Identification of Gifted
Federal Definition of Children with Outstanding Talent:
Children and youth with outstanding talent
perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of
accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or
These children and youth exhibit high
performance capability in intellectual, creative, and/or artistic areas,
possess an unusual leadership capacity, or excel in specific academic
fields. They require services or activities not ordinarily provided by
Outstanding talents are
present in children
and youth from all cultural groups, across all economic strata, and in all
areas of human endeavor.
Number of Students Served
Programs for gifted and talented students exist in
every state and in many school districts, but it is difficult to determine
the exact number of students served because not all states and localities
collect this information. However, we do know that
Certainly, the number of students served in gifted and
talented programs has grown substantially in the past 20 years. However,
it is also clear that students from economically disadvantaged families
and students with unorthodox talents are not being identified in equitable
(From: Programs for Improvement
of Practice. (1993). National Excellence: A Case for Developing
America's Talent. (p. 26). Washington DC: US Department of Education,
Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Available online:
How States and Districts Identify Talented
Most states and localities have developed definitions
of gifted and talented students in order to identify such students for
special programs. Many of these definitions are based on the definition in
the 1972 Marland Report to Congress on gifted and talented education. The
Marland Report definition identified a variety of abilities in addition to
general intellectual ability, estimated that gifted students make up a
minimum of 3 to 5 percent of the student population, and encouraged
schools to provide programs to students who are outstanding in any
specific area. A large gap exists, however, between the Marland definition
and the way most districts identify gifted students. The definition
suggests that districts consider a broad range of talents, but most
continue to restrict participation in programs for the gifted largely to
those with exceptional intellectual ability.
In one recent national survey, 73 percent of school
districts indicated that they have adopted the Marland definition; but few
said that they use it to identify and serve any area of giftedness other
than high general intelligence as measured on IQ and achievement tests.
Most mainly use tests and teacher recommendations to admit students to
gifted and talented programs, limiting participation to students with high
general intelligence and good school records and missing many outstanding
students with other talents. This practice ignores extensive evidence from
psychologists and neuroscientists that youngsters can be intelligent in
many different ways, all of which schools can help to develop.
Several categories of talented children
particularly neglected in programs for top students. These include
culturally different children (including minority and economically
disadvantaged students), females (who are underserved in mathematics and
science programs), students with disabilities, high potential students who
underachieve in school, and students with artistic talent. Some
are discouraged from serving these students by state laws or regulations
which require the schools to use certain IQ cutoff scores or specific
levels of performance on standardized tests if they wish to receive state
funding for gifted and talented programs. However, even in states that do
not have test score cutoffs, local schools often choose to use test scores
because they are easier to determine and "safer" than more subjective
procedures. While state and local definitions display good intentions, the
practices used to assess and identify students are often
Methods of identification
1. Formal Sources of Data
There are only a limited number of standardized tests
that can be used for identifying the young gifted child. None were
designed primarily for this age range. Over the years, the most popular
test of intelligence functioning has been the Stanford-Binet Intelligence
Scale, Form L-M. At one time, an IQ score was the only criterion used in
most programs for identification. No longer is the IQ score considered to
be sufficient in determining the presence of giftedness or talent.
Currently the most reliable instruments available are
standardized intelligence and achievement tests. While considerable work
has been done in developing creativity tests, their reliability is lower.
Recently, tests of critical thinking have been developed, and efforts have
begun toward constructing tests to assess task performance, growth in
risk-taking, and changes in self-concept. So far, these tests do not
provide reliable information.
- Detroit Tests of Learning Aptitude –
- Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. Form
- Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children –
- Metropolitan Readiness Test, Level 1
- Test of Basic Experiences, Level K
- Perceptual-Motor Development
- Basic Motor Ability Test
- Revised Visual Retention Test
- AAMD Adaptive Behavior Scale, School
- Test of Creative Thinking
- Animal Crackers
- The Self Concept and Motivation
- Test of Musical Ability and
2. Informal Sources of Data
In the past, many feel that too much weight has been
placed on the formal sources of data. While having standardized tests that
do provide valuable information, they only tap a small amount of the
child’s abilities. Identification should seek a wider variety of sources
of data. These other sources can cover qualitative data, such as ability
to solve problems, creativity, productive thinking skills, creative use of
words, leadership skills, skills in visual and performing arts, which are
best assessed by informal sources.
- Anecdotal Records: These records are based on the
student’s ongoing classroom activities. The skilled teacher can learn a
lot about a child’s level of development. Observations can also determine
the child’s style of learning.
- Teacher Nominations: Teacher nominations can be a
great source of data since teachers have extended time with the child and
can compare them to other students. However, there is little research on
the effectiveness of teacher nominations for young children. Even for
older children, teachers that are not properly trained in the skills that
gifted children possess often miss the characteristics.
- Parent Nominations: The parent nomination can be
one of the most useful pieces of information in identifying gifted
children. Parents also have a large amount of time with the child.
However, the parent views the child in a variety of situations with both
adults and children. Some challenged that parents would make biased
reports about their children. Surprisingly, parents tend to be very
realistic about their child’s abilities. One negative point is that
parents cannot compare their children to others at the same level, as a
- Peer Nominations: Peers often can recognize the
leaders of the class. They also can recognize a student that excels
greatly at art or music. Again, this method is not recommended for young
children, due to unreliable results.
- Community Nominations: Just as peer nominations are
overlooked, so are community nominations. If a student is involved in an
organized activity outside of class, those leaders may provide information
about strengths normally not observed in a classroom. The child’s
physician can also provide information about the rate of physical
- Products of the Child: Actual products that the
child creates can be used to identify strengths. These products include,
but are not limited to, writing, painting, sculpture, poems, and accounts
of happenings. If there is a particular strength the child is being
tested for, products directly related to this area may be analyzed.
3. Trait Evaluation
The following is a list of 46 traits that are commonly
found in gifted children. Some traits are more rare than others are.
When using traits to assess giftedness, several points must be considered.
First is the degree of which the child demonstrates the trait. Next, many
of these traits can be found in gifted as well as regular children.
- VOCABULARY: Has a large vocabulary; knows and uses
words and terminology that are advanced for his or her years; is
interested in words and uses them correctly.
- VERBAL FACILITY: Expresses self well; writes
clearly; uses longer sentences than most children of own age; uses
colorful expressions; learns foreign expressions and languages easily; is
fluent in two or more languages.
- READING: Enjoys reading; is an avid reader; reads
widely; learned to read early; is a self-taught reader; reads more and
better books than age peers; reads above grade level by at least two
years; selects difficult books for reading; enjoys informative books such
as encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, and biographies.
- WRITING: Writes the alphabet; writes own name;
writes words, writes sentences; writes letters, stories, poetry, rhymes.
- MEMORY: Has an unusual memory; remembers details;
remembers most details of stories; can retell stories almost verbatim;
remembers what he or she has heard or read without appearing to need much
rote or drill; remembers places, experiences, people, directions; can sing
complete songs from memory, remembering both the melody and the words.
- LEARNING: Learns quickly and efficiently; learns
easily, often without much effort; learns with a minimum of explanation or
- THINKING: Thinks clearly and logically; reasons,
generalizes, deduces, infers; recognizes implied relationships;
comprehends meanings; is able to explain reasons for his or her actions;
applies learning from one situation to others.
- FLEXIBILITY OF THOUGHT: Seeks alternative
solutions to problems; adapts to new surroundings and experiences; enjoys
new situations; can deal with ambiguity.
- ABSTRACT REASONING: Is capable of abstract
thought; needs few or no concrete examples to understand difficult
concepts; likes to think things out; arrives at mathematical relationships
mentally, without visual or concrete stimuli.
- SYMBOLIC THOUGHT: Is capable of symbolic thought;
works readily with symbols such as words and numbers; enjoys codes; is
outstanding in mathematics.
- GENERALIZATION – INSIGHT: Recognizes relationships
and draws sound generalizations; sees relationships among apparently
unrelated ideas; has insight into cause and effect; transfers learning to
new situations; looks for similarities and differences in events;
perceives trends in the past and projects them into the future.
- COMPLEXITY: Is interested in complexity; prefers
complex ideas; changes rules of games to increase their complexity; can
consider many factors and facets of situations simultaneously; enjoys and
understands concepts of large scope, such as geologic time, relativity,
origins of man; tries to understand complicated material by separating it
into its respective parts; is interested in problems that are beyond his
or her age experience level, such as religion, politics, sex, and national
- PLANNING AND ORGANIZATION: Plans and organizes
work; shows forethought in solving problems; thinks before acting; applies
scientific research methods to work; thinks about a mechanical problem
before trying to solve it physically; selects or creates efficient
procedures for work or activities.
- CREATIVITY AND IMAGINATION: Is creative,
imaginative; creates new games, stories, toys or revises them; tells
imaginative stories; generates a large number of solutions to problems and
questions; sees unusual relationships and associations; interprets events
and experiences in unusual ways; fantasizes; wonders about concepts
unusual for his or her age; may have an imaginary playmate during early
years; enjoys fantasies, fairy tales, science fiction; envisions new
structures and processes and can express them in speaking, writing, art,
music, or other art forms.
- ORIGINALITY: Produces work that has freshness,
vitality, uniqueness; solves problems by ingenious methods; does the
unexpected; expresses ideas that are often very original in one or more
areas; is resourceful.
- CURIOSITY: Is curious and investigative; asks many
provocative questions; explores things and situations closely; wants to
know how and why things work, will take them apart to find out; is
inquisitive; is skeptical about explanations; is curious about meanings;
continually asks "Why?"; has a sense of wonder about the world;
continually questions the status quo.
- SENSE OF WONDER: Expresses awe and is deeply
impressed by natural phenomena; has intense feelings about the world; is
eager to share discoveries with others.
- RANGE OF INFORMATION: Is well informed for age;
reads widely and in unusual areas; enjoys reading informative books such
as dictionaries, references, and almanacs; seems to be interested in
everything; has a highly specialized knowledge in a particular field of
interest beyond his or her years.
- RANGE OF INTERESTS: Has a wide range of interests;
has a strong interest in a specific area; makes collections; has unusual
hobbies; pursues interests or hobbies with unusual intensity and
attention; seems to have a large storehouse of information on a variety of
topics; has interests or hobbies that are beyond his or her years.
- AESTHETIC INTERESTS AND/OR TALENTS: Responds to
beauty; has aesthetic interests and/or talents in areas such as art,
music, rhythm, dancing, writing, and poetry; remembers musical
compositions and melodies of songs; responds to variations in colors,
hues, and shades; shows grace and precision in response to dance patterns;
enjoys hearing, reading, or writing poetry; is responsive to pattern and
arrangement; plays a musical instrument with exceptional skill.
- ATTENTION TO DETAIL: Is impatient with detail and
repetition; is easily bored with routine tasks; requires fewer detailed or
repeated instructions; often anticipates instructions with a minimum of
information; can be accurate and neat, and will attend to details of a
topic of intense interest, such as a hobby or special study.
- OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE: Performs with outstanding
ability in some area; has received an award in a specific area such as
music, art, science, or achievement; has received a scholarship or other
academic award; receives consistently high grades in school performance.
- SCHOLASTIC ACHIEVEMENT: Attains consistently high
grades in schoolwork or in one particular subject area; enjoys excelling
in schoolwork; shows exceptional talent in mathematics.
- LEADERSHIP: Is a leader; has influence over
others; assumes leadership in situations; shows initiative in starting
worthwhile activities; usually directs activities; is an organizer; may
seem willful; likes to plan and organize; tends to dominate situations.
- ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION: Has a long attention
span; is capable of intense concentration; is not easily distracted; has a
tendency to lose awareness of time; becomes deeply involved in tasks.
- PERSISTENCE: Persists in spite of difficulties;
will stay with a task until it is completed; will concentrate on goals
that are remote and possibly unattainable in the eyes of others; needs
little external motivation to persist in tasks that excite or interest him
or her; is tenacious; shows determination in achieving goals.
- SELF-CRITICISM: Is self-critical; strives for
perfection, is not easily satisfied with own work or product; evaluates
own abilities, usually correctly; modifies behavior in terms of own
self-evaluation; is modest, not inclined to boast or to overstate own
knowledge; is aware of own exceptionality.
- RESPONSIVENESS: Is alert; is keenly observant;
responds to the environment; is aware.
- STRENGTH OF CHARACTER: Is self-disciplined, needs
little outside control; is usually well behaved and responsive to moral
standards; has more wholesome character preferences and social attitudes
than those of peers; is deeply concerned with moral and ethical values,
right and wrong, good and bad; is trustworthy; is honest and forthright;
is trusting of others; has a forceful, strong character; is pure-minded,
tends to shun vulgarity and immorality.
- CANDIDNESS: Is uninhibited in expressing opinions;
is frank and honest; appraises adults frankly; will not lie to avoid
- DEPENDABILITY: Is reliable, dependable,
responsible; can be counted on to carry out assigned tasks; can be counted
on to follow instructions.
- SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: Has a strong sense of
social justice; is concerned about the welfare of others; is actively
concerned about the rights of others.
- COOPERATION: Is cooperative; works well with
others; avoids bickering and fighting; is congenial and easy to get along
- COMMON SENSE: Has common sense; shows good
- SENSITIVITY: Feels criticism deeply; cares about
others; is kind on principle; is sensitive to the feelings and needs of
others; has both sympathy and empathy for others.
- POPULARITY: Is well liked by other children; is
sociable and enjoys the company of others; is chosen for leadership roles;
is considered a friend by others; is usually of cheerful disposition.
- ENTHUSIASM: Likes to try new experiences;
expresses delight with unusual developments in science or other fields;
frequently interrupts others when they are talking; becomes excited about
own and others' discoveries; shows enjoyment in acquiring knowledge.
- SENSE OF HUMOR: Has a keen sense of humor; sees
humor in situations not readily apparent to others; enjoys humor in
intellectual situations; may enjoy benign teasing, but does not like to be
teased; dislikes sarcasm or cruel jokes.
- SPATIAL RELATIONSHIPS: Likes to do jigsaw puzzles
with many pieces; is good at fixing mechanical things; likes games with
patterns and designs; is quick to sort blocks of different shapes.
- EMOTIONAL STABILITY: Is usually secure
emotionally; does not become upset easily; is slow to show anger; has a
high frustration tolerance; is patient with people, especially younger and
less bright children.
- SELF-SUFFICIENCY AND SELF CONFIDENCE: Is
independent, individualistic, self-sufficient, self-confident; needs
little direction from teachers or others; is not easily swayed from
convictions without reasonable proof; does not accept authoritarian
pronouncements without critical examination; does not fear being
different; often prefers to work on his or her own; has confidence in own
powers and abilities; has definite ideas and preferences.
- HEALTH: Has fewer health problems than peers;
health history is basically favorable; enjoys generally good health.
- ENERGY: Is energetic and active; occasionally may
be mislabeled "hyperactive," especially during early years; is well
coordinated physically; enjoys athletic games and excels in athletic
- EARLY DEVELOPMENT: Sat up, walked, talked early;
did everything earlier than expected; seemed to be more advanced than
other babies of same age.
- COMPARISON WITH SIBLINGS AND OTHERS: Sisters or
brothers are also very bright; is different from other children in
family; is very bright; is brighter than other children of same age.
- PREFERENCE FOR OLDER PLAYMATES: Likes to play with
older children; enjoys the company of older persons, including
(Traits based on a research study by
Virginia Z. Ehrlich, parts of which were presented at the Annual
Conference of the Council for Exceptional Children, TAG (The Association
for the Gifted), April 1981, and at the World Council for the Gifted, held
in Montreal, Canada, August 1981)
4. MI Theory
Although there are several ways of
and talented children using both formal and informal sources of data,
there are still some problems. Many people argue that standardized tests
and reports can be and are culturally biased. So how can you identify
students of diverse and low-income students? There has been recent
research based on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory. This
idea takes his seven intelligence areas and tests each one. This way,
students that do not show strengths on standardized tests, or having
biased nominations, can still be tested in several areas to help identify
giftedness. Although this technique is new, there is promising data that
shows it is reliable.
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