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Testing Bilingual Kids for Giftedness

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

Q: I moved to the U.S. three years ago with my two sons. My youngest, now ten and in fifth grade, has always showed me that he is talented when he is interested -- he gets bored very easily. He uses all the tape, staples, paper, boards, etc. that he can find. He is always thinking of ways to make a machine. He loves to draw and is very good in math. I have been trying for years for him to be tested but the teachers don't see what I see in him. He was tested in third grade but at that time he had been here for only one year and was still learning English. What can I do to know if he is gifted? How can I get the school to test him?

A: Identifying bilingual children for gifted programs presents some special challenges. Psychologists or educational diagnosticians need to be aware not only of the child's dominant language but also of the culture of the child. The majority of tests used for assessment are based on standards of the English-speaking culture. Students who are not native English speakers or who have yet to master English may require special accommodations in the evaluation process. It is critical that the psychologist or diagnostician determine the child's preferred language and conduct a language assessment before proceeding with other testing.

Moreover, a careful evaluation should include information about the child's background, including the length of residency in the U.S., languages spoken in the home, and direct observation of the child in classroom settings.

Although there are non-English forms of some of the major intelligence tests, the tests are not completely comparable to English versions. Sometimes nonverbal tests are used, and in rare instances translators have been employed, although this is far from an ideal practice. Unfortunately, we have too few psychologists and other professionals who are bilingual and multicultural.

You might begin by making an appointment with your child's teacher and the person in charge of evaluating children for the gifted program. Come prepared to provide examples (as you have for me) of your child's talents. If the teacher has samples of his work in math or art or test scores that support your case, please ask that she bring those to the meeting. Do share with the evaluator your family history and your child's recent mastery of English. The evaluator will be in the best position to assess your child if she has complete information. You may also want to inquire whether the school has anyone who is experienced in doing assessments of children who are non-native English speakers. By following these steps, you can help to ensure the best possible testing experience for your child.

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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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