Assessing and Advocating for Gifted Students: Perspectives for School and Clinical Psychologists

Nancy M. Robinson

Because of our overriding concern with students who for various reasons are struggling in school, gifted students have become the special-needs group we serve least often and least well. And yet, the degree of their differences from the mean in learning pace and levels is as great as those of students seen as having a disability, and the variations within their own profiles of abilities are often greater. A psychologist skilled in assessing students in other groups can, with a modest amount of new knowledge about this group and about educational options for them, turn the same skills to assessing gifted students and to advocating for their needs.

When psychologists are asked to become involved with gifted students, usually the referrals have to do with admission to special programs and/or behavioral issues such as arrogance, impulse control difficulties, inattention, underachievement, responses to peer pressure, depression, and social isolation. Psychologists can also assist with educational planning for students who are advanced, determine needed adjustments in the school curriculum, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of “twice exceptional” students (gifted students with other kinds of special needs).

The components of a comprehensive assessment are described in this monograph, with full recognition that overworked school psychologists are unlikely to be able to meet this ideal. Many tests developed for the age or grade of gifted students will fail to reflect their advanced abilities and skills. The psychologist needs to consider group versus individual testing (each has its place), the recency of the standardization, and the possibility of out-of-level testing. During testing, special consideration in obtaining basals and ceilings, as well as the effects of timing on performance, are also important. The reliability of ability tests is inversely correlated with the level of IQ, and, for this and a number of other reasons, the discrepancies among their abilities and skills are typically greater for gifted than non-gifted students.

Gifted students may also enter the assessment situation with some special personality issues such as a view of their ability as outside their control, which leads to fragility in the face of challenge, realistic anxiety about high-stakes testing, perfectionism and meticulousness and, on the other hand, such excitement about a challenge that they are reluctant to give up on difficult items. Testing highly gifted, testing the very young, and encountering the rare coached student are discussed, as well as issues concerning assessment of children from underserved minorities and/or ethnically isolated families. Finally, we describe the ultimate joys of testing students who love adult company, are energized by challenges, maintain their focus, catch your jokes, “get” what you are asking them to do, let you in on their strategies, and sometimes give uncommonly original answers. Furthermore, psychologists who are willing to advocate for change are likely to be rewarded by making a significant difference on behalf of the students and our society.


Robinson, N. M. (2002). Assessing and advocating for gifted students: Perspectives for school and clinical psychologists (RM02166). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Assessing and Advocating for Gifted Students: Perspectives for School and Clinical Psychologists
Nancy M. Robinson


  1. Gifted children are one of the most poorly served groups in our schools. School psychologists and clinical psychologists are in a critical position to change this.
  2. Psychologists play a significant role in identifying such children and by advocating for changes in their experience that will support their optimal development.
  3. Psychologists need to enhance their knowledge of such children, to take on an active advocacy role, and, in many instances, to serve as a school’s “resident expert” just as you are the expert in other matters that impinge on the development and behavior of children.
  4. Gifted children will not, as is too often assumed, “make it on their own”—or, if they do, they are unlikely to reach the heights of achievement and personal satisfaction that they could.