Monday, November 15, 2010

How do you know if a child needs a Gifted program?

Ms Dorothy-
My niece just started kindergarten. She took some test and qualified for a GT program. Do you know the test-does it mean anything-should she be enrolled? These are the questions my brother is asking me, but I'd rather have your answers.
- A Fellow Teacher
I'm flattered that you are passing your brother's questions on to me! He must be excited and nervous about what label like 'gifted and talented' will mean for his daughter.
Some of the standardized tests given for entrance to gifted programs are IQ tests. They usually measure verbal skills, problem solving, and quantitative skills. In other words, the test asks, "Does this child have an advanced vocabulary, the ability to visually manipulate shapes in space, and understand simple changes in groups of objects?"
Often the richness of experiences provided by parents and quality pre-school programs prior to kindergarten will translate into high scores on IQ tests like this.
Every school district handles things a little differently, but in Colorado there was a bill passed two years ago which changed the language around gifted services. A child who is determined to be 'gifted' must be provided with services from the school. In other words, like a special education student who has a formal, legal Individualized Education Plan, a gifted child must have some kind of Learning Plan in place to assure that her needs will be met.
This also means that the child will be expected to perform at advanced levels on other tests throughout her school career.
I don't know what kinds of support is available at your niece's school, or what enrollment in a program for gifted students might look like for her.
I do know that the playing field becomes more level when children transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" somewhere around 3rd grade. At that point the results on standardized tests are less about what a child has been exposed to, and more about what she does with new information as she learns it.
Certainly there are children who are highly gifted right from the cradle, and your niece may be one of these. But I wonder if your brother would have this many questions and concerns if he had been living with a genius for the past 5 years. Perhaps he is just a great parent and the kindergarten teacher is recognizing and appreciating one of her top students.
I recommend that he ask a lot more questions, and if it seems that results of one test, given on one day, are being used to place your niece, that he may want to wait and see if she continues to shine when the work gets more challenging. The last thing I would ever recommend is giving a child a label too soon that she is pressured to live up to.
There was a brilliant student in my preschool class once, and when I was concerned about the family not sending her to a private kindergarten where she would be challenged, her equally brilliant father told me that if she was truly a genius, it wouldn't matter if she sat on her brain for a year; it wouldn't go away just because it didn't get a label.
Words that have stuck with me. She is currently an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. It's OK to wait.

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