With so much focus in recent years on the exceptional attributes that make each of our children "special," it has become a lot more difficult to determine which children actually qualify for gifted and talented programs at school. The name gifted and talented itself implies everything and nothing at all — are parents to assume an accelerated program caters to the child whose vocabulary is off the charts, but who doesn't really seem like a numbers kind of kid? Is it enough to be ridiculously good at playing violin or solving math problems? And, if you've noticed your child is bored to tears in class, why not forego the program altogether and find out how your kid can just skip a year?
Gifted and talented programs can differ in each state and even from district to district, so it's important that you research the specific program in your district. But if you've always been curious about G&T and aren't sure what to make of it, rest assured, it's just as complex as you suspected. And having a child with a brilliant mind doesn't automatically mean he or she will qualify for gifted and talented placement.
"The majority of children are tested at ages 4 or 5 for kindergarten entry," says Alina Adams, author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten and Getting Into NYC High School. "Even though you can have your child tested in later years, there are not enough seats to accommodate all the children who qualify at the main kindergarten entry point, which means there is not likely to be available room in subsequent grades (though it does happen periodically). In New York City, there are two kinds of public G&T programs. Accelerated programs, which teach the standard curriculum one year in advance, and district programs, which use the exact same curriculum as the general ed students, but it is 'enriched.'"
Without a specific G&T curriculum, the definition of "enriched" is left to an individual teacher's discretion — a blessing if your child is placed with a knowledgeable and talented educator, though sometimes, a child in a district G&T program with a mediocre teacher may actually be getting less than a child in a general ed program with a spectacular one, Adams says. To qualify for G&T in NYC, children have to score above the 97th percentile on an IQ test — and even that isn't always enough.
"Annually over 1,000 kids meet that threshold, with only about 300 seats available, so it goes to lottery," Adams says. "Kids need to score above the 90th percentile to qualify for a district program, but again, so many more thousands of children qualify than there are seats, that it's unlikely those who score below the 95th percentile will end up with a seat in a G&T program."
If you're wondering what exactly constitutes a "gift" or "talent," Adams says the tests look at a child's verbal skills, how much detail they put into answering questions and the breadth of their vocabulary, as well as verbal reasoning and analogies. As far as non-spatial skills go, they'll be tested on their ability to identify patterns, supply missing pieces of puzzles and recreate sequences with building blocks.
"Though a child may score off the charts in one area and do merely average in another, it's the combined score that gets turned into a percentile, so a child outstanding in one area may not qualify as gifted enough for NYC schools," Adams says. "The funniest part is that since different schools use different tests, your child could be gifted in one school system, but not in another!"
Maybe you've long suspected your child is gifted — now what? How can you honor their abilities at home in a way that will translate to academic success? Kevin McCormack, principal of Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, says well-rounded children with parental support will do best in his school's gifted and talented Genesis middle school program.
"We are looking for kids who are articulate, social, bright, quick-witted, confident and curious," McCormack says. "We are looking for families that will support this type of child. We are not looking for introverted 'brainiacs.' We also realize there is no kid who hits all these points very well at the age of 10."
If you want to nurture your child’s gifts, McCormack’s best advice is to find what your kids get a kick out of and give them every opportunity to "wallow" in those fields. "I also would avoid specializing so early in their career,” he says. “Malcolm Gladwell has a piece on the 10,000-hour rule. The idea being if one looks at the ‘geniuses’ — Gates, Jobs, Clapton, the Beatles, etc. — they’re phenoms because they have talent and practice."
Having your children tested is the best way to find out if they qualify for a gifted and talented program, but Varda Meyers Epstein, contributing editor at the Kars4Kids education blog, says there are less obvious signs of giftedness that parents should be made aware of.
For more information about gifted and talented programs in your area, check out the National Association for Gifted Children.
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