State Report Card Shows Most States Struggle to Support High-Achieving Students with Financial Need

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation analysis compares state support for academically talented students from low- and moderate-income families


LANSDOWNE, Va. – Despite small signs of progress, state policies nationwide continue to fail to support the needs of high-ability students with financial need, according to a new report released today by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

The report, “Equal Talents, Unequal Opportunities, Second Edition” is a follow-up to the first edition, published in 2015, that measures the extent to which states are addressing the needs of high-ability students from low- and moderate-income backgrounds.

“Year after year, in every state and community in our nation, students from families with financial need are less likely than their peers to reach advanced levels of academic performance, even when demonstrating the potential to do so,” said Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Cooke Foundation. “Our country needs to develop every child’s talent to their full potential. To do so, we must start by ensuring that all students have access to advanced educational offerings.”

States were assessed on two measures: excellence, the extent to which states achieve advanced learning outcomes for all students, and closing excellence gaps, the degree to which low-income students are equally likely to achieve high levels of academic excellence as other students. Among the key findings, 14 states received a grade of a B or better for their work supporting excellence. However, no states received a B or better for closing excellence gaps.

“Our latest report finds a greater commitment to promising practices, such as policies that require schools to identify talented students. When it comes to closing excellence gaps, however, the results were disappointing. States in general have implemented few policies that should be in place to ensure equal access to advanced learning opportunities,” said Dr. Jonathan Plucker. Plucker is a co-author of the report, and serves as the Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development at Johns Hopkins University and president-elect of the National Association for Gifted Children.

In addition to examining individual state policies, the report offers six recommendations to guide states on addressing excellence and equity:

  1. Attend to both excellence and excellence gaps.
  2. Maximize identification of students to receive advanced learning opportunities.
  3. Ensure that all high-ability students have access to advanced educational services.
  4. Remove barriers that prevent high-ability students from moving through coursework at a pace that matches their achievement level.
  5. Hold local education agencies (LEAs) accountable for the performance of high-ability students from all economic backgrounds.
  6. Create a comprehensive talent development plan that guides advanced students through education from K through 12.

This second edition of “Equal Talents, Unequal Opportunities” was co-written by Dr. Jonathan Plucker of Johns Hopkins University; Dr. Jennifer Glynn, director of research and evaluation at the Cooke Foundation; Grace Healy of Johns Hopkins University and Cooperative Educational Services; and Dr. Amanda Dettmer of Johns Hopkins University. To view the complete report, visit

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About the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

The Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the foundation has awarded $175 million in scholarships to more than 2,300 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive counseling and other support services. The foundation has also provided over $97 million in grants to organizations that serve such students.

Media contact: Amber Styles, 703-723-5647,