UNION CITY -- Two years ago, New Haven school district officials set out to make their Gifted and Talented Education program more equitable.

The process for identifying gifted students was flawed and did not reflect the scientific understanding of "giftedness," they said.

That resulted in a disproportionate percentage of white and Asian GATE participants, while black and Latino students lagged.

"We know through research that giftedness and talent is equally distributed across all ethnicities," Superintendent Kari McVeigh said.

In addition, while girls and boys make up equal percentages of the student population, one group or the other was disproportionately represented at various schools.

So they put the program on hold for a year and established a committee of teachers, administrators and parents from the district's elementary and middle schools to explore the problem and find a way to fix it.

The committee proposed an improved identification process in January, most of which was implemented in the spring.

Those efforts have had the desired effect, according to a report released last week.

Latino students, who make up 34 percent of the district's fourth-graders, made up only 11 percent of the fourth-grade GATE population. Now that number is 31 percent. Black students, making up 9 percent, have increased their GATE participation from 3 percent to 10 percent.

Meanwhile, the white GATE population has dropped from 15 percent to 10 percent, more closely reflecting their total fourth-grade population of 9 percent. Chinese students, who make up 7 percent of the population, used to be 23 percent of the GATE program. Now that number is 9 percent. The number of Vietnamese GATE students has dropped from 9 percent to 4 percent -- equal to their percentage of the total population.

The Asian Indian, Filipino and "other" GATE students already closely reflected their percentage of the total population and continue to do so.

"The results are remarkable," Chief Academic Officer Wendy Gudalewicz said.

"The students that we identified as gifted and talented in this district represent the ethnic makeup of our student body."

The new process uses two ways to identify GATE students -- through academic achievement and using a checklist system to find students who are gifted and talented in other ways, such as creativity and leadership.

The academic pathway gives students a numerical score based on their performance in reading and math and, for fourth-graders, language. Officials then identify the top 5 percent districtwide within each racial and ethnic subgroup in each of the academic areas, reviewing the results for proportional gender representation.

The other pathway to the program is through a nomination process to identify students with unique learning styles, creative ability, leadership skills or artistic ability. These students must be nominated by two adults, at least one of whom must be employed at the student's school.

Parents were notified of GATE determinations this month and can appeal starting Sept. 30.

Contact Rob Dennis at 510-353-7010.