Assessing Young Gifted Children, Current Practice and Thoughts for School Psychologists

An article published in the National Association of School Psychologist’s Communiqué, “Early Childhood Gifted Assessment and Intervention Practices,” examined assessment practices of gifted young children and implications for school psychologists and others. Michelle O’Connor, one of the authors, spoke with Megan Parker Peters, chair of the NAGC Early Childhood Network, about the impetus for this article and its findings.

Megan Parker Peters (MPP): In the field of school psychology, there is little written about this population. What led you to write this piece?

Michelle O’Connor (MO): In graduate school, gifted education was a personal interest based on past experiences and my undergraduate research. I proposed early childhood gifted research to my major professor knowing that this area was not heavily researched. When I started to look at the existing research, I realized that most articles on this topic were from the 1980s and 1990s. I am also an advocate for underrepresented groups and have an interest in early childhood assessment. This article is combines all of these interests.

MPP: What are some of the surprises you uncovered in your research for this article?

MO: I learned that some states still use a standard IQ score of 130 as a cut-off for entrance into gifted programs and services. This is a cut-off of 130 without looking at social-emotional factors. In assessment, early childhood includes a lot of variability when testing due to development and environment.  I also learned that there are few rating scales to use with this age group. The one rating scale that is intended to be used with young, gifted students was only recently developed. There is a scarcity of resources to assess this group holistically.

MPP: What do you think school psychologists and other school personnel should know about young gifted learners?

MO: Advocate for this age group. We look at other side of bell curve; so often, the left side of the curve receives most of the focus. But, we need to also consider how we can help students on the right side of the bell curve. They often get ignored. In my school psychology practicum experiences, I noticed that IQ tests are the only assessments given to potentially gifted students. No social-emotional or behavioral measures were included. This could lead to potential misdiagnoses of ADHD or other incorrect diagnoses. It is possible that other factors beyond those captured on an IQ measure could be hindering the child from performing at a high level.

MPP: Is there anything that could change to make gifted education and gifted learners a more desirable population and field to study and support?

MO: We need more research in the area of social-emotional factors that impact gifted students. We need actual research to counteract the myths we see in the media about gifted students. We need to combat the elitist idea that gifted students “will be alright.” We need to look at other social-emotional factors that may be present in gifted children. We need more information beyond standard IQ tests; there is so much more to know about gifted children. We need to explain to teachers that these students do need support. It is a loss to lose these students to boredom or defiance. We are losing what they could do for society as a whole. We should try to catch them while they are young and facilitate their learning, especially with underrepresented groups within the gifted population.

MPP: What do you want to share with the teachers, parents, researchers, and others that comprise the membership of NAGC?

MO: I want to share that some of our measures do not easily capture the true abilities that you see in the classroom. We, as school psychologists, need your input from the classroom and information to support curriculum development and appropriate materials for gifted children. Our assessments should inform developed curriculum and contribute to resources available.


“Early Childhood Gifted Assessment and Intervention Practices” (Communiqué, pp. 1, 18-19 Volume 46 Issue 3, authors: Michelle O'Connor, Charles Fleischmann, Emily Kenner, Allison McCobin & Kara McGoey)