Identifying and Recognizing Giftedness
by Tiombe Kendrick
Did your child begin reading before the first day of preschool? Do you know a child who is extremely talented in the visual and performing arts? Does your godchild exhibit an in depth understanding of math and science? Are you an athletic coach for a highly talented swimmer, golfer, or basketball player? Do you have a student in your classroom who manifests the type of leadership skills required to negotiate peace around the world? Answering yes to any of the above questions most likely means you have been in the presence of a gifted child.
The process of identifying gifted and talented children in general is a very complex and highly controversial topic. Much of the available literature focuses on the recognition and identification of intellectually and/or academically gifted children. Many of these children are identified by intellectual and/or academic achievement assessments administered by teachers, school districts, psychologists, and academic talent search programs. Typically, children identified as intellectually and academically gifted must score at, or above, a specified cutoff score to qualify for educational programming provided by school districts and private organizations. Some school districts also use portfolios and other non-traditional assessments to help identify gifted students, but this varies among states and school districts.
There are a few important things people should understand about identification procedures for gifted children. Federal law does not mandate public school districts to identify or service gifted students. States are given the option to identify and service gifted students. States that choose to identify and service gifted children receive very little guidance on identification practices and curriculum development for gifted children. As a result of the latter, school districts often have very different identification procedures, eligibility requirements, and programming from each other. In addition, unlike the assistance they receive to help with the costs of educating students with disabilities, states are not provided with financial assistance for the costs of educating gifted students.
Many parents, therefore, often endure the burden of having their child evaluated to determine giftedness. Unfortunately, many parents experience a difficult time locating appropriate educational services for their child once they are classified as gifted, or if they relocate to a state that does not provide gifted services. Parents from low income backgrounds or culturally and/or linguistically diverse populations often experience significant challenges getting their children evaluated by school districts or private practitioners, which often contributes to the underrepresentation of children in gifted programs from low income families and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Some experts in the gifted field insist that gifted children be identified as early as possible, while others deter parents from seeking identification unless the child is experiencing some type of distress or when the child reaches middle and high school. It is important for parents to understand that gifted programming is a type of educational service and not a class for “privileged” children only. Parents should also consider the educational and social and emotional needs of their children when making the decision whether to have their child assessed for giftedness. Parents must have a good understanding and working knowledge of the specialized needs of gifted children in order to advocate effectively for their needs. Therefore, it is very important that gifted children are identified as early as possible for the purposes of future educational planning.