Message from the Director: How Kids Feel About School Matters

by Dr. Megan Foley-Nicpon, Belin-Blank Center Director

In 2018, Saba Ali, Susan Assouline, Duhita Mahatmya, and I were awarded a US Department of Education JAVITS grant titled, Culturally responsive talent identification and career exploration (TICE). The overall goal of the project has been to broaden participation of underrepresented students in talented and gifted programming and to increase opportunities for academic and career achievement. Our team, which includes several graduate students and Emily Ladendorf from the Belin-Blank Center, has accomplished a lot in the past four and a half years. Now it’s time to share our findings!

Last week, our work was published in High Ability Studies, an academic journal that examines developing potential across disciplines. The tile of the paper is Patterns of high ability and underrepresented students’ subject-specific psychosocial strengths: A latent profile analysis. While this title may seem a little intimidating to those outside of academia, the underlying idea is both simple and important: bright underrepresented students are not all the same, particularly when it comes to their approach to and feelings about academics. 

Led by Duhita Mahatmya, we took a theoretical approach to understanding patterns of psychosocial and academic strengths among 240 middle school students who participated in the TICE program. We measured students’ skill in reading, mathematics, and science and their beliefs about these skills. We also looked at students’ career interests, goals, and outcome expectations. Finally, we inventoried their academic goals. From these assessments, we identified student profiles – that is, we grouped students with similar traits. We labeled these groups as follows:

  • Uninspired
  • Confident but Directionless
  • Humanities Focused
  • STEM Focused
  • Confident and Highly Capable

Students in these categories did not differ based on whether they were in their school’s gifted program, their abilities, or whether they had a disability. That means that a student identified for the gifted program was just as likely to be in the Uninspired group as the Confident and Highly Capable group.  Likewise, students of equally high academic potential appeared across all groups.  Students’ strengths vary widely, making it important for educators to tailor interventions based on the psychosocial profiles that students bring to the classroom. For example, a teacher would talk about future career options differently with an Uninspired student than a student who is Confident and sure of their future path.  This kind of differentiation in approach becomes particularly important for students from underrepresented backgrounds, who may not have the support they need to thrive.

There is diversity among talented students, both in their domains of talent and in their psychosocial presentation. Knowing a student’s academic abilities is not enough – knowing their psychosocial strengths is important, too!

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