A Critical Call to Action: Equitable Access

Despite considerable academic conversation and study, underrepresentation of racially, culturally, ethnically, and linguistically different (RCELD) students and those with multiple exceptionalities (2e) persists in gifted and talented services and advanced courses. While a few programs across the country are making strides in this area, the problem continues to be pervasive, and the performance divide is growing.

The Data

Educators and the public tend to be aware of the Achievement Gap, but few are well versed in the Excellence Gap. According to Plucker and Peters (2016), “Excellence Gaps are differences between subgroups of students performing at the highest levels of achievement” (p. ix). Despite an increase in the number of students scoring at advanced levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, there has not been an increase in students from low-income backgrounds scoring at advanced levels. Therefore, the Excellence Gap has continued to increase over time and is present at all educational levels (Jack Kent Cooke Foundation [JKCF], 2019). Patrick et al. (2020) found several factors contributing to this disparity. Their research focused specifically on students who are Black and Latinx, but what they learned applies to all students who are RCELD or have multiple exceptionalities.

  • Students who are Black, Latinx, or from low-income backgrounds are underrepresented in gifted and talented services.
  • Many schools offer little to no advanced coursework, such as Algebra I for eighth-graders, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and dual credit courses.
  • Students who are Black and Latinx are disproportionately less likely to be in advanced courses even when their schools offer it. Schools that predominantly serve Black and Latinx students have fewer seats in advanced courses, and other schools that offer advanced courses do not enroll Black and Latinx students in those courses in representative numbers.

The JKCF (2020) reported that despite scoring in the top quartile academically, one-quarter of students from the bottom economic quartile do not take college entrance exams or apply to college.


The inequity illustrated by the Excellence Gap must be addressed in numerous ways. All stakeholders play a role in solving this educational crisis. The following recommendations may help a community address the Excellence Gap:

  • Employ best practices in the identification of children and youth as gifted and talented.
    • Utilize local norms in schools in which few children are identified as gifted and talented (Plucker & Peters, 2016).
    • Utilize universal screening to cast a wide net for the identification of children as gifted and talented (Plucker & Peters, 2016; Patrick, et al., 2020).
    • Utilize multiple measures, including alternative assessments, to ensure opportunities for advanced learning (Plucker & Peters, 2016).
  • Employ open enrollment/access to advanced coursework within a school and district, and ensure the policy is well known to students and parents.
  • Prepare students to participate in advanced learning opportunities by frontloading which includes scaffolding skills and concepts (Plucker & Peters, 2016).
  • Increase the number and sections of Advanced Placement courses to accommodate larger numbers of students (Patrick et al., 2020).               

Resources to Learn More

  • Acceleration Institute at the Belin-Blank Center (https://www.accelerationinstitute.org/)
  • Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (https://www.jkcf.org/)
  • The Education Trust (https://edtrust.org/)
Click here for a downloadable document


Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. (2019, July). New research brief: The Excellence Gap is growing. https://www.jkcf.org/our-stories/research-brief-excellence-gap/

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. (2020). What is the Excellence Gap? https://www.jkcf.org/our-research/what-is-the-excellence-gap/

Patrick, K., Socol, A., & Morgan, I. (2020, January). Inequities in advanced coursework: What’s driving them and what leaders can do. The Education Trust. https://edtrust.org/ resource/inequities-in-advanced-coursework/

Plucker, J. A., & Peters, S. J. (2016). Excellence Gaps in education: Expanding opportunities for talented youth. Harvard Education Press.

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