Above-level tests are a part of most talent search models that help gifted students identify their academic strengths. Students who participate in above-level testing take assessments earlier than the tests were designed to be administered. For example, a fourth, fifth, or sixth grade student can take the ACT EXPLORE®, which is designed for eighth graders, or seventh grade students can take the SAT or ACT, which are designed for high school juniors and seniors as college entrance exams. When you decide whether your child should take an above-level test, consider these facts:
Above-level assessments show your child’s actual performance level.
Most grade-level achievement and aptitude tests are simply too easy for gifted children and don’t measure the extent of their ability. We call this problem a ceiling effect.
A common analogy for the ceiling effect is measuring every child’s height with a five-foot measuring stick. This is a fine measurement tool for children who are five feet tall and below, but it does not inform us about children’s actual heights when they are taller than five feet. Above-level tests raise this ceiling to better measure the performance of students who may otherwise bump their heads on grade-level test ceilings.
Some parents may believe that they do not need another test to confirm that their child is academically gifted. However, for these students, above-level tests provide far more precise feedback and utility than grade-level tests. In addition to being a better measure of a student’s actual performance capability, above-level tests are also useful for identifying subject-specific talent. For example, if your child performs above average in all subjects but scores on the same level as high school seniors in reading, this indicates that your child may need further acceleration or differentiation in reading courses specifically.
Additionally, what you can do with above-level test results differs greatly from other tests. As parents, we want to make sure that our children can take advantage of all the appropriate opportunities so that they can reach their greatest potential. Above-level test results act as a tool to help students, their parents, and educators create an action plan for gifted students’ education.
Above-level test scores allow you to better justify making curriculum changes for your child or pursue opportunities outside of school.
When you compare your child’s scores to his or her current curriculum, you can see whether your child’s education plan appropriately challenges him or her. If not, you can use these scores to advocate to your child’s school or gifted program coordinator. Some parents see what their child’s school currently offers and think that test scores cannot prompt any more change. Your child’s school may seem to have limited resources for differentiated learning or acceleration. However, if your child’s above-level test scores justify making further changes to his or her curriculum, the school may be able to make accommodations that you were not aware of. Offering above-level test scores as unbiased evidence for your child’s strengths can help a school see that your child needs further curriculum changes. These changes can fall within common classroom differentiation practices (e.g., placing your child in a more accelerated math course) or more creative changes (e.g., independent study projects, mentorships with professionals, online learning courses, etc.). If you advocate for changes within your child’s school and opportunities or resources still seem too limited, then you know to look at outside enrichment sources with a talent search program, in your community, or through other opportunities.
Taking an above-level-test does not have to be stressful if you approach it as a learning opportunity.
By taking the same test as the older students for which it is designed, above-level testers should expect to be challenged. Your child may find most tests to be easy, and may be used to knowing all the answers. When your child takes an above-level test, this could be the first time that a test feels very difficult.
Some parents cite concerns about their child’s readiness for such tests because of their age. You have unique insights concerning your child’s emotional and academic readiness for above-level tests, but a conversation with your child might reveal that he or she is ready for a challenge. You can emphasize that the test’s goal is to show your child’s strengths, not to see if he or she can master the test.
Although above-level tests are not intended as practice tests for the ACT or SAT, above-level testing can ease your child’s worries about taking these assessments. By the time your child takes the SAT or the ACT in high school, he or she will have already experienced the test in a low-stakes-context. Your child will know what to expect and the test will seem less intimidating.
Duke TIP does not recommend that above-level test takers participate in excessive test preparation. Above-level tests are not meant to be a source of stress for your child. This test is diagnostic in nature, so it is sufficient for your child to be familiar with the test structure, timing of each section, and recommended guessing strategies to complete the test.
Most talent searches offer need-based testing fee waivers or fee reductions.
If taking an above-level test through a national talent search, ask the talent search program what requirements or procedures are necessary to obtain a testing fee waiver or reduction before you register your child for an above-level test. If travelling to a testing site is a potential problem, make sure to register early to ensure the most convenient testing site, and talk to your child’s gifted program coordinator to explore possible options.
Assouline, S. G., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2012). The talent search model of gifted identification. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 30, 45-59.
Jarosewich, T., & Stocking, V. B. (2003). Talent search: Student and parent perceptions of out-of-level testing. Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 14, 137-150.
Lee, S. Y., Matthews, M. S., & Olszewski-Kubilius, P. (2008). A national picture of talent search and talent search educational programs. Gifted Child Quarterly, 52(1), 55-69.
Olszewski‐Kubilius, P., & Lee, S. Y. (2005). How schools use talent search scores for gifted adolescents.Roeper Review, 27(4), 233-240.