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How Does a Child Get into a Gifted Program?

Gifted Resources

Getting a child into a gifted program can be a confusing process for parents, especially because the policies for gifted education vary from state to state. If parents or educators believe a student is gifted, the most frequent method for a student to gain entry to gifted classes or a gifted program is by getting identified as gifted. Depending on the school, various methods to identify gifted students are used, and most begin the identification process starting in second grade or even earlier.

How does a student get into gifted classes?

The criteria for testing a student for giftedness is determined at the state and district level. Since the federal government does not provide specific guidance or have requirements for gifted services, services can vary widely between different regions – even among the same state!

School districts use varying processes to screen students when determining who gets into specific programs. Most screening processes begin with referrals by parents and teachers. They will often use an IQ or assessment test to measure specific skills. Other parts of the screening process include surveys and aptitude tests. See NAGC’s Gifted by State page for state-by-state policies.

There are numerous important questions to ask when seeking a gifted assessment, including information on credentials/training, experience with gifted children, using the results for educational planning, and more.

Low-Cost Gifted Programs

Once a student is identified, there are a few low-cost accommodations schools can make that don’t require a large amount of funds, just flexibility on the part of educators and administrators. Some of these low-cost options include:

  • Early entrance to kindergarten or first grade
  • Self-contained, multi-age gifted classes
  • Subject and/or grade acceleration
  • Dual enrollment (middle and high school; high school and college)

Some school districts offer specialized techniques and services, such as gifted pull-out programs, ability grouping, enrichment programs, and more.

What methods do schools use to identify gifted students?

The various methods schools use to identify gifted students (e.g. test scores, screening programs, teacher nominations) can be surprising for parents. Identification is highly dependent on the state, school district, and local school.

Most parents seek gifted identification of their child in order to gain entry to certain gifted programs or services. Some schools that offer gifted curriculum will use testing as a measurement tool to qualify students who score above a certain threshold. Depending on local gifted education policies in place, entire grades of students may be screened early on, or IQ tests may be administered on an individual basis if a child appears to perform above their grade level.

How to Get Your Child Tested for Giftedness

What is the difference between gifted testing and assessment?

Gifted testing

Gifted testing involves the administration of a standardized test in a specific format, often defined by the publisher of the test, to ensure the test is given to every person in a consistent manner. This may include the way in which questions are presented, the exact wording a tester must use, specific time limits, or a discontinuation point at which the student can no longer answer questions correctly and must move on.

Gifted assessment

Gifted assessment is much more comprehensive – and for that reason, can be significantly more costly. In an assessment, parents work with a trained professional who uses their expertise to determine what information needs to be gathered and the most appropriate tools for collecting that information; observe the child while collecting this information; and then provide an interpretation of their findings to establish the child’s complete learning profile. Detailed information on the child’s strengths, challenges, learning style, educational needs, and individual characteristics, and recommendations for meeting the child’s needs, will be provided.

Read more about Gifted Testing and Assessment

Types of Gifted Tests  

The two main categories for gifted identification are achievement tests and abilities tests.

Achievement tests

Achievement tests look for a child’s knowledge in a subject area. They may be group-administered, like the SAT and ACT, or they might be administered individually by a trained professional, like the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement. Achievement tests can be used as gifted testing to screen students for particular areas of academic strength.

Abilities tests

Abilities tests evaluate a child’s cognitive abilities or IQ. These are delivered individually by a trained professional, often someone with an advanced degree in education, psychology, or social work.

How to Get Your Child Tested for Giftedness

How do I prepare my child for gifted testing?

Even the smallest of factors can impact a gifted child’s assessment situation and outcomes. In particular, assessment situations often take place in an environment unfamiliar to the gifted student and are usually administered by an unfamiliar person to the student. It is recommended that families follow normal test day routines leading up to the assessment.

Gifted Testing Checklist

  • Get sufficient sleep the night before and stay hydrated and nourished
  • Schedule a test during your child’s peak performance hours, when they tend to do best (i.e. not at the end of a long school day or other activity)
  • Take a transition break to stretch and walk before going into the assessment center
  • Frame the test as an engaging activity rather than as a pass-or-fail exam
  • Keep water, snacks, and tissues on hand to help limit any physical discomfort
  • Practice anxiety-reducing techniques at home, such as breathing exercises, so that your child can be prepared if they get stressed

If your child has allergies, an injury, or feels under the weather and you still feel attending the assessment is a priority, be sure to disclose these factors to the individual administering the test so that they are accounted for and included in the written evaluation and results of the assessment.

See: How to Prepare Your Child for Gifted Testing

Are behavioral problems a determining factor for eligibility into gifted programs?

Children who are twice-exceptional (2E) often have learning differences or disabilities along with exceptional abilities. This mix of strengths and challenges creates a complex learning profile, and can result in masking part of the child’s learning profile.

Testing and assessing twice-exceptional students can prove difficult because there won’t be one test that definitively identifies twice-exceptionality. Often a piece-by-piece approach can prove effective for determining eligibility into gifted programs. An IQ test may measure some aspects of their learning profile, a vision test may provide additional context, and qualitative teacher and parent assessments may provide another layer of insight into the whole child. To gain a complete understanding of a 2E child’s profile, parents may need to seek out several types of specialists.

See Hoagies’ Gifted list of professionals familiar with the gifted.

Twice-Exceptional (2E) Students

Giftedness and 2e challenges CAN be addressed at the same time. These students need to be challenged in areas in which they’re gifted, and they simultaneously need support in areas where they struggle. Parents must be active in communicating with the school to determine what accommodations are being made to assist and make learning easier for 2e students.

At the Davidson Academy, there are a number of profoundly gifted students with Section 504 Plan accommodations or Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) attending both campuses. The educational planning for each student with a disability is based upon processes that address legal requirements for educational settings, evaluation, placement, reevaluation, and procedural safeguards. The Davidson Academy special education services team consists of Davidson Academy staff members, as well as contracted professionals who specialize in relevant areas of assessment and practice.

The Davidson Institute Guidebook, Twice-Exceptional: A Resource Guide for Parents, has detailed information on 2E assessment and more.

Special Considerations in Gifted Identification and Assessment


While there are many factors to consider in attempting to gain entrance into a gifted program, communicating effectively with your gifted child’s school is of utmost importance. If your current schooling situation doesn’t provide the education your gifted student needs, the next question is often how to apply for a gifted school. Profoundly gifted students often look to the Davidson Academy as an option.

In 2006, the Davidson Academy’s Reno campus opened as the first free public school of its kind for profoundly gifted middle and high school students. Unlike traditional school settings, the Academy’s classes group students by ability rather than age. In 2016, a fully accredited online campus was added to the Davidson Academy’s offerings for the 2017-2018 academic year. To attend either option, students should score in the 99.9th percentile on accepted intelligence and/or achievement tests; perform at a required academic level; exhibit intellectual and academic achievement; demonstrate motivation, social and emotional maturity, and an overall readiness for a fast-paced educational environment.

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