Today's classrooms are full of diverse learners. Some students may have learning disabilities or physical challenges, while others may demonstrate capabilities beyond their grade level.
Gifted students demonstrate that they are well ahead of their peers in terms of:
- understanding concepts
- solving problems
- above-grade-level academic strengths in one or more subject areas
Gifted students thrive when they have opportunities to stretch their learning, particularly in their areas of strength. About 6% of U.S. K-12 students are estimated to be academically gifted, according to the National Association for Gifted Children.
Gifted education — also known by terms such as gifted and talented education (GATE), talented and gifted (TAG), and academically gifted or talented — includes special practices, procedures, and theories used in the instruction of kids and teens who have been identified as gifted or talented.
As an educator, it's important to understand gifted learners' instructional needs and your state and school protocols and policies when it comes to identifying and providing services for gifted students.
Unlike federal educational requirements for students with learning disabilities who may have individualized education plans (IEPs) or 504 education plans, there is no federal requirement or funding 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.
Specifics about gifted education programs and service decisions are made at the state and local levels.
Gifted Child vs. Bright Child
When students demonstrate above-grade-level capabilities, teachers, administrators, and parents or guardians can request inclusion in gifted programs. Schools usually require written referrals.
Before requesting an evaluation for your student, however, it's important to be aware of some general differences between a gifted student and a bright student. 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 fashion, 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.
Screening processes and testing tools for gifted children may look very different from state to state.
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
- classwork reviews
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. In such cases, it's a good idea to tell the parents if schools do not accept the results of private testing in the gifted evaluation process. 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 criteria for gifted education, goals are created for that student in what is often 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
- responsibilities for educators, students, and parents or guardians
Goals can include acceleration for a particular subject area or an entire grade level. Other items on the agenda for this meeting may include identifying the child's:
- current level of academic performance
- modifications for learning in the regular education classroom
- specially designed curriculum, instruction, assignments, and assessments
Instruction plans may include annual as well as short-term goals that can include accelerated curriculum or instruction above the student's grade level. For example, if a student is gifted in math, an annual goal might be: "The student will continue rapid pacing in the mathematics curriculum while achieving greater than 80% on all unit assessments." Goals should be clear and measurable to enable effective monitoring. Short-term goals or outcomes can include the criteria for meeting the outcomes (grades or scores on tests), assessments and timelines.
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.
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 through regular report cards. In these cases, classroom teachers differentiate instruction and learning for students.
Different schools use different educational models to deliver and monitor instruction for gifted students. In some schools, special teachers of gifted students are responsible for implementing and monitoring instruction in small groups of intellectual peers, or in one-on-one settings. In other schools, the regular classroom teacher is the main instructor. In those cases, the classroom teacher confers with the students' gifted case managers, gifted consulting teachers, or other staff to implement goals or projects that enrich or extend learning in the regular classroom setting.
In middle and high schools, goals for gifted students may be met by higher-level courses or Advanced Placement (AP) or honors classes. Some gifted students can meet their individualized education goals by advancing multiple grade levels for specific subject areas.