How being poor and gifted is like skiing in Trinidad – and why that matters in NC

Gay and gifted: A double challenge

Educators meet in Charlotte despite concerns about North Carolina’s reputation on LGBTQ issues.
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Educators meet in Charlotte despite concerns about North Carolina’s reputation on LGBTQ issues.

If you give a skiing test to people from Trinidad and people from Canada, you shouldn’t be surprised if the Canadians trounce their counterparts from a tropical climate, says professor Frank Worrell.

And when you give IQ tests to children of poverty and children of plenty you get similar results.

The reason is that both tests measure not just native ability but developed skills, says Worrell, who is a native of Trinidad and an expert on gifted education with University of California Berkeley’s graduate school of education.

“Giftedness is not a personality trait. It’s a state of education,” he told a crowd of educators in Charlotte Thursday. “Giftedness is an end product. School is a setting that allows us to encourage those possibilities.”

About 2,800 people gathered at the Charlotte Convention Center on Thursday for the National Association for Gifted Children’s annual convention. One of the main themes was why low-income, black and Hispanic students are consistently less likely to be labeled gifted than white, Asian and more affluent peers – and what to do about that.

Ignoring that challenge means forfeiting the potential of an ever-growing segment of the American population, said keynote speaker Angel Harris, a Duke University sociology professor who has written a book about gifted minority students.

“We are spinning our wheels when it comes to trying to find solutions,” Harris said.

NAGC Angel Harris
Duke University sociology professor Angel Harris speaks at the National Association for Gifted Children convention in Charlotte on Thursday. Ann Doss Helms

In May, The Charlotte Observer and The (Raleigh) News & Observer published a three-part investigative report exploring state data that shows low-income students in North Carolina are less likely than non-poor counterparts to get into gifted programs and get other high-level academic opportunities.

North Carolina's public schools are failing to help thousands of low-income children who have shown they are smart enough to handle advanced work. A Charlotte Observer/(Raleigh) News & Observer investigation scours seven years of data and finds tr

Harris and Worrell say an array of tests consistently yield lower results for low-income and minority students.

“When we ask the question, ‘Are test scores biased?,’ the answer is no,” Worrell said. Likewise, he said, while individual teachers may be biased, research consistently shows that teachers help steer more students of poverty and color into gifted programs.

“Teachers are digging deeper into the pool,” Worrell said.

The key, Worrell and other speakers said, is offering more students the enrichment and challenge to develop their potential – opportunities some students may get at home.

“We’re not trying to identify fully developed talent,” Worrell said. “We’re trying to identify potential talent.”


In a series of lectures and workshops, the educators explored ways to identify potential, provide long-term mentoring support, offer summer and weekend programs that develop skills and include families in mentoring programs. Providing more high-level education and support will produce more gifted students, Worrell said.

“We decide who is gifted and who is not in our schools, in our classrooms,” he said.

Organizers said the uproar over North Carolina’s House Bill 2, the notorious “bathroom bill” that limited LGBTQ protection, raised questions about whether to pull the meeting from Charlotte. The national and state groups “strongly opposed North Carolina’s HB2 and unjust policies that remained after its repeal by the state legislature,” but decided to continue with the Charlotte conference.

P.J. Sedillo, a New Mexico professor who leads the group’s GLBTQ Network, said people recognized that the city of Charlotte “actually isn’t the issue because Charlotte is extremely supportive.” He said the most important thing is to support gifted students who may face “a double whammy” of social stigma based on high intelligence and sexual orientation or gender identification.

“We want to actually honor and support our gay gifted youth,” Sedillo said. “We need to be there for them and support who they are.”

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms