Perhaps, but such a model has been in existence for more than a decade.

The Problem

The literature on gifted education is replete with directives for more "enlightened," more equitable, and more inclusive admissions policies (Callahan, 1996; Davis & Rimm, 1998; Howley, Howley, & Pendarvis, 1995; National Association for Gifted Children, 1997; Renzulli, 1998, Renzulli & Purcell, 1996; Treffinger & Feldhusen, 1996), especially for students of underrepresented groups (Cohen, 1990; Ford & Thomas, 1997; Jatko, 1995; Passow & Frasier, 1996; Reyes, Fletcher, & Paez, 1996). With the present concern for excellence in achievement and equitable services, gifted education has come under tremendous scrutiny from an increasingly wide spectrum of the education community.

While some educators have voiced strong criticism of the tracking and elitist implications of programs for gifted students, advocates of such programs have countered with the idea that gifted education is one of the few channels specifically providing opportunities for high-ability students to realize their potential and that there should be different goals for different children because different children have different needs (Gwiazda, 1983). But when the numbers are tallied, gifted programs have continuously shown disparities in the representation of ethnic and economic groups, compared to their numbers in the general school population. Sometimes this underrepresentation reaches proportions as great as 70% (Ford & Thomas, 1997).

Gifted education must focus today on whether it can provide equitable access to programming while maintaining excellence in curricula (Gallagher, 1996; Lupart & Pyryt, 1996; Tomlinson, 1996; VanTassel-Baska, 1997). Robert Maynard Hutchins asserted that the best education for the best is the best education for all (Adler, 1982). Whether this can be accomplished may spell the health or death of gifted programs in schools and districts across the nation as criticism and budget constraints pressure decision makers to consider which programs receive funding.

Gifted education has long been on the defensive from criticism of elitism and its denial of equitable opportunity. To others, however, the efforts on behalf of gifted children are an essential responsibility of American schools, and critics are seen to be misapplying the country's democratic ideals. Historian Richard Hofstadter (1963) has suggested that suspicion of the intellectual is part of this nation's character. Yet, advocates of gifted education have traditionally put out more effort to justify its role and tout its accomplishments than to remedy the chronic problem of the underrepresentation of some groups (Slanina, 1996).

Alternately, the movement advocating heterogeneous classrooms has engendered concern that classrooms will focus on the student in the middle of the ability spectrum or, worse, on students with the lowest level of skills (Henig, 1994). Can teaching in a heterogeneous environment permit high standards for everyone? That, too, has not been demonstrated historically. Education in this nation has only recently begun to face this present situation: trying to teach all in an increasingly large and diverse student population. Providing all students with opportunities for quality education has proven to be frustratingly elusive.

Thus, while gifted programs can help students realize their potential to meet the highest curricular standards, the future of gifted education lies in finding an avenue to meet the needs of diverse students and developing programs that can be justified within a democratic society. This persistent and perplexing problem exists in many parts of our society; but, in education, a solution has already been found.

The Solution

What would a successful program that maintains high academic standards for a broad and diverse spectrum of our schools' population look like? I propose that gifted education is the vehicle to begin the development of excellent education for all students and that excellence and equity can be achieved simultaneously if schools begin with excellence as the standard and then provide an opportunity for all students to access that curriculum.

On the excellence side, even a known researcher of educational inequality, Jonathan Kozol (1991), grudgingly admitted that a gifted program provides students with "in my opinion, excellent instruction in some areas of reasoning and logic" (p. 94). Tomlinson and Callahan (1992) suggested that the philosophical perspective and curriculum practices of gifted education can provide educational leadership in expanding our views of intelligence, differentiation, and individualization of instruction and of varied instructional models and strategies. While no panacea, gifted education can be a significant bridge between excellence and equity, if it can attend, simultaneously, underserved populations and act on a broadened view of democracy in education. To accomplish this, I propose that we abolish entrance screening as the primary means of identifying those qualified for gifted education.

The heart of the problem of underrepresentation is the identification procedure that operationally defines who is gifted (Davis & Rimm, 1998). Violations of educational equity stem from definitions of giftedness that narrow the identification gateway to gifted education. Richert (1991) cautioned that identification as it is presently used is much more a mechanism for placing students in educational programming than a diagnostic instrument evaluating a student's achievement level and fitness for gifted programming (pp. 82-83).

Thus, it is my proposal that the door to gifted programs be flung wide open. The mechanism being suggested here is open enrollment. Simply, this means that identification would not occur until after admission into a gifted program. Open enrollment would allow students themselves, parents, teachers, and counselors to nominate any student who might benefit from gifted education--and then allow the students, by virtue of his or her own performance, an opportunity to develop and demonstrate gifted behaviors for continued participation. In addition, above-average scores on standardized tests should be used as excuses to enroll students rather than cut-off points to keep them out of a gifted program.

A society that professes to judge individuals on their merits must offer them the opportunity to develop and demonstrate those merits (Tannenbaum, 1998, p. 7). Open enrollment in a gifted program ensures that all students have the opportunity to access a high-level curriculum. A program adopting an open-enrollment policy must also practice a developmental approach to gifted education (Feldman, 1999; Gallagher, 1991; Renzulli & Reis, 1991). Classroom instruction can help to nurture cognitive skills (e.g., memorizing, critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, identifying inferences, making deductions, comprehending analogies, making decisions, and strengthening metacognitive skills) and affective skills (e.g., motivation, persistence, confidence, and task attention; Treffinger, 1991). Intelligence, which includes these above skills, was believed to be static; but recent research has shown that the dimensions of ability central in defining who is (and who is not) gifted are often dependent upon circumstances and time. In other words, gifted abilities in a student can remain latent until a well-designed classroom environment can act as a catalyst for those abilities to emerge. A child constantly provided close-ended worksheets will have scant opportunity to exercise creative or deductive thinking. Children working on inquiry-based projects are being encouraged to develop critical-thinking, task-commitment, and decision-making skills.

For the last decade Renzulli (Renzulli, 1998; Renzulli & Reis, 1991) has advocated a schoolwide program to assist educators in discovering and encouraging gifted behaviors among the student population. Others, including Coleman (1995), have suggested that gifted and talented children can be developed and nurtured by immersing them in an enriched social context. Thus, it is imperative that the opportunity to develop and demonstrate gifted behaviors be open to as wide a population of a school or school district as possible.

Otherwise, a single- or even multiple-criterion assessment instrument will screen out many children who might be very capable of demonstrating or developing "gifted" skills over time and in different circumstances (Davis & Rimm, 1998; Passow & Frasier, 1996). When immersed in an enriched environment and a demanding curriculum, these children can achieve at levels that screening instruments would suggest are not possible for them (Coleman, 1995).

The Model

Kahuku High and Intermediate School (KHIS) is located on the North Shore area of Oahu in a former sugar-plantation town. The school serves students within one of the geographically largest single school districts in the State of Hawai'i, stretching 26 miles along the island's rural coastline. The 1980 census designated the Kahuku communities as an economically depressed area, with many adults commuting more than 30 miles to work in Honolulu.

The school's student body numbers just over 1,900 in grades 7-12. The KHIS 1992 accreditation report showed the following ethnic distribution: The majority within the Asian or Pacific Islander category consists of students of Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian ancestry, followed by those of Samoan, Tongan, and other Pacific Islander ancestry. Those of Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino ancestry, many of whom are children and grandchildren of former sugar-plantation workers, make up a smaller portion.

The accreditation report points to the fact that many of Kahuku's students represent the first members of their families to graduate from high school. It states that the general isolation of the community has contributed to children who are less sophisticated than their counterparts in Honolulu and, as a rule, lack many of the social, cultural, and economic opportunities that are more readily available to students in more affluent and suburban areas (Kahuku High and Intermediate School, 1991).

Fourteen years ago, the gifted program at Kahuku, administering traditional means of screening heavily reliant on test scores, enrolled fewer than 100 students. Shortly afterward, the program adopted a more inclusive philosophy and developed more liberal screening, and the 1990-91 school year opened with 275 students enrolled in the KHIS gifted program. The new screening placed less emphasis on test scores and more on teacher recommendations and the students' grade-point averages. A committee of school staff and parents met to examine a nameless matrix of information, regularly agonizing over the last four or five students to be admitted, which meant the exclusion others. Students opted to be considered for admission by simply checking off the appropriate GT (gifted and talented) or AP (advanced placement) course on their course registration cards, a self-nominating process, rather than reliance on teachers to make the nominations. The coordinator then placed all of these students on the nomination list to be screened. It allowed students to request consideration in a private and quiet way that appealed especially, in a more culturally appropriate way, to many of the Polynesian students on the campus. Once in the GT program, students were not required to go through screening for the following year if they maintained a 3.0 GPA in their core classes (English, social studies, math, and science).

The 1990-91 school year marked the point at which the GT program coordinator and the Parent Advisory Board decided to abolish any means of screening for incoming seventh graders. Disregarding the traditional use of stanine 8 (out of 9) as the cut-off score for admissions, the program sought out any student who attained any reading or language stanine of 6 or better on the Stanford Achievement Test, a test given to all Hawai'i sixth graders. This meant that all students reading even slightly above grade level were admitted. In addition, students recommended by a sixth-grade teacher were enrolled, regardless of stanine score and whether or not the student had been enrolled in a gifted program in the elementary school. All parent nominations were accepted, and any student could self-nominate (though this rarely happened).

This move was implemented based on two realizations. The first was that it was impossible to be fair in comparing lists of eligible students who come in from five different GT coordinators at the five elementary feeder schools using different personal standards. When some sixth-grade GT students were left off the list from one school and almost the entire sixth-grade class was included from another school--even though the same identification instrument was used for all five schools--the problem was clear. The second realization was a shift in philosophy from viewing the program as one for gifted students to viewing it as an opportunity for all students to develop their skills and aptitudes within a gifted program: the gradual emergence of the idea that the best education for the best is, indeed, the best education for all (Adler, 1982). The GT staff at KHIS and supportive people in the community agreed that the GT program should provide opportunity to the widest spectrum of students who would benefit by it. They were influenced by the argument that students will rise to the level of what is expected of them. The rationale behind the shift to open enrollment is summarized by Passow and Frasier (1996):
   The most widely accepted explanation for the low participation
   of disadvantaged students in programs for the gifted is the
   ineffectiveness and inappropriateness of the identification and
   selection procedures that have traditionally been and continue
   to be used. Youngsters who are not identified and selected for
   inclusion in programs are much less likely to be provided with
   the needed opportunities to nurture and develop their potential.
   (p. 198)

Of course, the success of the Kahuku Model for a gifted program goes beyond mere philosophy and open enrollment. Obviously, many other factors contributed: competent and committed teachers, supportive administration, involved parents, and able students. Nevertheless, without the philosophy and the move to open enrollment, the Kahuku program would probably look like most other traditionally administered programs.

The Evidence


How can the Kahuku program qualify as a gifted program if its enrollment is open? The 4-year, nationwide Richardson Study (Cox, Daniel, & Boston, 1985) of programs for gifted students developed a description of a substantial gifted program. With an initial survey sent to more than 16,000 school districts and a more detailed secondary survey sent to more than 4,000 of the initial respondents (from which there were 1,572 responses), the researchers concluded that substantial gifted programs:

1. offer at least three content areas; and

2. report a specific number of students completing at least one course each year; and

3. report that 10% or more of those students scored a 3 or above (passing grades) on the relevant advanced placement test; and

4. have an in-house supervisory staff; and

5. have a stated philosophy and goals; and

6. have its own budget.

According to the conditions outlined in the Richardson Study, the Kahuku program compares well in the following ways:

1. The program offers courses in five content areas: English, social studies, and art, with AP courses also in math and science.

2. Nearly all students who enter the program stay for the year, and enrollment, course, and class counts are recorded annually.

3. AP exam pass rates are about 70% for the English Literature, English Language, U.S. History, and U.S. Government exams, with rates somewhat lower in Calculus and Biology.

4. At least one coordinator and the executive board, including school staff plus volunteer parents and students, oversee the program, The coordinator handles the day-to-day administration, and the executive board concernes itself with policy decisions.

5. The KHIS GT Handbook, approved by the executive board and published by the program, articulates the philosophy, program, and policies.

6. The small budget allocated by the district is supplemented with school funding via the regular budget system, and some discretionary funds are available through other funding sources (Awaya, 1995).

Enrollment: Numbers

One criterion for evaluating the program must be how open enrollment and inclusive mechanisms play out in enrollment counts. Starting with the 1990-91 school-year figure of 275 students enrolled, abolishing screening for seventh graders and liberalizing the yearly screening thereafter resulted in a steady increase in enrollment that has hovered between 450 and 500 students since 1993-94. This represents more than a quarter of the student body, whereas 9 years earlier, the program enrollment had been about 6% of the school population (a figure closely aligned with the 3-5% in traditional programs across the nation). Present enrollment stands in stark contrast to the National Excellence (U.S. Department of Education, 1993) report, which pointed to only 4 states that identify more than 10% of their students as gifted and 21 states that identify fewer than 5%. While Sternberg and Zhang (1995) claimed there is no single magic number that would designate the percentage of children who are gifted, Kahuku's 25% enrollment exceeds the 15% talent pool Renzulli and Reis (1991, p. 115) used as a benchmark for the Schoolwide Enrichment Model. The number, furthermore, represents Richert's (1991) ideal: "While programs for the gifted, by definition, cannot serve all children, serving fewer than 25% of students will exclude too many students with gifted potential" (p. 85).

For a present comparison to another Hawai'i school, Table 2 shows the comparison of 1999 GT programs between Kahuku HS and Castle HS, Kahuku's closest neighboring school and a more suburban school in the same district.

With its traditional screening of students, Castle shows significantly smaller numbers in its GT program. This occurs even though Castle High has a student population that is drawn from a slightly higher socioeconomic community. Moreover, Castle's number are very likely more typical of secondary gifted programs throughout Hawai'i than are Kahuku's.

Enrollment: Test Scores

Another criterion is inclusiveness. If the program claims a broader inclusion policy, one measure of success is the enrollment of students who score across a broad range of standardized test scores. Table 3 shows the shift in student enrollment according to their stanine scores on the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, which was given to all sixth-graders in the feeder elementary schools and to all the ninth graders in the KHIS gifted program. The testing, while originally an important factor in identification, came gradually to be used simply to describe the program. The students of the Kahuku graduating classes from 1991-1997 represented the program with the more liberal admissions policies put in place (admitting those with SAT or OLSAT scores of 6 and automatically readmitting all GT students with 3.0 GPAs). The students of the graduating classes of 1995-2000 reflected numbers affected by the open-enrollment policy that was adopted in school year 1991-92 (graduating class of 1999).

The comparison of the two groups of students in Table 3 shows that, as the Kahuku program transitioned to an open-enrollment population, there was little noticeable change in the numbers of higher scoring students, and there was a significant increase in the number of lower scoring students. This created a program in which 75% of the students scored below the oft-used cut-off score of stanine 8. An obvious conclusion is that the program has been able to bring in substantial numbers of "average," as well as a few "below-average," students who are rising to the challenge of the demanding program of courses. In addition, most of the GT juniors and seniors culminated their high school studies in the 11 sections of AP courses. It is the students' motivation and work ethic that becomes the driving force behind what many would view as overachievement.

One of the questions that has arisen from skeptics of the Kahuku concept has been whether the range of abilities as implied by standardized test scores is too broad for teachers to conduct a true gifted classroom. As with any curriculum for any group of students, maintaining standards and expectations of student effort and products depends mainly on the determination and talents of the teacher in the classroom. The Kahuku program requires that teachers understand what a gifted curriculum implies and requires and, in addition, adopt methods that allow a fair chance for all students to attain success. Simply put, it is what we expect of all teachers in all classes. Nevertheless, there is a constant struggle against teachers from outside and within the Kahuku program who advocate lowering the curriculum standards to put less pressure on the less-able students, rather than finding ways to help those students meet the higher standards. The ability of the program to maintain its high curriculum standards is attributed to the constant revisiting of the program philosophy to offer a gifted curriculum to students and to the accumulated evidence that students perceived as lesser abled can, in fact, rise to the standards of the program. The teachers who successfully make the transition from the regular program to the GT program are those who understand that their roles change, as well as the curriculum design of the class.


Once the validity of the program had been established and the inclusiveness demonstrated, the equity issue came to the fore. The population of the community has been in flux since the closure of the sugar plantation, which dominated life in the area for nearly a century until the early 1970s. In earlier days, the Kahuku plantation employed many people of Japanese and Filipino ancestry. The school district presently encompasses a large community set aside by the state as homesteads for people of Native Hawaiian ancestry. Within the last 20 years, Caucasians--some moving in because of the revitalization of Brigham Young University-Hawai'i and others attracted to the world-famous surfing on the North Shore--have replaced the departing Japanese and Filipino families, who began leaving when the plantation closed. Additionally, many non-Hawaiian Polynesians have emigrated from other Pacific Islands, primarily Samoa and Tonga, and settled in the North Shore community to work on small farms and at the Polynesian Cultural Center, a tourist attraction run by the Mormon Church.

A 1994 report by the school to the district presently shows that the ethnic distribution falls along the lines indicated in Table 4. Also shown are the percentages and numbers of students in the Kahuku GT program for the graduating classes of 1991 (gifted students more traditionally identified) and 1996 (gifted students liberally identified).

Comparisons of the figures show a marked increase in the percentage of students of Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian ancestry. This is the most significant aspect of the program's inclusivity because, while official state figures place Native Hawaiian children at 22% of the school population, only half of that percentage participates in GT programs statewide (Martin, 1996). The numbers reflect a longstanding trend of underachievement by Native Hawaiian children in the school system. A recently published document by the Kamehameha Schools (Native Hawaiian Educational Assessment, 1993) pointed to the continued state of educational risk experienced by Native Hawaiians, even with improvements made within the past 10 years. The report documented the risks beginning at birth and manifested in overrepresentation in special education programs and underrepresentation in gifted programs and college enrollment and graduation. This situation mirrors the underrepresentation and underachievement numbers of minorities across the nation.

Thus, the growth in percentage and real numbers of Hawaiian and part-Hawaiian students in the Kahuku program is particularly noteworthy. Table 4 shows that Hawaiian representation in the program increased 10% over 5 years and was less than the percentage in the general population by less than seven points. By 1996, Hawaiian students had caught up with Caucasian students as the largest group represented in the gifted program. While Table 4 also shows that certain traditionally underrepresented groups are still lagging behind their representation in the general school population, the Kahuku GT figures also show a significant growth in real numbers of those same groups. The number of Hawaiian, other Polynesian, and Filipino GT students increased from 23 in the graduating class of 1991 to 61 in 1996. Also significant is that no group is more than eight percentage points above or below the numbers in the general school population. Finally, no ethnicity constitutes a majority, but the Polynesian group (Hawaiian plus Samoan, Tongan, etc.) nears 50% of the program.

Neither the overall increase in the GT population nor the increased participation of underrepresented groups can be fully explained by the inclusivity policy. Three other factors greatly contributed. The first was a concerted effort by program staff to change the student culture that had denigrated academic achievement. Much time and effort was spent overcoming nerd and geek pejoratives and creating a social and academic environment where an A was a proud accomplishment, not a "scarlet letter." The second factor was the creation of a counseling component within the program. This allowed a staff member to identify all students in the program who might be facing difficulties and to provide appropriate services so students would continue to meet the program's high requirements (3.0 GPA). The program counselor also identified students who should avail themselves of the GT program but who, for various reasons, had chosen not to. The counselor then would attempt to interest such students in enrolling. The final factor was the development of a critical mass of students. Once the gifted program grew to sufficient size, the school's fairly small size allowed most students in the school to know of someone in the program. Word-of-mouth became a clear means of attracting new candidates.

There were also several factors especially significant for Native Hawaiian students, who tend not to see academic achievement positively, whose cultural differences sometimes tend to create personal barriers to academic achievement, and who tend to be group oriented and avoid individual risks. Making scholarship attainable and desirable, while diminishing the disparaging nature of name calling, provided a more acceptable and comfortable social environment for all students. The program counselor discovered that Polynesian students could be persuaded to enroll in GT only if allowed to refuse one or more times, so as not to seem overly eager or aggressive. This underscores the role of culture in the conceptualization of giftedness and the importance of taking it into consideration in the design and implementation of a program. Polynesian students would also be more likely to enroll in the program if friends or relatives were already there or were enrolling at the same time.


The move to open enrollment and to a developmental approach to giftedness has brought great changes to Kahuku High and Intermediate School. Even though skeptics might say that the AP classes are overenrolled with students who won't be able to pass the exams, pass rates for the two English and two social studies (Literature and Language and American History and American Government, respectively) have been consistently above national rates, with occasional rates above 80% and once reaching 100%! This happened despite encouraging some students to take the exam for the experience and the skills and knowledge they would learn in the preparation, which usually includes study sessions at school at night.

While scores are at least respectable, AP courses and exams are included in the GT program, not because of the possibility of college credits for exams passed, but because skills the AP courses require fit the progression of skills development initiated through the GT program from 7th-10th grade. The scores on the AP exams are not a measure of evaluation but another teaching tool and a means of motivating students to acquire the cognitive and affective skills helpful in college--a means to raise the skills of all students rather than just those likely to pass the exams.

Nearly all KHIS GT graduates attend 4-year colleges. The school now has a reputation that recently encouraged a parent living in another district to seek permission to enroll his daughter--so he could save the $10,000 a year he was paying to one of the most prestigious private, college-prep schools in the state.

One particular academic achievement demonstrates the strength of the program. A national competition is held each year that requires that students be knowledgeable of the Bill of Rights and a wide range of historical and current topics that they must include in answers to questions posed by a panel of judges. The difficulty is that a whole class must participate rather than students specifically selected for their knowledge and speaking skills. Because KHIS has such a large gifted program, there has always been a close competition between the two KHIS classes to see which would represent the school, suggesting that the winning class did not include all the top students. Nevertheless, between 1992 and 1998, except for one year, a KHIS class has won the district and state competition and has represented Hawai'i in the national competition in Washington, DC--even though it was usually the only sophomore class to attempt the national competition.

Nongifted Behaviors

Coleman (1995) suggested that immersing students in specialized environments can maximize opportunities for developing gifts and talents. These specialized environments create changes in noncognitive student behaviors that encourage academic successes. In a similar vein, Passow and Frasier (1996) contended that the manifestation of particular characteristics and behaviors are dependent upon the particular context in which the individual exists. The KHIS program provides the social and academic context for students to exhibit or develop gifted behaviors--behavioral changes that Coleman would accept as evidence of the value of a gifted program.

In 1994, a survey of 300 KHIS GT students and 280 non-GT students revealed attitudinal factors that were significant, given that more than two thirds of the GT students would not have been GT students had the program continued its traditional means of identification. Table 5 shows the responses of students when asked whether they found the school curriculum challenging. Most significant is the numbers from the former GT students who seem to have found the curriculum in the regular program much less challenging after being in the GT program. When students were asked how much they felt they were learning, results were very similar. Again, the former GT students expressed the least satisfaction.

Finally, a series of questions asked the GT-AP students how they felt about being a student in the program. Because so many of the students in the program would not have been identified traditionally as gifted, information on how they felt about whether their participation was overwhelming or frustrating was critical for the staff. In each section, students could select not to respond if they felt the options did not really apply to them or if they did not feel strongly one way or the other. The results were very positive, with only about 10% selecting the negative responses. Most significant, very few students were discouraged to the point of wanting to quit, which suggested strongly that they were indeed rising to the challenge.

Interestingly, for those who did not make the 3.0 GPA and were dismissed and those who simply chose not to continue in the program, their nonenrollment was not dependent upon whether they had been included in an elementary school gifted program that had selected its students by more traditional means. Data from the survey showed that 61% of GT-AP students had participated in an elementary gifted program and 39% had not. Of students who were no longer enrolled in the KHIS GT-AP program, 62% had participated in an elementary gifted program and 38% had not. Thus, students who had had no elementary school experience with GT were dismissed or were dropping out of the program at the same rate as those who had. And, more important, the converse was true: Those finding success in the program were succeeding at the same rate. Behavior of the students in the KHIS gifted program was unlikely to reveal which youngsters would not have been admitted into a traditional gifted program. Students in the program exhibited the kinds of noncognitive behaviors that Coleman (1995) suggested should emerge when a specialized environment is created. Some of those changes were evident in the survey responses of students no longer in the KHIS program, who said they found non-GT classes less challenging and they were learning less when compared to both GT students and students who had never been in the Kahuku gifted program.

As a caveat to the idea that the Kahuku program welcomes a wide spectrum of students, the truth is that the program makes no promise that it will serve the purposes of all students, traditionally identified as gifted or not. Like any group of students, a group of gifted students will exhibit variance within the group as much as they might as a group compared to any other group. Each year, a small number of students choose to drop out of the program (with parental consent) or simply do not come close enough to the 3.0 GPA to maintain enrollment. Some of those students may have been kept in a traditional gifted program that maintained small classes (Kahuku GT classes are equal in size to the rest of the school) and identified less than 10% of the student population. But, because the Kahuku program puts emphasis on meeting the curriculum standards rather than worrying about which students are gifted, a level of attrition is expected. This actually works to motivate students who wish to maintain enrollment and allows spaces to open up each year for new or returning students to enter the program.


Much current education controversy reflects a tension between striving to make our schools vehicles for achievement and striving to make access to quality education available to all students. On the excellence side, gifted education has long been accepted as providing students with a high-quality curriculum. But gifted programs have been justifiably criticized for the elitist populations they serve.

As the debate over gifted education and equity rages in national forums, the Kahuku Model has quietly and consistently plotted a course that has redefined gifted education with an inclusive and developmental core. Many within the gifted education community have gone to considerable lengths to expound upon their ideas for new directives and directions, but much less effort has gone into developing and demonstrating practical and inexpensive program models that put those ideas into practice (Richert, 1991). Meanwhile, students of underrepresented groups continue to be excluded from the opportunity to enroll in programs that encourage high achievement through a challenging and differentiated curriculum.

Maker (1996) suggested that equitable identification would be process oriented and would include observation of performance in realistic school contexts. The Kahuku program goes a step further by actually enrolling the students in the gifted program and giving them the opportunity to develop and demonstrate gifted behaviors. Rather than depending on elaborate procedures to seek out the gifted in regular classes or during contrived short-term activities or projects, this program promotes equitable opportunities for underrepresented groups to avail themselves of gifted education. Without fanfare and with little debate, this has been done primarily with the radical approach of simply abolishing entry-level screening. Students identify themselves by their achievement within the challenging and enriched curriculum of the gifted program. Thus, the Kahuku Model can be used for creating more equitable access to a gifted education rather than for creating a program model for gifted students.

If we persist in the debate over identification and if the advocates of gifted education urge more "enlightened" screening while the vast majority of the nation's gifted programs serve overrepresented groups, deserved criticism of gifted education will continue. Gifted education can serve the wider population in schools. I contend that screening and identification inherently close off certain groups of students from opportunity. I also contend that a necessary change in philosophy is required: Gifted education should be a developmental opportunity for a broad spectrum of students, not simply a reward for those who have already displayed the desired characteristics. As Gallagher (1996) urged, "We, who work in gifted education, need to be more self-critical than we have been in recent years about our own efforts. We have a special obligation to seek out hidden and uncrystallized abilities in students" (p. 246). Buchanan, Woerner, Bigam, and Cascade (1997) added, "Implementing inclusive talent development programs based upon the philosophy that all human beings are valuable and have the potential to make significant contributions to society is a challenge" (p. 208). It is a challenge that gifted education must take up immediately.


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Allen Awaya is Assistant Professor of Education Foundations at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.
Table 1
KHIS Ethnic Distribution

Ethnic group                Percentage of total

Asian or Pacific Islander          72.6%
Caucasian                          24.4%
All others                          3.0%

Table 2
Comparison of GT Programs:
Castle High and Kahuku High and Intermediate

                                             GT          GT
School   Enrollment (a)       GT (b)      seats (c)   sections

Castle   1,956 (gr. 9-12)   134  (6.8%)      284         10
Kahuku   1,910 (gr. 7-12)   450 (23.6%)      900         38

School   teachers

Castle      9
Kahuku      17

(a) Number of students. (b) Numbers for both GT and AP. (c) Seats
represent total enrollment of GT and AP courses.

Table 3
Stanine Distribution of KHIS GT Students

                                      Percentage of total
               Number of GT students     GT students
classes of:      91-97    95-00       91-97    95-00


           2          0        1          0%   <01%
           3          3        7          1%     1%
           4         11       35          3%     7%
           5         44       84         12%    17%
           6         71      106         20%    22%
           7        100      128         28%    27%
           8         69       68         20%    14%
           9         55       52         16%    11%

Note. Percentages may not equal 100% due to rounding.

Table 4
KHIS GT Program Ethnic Distribution

                         Total school 1994    GT 1991   GT 1996

Ethnic group                     %            %    #     %    #

Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian       35            16    8   28   31
Non-Hawaiian Polynesian         28            23   12   19   21
Caucasian                       24            37   19   28   31
Filipino                         6             6    3    8    9
Non-Filipino Asian               5            12    6   12   13
All others                       3             6    3    4    4
Total                           51           109

Note. Percentages may not equal 100% due to rounding.

Table 5
Thoughts and Feelings About Classes

On the whole, how do you find your classes at Kahuku?

                                     Somewhat         Not
                      Challenging   challenging   challenging

GT-AP students            47%           51%            2%
Non-GT students           29%           61%            9%
Former GT students        10%           77%           13%

On the whole, how much do you feel you are learning at Kahuku?

                         A lot         Some        Not much

GT-AP students            66%           30%            4%
Non-GT students           46%           46%            8%
Former GT students        31%           47%           22%

On the whole, how do you feel about the GT program at Kahuku?

                       Positive      Negative
                       response      response     No response

A. I'm happy I'm in GT OR I regret being in GT now.

Section A responses       71%            8%           21%

B. It's hard, but I can handle it OR It's too hard.

Section B responses       73%           12%           15%

C. I'm doing well OR I'm doing poorly.

Section C responses       64%           13%           23%

D. I hope to continue in GT OR I'd like to quit being in GT.

Section D responses       72%            7%           21%
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Author:Awaya, Allen
Publication:Journal for the Education of the Gifted
Geographic Code:1U9HI
Date:Dec 22, 2001
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