Sunday, February 1, 2015

Gifted Testing: A Beginner's Guide

Gifted Testing. What is it? Why should we do it? What are the best tests to use? What do the results mean? And most often asked... How can I prepare my child for Gifted Testing?

How can I prepare my child?

Let's start with the easiest question first. This is easy, you ask? Sure! Preparing your child for gifted testing is just like preparing her for a good day at school. Relax the night before, get a good night's sleep, have a well-rounded breakfast that includes plenty of protein and not too much sugar. But isn't there more to it? Not really. Test prep, while common in high-stress school systems (New York City comes to mind), is not only unnecessary, it can be counter productive. If we parents are stressed over the idea of gifted testing, our gifted kids will be, too. And that kind of stress rarely improves test scores. In fact, with sensitive gifted kids, quite the opposite may be true; stress may lower their test scores.

Meanwhile, a very well-prepped child may score a little higher on the tests... which may be enough to get a high-achieving but not gifted child into the gifted program. Doesn't that help the child? Not at all. That well-prepped child is still the same child, and the extra depth and speed of a good gifted curriculum is unlikely to serve him well. Meanwhile, the social benefits from being grouped with your academic peers are lost on him, as he's no longer with his peers, but in over his head. For more on prepping your child for Gifted Testing, read Aimee Yermish's How Can I Prepare My Child for Testing?

When should I test my child?

This may be a simple question: the school tests all kids in second grade. Or it may be complex: my child is struggling in school, and it seems like the classroom material is too simple, or he is very different from the other kids and isn't fitting in, or she can't sit still after he's completed his assignments. Gifted Testing may be part of a more comprehensive assessment, looking for a combination of achievement, intelligence, possible learning disabilities and more. But when is the right time to test?

The best time for Gifted Testing is when you have a significant question to be answered. You'd like your child to attend a school that requires Gifted Testing for admission. Or there's a higher level classroom available in your own school or district, but your child must "test into" the class. Or your child isn't fitting well in school, and you need an assessment to see if she's ADHD or LD or (yes, it's possible) gifted.

There is one question that is NOT a good question to answer by testing: Is My Preschooler Gifted? We all strive to be good parents, to follow our child's lead, to interact and spend time with them. Whether your preschooler is gifted or not, you will parent them the same way: with unconditional love and support. You will still spend lots of time together outdoors, and talk to her wherever you go. You will still read together whenever you can, and have him help with cooking and cleaning and shopping. Testing to determine if she reaches that "magic" number won't change anything. If Gifted Testing won't change anything, it's not a good time to test.

It's best to wait until your child is at least 6 years old before Gifted Testing (if possible). This way he can skip the less reliable years of preschool testing, when scores are less consistent over time, and kids are more squirrelly with the tester.

For more, read Why should I have my child tested?

What is Gifted Testing?

Gifted Testing means different things in different districts and states. In many districts, gifted testing starts with a group screening test, designed to determine which kids should go on to further assessment to possibly participate in the gifted program. These group tests, including the OLSAT and CogAT, are usually grade-level, multiple choice achievement / ability tests. For gifted assessment, many tests recommend that potentially gifted students are given a test one level higher than their grade level, so that they have "ceiling" room, and the school can differentiate between the high-achieving student who is at the top of her class, and the gifted student who is beyond her current grade level.

Publishers also provide a "margin of error" for their assessment, which should be added and subtracted from the target test score to include either 65% or 95% of the students who should be included in the program. The larger the margin of error on the test, the larger the confidence interval will be. For example, if the margin of error is 3 and the "cutoff score" is 130, then you should include all students who score 130 +/- 3, or 127 and up (since we want to identify all students at 130 *or higher*). The publisher tells us that this interval would include 65% of the target population. If your school wants to be certain to include 95% of the gifted kids in further assessment, they would have to use twice the margin of error, 130 +/- (2*3), or 124 and up. Easy enough. However, some gifted assessments have much higher margins of error. A margin of error of 7, for example, would require students with scores of 116 and up to be included in further assessment, to have the same 95% confidence interval.

Some Gifted Tests aren't tests at all. Instead, they are surveys, with components for the teacher and possibly the parent to complete. This type of Gifted Test requires that the teacher be well-trained on the characteristics of giftedness. However most U.S. teachers receive no gifted education training in their pre-service education, and only those who intentionally select it receive gifted education training in Continuing Education or advanced degree programs. The parents are similarly handicapped, because unless they are teachers, scout leaders or other instructors of same-age children, they are unlikely to know just how different Abby is from her "average" classmates. Even with other children and extended family, the nature vs. nurture research tells us that Morgan's family peer group is likely to be skewed. Her parents will likely have no average child at home to compare to, and may answer the survey questions incorrectly as a result.

Survey-type Gifted Tests are also likely to underestimate the giftedness of non-native-culture kids, and kids who are seen seen as having "difficult" traits such as speaking out when they're finished their own work, complaining about the classwork due to boredom, or moving around in the classroom. Kids who have both gifted traits and learning disabilities are often thought to be "average" because assessments may try to average their strengths and weaknesses. But having gifted strengths and LD weaknesses is far different from being average in all areas!

Some states and districts require individual IQ tests for gifted identification. This is the most accurate means of identification for most students, but like any one-time measure, it may be only as good as the combination of factors that occur at that moment. Does the test style suit the child's strengths and weaknesses? Is the tester hurried or stressed? Many gifted kids can sense this; this sensitivity is one of the characteristics used for identification. Is the child well today? Is he hungry? Is she tired? Is the room too hot, too cold, or full of distracting noises? Is the kindergarten playground occupied right outside the window? Was he pulled from lunch, or recess, or his favorite subject?

The most common individual IQ tests are the WISC and the Stanford Binet. But no matter what Gifted Test your child might take, you can learn more on Hoagies' Page: Tests, Tests, Tests. This inventory of tests given to gifted kids for various reasons includes links to lots more information, no matter what test or assessment is used.

What's the difference between in-school testing and private-assessment? The short answer is, in-school testing gives you results: scores. Private assessment evaluates the whole child, and gives you a report with score, what they mean, implications for education and suggestions for your child's future. Julia Osborn provides more detail in Assessing Gifted Children

What do the test results mean?

Often the test results are more confusing, rather than more clarifying. So much child is in this percentile, with that standard score, and the other grade level... what does it all mean for my child's education? Before you can decipher the results, you may need to ask for a full score report. It's required for the school to make a full report available, but often, they give only a summary, or only a single number that means either she's "in" or he's "out." The federal law FERPA allows parents to ask the school, and see the full score report and any other contents of your child's records at school, including the cumulative folder (usually the one in the office with only attendance and grades) and more personal records kept with the counselor or psychologist.

Once you have the full score report for each test, you can begin to discern the meaning in the results. A quick guide to test scores, and how different tests and their scores compare can be found in What Do the Tests Tell Us?. And for those confusing variations between ability and achievement tests with scores that sound the same, read Why do my child's test scores vary from test to test?

Widely scattered test results don't necessarily mean that your child is both gifted and learning disabled, often called twice exceptional or 2e. But those variations in scores definitely deserve futher attention, and a psychologist should be able to point you towards others assessments that may give you more information on the variations in your child's scores.

Now you know everything you need to know about Gifted Testing!

Well, not really. For lots more information on Gifted Testing, read David Palmer's Parent's Guide to IQ Testing and Gifted Education**. I stand by my review, as true today as when the book was first published, "Not just every parent of a gifted child, but every teacher and every guidance counselor of gifted children, too, should read Parent's Guide to IQ Testing and Gifted Education. Palmer explains all in one book, what it took me years of talking to dozens of gifted professionals to learn for myself. And Palmer makes it easy to read, with review points at the end of each chapter - if you're in a hurry, read the review points first, and pick the chapters that answer the questions you have right now. But read the whole book cover to cover when you have time - it's worth it!"

**Hoagies' Gifted Education Page is an Amazon affiliate; Amazon purchases made through this link support Hoagies' Page.

This blog is part of Hoagies' Gifted Blog Hop: Testing. Visit and read all the great blogs, from parents, teachers, students, gifted coordinators and more!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your very thorough and useful writing. I have learned a lot of that through experience, so I hope you reach parents who are just starting out.