Equity, Excellence, and Economy in a System for Identifying Students in Gifted Education Programs: A Guidebook

Joseph S. Renzulli

Controversy about which students should be selected for participation in programs for the gifted and talented has existed since the inception of special services for this segment of the school population. In most identification systems that follow the traditional screening-plus-selection approach, the “throw-aways” have invariably been those students who qualified for screening on the basis of non-test criteria.

This monograph presents an identification system that attempts to address the excellence, equity, and economic issues. It is designed to be economical in terms of the time and paperwork required for identification, to provide access to special services for both traditionally high scoring students and those students whose potential may only be recognized through the use of a more flexible range of identification criteria.

Grounded in the Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness and the Enrichment Triad Model, and supported by a thorough review of research dealing with the underlying theories, it is flexible enough to accommodate talent potentials in different domains, and it will respect regulations made by district policy makers and state departments of education. It takes into consideration the fact that there is no perfect identification system. It is also firmly based on the assumption that there should be congruence between the criteria used in the identification process and the goals and types of services that constitute the day-to-day activities that students will pursue. This identification system therefore also attempts to activate a much broader range of services and teaching practices that are specifically designed to develop a variety of talents in young people.

Tidiness and efficiency are important to the operation of any complex enterprise, but they should never take the place of our responsibility to do the right thing in the best interests of the young people we serve through special services. Therefore, this identification system proposes that the services be labeled, rather than the students. Rather than labeling a student as “gifted” or “not gifted” this system provides for documenting specific strengths and using these strengths for making decisions about the types of activities and the levels of challenge that should be made available. This system provides for the identification of students who would benefit from services that recognize academic giftedness as well as creative-productive giftedness. It recognizes students with potential and provides opportunities to develop their talents through an integrated continuum of special services.

A key feature of this system is the formation of a Talent Pool that includes students who have been identified by both test and non-test criteria. The system respects and includes students who earn high scores on traditional measures, but leaves room for students who show their potentials in other ways. These potentials are recognized through teacher nominations, using the Scales for Rating the Behavioral Characteristics of Superior Students (SRBCSS), special nominations, and Action Information nominations. Training activities are provided to help teachers use the various nominations to best serve their students.

This identification system is not as tidy as using cut off scores, but the trade off for tidiness and administrative expediency results in a more flexible approach to identifying and serving young people with great potential.


Renzulli, J. S. (2005). Equity, excellence, and economy in a system for identifying students in gifted education programs: A guidebook (RM05208). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Equity, Excellence, and Economy in a System for Identifying Students in Gifted Education Programs: A Guidebook
Joseph S. Renzulli


  1. There are many definitions of giftedness, including academic giftedness that is usually expressed through high grades and test scores, and creative-productive giftedness that is often expressed as the production of original product, and so identification systems vary.
  2. In an effort to be “tidy” and efficient, traditional identification systems primarily utilize test scores and grades to identify high academic achievers, but they may not identify children who are talented in other ways.
  3. Although there is no perfect identification system, there should be congruence between identification procedures and day to day activities that students pursue.
  4. One method of equitable identification is the formation of the school Talent Pool. Based on the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, nominations for the Talent pool are derived from a combination of test score and non-test criteria. Non-test criteria may include nominations from parents, community members, or the students themselves.
  5. Careful consideration must be directed into forming a school’s Talent Pool. A team must be established, and students’ academic records must be reviewed. Approximately 50% of the Talent Pool should come from this process. The remaining 50% should come from teacher ratings through The Scales for Rating the Behavioral Characteristics of Superior Students (SRBCSS), along with alternative pathways for nominations.
  6. Programs that redirect the focus of identification procedures from ability for ability’s sake to individual levels of performance and potential actually strengthen program quality and excellence in student performance.