What To Do When One Child is Identified as Gifted and Another is Not

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You got the notice that a child is being screened for gifted services, and you’re not at all surprised. After all, the two older kids in the family are already in the program.

After the testing, the letter comes home: child number three didn’t qualify for the gifted program.

Well, now that was awkward.

What should you do when one child is identified as gifted and another is not?

The children who have the same DNA contributors (also known as parents) and the same Petri dish of growing up environment don’t always end up selected for the same gifted program.

It’s very difficult to tell a child that his or her sibling got into the gifted program, while he or she did not.

What are some ways to handle this?

All children are different (stating the obvious), and no one strategy will work for all. Here are some thoughts I’ve shared with kiddos I’ve worked with. Hopefully, one or more of them will work for you.

Gifted is a program, not an identity.

Even fairly young bright children can understand that there are programs in school. They know about band and Destination Imagination and being a part of the safety patrol. When I wrote about why you should label kids as gifted and whether kids are gifted or just bright, I discussed that part of the reason is to receive services.

It can help to explain that schools use the word “gifted” to describe a set of services they offer, and districts try to find students for that program. Sometimes, they do this based on how much money they have, and sometimes by what they’re doing with the students in the program.

It gets confusing because we use the same word, “gifted”, to talk about the program as we do to talk about the people.

Not being asked to be in the program doesn’t tell you that you’re not smart, and it doesn’t tell you anything about who you will be when you grow up, or what you are able to learn.

Sometimes it changes.

Districts sometimes change the tests they use to select students, and if that change happens while siblings are in the district together, the test can match one student’s ninja testing skills but not the brother’s or sister’s.

Even if the test doesn’t change, some kids’ strengths simply play out better in that kind of test than other kids’ strengths.

Just because you’re siblings, doesn’t mean you’re the same.

Siblings have different strengths and interests. You’re not going to always be on the same teams, invited to the same parties, or have the same friends.

It’s a weird thing, but people who share DNA may not share much else, not even favorite foods or sports or music or movies or candy.

The gifted program is no different. It doesn’t mean one person is necessarily smarter than another, and it definitely doesn’t mean that one person is better than another.

What would the program have given?

The child’s disappointment may stem from missing out on what the program offered. Give this some thought. What did it offer? In my district, the offering at the elementary level is almost nothing, so if a child doesn’t qualify, it’s like not making the football team at my university (there isn’t one).

At other districts, it may mean really cool stuff. There may be a way that parents can provide some of the same opportunities. The most important opportunities include:

  • the opportunity to be with other like-minded students
  • the opportunity to go deeper into units of study they may find interesting
  • time away from less-than-challenging work

Are there ways to offer this without a formal program? I think so.

Should you do private testing?

If your child doesn’t qualify with the school’s testing, should you shell out the (incredible amount of) cash for private testing?

That depends upon a couple of things:

  1. How important is the program to your child?
  2. How likely is the child to perform at the required level on the privately-administered test?

If the program is very important, the child is very likely to do better with private testing, and you can afford it without selling one of your other children, then sure, go for it. Often times, private testing may reveal information that will be very, very useful.

I’ve seen many children who have undiagnosed learning issues that become evident when quality testing is given.

If the child has a lot of anxiety or test anxiety, there is a good chance that a person who is great at working with gifted kids will be able to pull results out of a child that another environment would not.

Should you appeal?

If there was something fishy about the testing, sure.

If the program only has one opportunity for admission, yes.

If your child is twice-exceptional and the testing did not acknowledge that, absolutely.

If you feel that the child will not have the school experience he/she deserves, then definitely.

If the screening only uses one test to exclude students from the program, definitely. This is my opinion: it is okay to use a single test to include students, but not to exclude students.

Some tests are, in my opinion, less desirable than others. For example, I’m not a fan of the RIAS-2 (the Reynolds). #understatement

If my child were tested with that instrument alone, I’d burn the score report and write an appeal by the light of the fire.

You can read NAGC’s position statement on identification practices to get a feel for what good practices look like. It’s a little dense, but worthwhile.

If a student has a strong but not qualifying score on one test, it’s important for the school to provide other measures.

Wrapping it up

If one child made the softball team and another didn’t, we’d accept it with grace (hopefully).

If one child gets in the program and another doesn’t because of fair practices, it presents a valuable opportunity to learn gracious acceptance.

It also presents an opportunity for us to examine ourselves to find out who is more upset, the parents or the children?

We need to advocate for our children’s appropriate placement, but not for our own avatarish desires.

If not being identified as gifted is a deal-breaker for you, check out my article on how to choose a school for your gifted child.

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