Ball State University's Teachers College has been awarded a $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to develop and implement an inclusive approach to identifying and supporting gifted students with disabilities.

The five-year award is part of the Office of Elementary & Secondary Education's Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program. Since 1988, the federal initiative has funded projects that support evidence-based research, demonstration projects, innovative strategies, and similar activities that enhance elementary and secondary schools’ capacity to identify gifted and talented students and meet their unique educational needs.

"Appropriate identification of both giftedness and disabilities is imperative to ensure students receive appropriate support services in school. However, traditional identification systems have not resulted in equitable identification or service provision for gifted students with disabilities," said Dr. Lisa Rubenstein professor of Educational Psychology at Ball State and project director/co-principal investigator for the grant. “We are grateful to have the support of the U.S. Department of Education as we work to shift the current educational narrative for gifted students with disabilities, promote equity in gifted programming, and develop methods to meet the needs of educators, school psychologists, school counselors, and, most importantly, our brilliant students."

For this project, titled "Project Brilliance," Ball State's Teachers College will partner with teams from the University of Florida, led by co-principal investigator Dr. Kathrin Maki, assistant professor of School Psychology, and the University of San Diego, led by co-principal investigator Dr. Lisa Ridgley, associate director of research. The group will partner with several large school districts that serve significant proportions of students from traditionally under-identified, underserved, and/or marginalized backgrounds.

The project will focus on third-grade students, as many schools identify students as gifted in second grade—positioning Project Brilliance to identify gifted students who have been initially overlooked by their schools—and because students’ end-of-third-grade reading skills are highly predictive of future educational outcomes.

Project Brilliance will have four primary goals, each of which has its own set of objectives:

  • Goal 1: Identify and monitor giftedness/talent development within multiple areas (i.e., creativity, leadership, and learning abilities) within all students, especially students with disabilities and those from marginalized backgrounds.
  • Goal 2: Develop and implement a strengths-based, after-school program, “Brilliant Storytellers,” to increase identification and development of students’ creativity, leadership, and learning abilities.
  • Goal 3: Implement intensive targeted reading interventions to identify and support students with reading needs and disabilities who may be gifted.
  • Goal 4: Build capacity among school personnel to identify/serve gifted students with disabilities.

The project will also include the use of doctorate and undergraduate students to serve as data collectors, primary leaders, and instructors of the Brilliant Storytellers curriculum.

"I am proud of Dr. Rubenstein and the Project Brilliance team for embracing this meaningful educational endeavor,” said Dr. Anand R. Marri, Ball State Teachers College dean. “We know that gifted students come from all walks of life. Through the use of assessment suites, after-school programming, in-school reading interventions, and professional learning opportunities, I am confident that this project will be a game-changer in helping schools across the country ensure all gifted students receive appropriate support services."