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Testing for Giftedness for a Bad Test-taker

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I recently spoke to my daughter's teacher who wanted to talk to me before submitting her name for testing to the gifted program at her school. My daughter has been a hard nut to crack since she started to school. Her first grade teacher thought she might have a learning disability because she was so inconsistent in her work. Some days she would have no problem with anything put in front of her and other days she would not be able to do anything. I should mention that my plan was to homeschool her so she did not attend kindergarten and much of the difficulties her first grade teacher witnessed had to do with routine activities as much as her knowledge of an area.

Both her first and second grade teachers have been blown away by areas in my daughter that are not easily tested such as her perception and ability to verbalize her thoughts. She is also extremely creative and inquisitive however she hates to do routine school work.

My daughter's class has been using practice tests for the school achievement testing and she really does poorly in this area. She tends to answer correctly the more difficult problems but misses the obvious ones. In addition to this she has recently had a meltdown over a DIBELS progress monitoring test. As you know these tests are timed reading passages that are not intended to be completed but she normally completes the passages without error. On this particular day she had to be taken to the hall in tears and explained that she is not expected to answer all questions correctly or complete the passage but she was still extremely upset.

Her teacher also mentioned that when they are having class discussions that she turns red and avoids eye contact to prevent answering questions, however, when she is called upon her teacher is amazed at the level to which she has grasped the question and going into much more detail than required and responding with information that might have been given weeks or months prior almost verbatim. Her teacher also mentioned some contraption she has made for her desk where she presses a folded piece of paper and a pencil jumps out and several other things having to do with organization of her desk.

She is also a very talented storyteller. Her stories are very detailed and character rich. My thoughts are that she is obviously gifted to some extent or some area because as her teacher has said she is wise beyond her years however because of her dislike of tests and the fact that she does not perform well on testing should I put her through it. I feel that she is someone who would thrive in a gifted environment because she would be able to see the value of the application of her education.

She is a very creative and artistic child and the projects of the gifted program I believe would really stimulate her but she is so hard on herself if she doesn't do well on a test I am very concerned.

She is an A/B student. If pushed she is consistently As but if not then she would most likely make Bs all the time. Do you know what tests are used for gifted programs? Do you think my daughter is gifted? Do you think she should be tested? Thank you. If you need more information please let me know. 

A: From your description, your daughter surely has gifts that you and the school have obviously noticed. She also appears to be verbally and creatively gifted and as you mentioned, may do well in a gifted program. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to avoid testing to be placed in a gifted program.

Different schools may use different tests, sometimes achievement tests; other times IQ tests, and the current trend today is to use multiple combinations of assessments which proves to be more reliable. However, the main testing method is usually the achievement (such as the Terra Nova) or IQ tests. In IQ tests (such as the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) and the Wechsler Intelligence Test (WISC), the Verbal and Performance (or Qualitative and Quantitative) scores are combined in a composite score to reveal a full scale IQ. Usually a cut-off score of 130 and above is considered in the gifted range.

Having said that, there may special cases where recommendations by parents and teachers are taken into account when placing a child in the gifted program. You may want to speak to the school regarding this and your concerns. They may be able to suggest an alternative as well as to how the school can best serve her. Another alternative is to seek advice from a good private educational psychologist (the school may be able to recommend someone) if you can afford it.

As for testing, you need to help your daughter relax and understand the need to be tested. For this, the low-key, matter-of-fact approach is best (I assume that she is around 9 years of age). In the meantime, get her involved in creative arts programs to enhance her skills further. Finally, even if she does not test well on a placement test, you should still looks for ways and means to address her needs as parents are the best and generally most accurate in predicting giftedness in their children. Best wishes to you.


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