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Gifted programs racially unbalanced

ORLANDO - Minorities make up a third of Florida's public school enrollment overall, but only 11 percent of the students in classrooms for gifted pupils. Statistically, 2 percent of any population should qualify as gifted. The racial makeup of programs for bright students should roughly mirror the racial breakdown of a school system.

But it doesn't.

There are fewer than 3,000 black students, 2,000 Hispanic students and 1,300 Asian students spread among gifted programs in Florida's 67 school districts. Almost 54,000 students were enrolled in gifted classes during the 1988-89 school year.

The small number of minorities in Florida's programs for gifted students reinforces stereotypes that minorities are less intelligent than whites and squanders talent, educators working to balance the racially lopsided programs told the Orlando Sentinel in a story published Monday.

Reasons behind the problem include the use of standardized tests to measure intellect, teachers' lack of understanding about gifted children and parents' lack of understanding about who qualifies for the programs.

Last month, a statewide steering committee for gifted programs decided that increasing minority enrollment in the programs should be a priority.

Although Florida spent $145,000 in 1983 and 1984 on such studies, the number of minorities in gifted programs has increased by 3 percent since 1983.

The state requires an IQ score of at least 130 to qualify for gifted programs. Students also must meet a number of subjective criteria, such as high levels of creativity and good problem-solving skills.