Giftedness can be very difficult to define and evaluate. Many school districts are mandated to identify their gifted students using a two tiered approach and answer the questions is this child gifted, and do they display a need for gifted support?
What Does It Mean to Be Gifted?
There is no simple definition that is universally accepted when it comes to describing who is a gifted student. While many states have programs designed to address the academic needs of gifted children, often they define giftedness as high achieving. In many cases that may be a misinterpretation.
The National Society for the Gifted and Talented offers recommendations and guidance to schools identifying gifted students based on the U.S. Department of Education's 1993 definition of gifted and talented students or "children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience or environment."
Testing for Giftedness
While gifted programming and identification requirements vary from state to state and district to district, assessments tend to include cognitive testing, achievement testing, input from parents and teachers, and behavioral checklists that are designed to identify characteristics of gifted students. Two of the most widely used cognitive, or IQ, assessments used in schools are the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Fourth Edition (WISC IV) and the Stanford Binet-Fifth Edition (SB5). Achievement tests vary, but commonly used, standardized assessments include the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test-Third Edition (WIAT III) and the Woodcock-Johnson-Third Edition (WJ-III). Some schools will used group administered cognitive and achievement test scores, such as those obtained from the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) and the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) as either a screening tool to determine who moves on for further testing instead of individualized testing.
Qualifying for Gifted Programs
Once data is collected, a student's scores are interpreted. Generally an IQ of 130 or above is considered within the Gifted Range, with increasingly higher scores falling under the categories Highly Gifted, Exceptionally Gifted and Profoundly Gifted. Achievement testing is reviewed to determine whether the student displays a need for gifted programming. Many school districts use achievement testing along with classroom teacher feedback and report card grades to determine a student's level of academic functioning, rather than looking solely at a standardized test which may not align with district standards. In order to qualify for gifted programming, students must meet eligibility for gifted ability (a minimum of a 130 IQ score) and display a need for gifted instruction that goes beyond what is taught within the general curriculum. When a child meets eligibility requirements, a Gifted Individualized Educational Plan (GIEP) will be developed and will include long and short-term goals and objectives based on the needs of that child. Progress will then be monitored by a case manager, usually a gifted support teacher.
Grades and group administered tests are not infallible, so during the process of screening for potential gifted students, many districts use behavioral checklists that are designed to identify characteristics common in gifted children. Created by Gail Ryser, Ph.D. and Kathleen McConnell, Ph.D, the Scales for Identifying Gifted Students (SIGS) is one instrument parents and teachers can use to rate students in the areas of General Intellectual Ability, Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Creativity and Leadership. The SIGS are normed based on a large sampling, and the scoring is similar to most standardized scores with 130 or above representing giftedness in that area.
Whether a state mandates gifted programming, as Pennsylvania does with Chapter 16 which outlines Special Education for Gifted Students, or not, it is up to the school to provide differentiated instruction based on that child's need. While many districts provide this through a gifted, talented or enrichment program, this is not always necessary or available. Parents and teachers can work together to advocate for students who are gifted and ensure they are being properly educated.
Much of the information in this article is based on the author's professional experience.