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L.A. schools on sharper lookout for gifted students — and they find them

May 8, 2010 | 11:32 pm

Second-grader Emariye Louden would debate just about anything with his mother from the time he could talk. At 4, he knew his letters, spelled his name and memorized birthdays and phone numbers.

His mother figured he was smart, but odds are that until recently no one at his school would have singled him out for special attention.

Few students were being recognized as academically gifted at 99th Street Elementary in South Los Angeles, a common scenario at campuses that enroll low-income minority students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

That's beginning to change.

Last year, Emariye's school and three others began testing nearly all second-graders to see who qualified as gifted. And they're finding many students like Emariye.

The initiative was launched by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which manages a group of historically low-performing campuses on behalf of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

"It's allowed us to ramp up our expectations for children," said Angela Bass, the nonprofit's superintendent of instruction. At many schools, "we've missed the fact that our children are really talented. We need to make sure our teachers know that, our parents know that and our students know they are gifted."

The year before the partnership took over in 2008, L.A. Unified found no gifted students at 99th Street. Last year the new management, working with district psychologists, found 13. At Ritter Elementary, the number went from two to eight; at Figueroa Street, from zero to 21; at Sunrise, from six to 32.

The goal is to recognize and nurture students of exceptional ability, but there's also a broader message: Poor urban children have just as much potential as students elsewhere. And habitually overlooking their talents can hold them back, making them less likely to apply for or get into college-track honors and Advanced Placement classes.

Across the district, white students — 8.4% of L.A. Unified's enrollment — make up about 23% of those designated as gifted. And Asians — 3.6% of the district — make up 16.4% of the district's gifted students.

Read the full story here.

--Howard Blume