Equity by design: How the Naglieri General Ability Test content and scoring promotes diversity and inclusion

Equity by design: How the Naglieri General Ability Test content and scoring promotes diversity and inclusion

It’s easy to recognize that gifted education programs have the power to change lives. Longitudinal studies have demonstrated that when students with high ability have access to gifted and talented services, many blossom into high-achieving adults, poised to make significant contributions to society1,2. However, the barriers to entry often include achievement and intelligence tests, which can present a greater barrier for some students than others. Specifically, achievement and intelligence tests have been known to contain both content and scoring methods that inadvertently disadvantage historically marginalized groups3.

In this blog post, we will briefly explore the issue of underrepresentation in gifted programs and discuss how some existing screening tools and practices perpetuate underrepresentation. We will then consider how the Naglieri General Ability Tests4 were designed to mitigate bias in the gifted student identification process. Specifically, we will examine how the design of the test content and how recent updates to the available scoring methods allow students from all backgrounds to readily demonstrate the full extent of their abilities.

Underrepresentation in gifted programs

The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) recognizes gifted students as individuals who perform, or have the capacity to perform, at a higher level than that of their peers of the same age, experience, and environment5. It goes without saying that the potential to outperform one’s peers is not unique to any given demographic group. There are students from every racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic group who possess gifts and talents beyond that of their peers, warranting access to educational enrichment. Nevertheless, youth from diverse backgrounds have historically been grossly underrepresented in gifted programming. The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights reports that Black and Hispanic students account for 42% of all students enrolled yet only comprise 28% of students enrolled in gifted programs.

Conversely, White students account for 49% of all students enrolled but comprise 57% of students enrolled in gifted programs. Similarly, English Language Learners account for 11% of students enrolled, but fewer than 3% of students enrolled in gifted programs are English Language Learners6. A recent study also found that 52% of students are eligible for free/reduced lunch, but in some states, as few as 3% are identified as gifted7.

The underrepresentation of youth from minority groups is a persistent challenge. Two specific factors contributing to underrepresentation include test content favoring certain groups of students while disadvantaging others and test scoring based on reference groups that don’t adequately represent the students being tested. Let’s explore both issues and unpack how the Naglieri General Ability Tests are designed to mitigate them.

Test content as a contributing factor

The achievement and intelligence tests typically used for gifted screening are often used under the assumption that differences in test scores between groups of students can be attributed to mental ability because all students have had the same fundamental exposure to the subject matter on the test3. However, many gifted screening tests invoke concepts and vocabulary that figure prominently in the dominant culture (i.e., White, middle class, native English speakers) but that are inherently less familiar and less meaningful to students who were raised in diverse cultural or socioeconomic settings, or who are English language learners. Thus, many tests unwittingly bring to bear a knowledge divide that makes it less likely that students from minority groups will be able to perform at the level required to access gifted programs8,9.

The Naglieri General Ability Tests emphasize how students think, not what they know.

The Naglieri General Ability Tests were built around the guiding principle that giftedness is a function of how a child thinks, not how much they know. In other words, a gifted student has a high level of general ability that enables them to think through and solve complex problems, regardless of their previous experiences, learning opportunities, and associated knowledge.

To ensure that the Naglieri General Ability Tests emphasize thinking and to minimize the influence of previous knowledge, the following test design strategies were used:

  • The test items were constructed using diagrams, numbers, and pictures to minimize the reliance on acquired academic skills and reduce dependence on English as the language of administration.
  • Analyses were conducted to screen items for bias, and we revised or removed as needed.
  • Cultural experts carefully reviewed all items to ensure that the selected images avoided content that could be interpreted differently across cultures.
  • Questions were designed such that responses could be submitted using a visual multiple-choice format, ensuring that the items could be solved regardless of the language used by the student.
  • The test instructions were turned into animated videos that show students what they need to do rather than verbally telling them what they need to do, reducing dependence on English as the language of administration.

The confluence of these design elements is a set of tests that are appropriate for students from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds. For a success story that shows how the Naglieri General Ability Tests’ design fosters equitable identification, check out our recent blog, Unlocking potential with MHS’ Naglieri General Ability Tests.

Test scoring as contributing factor: The importance of both national and local norms

Historically, identifying gifted students has largely been based on national norms, which involves comparing students against a reference sample that reflects the demographic composition of the broader country. Many states explicitly require national norms for gifted identification purposes because national norms provide a uniform standard for comparison, which is thought to promote fairness10.

However, the challenge with using a uniform standard as the point of comparison for students across all schools is that not all schools are uniform, and variability exists in the types of students who attend different schools across the country. Schools typically reflect the demographic composition of their neighborhoods and can vary dramatically. For example, it’s not uncommon to have a mix of Title I and non-Title I schools within a given district, and using the same reference sample across these schools will yield very different rates of gifted student identification in each of those settings. For this reason, there has been growing interest in using local norms that compare students to others in the same grade within a given school building, subdistrict, or the entire school district10,11. Local norms ensure that in contexts where the school or district’s population is economically, linguistically, ethnically, or racially diverse, student’s scores are compared to a reference sample that more precisely reflects the characteristics of their peers11.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to scoring gifted screening tests. Each district and/or individual school must exercise their own good judgment in determining which scoring approach is most likely to facilitate the equitable identification of gifted students. The Naglieri General Ability Tests now offer both local and national grade-based norms to ensure that all districts and/or schools can use the norm sample that is optimally suited to their unique circumstances and objectives. For some quick guidelines on when to use the Naglieri General Ability Tests’ national norms vs local norms, please see our video on Naglieri General Ability Tests National Vs Local Norms.

In closing, for all students with high ability, gifted testing represents an inflection point that can shape the course of their future. For a disproportionate number of diverse students, gifted testing can often preclude key opportunities to realize one’s full potential. The Naglieri General Ability Tests were carefully designed to change this outlook. More generalizable test content and scoring methods are just two ways the Naglieri General Ability Tests foster equity by design.

Interested in learning more about Naglieri General Ability Tests? Get in touch with a member of our team today.


[1]Lubinski, D. (2016). From Terman to today: A century of findings on intellectual precocity. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 900–944. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654316675476

[2]Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. P. (2021). Intellectual Precocity: What Have We Learned Since Terman? Gifted Child Quarterly, 65(1), 3–28. https://doi.org/10.1177/0016986220925447

[3]Peters, S., & Engerrand, K. (2016). Equity and Excellence: Proactive Efforts in the Identification of Underrepresented Students for Gifted and Talented Services. Gifted Child Quarterly, 60. https://doi.org/10.1177/0016986216643165

[4]Naglieri, J. A., Brulles, D., & Lansdowne, K. (2021). Naglieri General Ability Tests. Multi-Health Systems Inc.

[5]National Association for Gifted Children (2018). Key Considerations in Identifying and Supporting Gifted and Talented Learners: A Report from the 2018 NAGC Definition Task Force. Presented to the NAGC Board of Directors.
Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED600214

[6]US Department of Education (2016). Civil Rights Data Collection. Retrieved from ocrdata.ed.gov

[7]De Brey, C., Snyder, T. D., Zhang, A., & Dillow, S. A. (2021). Digest of Education Statistics 2019 (NCES 2021-009). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

[8]Brulles, D. & Naglieri, J. A. (2022). A social justice approach to developing equity and diversity in gifted programming. In Nyberg, J. & Manzone, J. (Eds.) Creating Equitable Services for the Gifted: Protocols for Identification, Implementation, and Evaluation. https://www.igi-global.com/chapter/a-social-justice-approach-to-developing-equity-and-diversity-in-gifted-programming/290595

[9]Hodges, J., Tay, J., Maeda, Y., & Gentry, M. (2018). A meta-analysis of gifted and talented identification practices. Gifted Child Quarterly, 62(2), 147–174. https://doi.org/10.1177/0016986217752107

[10]Peters, S. J., Makel, M. C., & Rambo-Hernandez, K. (2021). Local Norms for Gifted and Talented Student Identification: Everything You Need to Know. Gifted Child Today, 44(2), 93–104. https://doi.org/10.1177/1076217520985181

[11]Peters, S. J., Rambo-Hernandez, K., Makel, M. C., Matthews, M. S., & Plucker, J. A. (2019). Effect of Local Norms on Racial and Ethnic Representation in Gifted Education. AERA Open, 5(2), 2332858419848446. https://doi.org/10.1177/2332858419848446

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