Assess and identify

Key action

Assess and identify the specific learning needs of all high potential, gifted and highly gifted students.

Valid and reliable assessment of student learning needs is fundamental to provide developmentally appropriate programs. It helps to identify students who require additional challenge and extension.

Assessment and identification practices

Schools should initiate and integrate procedures to assess and identify high potential and gifted students. Broader identification processes, such as diagnostic, screening and adaptive assessments, can help to identify students who may not be demonstrating their full range of potential. Tools used to assess student learning need to be as free of bias as possible. Teachers should use multiple measures to build an informed picture.

Ensure assessment and identification is:

  • objective – based on verifiable evidence that is impartial, unbiased and equitable
  • valid – accurately measures what is intended, valid measures assess the specific skill or construct such as ability or achievement
  • reliable – produces stable and consistent results, is carefully developed and can be implemented without bias or subjectivity that could influence the outcome.

The analysis of reliable and valid sources of information and evidence, including observation and informed teacher professional judgement, creates a detailed and more thorough picture of a student’s learning needs. In selecting students for inclusion in talent development programs, the measures should be appropriate for the domain of high potential.

School learning support and wellbeing teams, and the school counsellor/psychologist can assist with assessment and identification practices.

For stronger, equitable and comprehensive assessment, contextually appropriate methods should be chosen from a suite of effective assessment tools. Relying on a single measure can result in under-representation of some diverse and disadvantaged groups. Multiple access points to programs should be provided to enhance inclusivity.

To ensure equitable assessment and identification practices:

  • use valid and reliable measures as part of an initial phase that also considers individual student circumstances, such as level of English language mastery, cultural knowledge, and disability
  • avoid the expectation that students will perform equally well on all measures given that students are likely to display a range of strengths and weaknesses across assessments
  • use a variety of assessments over time.

Assessment types

Consider the options available and your own school context when making decisions about assessment methods including:

  • ability tests
  • achievement tests
  • adaptive tests
  • rating scales
  • performance-based assessments
  • dynamic assessments
  • growth modelling assessments.

  • On enrolment, parents complete a short questionnaire or rating scale that provides information about their child’s previous experiences across all domains of ability.
  • At key transition points (e.g. pre-school to primary, or primary to secondary) schools share information about students.
  • During key transition periods, all students complete a series of screening assessments. These should include a combination of assessments to include all domains which are appropriate to the school context such as:
    • self-assessment rating scale
    • Best Start Assessments
    • ability test
    • above-level achievement test
    • writing task
    • audition
    • portfolio
    • sport trial
    • group work task.
  • This transition information is synthesised and shared confidentially with class teachers.
  • Purposeful observation of student behaviour in a range of situations and settings which will enrich teachers’ understanding of students’ learning needs.
  • All student information is regularly reviewed. Students whose assessment information suggests that they may require additional extension, or further learning support, are followed up individually. Where necessary, further assessment can be used to clarify student learning needs.

Formative assessment

Formative assessment provides evidence to support and inform teaching and learning through understanding student potential, growth and achievement across all domains. Formative assessment methods can help identify and avoid re-teaching already-mastered knowledge and skills. Some methods include:

  • Pre-assessment: at the start or in advance of the instruction, students complete a short pre-assessment that gauges their existing level of knowledge or skill. Where students indicate knowledge and mastery, they can be taught in less detail or depth, allowing greater challenge elsewhere. Methods such as curriculum compacting facilitate greater challenge and avoid repetition.
  • Student peer and self-assessment: students can be involved in developing success criteria which they use to reflect on their learning and that of their peers. The skills required to develop success criteria, peer and self-assessment need to be explicitly taught.
  • Feedback: there are a range of methods students can use to inform the teacher of their level of understanding and skill. Examples include a 'traffic light' method, thumbs up and down, scaling, exit slips, effective questioning or a survey.
  • Questioning: teachers can use questioning to provide information about what to do next by determining what students know before and during instruction. Effective questioning techniques can also provoke students' thinking and promote the use of open ended tasks.

Catering for diverse backgrounds and needs

There is considerable variability within high potential and gifted students. Students can be significantly advanced, some by several years or more. As a result, these students may need advanced learning opportunities that match their advanced development.

Highly gifted students

Highly gifted students, whose potential vastly exceeds that of students the same age may:

  • require additional support beyond that needed for high potential and gifted students
  • have specific learning needs that require more significant adjustments or interventions
  • be at greater risk of underachievement and social isolation.

Appropriate adjustments or interventions may include:

Students who experience disadvantage

High potential and gifted students are represented in all communities. Those who may experience additional challenge in achieving their potential include:

  • Aboriginal students
  • students with disability
  • students from low socio-economic backgrounds
  • students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds
  • rural and remote students
  • students at risk.

Sometimes students experience multiple sources of disadvantage with cumulative effect. Evidence in Australia and abroad shows that many students who experience disadvantage are not proportionally represented in high potential and gifted programs or schools. The provision of tailored support to access educational opportunities can help students overcome some of the disadvantage that they have experienced. The school's learning support team has a role to play in the allocation of support or intervention.

Aboriginal students

High potential and gifted Aboriginal students cannot be treated as a homogeneous group. Their needs may differ depending on individual circumstances. Any engagement with Aboriginal students should recognise this and ensure that individual students’ needs are considered within their personal and local context. Engaging activities that are culturally relevant, challenging and individually appropriate for these students should take place in an environment that is culturally safe.

Cultural safety can be described as an environment that is culturally, socially, emotionally and physically safe, and where there is no challenge or denial of student identity, including who they are and what they need.

Research shows that Aboriginal students achieve highly at school when:

Schools and teachers should engage with Aboriginal families and community in respectful, culturally appropriate and supportive ways. It is important for schools to work with Aboriginal people to understand and connect with local community protocols, customs and expectations. The NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group Inc. can provide important insight and leadership in this area through their longstanding partnership with the Department of Education.

Some standard assessments may contain cultural biases making them inappropriate tools for identifying high potential and gifted Aboriginal students. Professional judgement and discretion are necessary when determining the appropriateness of any assessment tool, as this can impact on the assessment and identification of student abilities. Non-verbal ability tests or dynamic assessments should be considered to counteract these biases.

Opportunities for high potential and gifted Aboriginal students

A short film showcasing the capabilities and experiences of a number of high potential and gifted Aboriginal students. Filmed as a part of the Ngara Wumara Research Project aimed at improving outcomes for these students.

Opportunities for high potential and gifted Aboriginal students film


Students with disability

Under the Disability Standards for Education 2005, schools must take reasonable steps to ensure that students with disability are able to participate in courses or programs on the same basis as a student without a disability.

High potential and gifted students with disability (sometimes referred to as twice exceptional or 2e) require programs that focus on talent development and strengths while making reasonable adjustments so students are able to participate in learning experiences on the same basis as students without disability.

To be inclusive of a student’s high potential:

  • provide appropriate and reasonable support and adjustments to allow access to the same opportunities as other students with comparable ability
  • ensure similar opportunities for advanced learning and development are available as would be provided to other high potential and gifted students.

To be inclusive of a student’s disability:

For high potential and gifted students with disability:

  • follow the same procedures for disability support as outlined under Every Student, Every School and other related policies and procedures
  • collaborate with students, their families and additional external providers, such as medical professionals, to build learning plans that address both talent development and adjustments for disability
  • provide additional support addressing the complexity of both disability and high potential, including enhanced individual learning plans and regional office support through School Services teams
  • work collaboratively with students, families and external providers so that diagnostic and achievement information can be shared appropriately.

Students from low socio-economic backgrounds

An excellence gap – the gap in achievement between high potential and gifted students from high and low socio-economic backgrounds – can widen over a student’s educational journey. This is attributed to the cumulative effect of:

  • fewer opportunities to learn over time
  • low expectations
  • less total time spent in talent development
  • lack of financial means to access advanced learning programs and opportunities beyond school
  • greater reliance on schools to provide talent development opportunities.

Strategies to support high potential and gifted students from low socio-economic backgrounds can include:

Students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds

Students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds may have different cultural expectations and experiences of schooling. These can impact on students in different ways.

It is important to recognise that individuals within any cultural group can experience school differently, and that not all students who identify as part of the group experience the same impact of cultural expectations on their engagement and learning.

High potential and gifted students from language backgrounds other than English may experience their own specific challenges, especially those learning English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D), those newly arrived or from a refugee background. These students are simultaneously learning the English language and content in English.

These students may experience frustration when:

  • required to understand and operate in a newly-acquired language while adapting to a new culture and school system
  • language barriers impede verbal-based identification measures and teacher identification
  • they require more time to think in their additional language.

Students in rural and remote areas

High potential and gifted students who live outside major metropolitan centres are not a homogeneous group. They may require a different suite of options for assessment and identification and curriculum provision.

When poor attendance and low engagement impact educational outcomes for rural and remote students, an achievement gap is created. This gap can adversely impact on the aspirations of high potential and gifted students in rural and remote areas, with lower university enrolments compared to those in metropolitan centres. Early assessment and identification through objective, valid and reliable methods may help alleviate this gap and assist in removing barriers to talent development.

A significant proportion of NSW schools are located outside metropolitan areas. Students attending these schools may be a significant distance from other like-minded or similar-ability peers. This can contribute to feelings of social isolation. These students may feel a need to move away from their community to access resources, educational support, work and appropriate mentors.

Options for students in rural and remote areas can include:

Students at risk

Some high potential and gifted students may be described as at risk. They can be found in any part of the community. They may present as:

  • underachievers
  • having challenging behaviours and attitudes
  • disengaged and withdrawn
  • school refusers
  • psychologically vulnerable
  • questioning of authority
  • having low self-esteem or low resilience.

Leaders and teachers may observe indecisiveness, uncertainty, doubt or ambiguity.

Schools should develop strategies with learning support and wellbeing teams in consultation with the school counsellor/psychologist and families, where appropriate, to support the student at risk. Strategies may include co-development and monitoring of individual plans that address the source of risk and seek to empower the student.

Learning characteristics

High potential students are those whose potential exceeds that of students of the same age in one or more domains: intellectual, creative, social-emotional and physical. This potential will develop into talent if educators recognise student potential and use evidence-based talent development to optimise their growth and achievement.

The challenge for educators is to develop a deep understanding that high potential and gifted students, in all domains, learn in ways characterised by their diverse profiles. Many characteristics cross the domains but others are more relevant to one domain than to the others.

These characteristics, listed below, may be found in all learners but are strongly evident in high potential and gifted learners. Conversely, not all high potential and gifted learners will display all of these characteristics. As a generalisation, learning characteristics can vary even further in high potential students with disability, Aboriginal students, students from diverse cultural backgrounds, rural and remote areas and students at risk.

  • capacity for greater analytical depth
  • fewer repetitions needed for mastery
  • greater capability in abstract reasoning
  • relative ease in making connections between disciplines
  • advanced reading ability and comprehension
  • knowledgeable in areas of passion
  • processes information in complex ways
  • enjoys hypothesising
  • thrives on complexity and can see many points of view
  • thinks in analogies

NB: These learning characteristics should be used as only one source of evidence to assess and identify student needs. This is not an exhaustive list nor is it a checklist.

  • advanced organisational and management skills
  • advanced social and communication skills
  • emotional stability
  • empathy
  • demonstrated leadership and decision-making skills
  • resilient and self-aware
  • foresees consequences and implications of decisions
  • respected by peers
  • self-confident
  • task analysis and backwards mapping abilities
  • social justice advocacy

NB: These learning characteristics should be used as only one source of evidence to assess and identify student needs. This is not an exhaustive list nor is it a checklist.

  • subtlety in movement and control of body
  • self-disciplined
  • coordinated, balanced and confident in physical activities
  • high energy levels
  • superior understanding of spatial relationships
  • endurance, stamina and persistence in physical activities
  • suitability of body build for area of physical high potential
  • demonstrates prowess in physical activities common amongst age peers
  • competitive
  • ‘hands on’ learning preference

NB: These learning characteristics should be used as only one source of evidence to assess and identify student needs. This is not an exhaustive list nor is it a checklist.

  • educational risk-taking
  • tolerance for ambiguity
  • makes unusual associations between different ideas
  • demonstrates creative thinking across domain areas and in the different disciplines
  • demonstrates novel thinking in written and oral expression
  • flexibility and divergence in thinking
  • unusual ability for expressing self through art, dance, drama, music
  • creates several solutions to a given problem
  • synthesises a variety of ideas in original ways

NB: These learning characteristics should be used as only one source of evidence to assess and identify student needs. This is not an exhaustive list nor is it a checklist.

  • curiosity
  • fast learner
  • intense concentration in new learning or areas of interest
  • perseverance
  • high levels of self-criticism
  • perfectionism
  • strong sense of moral reasoning and justice
  • intrinsically motivated and goal driven
  • sophisticated sense of humour
  • creative and critical thinking skills
  • high expectations for self and others
  • observant
  • excited by new ideas
  • independent thinking

NB: These learning characteristics should be used as only one source of evidence to assess and identify student needs. This is not an exhaustive list nor is it a checklist.

High potential and gifted students can also exhibit characteristics and behaviours that challenge teachers and mystify their classmates. Some may demonstrate anxiety and unhealthy perfectionistic traits. This is caused partly by the asynchronous development of high potential and gifted students. Some of the characteristics that may be counterproductive to learning include:

  • challenging authority
  • difficulty with group participation
  • questioning others’ ideas
  • frustration when expectations are not met
  • impatience and boredom with learning experiences that do not provide challenge or interest.

These learning characteristics require educators, coaches and instructors to implement evidence-based talent development programs, procedures and practices that meet the learning and wellbeing needs of high potential and gifted students.

Adapted from Vialle, W. and Rogers, K.B. (2009) 'Educating the gifted learner'. Macksville, David Barlow Publishing.

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