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Gifted and Talented Student Services

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

The flip side of the need to accommodate disabled students is the need to accommodate gifted and talented students who show exceptional intellectual or artistic abilities. The traditional classroom can be just as poor a fit for gifted students as it can be for students with disabilities, necessitating a strategy on the part of the school to provide appropriate learning environments for gifted children.

Definition of "Gifted and Talented"

smiling teen girlStudents who have exceptional intellect or who are exceptionally gifted in the arts are not covered by IDEA. Instead, another Federal law, the Jacob K Javits Gifted and Talented Student Education Act of 1988 first outlined what responsibility public schools have toward gifted students. The 1988 law was later folded into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which was itself later folded into the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. All these federal statutes define gifted and talented (G/T) students as children 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." Gifted and talented programming is thus not limited to meeting the needs of exceptionally intelligent children but instead recognizes and provides support for a broad range of exceptional intellectual, social and artistic gifts. Though their talents may take different forms, G/T children do tend to share characteristics in common. G/T kids tend to learn, apply, and remember large amounts of information more quickly and easily than their peers (at least with regard to their talent). They may also think about information on a larger, systematic level or think in more abstract ways than their less gifted peers. They may exhibit stronger problem-solving skills, due to their ability to think about problems in more complex and creative ways than their peers.

While federal law provides a definition of "gifted and talented" it fails to specify precise criteria for meeting this definition. Thus, individual states must interpret this definition in order to determine and specify how a child would qualify for G/T educational services. Parents should review their state laws regarding requirements for entrance into local gifted and talented student programs.

Generally, states' eligibility requirements for G/T services include some combination of demonstrated exceptional ability or talent, and demonstrated and creative use of those abilities or talents in the form of advanced achievements or significant accomplishments well beyond what is considered above-average for that age group. In other words, while an intelligence test may be performed to document that a gifted student's IQ is well above that of his similar-aged peers, he would not necessarily qualify for gifted and talented programming on that fact alone. Instead, the student's IQ scores would be considered along with other factors including evidence of that student's intellectual or artistic accomplishments.

Formal testing is generally a component of the gifted and talented evaluation process. Tests of intellect (e.g., IQ) and achievement as well as personality may be administered as part of the process which parallels the special needs disability evaluation process. As is the case for disability evaluations, school personnel need to ensure that the tools and assessments used to identify and evaluate children for G/T status are varied, valid and non-discriminatory. In addition to formal testing, it is common that evaluators will conduct interviews, perform observation, and review samples of art work, writing, music or dance.