Many parents believe their children should be in their school's gifted program. But only about 6% of all U.S. K-12 students are considered academically gifted.
Gifted Students vs. Bright Students
Parents should understand that many bright, intelligent, and talented kids and teens might not qualify for gifted education.
So it can be helpful to know some of the general differences between bright students and gifted students. For instance:
Bright students may know the answers and enjoy school, but gifted students have advanced insight and enjoy learning in any setting.
Bright students may have good ideas and like the company of their peers, but gifted students might have wild, highly imaginative ideas and may prefer the company of older children or adults.
Bright learners may be good memorizers and learn in a linear, sequential way, but gifted learners have a deep fund of knowledge and thrive on complex learning challenges.
Bright students may easily absorb information and be pleased with what they learn, but gifted students use information they learn to gain even more knowledge and always want to learn more.
Programs Vary by State
To help ensure that schools and teachers meet gifted children's educational needs, parents should learn their state's policies or guidelines on identifying and providing services for gifted students. Your school principal or other administrator can provide information specific to your child's school.
While federal laws mandate educational modifications for students with learning disabilities, there is no federal requirement for gifted education. Similarly, some states do not have requirements or funding for gifted students.
The federal government does, however, have a definition for gifted students in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: Gifted and talented students are those "who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities." Many states have based their own definitions of gifted students on that federal description.
Programs go by many different names, including gifted and talented education (GATE), talented and gifted (TAG), and academically gifted or talented.
Screening for gifted education can be requested by parents or guardians, teachers, or school administrators when students demonstrate they are capable of advanced academic achievement. Schools usually require written requests.
Identifying gifted kids can be done through many types of tests. Some schools screen entire grades of students in early elementary years, while others may use a partial or full-scale IQ test or other aptitude or achievement tests on an individual basis if students appear to be achieving above their grade level.
Initial screenings may include:
partial IQ tests
achievement test reviews
questionnaires completed by teachers and parents or guardians
If initial screenings indicate potential giftedness, then a psychologist administers a full-scale IQ test or other aptitude evaluation.
If initial screening does not indicate potential giftedness, parents can appeal the decision and request further testing, or even pay for private testing themselves. Parents who pay for their own testing should make sure to find out if the results will be accepted by school officials. In many schools, students who are not deemed gifted by initial or full screenings can be re-evaluated after a year.
Some schools consider a student with an IQ score of 130 or more to be gifted. Other schools require students to meet multiple criteria.
Gifted Individualized Education Plans (GIEPs)
If a student meets his or her school's criteria for gifted education, goals are created for that student in what is usually called a gifted individualized education plan (GIEP).
Many states require that parents or guardians, teachers, and administrative staff meet to develop an instruction plan that covers:
goals based on academic strengths
how instruction will be modified
how progress will be monitored
educational outcomes (expected grades or performance)
In many states, GIEPs may call for parents or guardians, teachers, and administrative staff to meet annually to review progress and possibly revise the plan.
Each GIEP is customized to each child's individual abilities, because gifted students can vary greatly in their strengths. For example, some may be gifted in math, but not in language arts, while others may have strengths in multiple subjects.
GIEPs may include long-term and short-term goals that can include accelerated curriculum or instruction above the student's grade level.
In states that do not require meetings and instruction plans, gifted students are usually given opportunities to work on enrichment projects or above-grade-level assignments outside the classroom, usually with gifted peers. Progress is monitored on through regular report cards.
In some schools, special teachers are responsible for implementing and monitoring the education of gifted students in small groups or one-on-one sessions. In other schools, the regular classroom teacher is the main instructor and confers with students' gifted case managers, gifted consulting teachers, or other school staff to create projects that enrich or extend learning.
In middle and high school, gifted students' goals may be met through higher-level courses or Advanced Placement (AP) or honors courses. Some gifted students can meet their individualized education goals by advancing multiple grade levels in specific subject areas.
While all students need to be monitored academically, GIEPs and similar education plans call for customized monitoring to help ensure that gifted students reach their learning potentials.