Identifying Non-traditional Gifted Students


23 Mar 2015 16 Apr 2018

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Gifted students are defined as those who excel in academic subjects such as reading, science, or math. Some students do exceptionally well in visual art or playing musical instruments, while others exhibit strong leadership qualities. All of these are defined in the America's School Act of 1994.

The term "gifted and talented" when used in respect to students, children or youth means students, children or youth who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities (Ryser, McConnell, 2004).

Gifted children are sometimes called "asynchronous" due to their physical/emotional growth not corresponding to their intellectual growth. Traditionally, gifted students have been under-served or go unidentified due to schools being unable to provide advanced placement or the lack of curriculum for these students. If a student shows signs of boredom, lack of interest or diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, the score of such student may not have reflected their true potential. Times have not changed in regard to this type of students. Many of these students are still in regular classrooms without the opportunity of advanced placement, specific gifted classrooms or additional discovery classes to service their needs. The Federal No Child Left Behind Act has left little room for helping these students attain their full academic and/or talent goals. Combining these factors with the gifted children who are not identified due to not being able to perform well on standardized tests, or a low socioeconomic culture and those with learning disabilities that accompany their giftedness presents a dilemma for most school districts (Lardner, 2004). However, the first step for developing curriculum for schools is the identification process.

1. Problem statement

This paper is meant to examine the problems and research that has been done in the area of identifying the students that may show extreme giftedness in one subject and perform low in another, those who may be overlooked due to cultural, linguistic or ethically diverse backgrounds and those students who may not score well on standardized tests; to include twice exceptional students.

Identification and low representation of culturally, linguistically, and ethnically diverse (CLED) students have been a concern with researchers and educators in our country: (Lohman, 2005), (Pierce et al., 2007). Considering the changing demographics within schools and pressure from the government and funding issues, educators must examine "how to change identification procedures and services to adequately recognize and develop these students' talents" (Briggs, 2008). Even though cultural diversity has become more prominent in in education, CLED students are more identified in the remedial classes and underrepresented in gifted and talented programs (Briggs, 2008).

National surveys show that only 10% of those students performing at their highest level are CLED students even though they represent 33% of the school population (Gallagher, 2002). The issues of identifying and assessing such students are highly important due to various reasons, but first of all because the absence of proper educational approach and environment hinder the development and future success of a great number of people, which undermines the very mission of education. Researching methods and approaching for identification and assessment of nontraditional gifted students will help to address this deficiency of our educational system.

2. Literature review on identification and assessment of nontraditional gifted students

Assessing the nontraditional gifted student has become a growing problem in school districts across America. While doing a review of existing literature on the problem of identification of gifted students, one can outline 3 major types of nontraditional gifted students. Each type of such students, its identification and relevant research will be described below.

2.1. Gifted students missed by testing

Various identification methods are used to identify gifted learners. There are those who still believe that IQ tests can be the way to measure intelligence; Schroth and Helfer (2008) refer to Gottfredson who states that "proponents of traditional instruments for measuring IQ believe that such tests are not biased against blacks, other ethnic minority groups who are English speaking, or other native born people in the United States predicting well for all subgroups".

Schroth and Helfer (2008) reference Ford (2003) who believes that the same groups along with low-SES students are discriminated against by standard tests because such tests are "biased against process that is "color blind or culture blind, Eurocentric, monolithic and narrow" (Schroth & Helfer, 2008). The authors go on to support the models referenced in Renzulli & Reis (2007), and Sternberg (2002,2003), regarding those who believe in utilizing multiple measures for identifying gifted students. Such measures include portfolios, observations, teacher, parent or peer nominations and test scores and may be used to identify gifted students as well as to identify those students who "may be missed using only traditional tools" (Schroth & Helfer, 2008).

There are many factors that influence identification and availability of gifted programming to CLED students. The assessment tools that are used, educator bias, the "perception of cultural behaviors, quantity and quality of teacher preparation for working with CLED students, and degree of variety of instruction strategies" influence the identification and services provided for CLED students (Briggs, 2008). Language barriers, non-stimulating environments, fear of not "teaching to the test" and the belief that few gifted students can be found in CLED students also influence under-identification of these groups (Briggs, 2008).

Unfortunately, tests play a major role in identification, referral, and placement of gifted students. Due to students not scoring well on standardized tests, teachers need to create and use tests and assessments that are culturally responsive (Ford, 2010).

2.2. Gifted students with a learning disability

Other learners that are not identified or serviced properly nationwide are gifted learners with a learning disability. Gifted/learning disabled students are students with high intellect (superior intellectual ability) who have low performance in a specific academic area such as math, reading or written expression. This is not due to the absence of educational opportunity or a health problem (McCoach, 2001).

McCoach describes three types of gifted/learning disabled students. The first student does well in elementary school when the learning disabilities are less distinct and they still participate in gifted programs. As the work progresses within that student's disability, he/she may begin to experience learning difficulties which leads to underachievement. These students are not normally identified as learning disabled due to the high achievement in elementary school. The second type is described as learning disabled but also gifted. Since such students have severe learning disabilities, they are seldom identified as gifted. The third type is the student that is not identified as either gifted or disabled. This student's disabilities hide their gifts and the gifts conceal their disability, creating a smokescreen which is referred to as "masking" within the definition of gifted/learning disabled students (McCoach, 2001).

"Masking refers to the principle that many gifted students with learning disabilities have patterns of strengths and weaknesses that make them appear to have average abilities and achievement" (McCoach,2001). So therefore, these students do not get identified as gifted or learning disabled. Some advocates believe that intelligence scores will be lower for these students, "thereby hindering their identification as either gifted or learning disabled" (McCoach, 2001). McCoach goes on to quote Waldren and Saphire (1990): " the primary problem with the use of intelligence test to identify gifted students with LD is that the disability may lower their IQ score so dramatically that the students do not qualify for inclusion in the school district's criteria for gifted, even though they demonstrate strong abilities in some areas."

2.3. Twice-exceptional students

"The term twice-exceptional is used to describe students who are gifted and identified with a disability" (Baum & Owen, 2003). There has been extensive research identifying twice exceptional students. Identification is a problem due to a misdiagnosis of the student (Webb, et al., 2005). The challenge is still the under representation of students with disabilities in gifted programs. The question is not whether these students exist but how to serve them when they need two sets of services (Rizza & Morrison, 2007).

There is evidence to show that there is a large amount of students who are gifted with behavioral disabilities (Baum & Olenchak, 2002, Neihart, 2000). One example of "twice exceptional" would be a student identified as gifted with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This particular disorder when combined with giftedness is difficult to diagnose due to the many similarities between ADHD and gifted characteristics. The difficulty differentiating between characteristics of giftedness and those of ADHD, and recognizing when they coexist, can easily lead to inaccurate identification. Gifted and ADHD children often exhibit similar behaviors: hyperactivity, disruptive behavior, challenges to authority, and social/emotional development (Leroux & Levitt-Perlman, 2000). Leroux & Levitt-Perlman referenced Clark (1992) regarding hyperactivity, which can occur in both gifted children and children with ADHD and is often the first characteristic a diagnostician will see. However, hyperactivity may manifest itself in different ways. The gifted child may show focused energy, whereas the child with ADHD is largely unfocused (Leroux & Levitt-Perlman, 2000).

In addition, both gifted children and children with ADHD may challenge authority. The challenging authority characteristic in gifted children compared to children with ADHD may be exhibited differently. According to Clark, gifted children are curious and want to ask questions, this is part of their nature. "The challenge from ADHD children has been observed to be more hostile and aggressive in manner". Even though both types of children can disrupt the daily school environment, the causes are different (Clark, 2008).

The disruptive behavior is presented in both gifted and ADHD children. For the gifted child, disruptive behavior is associated with boredom in response to unchallenging activities, curriculum, and learning style . Disruptive behavior in the ADHD child is the "result of any or all of the ADHD core symptoms: inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity" (Clark, 2008). The ADHD child can easily become distracted by outside environment and/or stimuli, or even by own thoughts. ADHD students have weak organizational skills which makes staying on task a challenge. Too strict of an environment can lead to a disruption in the classroom as well. "In the gifted/ADHD child the frustrations of impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity, combined with under stimulation can lead to oppositional behaviors" (Leroux & Levitt-Perlman, 2000).

When the social/emotional development aspects are considered, there are similarities for both gifted and ADHD children as well. The gifted student might interact maturely with adults but be less competent with his peers, unable to read the social cues that tell him his behavior is not within social norms for children his age. The gifted child's intellectual and/or creative ability is more advanced than the emotional level, along with the sense of self (being different than other students), which can cause social isolation. The ADHD child shows immaturity and does not pick up on social clues, leading to rejection from peers. Both of these can cause emotional outbursts and inappropriate behaviors (Leroux & Levitt-Perlman, 2000). Clark references Mendaglio when stating that "when the two of these are combined in one child, there is a heightened sense of of alienation, sensitivity, and overreaction ( Clark, 2008).

3. Synthesis of relevant research and findings

There are important issues that need to be considered when developing a method for identifying gifted or talented students: gifted students will exhibit their talents not only in a certain domain but also within a specific area of interest. A student may perform well on classroom activities but with independent study, may show a deeper level of theoretical understanding within the same subject. Giftedness is a dynamic concept. A test score may not represent how a child's gifts may be developed into talents, especially for students who do not have the opportunity for out-of-school activities. Talents are shown by students who have disabilities, or who come from different ethnic, cultural, and economic backgrounds and finally, early identification has proven important in developing gifts into talents (Johnsen 2009).

In order to avoid the scantiness of test assessments, Ford suggests that assessment should include answers to the following questions (Ford, 2010):

  • Are the measures "valid and reliable for the specific culturally different students and group?"
  • How can educators remove the bias in the measurements they use or "must adopt for evaluation and gifted education decisions?"
  • Have the students had the opportunity to be assessed in ways that are "compatible with how they learn and communicate?"
  • Finally, do the students have the opportunity to be evaluated via more authentic assessments; skits, presentations, speeches, research, and other models of their learning? .

Moreover, concerning broadening the spectrum oh approaches to students, Ford (2010) suggests in her article, Culturally Responsive Classrooms: Affirming Culturally Different Gifted Students the use of the "culturally responsive classroom" which is characterized by five components. The five components include; teachers' philosophy, learning environment, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Ford believes that when teachers become more "self-reflective", are able to recognize cultural differences amongst students and themselves, and create classrooms that are more culturally responsive, they can "decrease cultural misunderstandings and miscommunication with CLED students" (Ford, 2010).

For gifted students with learning disabilities, the masking concept creates problems for school psychologists, they can not possibly test all students who are performing at an average level to look for disguised learning disabilities. Until these students exhibit underachievement, there are not clear suggestions or empirical research to help identify these students. Teachers and specialists focus on the students' disabilities, so therefore the strengths and talents of the student go ignored. The teacher's and/or specialist's attention is focused on the disability so "little or no attention is given to the students' gifts or talents" (Baum, 2001). The techniques that are used for the disability may very well "lack the characteristics gifted students require for successful learning" and thus inhibit the attempt of that technique. Baum suggests that using instructional strategies that provide balance between the strengths and weaknesses of the gifted/learning disabled will contribute to an "authentic, challenging curriculum" (Baum, 2001).

The pragmatic problem concerning twice-exceptional learners is identifying these children like those that are gifted/ LD. This agrees with the case that many children who are gifted go unidentified by the use of standard IQ tests, and currently, many of the current diagnostic measures are less than perfect form many ADHD children (Leroux & Levitt-Perlman, 2000).

Leroux & Levitt-Perlman (2000) promote that the "skills and talents within individuals must be expanded to include and acknowledge the strengths of the gifted/ADHD child" and go on to comment on Maker, Neilson, and Rogers (1994) approach that combines Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences and a "matrix of problem types to design ways to identify and serve the diversity and skills in students" (Leroux & Levitt-Perlman, 2000). They surmise that students who were identified through this method made "equal or greater gains in enrichment programs as those identified by traditional methods" (Leroux & Levitt-Perlman, 2000).

McCoach suggests that identification of students with learning disabilities "should parallel the identification of all other students with learning disabilities" (McCoach, 2001). According to McCoach, the process must comply with both federal and state special education regulations while utilizing both ability and achievement testing. McCoach (2001) suggests that authentic assessment (portfolio with works of the student, written works, informal reading inventories) should be used in correlation with standardized methods of achievement.


The problem of identification and assessment of nontraditional gifted student is one of the important educational issues. Review and analysis of relevant research have shown that the so-called nontraditional gifted students may be divided into three groups: gifted students missed due to imperfection and limited nature of current testing system, gifted learners with learning disabilities and twice-exceptional learners. Methods of identification and assessment for the three groups differ from each other. Major finding and suggestions for the problem are: developing authentic assessments aimed at addressing various types of skills and eligible for discovering different talents, creating a culturally responsive classroom and providing necessary background to the teachers, using instructional strategies in order to provide balance between the strengths and weaknesses of the gifted and learning disabled learners and addressing multiple types of intelligence via creating different problem types to design ways to identify and serve the diversity and skills in students.


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