Is Your Child Gifted? How to Tests and Assess for Giftedness
You’re pretty sure you have a gifted child on your hands and need to know what to do next. Gifted children often need a specialized education to keep them challenged and motivated in their learning. And the first step to determining your little one’s learning needs is to find out more about tests and assessments for giftedness.
A Guidebook for the Journey
Help is on the way from other parents who’ve traveled this road before you, and the experts who’ve helped many of them. Intelligence specialist David Palmer, Ph.D. has written a definitive guide to the world of IQ and assessment testing, A Parents’ Guide To IQ Testing and Gifted Education: All You Need To Know To Make The Right Decisions For Your Child.
Dr. Palmer says, “I’ve found that some parents are hesitant to ask questions about IQ testing and the gifted program selection process–maybe for fear of appearing pushy or overly concerned.” And yet, it is YOU who know your child best and have much to contribute to the assessment and program selection process. Remember, you’re the one who thought it was a little strange that he turned book pages at age 8 months and started repeating words not long after. And your involvement in the testing and assessment process is critical!
High-Achievement vs. Giftedness
Of course it is a wonderful thing to have a child who does well in school and learns easily. Anyone would be tempted to think the child is gifted. But there is a difference between giftedness and high-achievement potential, and that’s one reason to have a child tested. According to Psychology Today “gifted guru” and author Christopher Taibbi, M.A.T., “A bright child knows the answer, the gifted learner asks the questions.” A bright child needs 6 to 8 repetitions to learn something; a gifted child needs 1 or 2. They may both come up with good grades but their mental process has been different. Testing and assessment will help you determine your children’s aptitudes so that you can better respond to their learning needs.
Testing vs. Assessment
So where do you start and what’s the difference between testing and assessment? Tests are administered in a standardized, scripted sort of way to ensure scientific neutrality in scoring. Assessments often include a standardized IQ test, but go beyond. Children are interviewed and play is sometimes used to make judgments about development. Assessments are conducted by professionals who have training and a point of view that influences their decision whereas people who administer formal tests should not have a major influence on the process.
Informal Assessments for Young Children
The National Association for Gifted Children states that most experts do not recommend formal testing for children under six, but do recommend a checklist like this one for informal assessments:
- Early use of advanced vocabulary
- Keen observation and curiosity
- Retention from varied sources of information
- Periods of intense concentration
- Ability to understand complex concepts, perceive relationships, and think abstractly
- A broad and changing spectrum of interests
- Strong critical thinking skills and self-criticism
What Tests Are Used?
Intelligence tests are given individually or to groups of children. Schools almost always give group tests. Private practitioners give the individual IQ tests such as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (SB) and the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). The Stanford-Binet is a written test that measures five factors of cognitive ability: fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing, and working memory. Each of these aspects of intelligence is measured in the verbal domain and the nonverbal domain.
The Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children (WISC) is given orally except for the arithmetic section. Sub-test areas such as vocabulary and reading comprehension are timed, with bonus points given for extra fast work. WISC tests are used somewhat cautiously because test scores are easily skewed by anxiety, motivation, fatigue, and rapport with the tester.
The Woodcock-Johnson III Normative Update of Cognitive Abilities (WJ III NU) is also an individually administered cognitive assessment. It identifies strengths and weaknesses in cognitive abilities, processes, and academic performance. It consists of ten tests that measure basic psychological processes and discrepancies in ability. This is important because one of the hallmarks of gifted children is uneven development in the various domains of intelligence.
Schools give group tests to determine placement in gifted programs as well as special education programs for learning disabilities. CogAT, Otis-Lennon, Hemmon-Nelson, Ravens Progressive Matrices, and the Matrix Analogies Test are the ones most frequently used. These tests provide a variety of scores, including raw scores, percentile ranks, grade-equivalent scores, and standard scores. Typical testing areas include pattern completion, reasoning by analogy, serial reasoning, and spatial visualization.
One frequently used group test is the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) that assesses for higher order reasoning skills that involve analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. These skills permit students to better understand the content they are learning, to better recall what they understand, to be more logical, to perceive relationships, attend to details, and to form generalizations and apply them to new content. The results give percentile rankings that are used to place children in both learning disabilities programs and gifted programs. The top 2% of the test rankings are generally considered for gifted placement.
Another very popular group test is the Raven’s Progressive Matrices (Raven’s Matrices), which is a non-verbal, multiple choice test for general intelligence. The test does not use letters or numbers but rather geometric patterns with logical sequences. In each test item, children are asked to identify the missing element that completes a pattern.
Group tests provide raw scores for intelligence and areas of ability but do not guarantee placement in gifted programs. High scores on group tests may indicate that a student should have individualized IQ testing. Each state has its own criteria for placement and many local school systems do not have separate gifted programs at all. Parents will need to work with their individual teachers and school administrators to best serve their child. Consult the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) website for state-by-state descriptions of gifted children services. If all else fails, you will likely have to seek out private schools designed for gifted children in your local area or plan to supplement your child’s education with ample home-schooling.
Are you planning on testing your enthusiastic learner? Which format will you go for?