Grants to Help Improve Gifted and Talented Identification Process in Arkansas

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Accurately identifying and providing challenging educational opportunities for gifted students is an important topic of concern in education policy across the nation and in the state of Arkansas.

Jonathan Wai, an assistant professor and 21st Century Chair in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas, along with collaborators, are affiliated with two grants to help tackle these issues.

The first grant, awarded by the Walton Family Foundation, is a two-year research project focused on improving the gifted and talented identification process in Arkansas. This project, titled "Making the Case for Universal Screening in Gifted Identification in Arkansas" totals $179,482.

The grant, led by Dustin Seaton of the Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative, and Sarah McKenzie, director of the U of A Office for Education Policy, seeks to improve the gifted identification process in Northwest Arkansas and across the state by evaluating the implementation of a universal screening measure in a number of NWA districts.

This research project will also determine how to improve the identification of gifted students across the state of Arkansas from underrepresented backgrounds in order to match them with challenging educational opportunities.

Seaton said, "We are really excited to have an expert in gifted educational research like Dr. Jonathan Wai in our backyard. As soon as we were introduced, I wanted to work with him on growing our gifted and talented programs throughout the Northwest Arkansas region.

"The idea for our grant started with a conversation about what we are currently doing in practice with ways we could best implement what the latest research says is best practices for identifying underrepresented student populations as well as better identify students with needs for a GT program," he said.

Seaton said Wai is a brilliant mind and the community is lucky to have him as a resource for Northwest Arkansas school districts.

The second grant, awarded by the American Psychological Foundation Esther Katz Rosen Fund Grants program, totaling $30,000, is for a project with Joni M. Lakin, associate professor at Auburn University, titled "Finding the missing Einsteins: Expanding the breadth and depth of gifted identification."

This project aims to utilize three large-scale longitudinal datasets that span the last half century to determine which measures of reasoning—apart from math and verbal reasoning typically found in educational selection tests—might be fruitfully incorporated into gifted education selection procedures. For example, spatial reasoning, the ability to manipulate three-dimensional objects in one's mind's eye, is a skill highly useful among occupations ranging from machinists to mechanical engineers.

Lakin noted that Wai has been a thought leader in calling for greater attention to spatial talents in education.

"This grant is an opportunity to provide empirical evidence for the specific educational needs of these students, including groups that have been historically overlooked," she said.

Of these collaborations, Wai notes, "I hope that these research projects can inform gifted identification procedures in Arkansas and across the country and perhaps most importantly help provide opportunities for talented but disadvantaged students who need them most."


Jonathan Wai, assistant professor
Department of Education Reform


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