A modern educational system requires that student knowledge should transcend the basic understanding of educational skills and include the understanding of the changing nature of the world. These requirements need students to develop critical thinking skills and draw inferences from what they have learned through the same understanding. The same requirements also create the need for students to develop new learning goals. This process redefines the relationship between assessment and instruction. Gifted and talented students particularly provide an interesting twist to this understanding because they have unique learning capabilities that redefine their educational requirements. However, many evaluation styles fail to capture the unique needs of gifted students. For example, many evaluation styles fail to acknowledge the ability of gifted students to grasp learning concepts quickly. The consistent failure of teaching styles to address the same unique needs highlight this weakness. The same weakness also highlights the need to create an individualized program for evaluating the unique capabilities of gifted students. However, reality shows that current evaluation styles are inappropriate for assessing the needs of talented students (The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented 7). This situation highlights the need to have newer evaluation approaches for improving the learning experiences of gifted and talented students. This new need also exemplifies the importance of developing new educational goals for gifted students. The importance of new assessment techniques to achieve this purpose stems from the complex nature of the relationship between gifted students and educators. Certainly, educators understand the unique differences that distinguish gifted and talented students from conventional students. They understand that these students have many character variations that make them exceptional students. New assessment techniques are therefore important for educators of gifted students because they help to identify and evaluate their learning progress.
Modern assessment techniques, therefore, surface as an important component for redefining new educational goals for gifted students because they outline the need for educators to understand the role of new assessments in improving the learning process of talented students. Thus, new assessment techniques are important in outlining the achievement of new educational goals for talented students. It is therefore difficult to ignore new assessment techniques in the educational requirements of talented students because it “affects their decisions about grades, placement, advancement, instructional needs, curriculum, and, sometimes, funding” (The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented 3). This section of the paper explores the role of new assessment methods in the advancement of gifted and talented education. Performance-based assessments, practical assessments, and authentic assessments outline the focus of this section of the paper.
Performance-based assessments define what students can do, or not do. Unlike other types of assessment, performance-based assessments often aim to investigate how students perform tasks, as opposed to investigating if they know a correct answer. Different types of performance tests exist. For example, Carroll says the most common types of performance-based assessment include the “Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), American College Testing (ACT), Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) tests” (2). Such types of tests require students to explain how they would solve a problem. Many observers believe that since performance-based tests require a practical understanding of student skills, it is a better assessment of student knowledge (Carroll 2).
Performance-based assessments are important in the advancement of gifted education because they provide educators with an opportunity to have a more detailed understanding of student knowledge. Through this analysis, performance-based assessments are both formative and summative. For example, they provide educators with a better understanding of what the students have, or have not, mastered. Similarly, they enable educators to identify what factors could be disturbing students and how they can help to solve the issues. A thorough understanding of a performance-based assessment for a gifted student reveals that it may provide educators with a complete picture of his strengths and weaknesses. The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented (3) also says such performance-based assessments may help educators to overcome the validity challenges of evaluating talented students. These assessment techniques also ease the interaction of educators and talented students. This is a different approach from merely seeing the cumulative scores of a student. Reflection and a demonstration of thinking processes outline some strategies that some educators could use to interact with the students. This framework of performance assessment also helps educational institutions to build a culture of collaboration and interaction.
Interacting with talented students, using new assessment methods, also provide a professional opportunity for educators to improve their assessment skills. Research findings from The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented (3) support this view because they show that the inclusion of performance-based assessments in learning helps to create an intellectually challenging environment for educators and talented students alike. This environment also helps to improve the quality of teaching.
Large-scale adoptions of performance–based assessments also show that they could improve the curriculum of teaching talented students. This advantage creates a new focus on the teaching of talented students – focus for higher-level skills and application of knowledge. These changes also provide a new set of instructions that help improve the learning experience of talented students and ensure a better mastery of talents. In the book, Developing Parent and Community Understanding of Performance-Based Assessment, Alvestad (9) acknowledges the widespread impact of performance-based assessments on student, community, and institutional spheres. To affirm this position Alvestad claims, “School and school system leaders who believe in, support, and actively promote performance–based assessment can exert remarkable influence on staff, students, parents, and the community” (9). He also says performance-based assessments improve the student learning experience by improving the students and the learning environment (Alvestad 9). While appreciating the fact that performance-based assessments cannot provide institutional reforms, it is important to appreciate their roles in improving the learning process of talented students. Talented students may therefore gain from using performance-based criteria because it provides a transition from “dormant” knowledge to active knowledge (The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented 4).
Traditional assessment methods often provide multiple choices, or short-answer assessments, when assessing student knowledge. However, these assessment methods have little use beyond the educational context. Authentic assessments are different from traditional assessment methods because they outline the use of subject knowledge to solve practical problems. Different authentic assessment methods exist. For example, authentic assessments may include different educational activities such as conducting laboratory experiments, recording research data, observing social phenomena, and participating in community development activities.
This fact is especially important for talented and gifted students because it provides them with an opportunity to use their talented skills to solve real-world problems.
Although authentic assessments may be beneficial to all student categories, their uses in improving the learning processes of talented students are important because they involve the adoption of social and behavioral skills for the students. These skills are important to talented students because it helps them to build their knowledge inside and outside the classroom context. This benefit is especially important to this category of students because besides polishing their knowledge, it helps them to develop positive character traits, such as honesty and perseverance.
The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented (3) emphasizes the importance of using authentic assessment skills to improve the social and behavioral traits of talented students because of the unique self-concepts of talented students (self-concept refers to the personal perceptions of weaknesses, strengths, and values of talented students). It says most research has highlighted the fear of enrolling talented students in special programs because they have a very high self-concept (The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented 3). This high self-concept may withdraw them from engaging in social activities (within and outside the classroom). This analysis shows that talented students are different from other types of students in a classroom. Practically, talented students have a different classroom experience from other groups of students (The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented 3). Here, talented students ordinarily compare themselves with ordinary students (weak students), thereby improving their self-conception. The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented (4) says gifted students may develop disharmony with ordinary students when they perform educational tasks. This disharmony may further extend to social status and school friendships. Alvestad (39) reveals that the best way to avoid such a social class conflict is to promote cooperative learning.
Cooperative learning exists from the understanding that the concerned students would discover and comprehend difficult concepts when they work together and share knowledge. This principle is effective for talented students because it provides them with an opportunity to share knowledge while sharpening their skills. Authentic assessments help them to do so. This benefit exists from the understanding that authentic assessments enable talented students to integrate higher-order skills. It requires extensive creativity to use authentic assessment tools in education. This advantage helps students to develop their knowledge further (beyond the classroom context) and understand that their knowledge is not only valuable to them but to the wider society as well. This realization could improve the self-worth of the students. Furthermore, this assessment framework could flex to reach the standards of talented students, without changing the context of the educational curriculum.
Like authentic assessments and performance-based assessments, practical assessments are crucial for the advancement of talented education, However, Sutherland (24) says practical assessments need to be very clear about their procedures because they should provide a platform for understanding how talented students could improve their skills and knowledge. According to educator, Sally Brown (cited in Sutherland 24), educators should be clear about the criteria for assessing the skills and knowledge of talented students because any assessor should arrive at the same conclusion whenever they use the same framework of analysis. She says it is important to avoid any bias during the process because many educators tend to provide better assessments of talented students (Sutherland 93). The same educators also uncharacteristically degrade the performance of ordinary students. Although unclear about how to do it, The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented (3) proposes that practical assessments should be included in the design phase of curriculum development to avoid the possibility of realizing distorted outcomes.
Practical assessments are often useful in the advancement of talented education because they allow educators to be flexible in addressing the needs of talented students. For example, the Director of the Centre for excellence and learning at Northumbria University (cited in Sutherland 64) warns against using a common assessment criterion for talented students. He says it is more important for educators to use specific assessment criteria that would address the unique needs of talented students (Sutherland 64). He also suggests that the best way to do this is by providing such students with self-review and peer-reviewed techniques for assessment. Thus, giving students a self-review criterion for evaluating their skills and knowledge is important because it gives them a sense of ownership for their skill development (The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented 3). Here, it is important to have a clear framework of assessment because this would ensure everybody knows what skills are under evaluation.
Sutherland (83) says it is important to observe and review performance on different and regular occasions to ensure the consistency of the assessment criterion. However, The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented (3) warns against using advanced skills of educators in subsequent learning exercises because talented students are more motivated to use their skills if they learned them as part of a project. Therefore, although talented students sometimes prefer to work in isolation, the practical use of their skills does not allow them to implement the same skills in isolation.
Issues in the Assessment of Gifted and Talented Students
The section above outlines how educators could use recent assessment techniques to assess and improve the learning process of gifted and talented students. However, these techniques have their challenges. The limited publication of empirical results to show the effectiveness of new assessment methods of gifted and talented students may explain such challenges. As Riley and Moltzen (21) presuppose, deeper problems in the assessment of gifted and talented students may explain such challenges. The first problem, regarding the use of new assessment criteria for gifted and talented students, is the lack of a clear definition of gifted and talented students. The broad and multifaceted nature of gifts and talents further exacerbates this problem. This means that it is difficult to make generalizations and comparisons about the assessment criteria for gifted and talented learners. Riley and Moltzen (21) refer to this problem as a fragmented research problem. Relative to the complexities witnessed in assessing gifted and talented students, Riley and Moltzen further reveal that “The outcomes of gifted and talented programs are multi-faceted, reflecting not only cognitive, intellectual, or academic development, but also social, emotional, affective, and cultural growth” (20). Riley and Moltzen (20) also emphasize the difficulties of measuring the outcomes of gifted and talented education programs. Particularly, this difficulty worsens when measuring intangible educational outcomes that involve emotions, social, and cultural aspects of human development. These outcomes are also multidimensional and demonstrate short-term and long-term outcomes that make it difficult to use one assessment criterion. To demonstrate this challenge, Riley and Moltzen say,
“Measuring an academic outcome is not as simplistic as administering a pre-post achievement test. The test may not measure the specific academic outcomes, particularly when these are advanced, complex, or integrated. Gifted students may experience the ceiling effect, whereby they easily reach the upper limits of the test, with their score potentially masking their actual degree of ability” (25).
From the above difficulty, The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented (3) say it is important to use varied assessment criteria when assessing gifted and talented students. When the assessment outcomes are in-depth and varied, it is also important to use alternative assessment criteria. These assessment criteria may include performance, peer evaluations, and portfolios. Given the difficulties of assessing the educational outcomes of gifted and talented children, different jurisdictions have trouble measuring the educational progress of gifted and talented students. For example, Riley and Moltzen (23) say many New Zealand teachers fail to provide an accurate assessment of the progress of their gifted and talented students because of the difficulty in doing so. The diversity of teaching and learning also presents another challenge to the assessment of gifted and talented students because it is difficult to assess the students, based on only one criterion, or intervention. Through this limitation, Riley and Moltzen (23) say it is impossible to use one criterion for assessing the progress of gifted and talented students. They further affirm that,
“An evaluation of a solitary provision, in isolation of other opportunities, may not include the many other variables, which may be impacting upon student outcomes. This is particularly magnified in the evaluation of gifted and talented programs, which are often characterized as piecemeal, part-time programs that may, or may not, complement other learning opportunities” (Riley and Moltzen 23).
Overall, based on the provisions of the above assessment techniques, it is important to point out that the lack of a planned assessment technique hinders the progress of learning for gifted and talented students. Of critical importance is the understanding that these assessment techniques play a vital role in the improvement of the learning experience of gifted and talented students. They should address the unique needs of the learners and help them to improve and share their knowledge with other students. It is, therefore, crucial to navigate through the challenges of adopting these new assessment techniques for the improvement of the learning experience of gifted and talented students.
After evaluating the findings of this paper, it is important to acknowledge the unique needs and characteristics of gifted and talented students. These students require an individualistic approach for assessing their unique needs because applying standardized methods of self-assessment may not provide an accurate assessment of their knowledge and skills. Practical and authentic assessments provide a few examples of appropriate assessment techniques for evaluating the performance of such students because they provide a platform for students to share their knowledge with other people, and prevent them from withdrawing from other students (socially) by working alone. However, this paper emphasizes the importance of eliminating bias in the adoption of these assessment techniques because many educators tend to accept positive assessments of talented students and negative assessments for “weak” students. Overall, new forms of assessment help to improve the learning experience of gifted and talented students by providing a practical understanding of their skills to real-life situations, and the use of highly specialized knowledge to solve conventional real-world problems. The use of performance-based assessments to do so is one method that demonstrates a deeper understanding of the practical learning needs of gifted and talented students.
Alvestad, Kathryn. Developing Parent and Community Understanding of Performance-Based Assessment, London: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Carroll, Karen. Student Experiences and Sense of Self at an Early College High School, New York: ProQuest, 2006. Print.
Kanwar, Rajesh. “When Do the Measures of Knowledge Measure What We Think They Are Measuring?” Advances in Consumer Research 17.1 (2009): 603-608. Print.
Riley, Tracy and Roger Moltzen. Enhancing and Igniting Talent Development Initiatives: Research to determine effectiveness. 2010. Web.
Sutherland, Margaret. Gifted and Talented in the Early Years: Practical Activities for Children aged 3 to 6, London: SAGE, 2012. Print.
The National Center of Research for the Gifted and Talented. Gifted Education: More than Just an IQ Score. 2013. Web.