The Right Score for Admittance to a Gifted Program

Boy Taking Test
Boy Taking Test. Echo/ Cultura/ Getty Images

There is no “right” score for a school’s cut off into its gifted program. The use of the term “gifted” to refer to some gifted programs is really a misnomer because the programs aren’t always designed for truly gifted children.

Why Gifted Programs Aren't Necessarily for Gifted Children

One reason a gifted program may not be designed for gifted children is that school officials often don’t understand giftedness. What they consider gifted often has more to do with achievement than ability. Quite often the two— achievement and ability—go hand-in-hand, but it's just as likely that they don’t. That is, it is not at all unusual for gifted children to be underachievers.

Giftedness Has Many Definitions

It isn’t really surprising that school officials may not understand giftedness since even experts in the gifted field can’t agree on a single definition of gifted. The term has an interesting history and has led to the many definitions of gifted that exist today. Some definitions of gifted include motivation and achievement, while others don’t. Some schools may also be working under the constraints of their state’s definition of gifted. Such definitions often define gifted children as those who are working above the level of the majority of their classmates. Giftedness, in other words, is relative. A child may be identified as gifted in one school system, but not in another. It depends on the abilities of the majority of students in the school.

That said, the federal definition according to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is:

"Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities."

Tests and Assessments

Tests are often used to help a school decide if a child is gifted, but they shouldn't be used alone to determine giftedness. Common tests include:

  • Achievement tests, such as standardized tests or tests that are specifically for gifted kids
  • Individual ability tests such as Stanford Binet (L-M), Wescher Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV), and Woodcock Johnson
  • Group ability tests such as the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT), Otis-Lennon, Hemmon-Nelson, Ravens Progressive Matrices, and Matrix Analogies Test

Practical Considerations Can Determine Who Gets In

Regardless of the definition of gifted that schools use, they have very real practical considerations. For example, if the school has funds for only one teacher for gifted children, they can identify only so many students, usually, twenty or twenty-five or the class will be too large. On the other hand, a class of only ten or eleven students would not justify the salary of a teacher. That means that the school determines the size of the class and then sets the cutoff score that makes it most possible to get that number of students. They will use other criteria to keep the number they had set. If they have more or less than the set number, they will most likely use criteria like motivation and teacher recommendation to decide who gets into their program. When there are too many students, the unmotivated ones will not be chosen, but if the number is too low, those students will be admitted.

The Bottom Line

What this means, then, is that there is no right score for a school to use as a cut-off score into a gifted program. It depends on the school's definition of "gifted," the abilities of the majority of students in the school, and the school's budget and resources.

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. Siegle D, McCoach DB. Underachievement and the gifted child. In: Pfeiffer SI, Shaunessy-Dedrick E, Foley-Nicpon M, eds. APA handbooks in psychology®. APA handbook of giftedness and talent. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2018. doi:10.1037/0000038-036

  2. U.S. Department of Education. Title IX General Provisions.

  3. National Association for Gifted Children. Tests & Assessments.

  4. Bhatt R. A Review of Gifted and Talented Education in the United States. Educ Financ Policy. 2011;6(4):557-582. doi:10.1162/EDFP_a_00048

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.