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Alternative Assessments with Gifted & Talented...

Who needs an entire book dedicated to assessing gifted and talented children? What’s hard about that? We give them all a test, and those that do well on the test are gifted, right? Or better yet, we select those students who are obviously gifted. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out. Surprisingly it is harder than most assume, educators included. If you rely on only one method of selecting gifted children, you will without a doubt miss some of your most gifted students. This book will stretch your thinking and give you alternatives to finding children who truly do need the support of programming designed to nurture their gifts.

Giftedness is not as easily measured as height or weight. The more I study test data and reports, and lay them along side the actual child, the more I realize that one day of numbers may not answer all of our questions. That said, a book title that starts with “alternate assessments” can only add to our picture of what a gifted child looks like. I loved how this book stepped through many different aspects of gifted identification, and I hope that those in a position to make a difference will consider its valid suggestions.

Too often kids are stamped as “gifted” or “not gifted” based on one single number. This number is typically the full scale IQ. But so many of today’s IQ tests have been revised to reflect a much broader picture of ability levels, that this is no longer the best practice. We need to look beyond the narrow-minded full scale approach, and Alternate Assessments is a good hands on tool to show us how to do just that.

Each school or system will ultimately have to decide what type of “giftedness” they are looking for, and create their identification criteria accordingly, but my hope is that after reading this book, minds will be opened about the possibilities available. The ideas within are fair in their approach, and shortcomings are discussed as well as strengths for the various alternatives.

One of the book’s chapters is dedicated completely to nonverbal testing. It freely discusses some of the negatives in using such a limited filter. Nonverbal tests have typically been popular because of their alleged freedom from bias or cultural aspects, but the book points out this is not the case for any test. If a program uses only nonverbal testing, they will most likely miss quite a few very gifted children! Nonverbal testing has its place of course, as schools would be wise to look twice at a student who has amazing strengths alongside shortcomings in some of the more verbal areas of intelligence. But nonverbal testing should never be the only consideration.

Another thought I personally found interesting in a chapter titled “Traditional IQ” is the idea that nonverbal testing does not measure a different ability. It is not a theoretical construct of nonverbal ability, but rather a measure of “general” ability using nonverbal tests. If that’s the case, well-rounded gifted kids should score equally on both types of tests, but this is often not what we see. Rather than confuse us, this further proves that we need to consider more data, not less. A gifted program should never be accessible based only on one hard fast entry point. Allowing different types of children to enter from a different perspective greatly increases the successfulness of any gifted program.

One full chapter is dedicated to off-level testing. Off-level testing is merely grade level achievement testing that is used with gifted children above their chronological level. We live during the “testing generation”, and our kids today if nothing else have lots of data on them. However, for gifted and talented children, we are continually collecting the wrong data! Showing that these children can ace grade level testing really tells us nothing. Nor should grade level testing be used for gifted and talented identification purposes beyond suggesting the need for a closer look. Off-level testing is based on the long-standing belief that gifted children need to be assessed at their ability level rather than their chronological level. Off-level testing takes the top 5% of grade level testing and shows how these kids are just not the same. This is an excellent way to find students who truly excel in academic areas.

For the truly proactive school, there are also chapters on using portfolios and creativity in the selection of gifted and talented children. Schools too often look for the easy approach, but guess what? Gifted children are not easy! They take commitment and a willingness to meet them outside of the box. Remember, they are already outside of the box. The question is, will we join them?

Obviously the intended audience for these exciting ideas is those who work in education who are in a position to implement the ideas. And hopefully lots of those folks will be excited by its possibilities. However, I believe that anyone close to a gifted child would benefit from a better understanding of what makes a child gifted or talented. And if your child’s school is more rigid in their selection criteria, perhaps sharing some of these ideas will take them into this new millennium with a heart to truly nurture what gifts and talents this generation has to offer. Schools are changing to reflect our changing world and a lot of this change is good. However, we need to change our gifted and talented programs as well. This starts with a better understanding of what our options are, and how to use them wisely when selecting the very children we hope to serve.

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