Determining whether or not your child is gifted is no easy task. As you have likely already discovered, there are a plethora of definitions, characteristics, assessments, theories - a virtual abundance of information. To help parents unravel some of the conflicting information, the Davidson Institute has put together this article summarizing gifted characteristics, the difference between testing and assessment, points to consider in having your child tested or assessed, different types of tests that can be utilized, and tips for locating a professional if you decide to seek a full assessment.
What are signs my child might be gifted?
There are many definitions of giftedness and equally as many ways to formally identify whether or not a child is gifted. Essentially, as NAGC defines in the article “What is Giftedness?”, “Children are gifted when their ability is significantly above the norm for their age.” Students can exhibit gifted abilities in various spheres – creatively, intellectually, musically, academically across the board or in a specific subject area such as math, language arts, or science. The Davidson Institute focuses on serving students with profound intellectual talents, who demonstrate some or all of the following characteristics:
To determine the extent of your child’s abilities, testing or a full assessment may provide some of the answers you are seeking.
What is the difference between testing and assessment?
The terms testing and assessment are often used interchangeably but they are not the same. Being able to articulate the difference will help determine which option best fits your goals, as well as aid in finding a licensed professional who can address your questions.
Testing involves the administration of a standardized test in a specific format, often defined by the publisher of the test, to ensure the test is given to every person in a consistent manner. This may include the way in which questions are presented, the exact wording a tester must use, specific time limits, or a discontinuation point at which the student can no longer answer questions correctly and must move to the next section. Your child may be tested at school to determine academic growth or eligibility for gifted programming. You may also seek testing opportunities to determine whether your child might be eligible for certain programs, such as University-based talent searches or Davidson Institute programs.
Assessment, on the other hand, is much more comprehensive – and for that reason, can be much more costly. In an assessment, you will work with a trained professional who will use their expertise to determine what information needs to be gathered and the most appropriate tools for collecting that information, observe the child while collecting this information, and then provide an interpretation of their findings to establish the child’s complete learning profile. This professional will likely provide detailed information on the child’s strengths, challenges, learning style, educational needs, and individual characteristics, and recommendations for meeting the child’s needs. In correspondence with the Davidson Institute, Nancy Robinson, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, has indicated the primary goal of assessment is "looking at a pattern of abilities in a number of domains, getting a sense of how advanced a student is in each of them, looking at the strategies the student uses in solving problems, and observing his or her response to challenge and even bafflement."
Testing is one of many tools utilized in an assessment and may include both quantitative and qualitative measurements. The quantitative measures can include intelligence testing, which evaluates a child’s cognitive abilities, and achievement testing, which evaluates a child’s knowledge. Comparing the results of both tests may reveal discrepancies between a child’s ability and current level of performance. A child may also undergo other testing that evaluates attention, executive functioning, behavior or other areas. If a physiological condition is suspected, a child’s vision, hearing, speech or motor skills may be assessed.
Qualitative measures include classroom observations, surveys completed by teachers and/or parents, interviews with the child or the review of a child’s educational record and portfolio, or the child’s responses during the test administration. This qualitative data may provide the assessing professional a better context in which to interpret a child’s assessment results.
In the final step of an assessment, parents should be provided with a clear summary of the findings, as initially agreed upon with the professional. Parents will typically receive a detailed report summarizing the following, discussed in a wrap-up meeting with the professional:
Clearly, assessment goes much further than testing and is more reliant upon the tester’s expertise, experience, and knowledge to interpret the child’s responses and decide how best to move forward. This is especially true when testing students who are extremely bright and exhibit characteristics that can impact test scores, such as the student inferring additional meaning into a question that delays their response time or demonstrating perfectionistic tendencies. A knowledgeable tester will be able to utilize these characteristics to provide a complete picture of the child’s abilities.
Should I have my child tested (or assessed)?
Deciding whether you want to access a specific test or seek out a full professional assessment will be based on your overall goals and the questions for which you are seeking answers. In fact, you may find it helpful to jot down the specific questions that have lead you to seek information about having your child assessed. What do you hope to discover about your child’s abilities? Will you use the results to gain entrance into a specific program? If so, which tests do they accept? Will you share the results with your child’s school? Which tests do they find most informative in understanding a student’s learning profile? Do you have concerns about your child’s performance or behavior?
Educational placement and access to talent development programming are common reasons for seeking an evaluation. If you are looking for a cost-effective option or are seeking admittance to a specific program, such as a talent search or the Davidson Institute, you may opt for having your child take an above-level test such as the PSAT 8/9, ACT, or SAT. Another option is to speak with a testing professional about administering an individualized test – such as an achievement or intelligence test – without a complete assessment or full report. Choosing this path will not provide much, if any, information other than your child’s scores, but that may be enough to meet your goals.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a more complete picture of your child’s abilities, strengths, challenges, and needs, experts recommend a comprehensive assessment of the child's abilities rather than simple testing. The rationale for assessment typically centers on the need for developing an understanding of a child's relative strengths and weaknesses and how these relate to educational and social settings.
For families seeking a complete assessment from a testing professional that is also cost-effective, some universities and colleges with counseling or testing centers offer testing on a sliding or reduced scale for graduate students to gain experience while under close supervision by a licensed psychologist faculty member. You can look at the websites of local schools or contact them directly to ask about these services.
In regards to when to have your child tested, testing is generally believed to be most reliable and most predictive between the ages of six and nine years old. Although many assessments are approved to be administered to children as young as two years old, the consensus among professionals is that there is rarely a need to test before the child is ready to enter school and that testing at younger ages may not provide reliable results.
In the end, remember that test scores or results of a full assessment don’t change who your child is. The results are intended to provide you specific words and tools for better understanding your child. How you use those words and tools is up to you.
Which test is best?
There seems to be little consensus about which tests are most effective, especially when assessing exceptionally intelligent young people. Again, deciding which test is best for your child will partly be determined by your goals. If your child is assessed by a professional, the tester will typically discuss which tests will be used during the assessment based on their knowledge, training on specific tests, and their professional insight regarding the questions and concerns you have presented.
For academic planning, particularly if working with your child’s educators, you may want to find out which tests they are familiar with and will consider when determining how best to meet your child’s needs. Intelligence test scores, for example, may not provide as much information in relation to educational planning as an achievement test that delineates grade and age equivalents, or a proficiency test administered by the school.
The most widely used intelligence tests have long been criticized by the GT community. These tests were not developed to adequately identify individuals at the extremes. By definition, scores in the profound ranges occur less than one time in a thousand. The statistical infrequency of these extreme scores makes accurate measurement difficult. For this reason, many experts recommend utilizing a variety of tests or test sections to get the best combination of skills assessments.
Above-level tests are particularly useful for bright students as they provide a higher ceiling, allowing for more accurate assessment of the child’s true abilities. The results of these tests can often be compared to other students of a similar age or grade through talent searches. The PSAT 8/9, designed for students in eight and ninth grades, can be taken by students in third through sixth grade. The SAT or ACT, designed for students in their junior or senior years of high school, can be taken by students starting in the sixth grade.
Out-of-level testing and the talent search model are addressed in the following Davidson Gifted Database articles:
"Eight considerations for mathematically talented youth"
"Discovering highly gifted students"
"The talent search as an identification model"
"Talent Search Opportunities"
For additional information on assessment and its implications for educational advocacy and planning, please access the series of three exceptionally informative articles, "Assessment, educational issues, advocacy: The process of parenting a profoundly gifted child," by Julia Osborn.
How can I locate a testing professional?
Finding a professional to evaluate your child can be challenging, but there are several resources available. Your state’s gifted association, a regional special education advocacy group, a local parent’s group, the state department of education, or your child’s school counselor, psychologist or social worker may be able to refer you to a local professional. Websites such as Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG), the 2e Newsletter, and Hoagies’ Gifted provide lists of professionals that have experience working with gifted children.
The Davidson Institute has identified certain questions that can be helpful in identifying a knowledgeable professional to evaluate your child. If you receive answers that are not satisfactory to you, you may wish to seek a second opinion or continue your search for a tester. Ideally, you will encounter a very knowledgeable professional, whom you and your child feel comfortable working with, to conduct a comprehensive assessment of your child’s abilities and make specific recommendations. If you are unable to find a local tester, you will need to weigh the relative pros and cons of searching more broadly for an appropriate professional.
Experience with Gifted Children
About the Tests
Information about the Child
How to Prepare Your Child
Using the Results for Educational Planning
For additional information on testing, assessment, and twice-exceptionality, please see the Davidson Institute guidebook, Twice-Exceptionality: A Resource Guide for Parents.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute's Database does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is solely the opinion of and the responsibility of the author. Although reasonable effort is made to present accurate information, the Davidson Institute makes no guarantees of any kind, including as to accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.