What You Need to Know About Above-Level Testing

Above level testing for gifted children

When we first considered advocating for a grade acceleration for our daughter we came up with the brilliant idea of having her take the end of year assessment for the skipped grade to prove she already knew the material. Little did I know that we weren’t the first ones to think of this tactic and it has a name – above-level testing.

Above-level tests are commonly used in talent searches and as screening tests to identify students for gifted programs. Getting high scores is commonplace for gifted students and most tests don’t adequately measure what they could achieve if the test were more difficult. This is the ceiling effect – student test scores clustered at the upper end of the test because it wasn’t sufficiently challenging. This is the concept you explain to other moms who don’t understand why your child getting straight A’s isn’t good enough for you. All those A’s don’t mean that your student is being challenged and stretched.

When advocating for your child to be challenged appropriately in school, being armed with this information can be helpful. The above-level testing scores give educators an indication of the student’s actual achievement level. This can help determine where the student’s strengths and weaknesses may be. Remember, these kids tend to have asynchronous development. Just because they’re ready for calculus doesn’t mean they can put a sentence together.

Knowing a student’s strengths is obviously important but knowing where any gaps in knowledge may lie is equally essential. Understanding both of these information points can be influential in determining if a student should be grade or subject accelerated. Being armed with cold, hard data (test scores) is one way to avoid being labeled as “one of those parents” and want to discuss the issue objectively.

Tests commonly used for above-level testing are typically the SAT and ACT for students in at least seventh grade. For elementary students the EXPLORE is often used. These tests are also used in most talent searches. However, when working with a school on grade or subject acceleration other testing options may be available. A common practice is to have a student take the end-of-year assessment test for the grade in which they’re considering moving to.

Talent Searches for Gifted Students

Duke TIP

Center for Bright Kids

Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth

Carnegie Mellon Institute for Talented Elementary & Secondary Students

Additional Resources

Discovering Highly Gifted Students

Share how you’ve used above-level testing to advocate for your student in the comments or on Facebook.

6 Responses

  1. Where have you gone? I have just discovered your blog and it is now my FAVORITE BLOG EVER! 🙂 as mom to a #greatkid who astounds and challenges the world on a daily basis! your blog really speaks to me. Thanks

  2. Unfortunately, end of the year testing isn’t always sufficient, even though schools often seem to use it as their primary method of testing for a grade skip or single subject acceleration. Our daughters are several years advanced in math, but haven’t been taught some concepts that are in the curriculum for the next year. So when they’ve been tested via EXPLORE in fourth grade, they test better than most eighth graders, but when they’ve been given the end of the year test, not knowing one or two parts of the curriculum means that they don’t get a high enough score.

    Since end of the year tests don’t measure ability or IQ, but knowledge, a gifted learner can easily not be accelerated when acceleration is what they really need.

    Here is how we did it: http://rochestersage.org/2013/11/14/adventures-in-math-acceleration/ Acceleration has been wonderful!

    • The Common Mom says

      Thank you for sharing your story – I applaud your family’s dedication! I think it illustrates that each district – and event schools within districts – handle acceleration differently. I don’t think end-of-year testing should be the only litmus test for acceleration for exactly the reasons you mention. There are bound to be gaps. For us, they were only a part of the acceleration equation. They also took into account IQ, Performance Series Tests which allow the student to continue until the material becomes too difficult, the fact she’d already been successfully subject accelerated, teacher recommendations, and the IAS. Like the path you too, it was a long process.

      Its is frustrating for me when schools are solely determining acceleration by based on achievement tests rather than looking at the student as a whole. I do agree – acceleration has been worth it.


  1. […] benefits of above-level testing definitely outweigh the pain of getting up early on a Saturday. We’ve used her scores (even […]

  2. […] can take advantage of free or low-cost programs like the talent searches and Davidson Young Scholars because we know about […]

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