Testing and Assessment

To test or not to test...

That is the question often asked by parents trying to figure out “what to do” with their gifted child. The answer is usually the same. Actually it’s another question…

What do you hope to get out of testing?

The response isn't meant as a deflection. Rather, it’s the first question parents should ask themselves when the topic comes up. Too often parents ask about testing as a last resort solution they hope will solve all their gifted children’s issues. But it isn't a panacea. And it should be undertaken for the right reasons with the understanding of what can and can’t be accomplished by doing so.

Often just asking that follow-up question allows parents to reflect on exactly what it is they’re hoping to achieve. If the answer involves ensuring a child gets into his or her school’s gifted program then private psycho-educational evaluation may be an unnecessary—and potentially costly—proposition. Individual school districts in Connecticut are required by law to identify gifted and talented children themselves; however, there are no specific requirements mandating how this is to be accomplished. So the procedure on how to identify is left up to the individual school system. This may take the form of a group assessment, such as the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT), may include teacher and/or parent recommendation, performance-based assessments, the consideration of grades, standardized test results, etc., but ideally will include multiple criteria so as to be as thorough and accurate as possible.

Even when employing their own identification rubric, schools in Connecticut are not legally mandated to provide gifted programming to their students, including those who they identify as gifted and talented. All the private testing results in the world won’t solve all a gifted child’s problems in the classroom if he or she doesn't have access to appropriately tailored services.

Sometimes parents want to test so their son or daughter can receive the “label” of giftedness. Parents shouldn’t look upon identification as a status symbol, but instead should realize that the classification could potentially be a helpful tool in helping children receive appropriate academic services. Ultimately, instructional objectives should include equal access and opportunity for all students to achieve to the best of their abilities, whether or not they are designated as gifted. So in districts that are better at differentiating and providing accelerated instruction that allows all students to explore content in greater depth and complexity commensurate with their own ability levels, the question should be instead whether children’s needs are being addressed and whether they are able to take full advantage of their education.

Testing vs. Assessment

That being said, not every district provides appropriate academic environments for all students, and in such environments, psycho-educational assessment can be a useful tool in understanding a child’s learning styles and/or cognitive abilities/issues. Evaluation by a trained and knowledgeable professional may provide qualitative insight to behaviors and habits that parents are only able to observe anecdotally and that schools may not detect within the formal setting of the classroom.

Please note, however, the specific language of “testing” versus “assessment.” The implication of the former is that the solution lies within the testing itself. While tests are indeed utilized in analyzing children, they are in and of themselves just a measurement device and not the ultimate answer. In finding a qualified professional to assess your child, it is more important to seek out someone who is trained in and understands the special needs of gifted students. The answer does not lie in merely administering an IQ test and determining a child’s “score” to define them in terms of a single measurement. Any psychologist can administer a test and regurgitate a number for your use. Instead, parents should look for a qualified individual with an understanding of giftedness who will use tests as a tool to paint a picture of the whole child. Based on analysis and observation, this may incorporate a whole battery of sub-tests that quantify a variety of learning characteristics. A professional who understands giftedness will look beyond test results and assess the behaviors and attitudes that paint a picture of the whole child. They will also look for observational feedback from parents, teachers, and others who can provide perspectives from beyond the formal assessment setting that contribute to the understanding of the child.

Utilizing assessment in this manner can indeed be valuable in understanding what makes a child tick and how to potentially address academic and social/emotional issues. It can both demonstrate specific strengths and abilities and can also bring to light possible unforeseen weaknesses. The goal should be to see assessment as one tool in working towards meeting the needs of the child. While it can further illustrate qualities and characteristics that may qualify a child for a gifted and talented program, a greater benefit is that it allows all parties to get a better understanding of the student and how he or she fits into the overall school environment. Demonstrated areas of strength can be addressed by modifying curricula to support learning, but at the same time, areas of academic shortcomings—dual exceptionalities, behavioral patterns, etc.—can be nurtured so that they do not detract from overall learning.

When used this way, pscyho-educational evaluation can be beneficial… but it comes with a cost. While school districts perform identifications without a charge to parents, having a child privately assessed can cost thousands of dollars and may not be covered by health insurance. Parents may also want to check to see whether their school district will indeed be receptive to information and analysis from an outside source prior to incurring the expense.

Finding the right professional to work with your child is a different and individual choice for every family. If you are considering having your child tested, CAG can help with resources and information on what to look for in a professional evaluator… or even whether having your child assessed is the right choice for you. Please feel free to contact us, and we would be happy to help.