Is My Child Gifted or Just Bright? Reader Q&A

a picture of a child (girl)- Is my child gifted or just bright?

Is my child gifted or just bright? It’s a question many parents ask, and the answer is not an easy yes or no. Let’s explore more about a child whose parent is wondering the answer to this and how best to meet the needs of her daughter.

Note: Frequently I get questions from parents or teachers about their children and students. It’s frustrated me that I don’t have time to write back to everyone, and so I’ve decided to begin a “Reader Q & A” feature on the site.

If you have a question about your child, your student, best practices, or anything Giftedesque, shoot me an email or message on Facebook, and we’ll see what we can do!

When The Score Isn’t Quite There:

This question comes from a mom who has a first grader who didn’t qualify for the GT program, but has high ability. Mom writes:

I am not an educator, so I look for the school and teachers to assist me with determining the best course direction for my child with regards to just being bright or actually gifted. Last year, my daughter was tested in kindergarten for GT, but didn’t meet the requirements based on her CogAT scores. She is extremely good at math and her PR score for Iowa was 94. Her kindergarten teacher put her on Prodigy, and some math questions were too advanced but when I show her how to do it she can continue with no issues (for example, grouping in multiplication). I think some of the math problems she is up to now are Grade 4. 

My response so far:

Gifted identification is typically a service model, meaning that districts identify the kids they think they can serve. Different districts have different cutoffs, so the same child may be identified in one district, but not another. Additionally, the tests are a snapshot. They show what that child looked like on that day, with that particular test.

They are not an MRI.

We often don’t test very young children for very good reasons (I wrote about that here), so lots of people will deal with this situation because their child simply has not yet been tested. The result is the same: a child in a standard classroom with above-standard ability.

Part of high intelligence is the ability to learn more quickly with less repetition, so your daughter’s ability to acquire math concepts after a single explanation is what I would expect to see with high ability.

Boredom Sets In:

Mom continues: At the beginning of first grade this year, she was extremely bored, and I had to fight with her to go to school. We had our first parent/teacher conference… [t]he teacher did express that my daughter was finishing her work prior to everyone else, and flies through math.

I feel like she may be falling into that underachievement discussion from last night [I had just given a talk on underachievement at a parent group in her school district].  After the first 6 weeks, she has brought home straight As every report card, but I am not sure that is a valid representation of her ability or at the very least if it is challenging her enough. 

My response so far:

Any child getting all A’s is probably not being challenged enough. While parents object to the first B the child gets, in my opinion, the parents should fall at the feet of that teacher and thank him/her for the opportunity and gift of a B.

The fact that you’re worried about the child’s not being challenged is a sign that you are on the right track.

How do you tell if a child is gifted or just bright?

Mom concludes: My question is how best do I help determine if my child is just bright or if she is truly gifted. I know she will be tested again next year, but part of me feels like she may have already slipped through the cracks a bit.

Then my next thought is what if her CogAT scores are too low for her to be in GT, what do I do for her to foster her math side?

My response so far:

Sometimes testing from year to year will show different results because of a variety of reasons, including:

  • maturity (ability to focus on the test longer, caring about the test, knowing the routine, etc.)
  • the test itself (sometimes a child will be tested with a different instrument)
  • scores are malleable (as a child learns, his/her ability to learn grows & IQ is simply more fluid than we used to think)
  • practice (as kids get used to school, they may get more used to the kinds of things they’re being tested on)
  • learning disabilities may have been addressed

And more…

There is also no accepted score or cutoff for giftedness in the psychological community (plenty of argument, but no consensus), so school identification should not ever be considered as the child’s identity. It’s simply for school. That’s it.

The only exception would be if the child were tested by a qualified individual with a full intelligence test, such as a WISC-IV or a Woodcock-Johnson Abilities Test.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t actually matter if your child is bright or gifted. What matters is that children have the opportunity to learn and grow, and that the work they are given is at the correct level of challenge and respectful. What matters is that schools have enough funding and teachers have enough training to make that happen.

My Recommendations:

  1. Let’s not worry about gifted identification (for the reason I described above). Let’s worry about meeting the needs of the child. Children should be appropriately challenged at all levels of intelligence, so it shouldn’t matter if the child has a purple dot on the cumulative folder. (Schools, are you paying attention?)
  2. The CogAT is an abilities test, not an IQ test. It gives a percentile score, but it’s not a 360 view of a child. Avoid putting too much weight on it. I know that’s hard when it seems like a gateway to good service, but hold on for more recommendations.
  3. If you really, really, really feel the need to know, consider private testing with someone who knows gifted. You may be able to get the school to accept that testing. If you try this route, don’t go to a center that does testing and so-called “brain training.” Those are bogus and disgusting. Go to an actual trained and certified professional. The school may not accept it (partly because some people give artificially high scores because of the money, even though this would cost them their certification. It happens. I’ve seen it.), but it may give you peace.
  4. In this case, it seems like math is your primary concern. Ask these questions:
    • What would a good day in math look like for my child?
    • What is currently causing the most pain/frustration/boredom?
    • What skills does my child lack that are impacting his/her ability to work at the highest level of challenge possible? (These may not be skills in the domain. They may be Executive Functioning skills like turning in work or being able to work independently.)
    • What do I think the teacher could reasonably do to appropriately challenge my child? (self-directed learning? single-subject acceleration?)
  5. Meet with the teacher on a day you are not tired or frustrated. Have key points laid out. Be prepared to offer a plan, not just a complaint.
  6. Give any intervention a few weeks before deciding it isn’t enough.
  7. If the ideas are helping, but not enought, meet again, with this attitude: We appreciate the changes that have been implemented, and we’re ready for the next step.
  8. Make sure the child has the opportunity to engage for fun with the domain of strength. Do not ever assign more work after school. If a child seeks it, that’s one thing, but kids should not be given more work because we’re worried they didn’t get enough challenge at school. It will serve only to drive the love of it out of them. It punishes them for high ability. Consider instead enjoyable interactions (videos, books, museum visits, games, etc.) that surround the domain. Academic competitions are terrific, as well.

I hope these ideas help!

Remember, if you have a question, email me at

What to read next:

If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend:

Get the Guide:

If you want to know more about gifted children and school, sign up for my monthly newsletter and receive the free guide, How to Help Gifted Children Thrive in School.

lisa's signature
Share it:

You might also like...