Group Presentation

Identification of Gifted Children

By: Robert Andrews

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 environment.
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 the schools.
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

    • Twenty years ago, few programs existed for gifted and talented students. By 1990, 38 states served more than 2 million K--12 gifted students. The remaining states did not report the number of students served, although we know that such programs exist in every state.
    • The number and percentage of students identified as gifted and talented varies from state to state due to differences in state laws and local practices. For example, 4 states identify more than 10 percent of their students as gifted and talented, while in 21 states fewer than 5 percent are identified as such.
    • Sixty-five percent of the public schools, which together served 75 percent of all public school 8th graders, had some kind of opportunity for gifted and talented students, according to the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) of 1988, which looked at 8th graders throughout the nation.
    • Some minority groups are more likely to be served than others are. The NELS study found that about 8.8 percent of all 8th-grade public school students participated in gifted and talented programs. Racial and ethnic groups were represented as follows:
      • 17.6 percent of Asian students;
      • 9.0 percent of white, non-Hispanic students;
      • 7.9 percent of black students;
      • 6.7 percent of Hispanic students; and
      • 2.1 percent of American Indian students.

    • States that use IQ score cutoffs to identify gifted and talented students are more likely to have larger disparities among racial and ethnic groups.
    • Economically disadvantaged students were significantly underserved, according to NELS data. Only 9 percent of students in gifted and talented education programs were in the bottom quartile of family income, while 47 percent of program participants were from the top quartile in family income.

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 proportions.

(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 Students

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 are 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 schools 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 unsatisfactory.

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.


    • Intelligence

    • Detroit Tests of Learning Aptitude – Revised
    • Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. Form L-M
    • Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – Revised

    • Readiness

    • Metropolitan Readiness Test, Level 1
    • Test of Basic Experiences, Level K

    • Perceptual-Motor Development

    • Basic Motor Ability Test
    • Revised Visual Retention Test

    • Social Development

    • AAMD Adaptive Behavior Scale, School Ed.

    • Creativity

    • The Make-A-Tree Test

    • Test of Creative Thinking

    • Self Concept

    • Animal Crackers
    • The Self Concept and Motivation Inventory

    • Musical Ability

    • Test of Musical Ability and Appreciation


    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 teacher can.

    • 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 development.

    • 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 elaboration.
    • 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 issues.
    • 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 punishment.
    • 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 with.
    • COMMON SENSE: Has common sense; shows good judgment.
    • 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 activities.
    • 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 adults.

(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 Evaluation

Although there are several ways of identifying gifted 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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Robert Andrews
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