A Schematic Guide to the Assessment and Identification of African American Learners With Gifts and Talents

Fall 1993 Masthead

James M. Patton
The College of William & Mary
Williamsburg, VA

Serbrenia J. Sims
Ronald R. Sims and Associates
Williamsburg, VA


Previous research (Richert, 1987, VanTassel-Baska, Patton, & Prillaman, 1989) has found that individuals who are African American or who are from low socioeconomic status are at risk for inclusion in programs for the gifted and talented. Although African American learners compose approximately 16.2% of all students enrolled in American public schools, they make up only 8.4% of those enrolled in gifted programs (Alamprese & Erlanger, 1988). Among the reasons offered for this low representation have been the lack of a systematic, well-defined logic of inquiry for assessing and identifying gifts and talents among African American learners; overreliance on traditional assessment identification procedures; and the use of unidimensional IQ tests and other norm referenced tests. With this in mind, the purpose of this article is to offer a schematic guide to theory and development of assessment methodology and tests that should enhance our capacities to identify gifts and talents among African American learners that emphasize African American worldviews, ethos, and culture.

Developing a Theory of Assessment

Patton (1992) identifies three aspects of a “pure” African American philosophical system that could guide theory and development related to the identification and development of constructs of intelligence and giftedness, as well as subsequent selection of psychoeducational assessment methodologies and practices. They are:

  1. Metaphysics. The individual uses a holistic view of reality and tends to engage in synthetical and contextual thinking. Emphasis is placed on viewing the “whole” field and then understanding the interconnectedness of what might seem to be disparate parts of the field.
  2. Axiology. Person-to-person interaction is important. The individual is committed to developing strong social bonds that often transcend individual privileges.
  3. Epistemology. The individual places emphasis on emotions and feelings and is sensitive to emotional cues.

These orientations are considered “pure” because they reflect historical, classical, African oriented world views and ethos that form the foundation for the cultural themes of African Americans. Of course, not all African Americans embrace this “pure” philosophical system. Nevertheless, many African American learners relate strongly to this philosophical framework and reconstruct life experiences according to these world views. These philosophical world views, values, and behaviors auger for the development of assessment and identification systems that are grounded in pluralistic definitions and theories of giftedness and that include cognitive skills in addition to analytical abilities. Other manifestations of giftedness such as creativity, personality dispositions, and motivation states (Harris & Ford, 1991) must be included in definitions and theories of giftedness and subsequent assessment and identification systems, if they are to be responsive to the needs of African Americans.

Imperatives for Appropriate Assessment

Within the past 15 years, researchers have made advances toward the appropriate multidimensional assessment and identification of gifted African American learners. The following represents a synopsis of suggestions based on theory, research, and experiences that are considered effective in assessing and identifying gifted African American learners.

Screening—Hilliard (1976) and Torrance (1977) developed a checklist of rating scales for assessing the distinct social and psychological indicators of giftedness and creativity within a context of African American culture. Hilliard’s checklists, the “Who” and “O,” are based on the uniqueness and commonalities of African American cultures and place value on behavior that characterizes divergent experimentation, improvisation, inferential reasoning, and harmonious interaction with the environment (Hilliard, 1976). On the other hand, Torrance (1977) identified a set of behaviors of African Americans that provides the basis for the development of his Checklist of Creative Positives. He identified 18 characteristics that he called “creative positives” to be used to help identify culturally different students as gifted. The inclusion of these 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).

Identification—Historically, the 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, such as the Ravens Coloured, Standard, and Advanced Progressive Matrices, and the Matrix Analogies Test-Expanded and Short Form have been purported to be less culturally and class biased and thus show promise for increasing the number of African American students in gifted and talented programs.

Matrix and Profile Approaches—Several matrix and profile assessment models such as the Baldwin Identification Matrix and the Frasier Talent Assessment Profile take a more comprehensive approach to identifying gifted African American learners. These matrix and profile approaches require the collection of objective and subjective data from multiple sources (e.g., aptitude, achievement, performance, creativity, and psychosocial attributes). The information is then used to develop a profile to be used in the identification process.

Intervention Planning—Several curriculum-based assessment models such as The Program of Assessment, Diagnosis, and Instruction (Johnson, Starnes, Gregory, & Blaylock, 1985) and the Potentially Gifted Minority Student Project (Alamprese & Erlanger, 1988) have been documented as being useful in increasing the inclusion of African American learners in gifted and talented programs. These ongoing-activity programs use an identification-through-teaching (test, teach, retest) approach and employ several additional strategies that have resulted in increased numbers of African Americans being identified as gifted and talented.

More qualitative alternatives to paper and pencil tests have emerged recently. Some promising research emphasizes the use of portfolio and performance based assessments, biographical inventories, and motivational and attitudinal measures. These assessment approaches are thought to complement rather than supplant formal assessment tools.

Additional Research

Research and development is needed to advance test development and gifted education in several ways: 1) developing new and expanded visions about the constructs of intelligence and giftedness, 2) using pluralistic procedures for identifying gifted African Americans, 3) using curriculum based assessment models, which purport to improve the correspondence between testing and teaching the school’s curriculum, 4) increasing research on qualitative assessment approaches, 5) focusing on the unique traits and psychosocial characteristics of achieving African Americans, and 6) increasing research on uncovering intragroup differences in cognition, behavior, and motivation of African Americans.


We suggest that the assessment and identification of gifted and talented African American learners be driven by an assessment paradigm complementary to the African American world view and culture. Additionally, it is important to consider the relationships and links among African American world views, assessment theory and methodology, and desirable assessment and identification instruments and practices.

Alamprese, J. A., & Erlanger, W. J. (1988). No gift wasted: Effective strategies for educating highly able, disadvantaged students in mathematics and science: Vol. I. Findings. Washington, DC: Cosmos Corporation.
Frasier, M. (1989). A perspective on identifying black students for gifted programs. In C. J. Maker & S. W. Schiever (Eds.), Critical issues in gifted education: Defensible programs for cultural and ethnic minorities (Vol. II, pp. 213-255). Austin, TX: ProEd.
Harris, J. J., & Ford, D. Y. (1991). Identifying and nurturing the promise of gifted Black American children. Journal of Negro Education, 60(1), 3-18.
Hilliard, A. G. (1976). Alternatives to I.Q. testing: An approach to the identification of “gifted” minority children, Final Report. Sacramento, CA: Sacramento Division of Special Education, California Division of Special Education, California State Department of Education. (ERIC Document: Reproduction Service No. ED 147009)
Johnson, S. T., Starnes, W. T., Gregory, D., & Blaylock, A. (1985). Program of assessment, diagnosis, and instruction (PADI); Identifying and nurturing potentially gifted and talented minority students. The Journal of Negro Education, 54(3), 416-430.
Patton, J. M. (1992). Assessment and identification of African-American learners with gifts and talents. Exceptional Children, 59(2), 150-159.
Richert, E. S. (1987). Rampant problems and promising practices in the identification of disadvantaged gifted students. Gifted Child Quarterly, 31, 149-154.
Torrance, E. P. (1977). Discovery and nurturance of giftedness in the culturally different. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
VanTassel-Baska, J., Patton, J., & Prillaman, D. (1989). Disadvantaged gifted learners at-risk for educational attention. Focus on Exceptional Children, 22(3), 1-16.


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