NASHUA, N.H. (AP) – School officials are searching for ways to make sure poor and minority children are fairly represented in programs for gifted and talented students.

Hispanic children make up 12 percent of the district’s students, but less than 2 percent of the enrollment in the gifted and talented program, Recognizing Extraordinary Abilities in Children (REACH).

Students who participate in the federal free and reduced lunch program also are underrepresented. They make up 31 percent of the district but only 8 percent of REACH.

School officials said they are trying to address the problem with new identification methods. The low representation doesn’t mean such students aren’t gifted but rather that the identification process needs to be improved, said Francia Barksdale, who has worked as a resource specialist for gifted and talented children for 16 years.

“We need to better at identifying a more diverse population,” she said. “The earlier you identify, the better.”

Students can be refer themselves to the program or can be referred by teachers, staff members or parents. Most are referred by teachers, but there also are many parents who have pushed to have their children included, she said. A referral does not guarantee acceptance into the program, which provides students with an individual action plan and more help in meeting their needs.

Barksdale wants the district to use a test called Exploring Potential in Children to help identify a wider variety of students. She also wants to form a group that would spend time with kindergarten and first-grade pupils to specifically look for gifted traits.

Acting Superintendent Christopher Hottel said the solution to the problem isn’t clearly defined, but he, too, wants to come up with something more equitable.

“It has to do with what are you looking for, first of all,” he said. “And are we looking equally across our entire population, are we testing in the right way?”

Unlike some states, New Hampshire doesn’t require school districts to offer such programs. Linda Burdick, president of the New Hampshire Association of Gifted Education, said that might be part of the problem.

“There’s no statewide directive,” she said. “So every district defines as they see fit.”