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Who Needs a Test to Say My Child Is Gifted?

Gifted and Talented Expert Advice from Rita Culross, Ph.D.

Q: Not all schools use the services of a school psychologist to test for giftedness -- our school does not supply services based on test scores. What difference does a score make? If my daughter is performing above the work she is given, then she needs something different. If she scored 97 on the ITBS, then why does she need an IQ test? Isn't it the child's classroom performance and getting what she needs in school that counts?

A: You raise some good points that speak to "best practice" issues in gifted education.

Schools that assess children for gifted programs - or, for that matter, for special education -- often rely on different types of professionals to provide information about the child. Teachers or parents are often the initial referral sources for identifying gifted children and they provide important information about current behavior and performance.

Once a referral is made, the school may elect to test the child using individual and group measures of intelligence, creativity, leadership, and/or achievement. The testing may be done by one or more individuals who are trained to administer the various types of tests. School psychologists, educational diagnosticians, or even classroom teachers may be involved in the assessment process.

The tests or selection criteria that are used ideally reflect the goals of the program for which the child is being considered. For example, if the program emphasizes an accelerated approach to academic subjects, it is likely that intelligence and achievement tests will be given. On the other hand, students selected for talent programs in the performing arts often audition in front of a panel of professional artists or musicians. Most assessment specialists believe that multiple perspectives -- both from individuals and from different assessment instruments -- are likely to provide the most accurate measure of whether or not a child is gifted. Testing may also be done not only to assess whether the child qualifies for a particular program, but also to identify the child's strengths and weaknesses for instructional planning.

Testing is often done to predict future performance in educational settings. Indeed, if a child is already performing at a certain level, it is unlikely that the testing will show that the child would be expected to perform below her current level of functioning.

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Rita Culross is Associate Dean, College of Education, and Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction at Louisiana State University. Culross has served as the consulting school psychologist for a public school elementary gifted program, and has written a book and several journal articles on gifted education.


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