How Schools May Identify a Gifted Student

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While parents may wonder what gifted children look like to see if their child looks similar, categorizing a child as gifted is difficult because not everyone agrees on the definition of "gifted."

Yet, psychologists and educators have researched gifted children enough to provide a profile of the traits these children tend to have. Schools look at these traits along with IQ tests and other achievement scores to help them identify gifted students.

The federal government does not mandate gifted programs in schools, and only 29 states have mandates and/or funds earmarked for gifted programming. Your principal or school district administrator can provide details on the gifted education available at your child's school.

IQ Scores

Intelligence quotient (IQ) tests can be used to determine giftedness in some children. Depending on which test is used, the gifted IQ range is as follows:

  • Mildly gifted: 115 to 129
  • Moderately gifted: 130 to 144
  • Highly gifted: 145 to 159
  • Exceptionally gifted: 160 to 179
  • Profoundly gifted: 180 or higher

These ranges are based on a standard bell curve. Most people fall in the range between 85 and 115, with 100 the absolute norm. This range is considered normal.

The farther away from the absolute norm of 100 a child is, the greater the need for special educational accommodations, regardless of whether the distance is above or below 100.

Exceptional Talent

Exceptional talent is the ability to perform a skill at a level not usually reached until later years, sometimes as late as adulthood. A 3-year-old may be reading like a third-grader or a 9-year-old may be playing the piano like an 18-year-old who has studied for years.

If the child's exceptional talent is in a non-academic area such as music or art, they may not be identified as gifted by the school because most testing for gifted programs is based on academic ability or achievement.

Schools may use other methods of identifying giftedness in place of or in addition to IQ tests. Individual or group ability tests, standardized achievement tests, and reviews of classwork can help schools determine who gains admittance to their gifted programs.

High Achievement

Gifted children are usually, but not always, high achievers. Even when they don't get good grades in class, they tend to score high on achievement tests, most often in the 95–99 percentile range.

These children love to learn. Their interest in learning combined with the ability to pick up new concepts quickly and remember them easily enables gifted kids to succeed.

However, gifted children are often not motivated to succeed in school by external rewards such as grades. High achievers, in contrast, are motivated by things like praise, high grades, and the esteem of their peers.

If a gifted child has lost the motivation to learn, they may not do well in school, although achievement test scores will usually remain high.

Identification Challenges

There are certain traits seen in gifted children that schools do not or cannot test for. These traits can pose challenges when it comes to meeting your state's definition of giftedness and obtaining educational programming for your child.

  • Heightened sensitivity is so common among gifted children that it is one of the characteristics that sets them apart from other children. Gifted kids may be emotionally sensitive, crying over what others consider trivial, or they may be physically sensitive, bothered by t-shirt tags or sock seams.
  • Intrinsic motivation means that gifted students get their motivation from within, rather than from external rewards such as stickers or even grades. They are motivated by interest and challenge. Even if a gifted child is not achieving in school, they may still be learning and achieving on their own at home.
  • Nonconformity makes gifted children see no need to fit in, follow the rules, or complete homework that they view as meaningless. This characteristic can lead to the ironic result of academic underachievement, which may be frustrating for both the child and parent.

A Word From Verywell

If you believe your child may be gifted and would benefit from special programming, ask your school administration if they can provide testing. If your child does test as gifted, ask for accommodation from the school district so that your child can learn at their own level and continue to enjoy school.

Also, consider ways that you can provide additional learning opportunities outside of school. Enroll your child in extracurricular activities that they accel in, visit museums and organizations centered around your child's interests, and look into college and university programs geared toward gifted elementary and high school students.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Association for Gifted Children. Identification.

  2. Davidson Institute. Gifted state policies and funding.

  3. KidsHealth. Gifted education.

  4. Winkler D, Voight A. Giftedness and OverexcitabilityGifted Child Quarterly. 2016;60(4):243-257. doi:10.1177/0016986216657588

By Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.