The words “gifted” or “highly capable” might conjure images of a bespectacled, rare prodigy. The truth is far from this. Highly capable learners are more common and on the rise in the Seattle area. Why? The Puget Sound region is booming with new jobs that draw high-achieving professionals, who are often parents to highly capable children. The rise in young families in the Seattle area has resulted in a corresponding rise in applications to Advanced Learning Services in Seattle Public Schools. In a little more than a decade, the total number of students attending Seattle public schools rose by 25 percent. At the same time, the number of applications to Advanced Learning Services doubled.
The Seattle school district does not use just one eligibility criterion for identifying advanced learners. Instead, the district takes into account “cultural diversity, socioeconomic status, linguistic background and identified disability” as important criteria for determining whether a child qualifies for Advanced Learning. This implies that even if a student does not obtain a qualifying score on eligibility tests but scores close enough to the required threshold, other factors are taken into consideration when determining qualification. The school district has intentionally broadened its criteria to increase equity and accessibility of Advanced Learning services especially for students from less privileged backgrounds. Some parent groups are also advocating for equity by helping parents become aware of testing requirements.
Starting next year, for the first time ever, Seattle Public Schools will offer Advanced Learning Services to kindergartners*. Parents of current kindergartners need to pay special attention to the process for referring their child for assessment and placement into Advanced Learning classrooms. This Thursday, Oct. 8, is the deadline for parents to refer their child for evaluation for entry into Advanced Learning programs.
What does highly capable even mean and how can you identify your child?
It is hard to identify giftedness casually. Most parents of highly capable students think of their children as bright, but the idea that they might be highly capable seems remote and even elitist. Giftedness is common. Highly capable learners as young as 2 and 3 years of age demonstrate some of these common characteristics:
- Highly curious
- Strong memory
- Attention to detail
- Strong emotions and sensitive
- Need 1–2 repetitions for mastery
- Prefer adults to peers making it hard for them to fit in with unlike peers
- Make connections between disconnected ideas and draw unique inferences
These are just some characteristics to be aware of and to use to begin to determine whether your child is highly capable. The Seattle Public Schools’ website has a video that lays out these and some other characteristics.
What is the consequence of not identifying a highly capable learner?
The simplest way to think of a highly capable learner is to think of them as a learner with special needs. Just as a student with special needs cannot go through school without specific support, so can’t a highly capable learner. Unidentified highly capable learners are disadvantaged and worst yet might have a school experience that is detrimental.
- Unidentified learners are under-stimulated. They learn to get by and do the minimum learning to get through school. They underachieve.
- Some highly capable learners are prolific in some learning areas and struggle with other areas. This is confusing and can make it hard for teachers to support the student fully. With identification, teachers have information on how to understand and support a student’s full range of learning capabilities.
- Highly capable learners are emotional and sensitive. They have uncommon tendencies and interests. It is hard for them to fit in with unlike peers. They can be made fun of for their unusual abilities and interests. It is not uncommon for highly capable learners to struggle with anxiety and depression.
- On a larger scale, not identifying highly capable learners is a regional and national loss of talent. Great achievements come from great minds, especially in science and technology. As we emphasize STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and technological production in the workplace, it is important to identify those who can contribute to these learning spaces and industries.
What educational options do parents have for their highly capable child?
In many ways we are quite lucky in the Seattle area. Parents have both public and private school options for highly capable learners. All the school districts have programs for highly capable learners that students have to test into. The same goes for private schools that are focused on the education of highly capable learners. The Bellevue School District and the Seattle School District have programs that start in kindergarten.
What are the key steps that parents need to follow to enroll a student in Advanced Learning programs?
Here are the key steps:
- Understand the eligibility criteria: Watch this video on the Seattle Public Schools website.
- Refer your student: Fill out Part 1 of the Advanced Learning Referral for Evaluation Form: The Parent Rating scale — submit this by Oct 8.
- Receive testing dates: Notifications are sent in November. You need to submit a current email address to receive testing notification.
- Student takes tests: A Cognitive Abilities test (IQ test) and an Achievement Test on Math and Reading.
- Receive test results: Test results are sent by early February along with an offer of enrollment if the student qualifies.
Identifying a child as being highly capable does not equate to looking for a badge of honor or a label. It is about understanding your child fully and finding an education that meets her wholly. Being highly capable is a special need and needs to be treated with the same level of respect and attention as that accorded to students with special needs. Lean in and take a closer look at your child. Let her lead the way to her education.
*Edited from an earlier version.