In responding to a parent’s concern about a one size fits all type of programming for her fourth grade son in the Consultant’s Corner, I described two factors that influence services: identification and programming. In this column, I will further explain these two factors and provide some tips for parents on how to find information about the identification procedure and work with school districts to develop appropriate services for their child.
The identification of gifted students is mandated in the majority of states with most of them allowing the school district or local education agency to determine its own procedures. Consequently, identification procedures vary between states and between school districts within the same state. State or school district guidelines may include requirements for phases in the identification process, the number and types of assessments, or specific cut-off scores (e.g., performance in the top two to five percent on a test).
While schools may have only one phase in their identification process, a multi-phase process is more common and may include a nomination or referral phase, a screening or identification phase, and a placement or selection phase. To begin the process, the school must notify the parents and obtain permission for any assessments that are not a part of the general education program so they are aware that their children are being considered for gifted and talented services. During the nomination or referral phase, a variety of sources such as teachers, parents, peers, counselors, and students themselves may refer a student who appears to need gifted and talented (GT) services. Specific assessments might include checklists, observations, portfolios of work, intelligence or achievement tests, or grades. A committee then reviews these assessments and makes recommendations for the next phase. During screening or identification, individually administered assessments are used to provide more in-depth information about the student such as interviews, individually administered intelligence or achievement tests, auditions, performance-based tasks, or products. All of the assessment information is organized and reviewed by the placement committee who makes recommendations for specific types of services.
When a multi-phase process is used, states or school districts often have guidelines that require multiple assessments. Recommended by the American Psychological Association and the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), multiple assessments provide a richer description of each student’s strengths and weaknesses that is useful in providing information for appropriate services and programs.
With variations in state and school guidelines, how might you learn about the specific identification procedures in your school? If your school district has a gifted program, contact the GT specialist, teacher, or principal to get a copy of the identification guidelines, which have been approved by the local Board of Trustees or School Board. If the school does not have a gifted program but you are aware that such programs exist in your state, contact your state’s education agency or NAGC state affiliate association.
Services should match the characteristics of the student. Depending on the student, these services may be delivered within the general education program, outside the program, or both. Types of services may include acceleration, individualization, or grouping.
Acceleration options include early entrance to school or college, skipping within a single subject area or whole grades:
- Advanced Placement Courses or the International Baccalaureate Programme—college-level courses that are offered in high school
- Concurrent enrollment—enrolling in a college course while still enrolled in high school
- Grade telescoping—two years of school curriculum is completed in one year or less), and
- Within-class acceleration—the teacher uses pretests to identify what knowledge a student has learned and not learned in a particular subject area and providing provides higher-grade level curriculum when necessary.
Grouping arrangements may include special schools, pull-out or resource classes, or cluster grouping:
- Special schools or full-time gifted classes, where gifted students are with other gifted students for the entire day,
- Pull-out or resource classes, where gifted students are with other gifted students for part of each day or week, and
- Cluster grouping within a grade level, where gifted students are placed in the same classroom with a teacher who is trained to work with gifted students.
Since gifted students are quite different from one another, grouping options are effective only if the curriculum is matched to the student. Individualization may include an individual education (or learning) plan (IEP), which identifies long and short-term goals and relates services in academic and social areas. IEPs are reviewed annually to ensure that the student is making progress. Part of a gifted student’s plan may involve independent study in an area of the student’s talent or interest; which may be guided by a professional who has special expertise in the area (a mentor).
Given the variety of service options that are available, how can parents collaborate with schools to ensure that their children receive services that match their talents and abilities? The first step is to become educated about the school’s program, state requirements, and service options for gifted students. Become involved in a local or state parent group. Next, develop an individual plan that matches your state and school requirements that you believe would benefit your child. Present your plan to the school principal, your child’s teacher, or the GT specialist. You will soon discover to what degree the school is willing to commit to your child’s education and what talent areas that the school is willing to address. You may then decide what additional outside of school activities would be important for the development of your child’s talent, such as private lessons, competitions, academic summer camps, or distance learning courses. You may even come to decide that a public school setting is not the best choice for your child and start to explore other options such as private schools or homeschooling. In most cases, remember that the school may not be able to provide for all aspects of your child’s education. However, you are your child’s best advocate. Keep involved!
—Susan Johnsen, PhD
Susan Johnsen is a professor in the department of educational psychology at Baylor University. She has written over 150 publications, including the Independent Study Program and Identifying Gifted/Talented Students: A Practical Guide.
- Identifying Gifted Students: A Practical Guide, by Susan K. Johnsen, Prufrock, 2004
- Re-forming Gifted Education: How Parents and Teachers Can Match the Program to the Child, by Karen B. Rogers, Great Potential, 2002