Recently I’ve had many questions from parents regarding testing their gifted child. Some parents have asked why testing is necessary when they know their child is gifted and schools may not use the testing information for in depth educational planning; others question the value of testing because this year’s teacher is doing a good job meeting the needs of their child.
The reasons for testing a child are different for every family. Some families choose to have their child tested by the school so they are identified as gifted and receive appropriate placement in class. Other families seek private testing outside of the school, or choose to have their child tested through networks such as NUMATS (Northwestern University Midwest Academic Talent Search) at Northwestern University. Some parents wish to pursue testing for their own use, to learn their child’s capabilities so they can plan how to address these needs as the child grows. Still others choose to forego testing and work with the school or at home to provide the necessary challenge and/or enrichment for their child.
If a family chooses the testing option, there are a wide variety of measurements to consider.
Assessments such as the EXPLORE, and Woodcock Johnson are achievement tests. They measure knowledge in key areas, usually including verbal and mathematical skills, and/or specific academic areas such as reading, writing, vocabulary, math and others. Tests such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Fourth Edition (WISC-IV) assess intellectual ability and provide IQ and other scores. It is important to know the difference between these two types of tests. Achievement tests measure skills and academic achievement. Intelligence tests measure intellect.
One of the advantages of the EXPLORE test through NUMATS, and other similar out-of-level tests, is that these tests are given to children younger than the intended population of the test. Because of this, children can demonstrate their knowledge in specific areas and not hit a ceiling, or the top range of questions on a test that won’t let them go beyond their age or grade level. These tests allow students to show what they know beyond their age/grade level. When seeking achievement testing in your local school district, be sure to ask what test they are using and if it allows students to show what they know beyond their age/grade level; in other words parents should as whether the test has a ceiling, and if so, what it is.
In Wisconsin, standard t requires multiple measures for gifted identification in all five areas of giftedness (intellectual, academic, creativity, leadership, and the visual and performing arts). That means that testing-be it achievement or intelligence testing-are only one measure for gifted identification in these areas. There should be many other measures that are also considered, and parents should consider asking what measures are used.
Though public schools are not required to accept testing from outside sources such as private practitioners or NUMATS, many do. It is wise for parents to determine the purpose and need for testing in their particular situation.
There is not a one-size-fits all approach to testing gifted children. Each family situation is different, and families should be prepared to ask questions before and after having their gifted child/ren tested.