Should You Have Your Young Child Tested for the Gifted Program?

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Accurate identification of giftedness is necessary to determine what specific academic services your child needs. It also provides documentation when advocacy is warranted. While states and districts have varying requirements for gifted identification (seeNAGC for more), many districts circumvent these requirements by creating roadblocks and delays. Yet, rather than request testing when they suspect their child is gifted, some parents just wait for the school to decide if testing is indicated. And some refuse to grant approval for any testing at all.

Should You Have Your Young Child Tested for the Gifted Program?
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Why do some parents refuse testing for their child?

Insufficient information. Most parents know their own child, but don’t have a classroom full of children against which they can compare abilities. While they may suspect that their child is gifted, they may not feel justified advocating for testing. “Who are we to think our child is so smart?”

Parents may trust the school’s judgment when determining whether their child should be tested. Yet, in many schools, gifted children may be overlooked, and teachers and administration often convince parents that their child is already receiving appropriate services. There is also a common misconception that bright children have been prepped before they start school, and their strengths will dissipate over time. As a result, many schools arbitrarily delay gifted evaluations until students are well beyond third or fourth grade, even though testing children between the ages of five and eight is considered ideal.

Apathy. Some parents believe that the “gifted program” in their district is a waste of time. Maybe it just involves extra homework. Perhaps it is only an hour pull-out a week. Some may have tried to advocate in the past and met with such resistance that they gave up. Others may feel it is not worth the time and effort, and make the decision to enrich their child’s education on their own. In these situations, parents have been led to believe they have little recourse to change the system, and cannot request additional services for their child.

Concerns about consequences. Parents worry about what they might find out from the evaluation. “Could our child also have a learning disability? What if he or she is not as bright as we thought? How will we explain to our child that he or she is gifted?” These concerns sometimes deter parents from requesting an evaluation, since they have little guidance about how they will cope with these possible outcomes.

Most schools fail to help parents understand the benefits of testing, how it can aid them with developing a plan geared toward appropriate academic instruction, and how they can assist the parent and child with their reactions to the test results. And when school staff are either misinformed or philosophically opposed to gifted identification, they may persuade parents to refuse an evaluation. It may be suggested, for example, that their child could be traumatized if he or she “fails” the testing, or might be ostracized by peers for being different if identified as gifted.

Should parents decline testing because of these concerns?

While these concerns may be reasonable to consider at first, the benefits of testing usually outweigh any initial doubts. Here are some reasons for moving ahead with testing:

1. An evaluation will provide you and the school with a wealth of information about your child’s strengths, weaknesses and academic needs. An IQ test offers more than just a number; your child’s abilities are assessed in a range of areas that will help you and your school with academic planning. (For a helpful description of IQ testing, see the NAGC overview on testing.) The pattern of your child’s performance also provides important information about how he or she approaches new and challenging situations. Does he plan carefully and take his time? Does she rush or become frustrated if challenged? The pattern of responses is particularly important when evaluating gifted children, because many demonstrate large differences in scores between subtests. (For a great discussion of this, see Linda Silverman’s article.) A skilled psychologist can help you understand the reasons for any discrepancies and how to integrate this information into a meaningful academic plan.

2. Your child cannot “fail” the test. It is a measure of relative strengths and weaknesses based on age-based norms. Despite common misconceptions, you cannot “hothouse” your child to do well on these tests; studying and preparation are not required. IQ testing occurs in a one-to-one situation that asks a child to try out new skills, and stops each section of the test before it becomes too stressful. The psychologist typically tries to put the child at ease, and many children enjoy the individual attention they receive.

If your child’s overall IQ score does not meet criteria for gifted services, you can still request enrichment for your child in those areas of strength identified by the evaluation. If the score was close to the cut-off, typically an IQ score of 130, you may want to see if your child could be reevaluated the following year, especially if the psychologist noted any circumstances that might have contributed to an artificially lower score. For example, some gifted children are not identified because of fine motor skill weaknesses, or a tendency to ponder over the correct response (decreasing their score during timed tests), which can deflate their overall score. Common situations such as insufficient sleep the night before, hunger, or frustration over missing recess can influence test performance. Underidentification also occurs when children come from underprivileged or culturally different backgrounds, or where English is spoken as a second language.

3. It is worth getting an evaluation, even if the “gifted program” in your school district is less than adequate. Some parents doubt the benefits of the “gifted program” in the school and think it is not worth the effort. Even if the “program” lacks credibility, gifted identification still may offer your child options that might not be available without the label. The information the evaluation provides is still valuable in terms of understanding your child’s abilities, and can aid with advocating for improved individualized services. It is also useful should you move, transfer your child to another school, or decide to homeschool your child.

4. Fears about what a gifted evaluation will uncover are common. Most parents eventually learn to face these fears and find that the test results are a meaningful overview of their child's strengths and weaknesses. The evaluation may validate what the parents already suspect, but also may provide some surprises in terms of exceptional abilities, untapped strengths, or learning problems. Many learning disabilities remain undetected among bright and gifted children because their intellectual strengths allow them to compensate for their difficulties. By evaluating your child at a relatively young age, any suspected learning differences can be identified and hopefully addressed through appropriate instruction.

Concerns about explaining test results to a child strikes fear in many parents. While it is best to avoid sharing an actual IQ score with a young child, it is certainly helpful to explain findings in terms of strengths and weaknesses, especially since this most likely confirms what your child already suspects. You can explain what it means to be gifted, and place it in a context your child can understand. If you are concerned about isolation from peers, gifted identification will do little more than confirm what your child and his or her peers already know.

Don’t wait until the school recommends that your child get an evaluation.

If you suspect your child might be gifted, find out the procedures for requesting an evaluation. These guidelines should be available through your school district. Keep in mind that some children are less likely to be “noticed” by teachers and referred for evaluation. Children who are frequently overlooked for testing can be children of color; children from underprivileged, lower socio-economic backgrounds; less verbal, visual-spatial learners; non-English speaking children; gifted children with other disabilities (twice exceptional gifted learners); and less cooperative students. Do not assume that teachers or administrators will automatically recognize your child's abilities or refer your child for testing.

Some teachers and schools are proactive about prescreening students for giftedness and others are not. Even group ability tests used to prescreen for gifted evaluations can miss students who are easily distracted, become anxious during testing, or who are already bored with school. As a parent, you will need to keep this on your radar, and advocate for individualized testing when needed. Gifted identification is an important first step toward ensuring that your child receives an appropriate and meaningful education. It may be up to you to set the wheels in motion!

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