Gifted Identification, Talent Recognition Programs and Colleges – Are They Casting a Wide Enough Net?

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Casting the net to gather our best and brightest using standardized tests – is it efficient, fair or effective?  Can intelligence, creativity and potential really be demonstrated through a single standardized test?  Are they a fair measure for each and every student?  Can they truly determine who our best and brightest are?  Can a timed, question-with-only-one-right-answer test successfully determine a gifted child’s future?

Standardized tests are used, almost across the board in education, to determine placement in gifted programs in our public schools, to gain acceptance into popular summer programs for gifted students, for acceptance and recognition into prestigious university talent identification programs and for admission into college.  Standardized tests quite literally can determine a child’s future – for good or for bad.

Should standardized tests be used to determine paths of such critical importance?

I think not, but this is the standard way of determining who our best and brightest students are.  I say we are not casting a wide enough net.  Had Einstein lived in this day and age of standardized testing, the small net being cast out would not have come close to finding him, and what would have happened if Einstein were told that he was not smart enough because a single standard question-and-answer test said so?   Where would our world be without Einstein’s contributions?  Thankfully, standardized tests were not there to stifle Einstein’s illustrious achievements and brilliant contributions to our world.  But how many of our future movers and shakers will have their potential thwarted by such an ineffective casting of the net?

Let’s look at the validity and effectiveness of standardized tests as a measure of a student’s intellectual ability and gauge of his future potential.

First off, can we all agree that not every student is an efficient test taker?  Face it, not every student is!  That is why there is a lucrative and thriving test prep business focused on helping students manage their time when taking the test, teaching them to use deductive reasoning skills when they DON’T KNOW the answer to a question, and to generally get them used to the well-loved standardized testing format.  So, unless our students have been trained and well-practiced in standardized test-taking skills, they may not produce the necessary scores to be accepted into a gifted and talented program in our public schools, or be recognized by one of the many university talent recognition programs or be accepted into the best colleges where they could reach their full potential.

The next snag in this gathering of our best and brightest is the fact that despite being well-practiced in test-taking skills, some students are hindered by test-taking anxiety, and we all know that few of us would be able to do our best on a high-stakes standardized test which will likely determine our future if we are a veritable bundle of nerves.  The much-proven fact that gifted students are at a higher risk for anxiety, perfectionism and depression puts those suffering from any added emotional stress at a disadvantage when taking a standardized test; especially one that determines whether or not they are accepted into a particular college or gifted program.

Now, I have to wonder how many gifted, talented and creative geniuses have been weeded out and thrown to the curb by our standardized testing system, and whose achievements, contributions and discoveries our world will never benefit from.

Let’s look at another fact: many gifted learners have strong visual spatial ability.  It is said that strong visual-spatial intelligence is a trait our innovative and creative geniuses share.  Einstein was a famous visual spatial learner; that is precisely why he struggled in school.  Those who have strong visual spatial intelligence are our engineers, inventors, innovators and artists – these are our world changers!  And too bad for us, many of these potential innovators are left feeling like failures when they can’t adequately prove their intelligence, abilities and talents on timed standardized tests.

Our visual spatial thinkers get their first dose of feeling like a failure in our traditional school system.  Visual spatial learners think in pictures, not in words.  They have photographic memories and learn best through a highly visual experience.  On the other hand, classrooms are set up to teach to auditory-sequential learners – quite the opposite learning experience visual spatial learners need to thrive.  Also, visual spatial learners have little concept of time so they struggle with timed tests and timed learning activities.  And isn’t this what school is all about – timed lessons, timed tests, timed lunch, timed class periods?  The small net being cast using standardized tests misses a significant group of highly intelligent and creative geniuses – our visual-spatial thinkers!

Using standardized tests as the net we cast to catch our world’s next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates is quite simply ineffective, and can be life-altering to those highly intelligent, gifted or visual-spatial learners who just had their goals and dreams snuffed out by a less-than-stellar score on a standardized test.

Personally, I know all about how ineffective standardized tests can be when used to determine acceptance into gifted programs.  My highly gifted teenager has strong visual-spatial intelligence and he just sucks at timed standardized tests.  He is part of two university talent recognition programs that used scores from a variety of tests for acceptance which benefitted my son.  Several other popular university talent recognition programs solely rely on scores from the ACT or SAT for acceptance into their middle school and high school programs.  There are also exceptional gifted summer programs in our area that my gifted son could benefit from and excel in, but they also rely only on scores from the ACT and SAT for acceptance into their program.  Standardized tests have most definitely put up a huge road block for my gifted son for participating in programs which would benefit him and help him reach his potential.

As I wrote the previous paragraph, over and over in my mind, I could hear the resulting thoughts most people would be thinking: “maybe he isn’t gifted or really that intelligent”, or “maybe he doesn’t belong in those gifted programs”.   We’ve been faced with that retort on more than one occasion, and yes, I do feel a little defensive when I hear that.  But, I know better.  I just wish those in charge of casting the intelligence net knew better because they are missing out on a whole net-full of genius!

As the mother of one such future innovator not gathered by the tiny net, it was recommended to me to create a portfolio for my son as an adjunct to or in lieu of standardized test scores.  I was also told that there is always a back door into programs and colleges when you know your child belongs there.  A good portfolio demonstrating your child’s accomplishments, achievements, and future potential, as well as strong advocacy will be necessary to get through the back door.  But what greater, senseless loss could there be than to not recognize our next Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci or Steve Jobs and their potential to change our world just because of a stupid standardized test score?

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Gifted Visual-Spatial Learners are Twice-Neglected

Could Your Child Be a Visual Learner

Visual-Spatial Learners: Tapping into Their Creativity and Potential

Standardized tests discriminate against the next Einsteins and Teslas 

Eighth grader designs standardized test that slams standardized tests


  1. I could not agree with you more. Well said! We definitely need a better system or these kids may well fall outside the net. They are already falling outside the public school system net and probably have been for decades. How many are failing at school or are now being homeschooled because the school system is not trained to educate either visual spatial learners or highly gifted children?

  2. Many. I went on a field trip with my son this morning- we were expecting about 20 other homeschoolers to show up. Instead, we ended up with over 100. It’s becoming inevitable for gifted kids, because public schools are just not able to meet their needs.

  3. Mary Esposito says:

    You hit the nail on the head! We have a brilliant visual spatial learner who has literally said to me “mom some of my teachers just don’t get my genius”! So incredibly frustrating! Thank you for saying it so brilliantly!

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