“I think my child is gifted.”

After spending twelve years in one of the top twenty largest school districts in the country, which also happens to have some of the highest  achieving student bodies, countless parents have sat before me and said “I think my child is gifted.” Parents would refer to test data, report cards, work samples, and personality traits that they believed demonstrated that their child required placement in our full time gifted center program.  There were anecdotes about children being bored in school and therefore not showing their best work, and stories about students not feeling well on the day that our school administered ability tests that measured verbal, quantitative, and nonverbal reasoning skills. Not to mention the examples that parents took out of shiny manilla folders of the incredible and creative projects that students completed at home “just because.”

Admittedly, as a teacher, you learn to take these stories and conversations with a grain of salt. These were PARENTS talking.  What did they know?

Those parents, knew a lot.

They knew and know their children.  They were their child’s first teacher and see their child every day demonstrate thinking in the real world.  They see what their child is capable of across settings and over time.

Granted, there is a difference between a smart child and a gifted, or advanced ability child. As parents, our job is to advocate for our children to foster their strengths and support their areas of relative weakness. That is what parents do.

All these years later, the tables have turned.  Uttering the words, “I think my daughter demonstrates advanced abilities,” I set in motion a referral for full time advanced academic services which has led to over twenty hours of writing, reflecting, cutting, and pasting, to put together a packet for consideration by the central selection committee.

my child is gifted | LiveDoGrow

Except that it is not that simple. As a professional with an expertise in advanced academic education, this process of determining whether or not my daughter is or is not “gifted” has caused me to doubt my own credentials.  Truth be told, even the definition of what it means to be gifted or an advanced learner, is a complex question that even the leaders in the field have wrestled with. And then, add in the questions about how you best identify children with advanced academic abilities and the question becomes even more muddled.

Using Test Scores as a Way to Identify Giftedness

For YEARS, the one thing that was cornerstone to my educational beliefs was that test scores are just one piece of the puzzle. Test scores on intelligence or ability tests show a snapshot of abilities on those very specific skills, on that one day of testing. Granted, test scores are normed and scaled, and should indicate an overall level of ability, but my belief was always that test scores are just numbers…as opposed to our children, who are anything but numbers.

Fast forward to a Monday afternoon in December of 2012.  A staunch opponent of relying on test scores as the sole factor to make decisions about a child’s advanced academic  abilities, I found myself in the waiting room of a local university’s cognitive assessment program center, as a psychologist administered the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) to my daughter. Because truth be told, expert in the field or not, the parent in me believed that my daughter had advanced abilities, but the professional in me needed quantifiable evidence.

The end result was of course as I expected.  There were scores that showed superior abilities, very superior abilities, high average, AND average abilities.  The scores proved what I already knew as a parent. My daughter has areas of advanced abilities. But they also documented the personal turmoil that had been brewing inside me, wondering whether or not those abilities were “enough.”

believing your child is gifted | LiveDoGrow

Which meant that I was back at square one faced with the dilemma of whether or not to advocate for my child’s strengths.

Not only that, but my belief that test scores are just a number was validated.

In a society that is trying to prepare our children for 21st century learning, to succeed in a world that we cannot even fully comprehend, with constantly changing innovations, advocating for our children’s strengths is something that we OWE our children.

But there is more. Instead of fostering a sense that only the top 5% of a community of learners be found eligible for advanced academic services, we need to be vocal and support school systems, like Fairfax County Public Schools that have sought to identify and nurture potential in larger numbers, not by watering down the curriculum, but by treating children as whole children. Some would ask, why exactly is such a large school system identifying close to 16% of   a third-eighth grade student population for highly advanced curriculum.  Can that many students really be gifted? The answer of course is that a case study approach that uses test scores, but also uses work samples and teacher rating scales, increases the chance for minority students who might not have the same opportunities and “breeding” or for students that might be twice exceptional to access services is the RIGHT thing to do.

Not every child requires full time advanced academic services. And the chorus of “I think my child is gifted” will be repeated in classroom after classroom for years to come. The entire process of identifying what being gifted or having advanced abilities will be debated by school boards, educational leaders, superintendents, teachers, and parents will be volleyed back and forth this year, next year, and again in ten more years.

As Harry Passow an expert in Gifted Education so eloquently stated, what educators and psychologists recognize as giftedness in children is really potential giftedness, which denotes promise rather than fulfillment and probabilities rather than certainties about future accomplishments. How high these probabilities are in any given case depends much on the match between a child’s budding talents and the kinds of nurturance provided. FCPS, Office of Advanced Academic Programs

Don’t we owe our children to provide that nurturing in the best way we can?

elena sonnino




A storm is currently brewing right now in Fairfax County Virginia and the school board, about best practices in gifted education and identification or what some would argue is over identification in advanced academic services. This post is something that, like a storm, has been brewing in my own mind for months, and is based on my perspective as a parent with a background in the field. The opinions expressed are not from my role as a former Fairfax County Teacher or related at all to my work with the Advanced Academic Program office.  One of the best ways we can continue to advocate for our children is to let our school board know how we feel about the importance of best practices in identification and not turning back the clock to identify only 5% of students for advanced academic services. 

Written by Elena Sonnino

Elena Sonnino

Chaser of Dreams. Life coach, wellness and travel writer, yogini, former teacher, adventure seeker, hiker, foodie …and oh right, cancer survivor. Elena writes about finding everyday wellness in far-flung lands and in her own backyard in the Washington D.C. suburbs.


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