Definition of a Gifted Child

Federal Definition

Were you aware that there is a Federal definition of a gifted child, albeit, one that can be over-ruled by local preference. It is in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and it reads:

The term ‘gifted and talented,’ when used with respect to students, children, or youth, means 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 or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities. [minor changes made to correct punctuation errors]

The Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, acting to ” build and enhance the ability of elementary and secondary schools to meet the special education needs of gifted and talented students,” carries out scientifically-based research and provides grants.

It should be noted that the program has a particular emphasis on “serving students traditionally underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, particularly economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient (LEP), and disabled students, to help reduce the serious gap in achievement among certain groups of students at the highest levels of achievement.”

This emphasis is reflected in the grant priorities, which are first are foremost to develop models for underrepresented students and second to improve services for all gifted and talented students.

Local Definitions

Let’s take a look at how this plays out locally.

In the Sulphur Springs School District in California, the 2005–2006 “G.A.T.E. Handbook,” has this to say:

“The program serves exceptional students qualifying in one or more of the
following areas:

• Intellectual Ability
• Specific Academic Ability
• Reading or Math

To determine eligibility, students must undergo a screening and identification process. STAR test data are first reviewed. Students are then administered the OLSAT (Otis-Lennon Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the RAVEN, a non-verbal assessment. Once identified, students may be placed in the GATE program. English Learners may be identified through the use of non-verbal assessments, and rapid growth on the CELDT may be used as one of the standardized test criteria.”

In the Coweta County School System in Georgia, the state definition of giftedness is used, and it defines gifted students like this:

“A gifted student is one who demonstrates a high degree of intellectual and/or creative ability(ies), exhibits an exceptionally high degree of motivation and/or excels in specific academic field(s) and needs special instruction and/or ancillary services to achieve at levels commensurate with his or her abilities.”

In the “Gifted Education Parent’s Handbook” provided by the Austin Independent School District in Texas, the following is offered as a definition of being gifted:

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive
abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and
awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony
increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted
renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parent-
ing, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. (The
Columbus Group, 1991, in Morelock, 1992) Asynchrony means being out
of sync, both internally and externally. Asynchronous development means
that gifted children develop cognitively at a much faster rate than they
develop physically and emotionally, posing some interesting problems.
For example, ideas forged by 8-year-old minds may be difficult to produce
with 5-year-old hands. Further, advanced cognition often makes gifted
children aware of information that they are not yet emotionally ready to
handle. They tend to experience all of life with greater intensity, render-
ing them emotionally complex. These children usually do not fit the
developmental norms for their age; they have more advanced play
interests and often are academically far ahead of their age peers. The
brighter the child, the greater the asynchrony and potential vulnerability.
Therefore, parents who are aware of the inherent developmental differ-
ences of their children can prepare themselves to act as their advocates.”

As you can see, these three definitions offer rather different ways of conceptualizing giftedness. Is it conceivable that a child identified as gifted by one set of criteria would not meet the criteria in another location? It seems so. Certainly the highly motivated child in Georgia might not fit the criteria in the other locations. Certainly, based on this comparison, some interesting questions are raised about gifted and talented children and how their instruction should be differentiated.

For more background, we invite you to read our article, “Gifted Education.”

And please vote in our survey on students with special needs (included gifted students) and national standards.