Assessing Gifted Students: An Interview with Cecil R. Reynolds (Part 1)

Cecil R. Reynolds, co-author of the Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales (RIAS) and recently revised RIAS-2, is one of the leaders in the field of gifted assessment. The following is part one of a two-part interview conducted with Dr. Reynolds concerning the use of assessments in gifted and talented programs.

Q: Theoretically speaking, what do you believe would be the most effective way to identify a gifted student?

Cecil Reynolds: I am often asked what tests or other processes should be used to identify children for participation in a gifted and talented program in the schools. My answer is almost always something along the lines of “What are the goals of the program itself?” and “What are the characteristics of the children you wish to identify?” The most important thing we can do is match the children to the program so they have the highest likelihood of success. So, for example, if the program is intended to promote academic achievement among the most academically able students in the school, I would recommend a very different selection process and different tests than if the program was intended to take the most intellectually talented students in the school and provide them with a challenging, engaging curriculum that would enrich their school experience, motivate them to achieve, and allow them to fall in love with something and pursue it with passion. While the students in these programs would overlap, the two groups would not be identical and certainly the academic outcomes would not be the same. But, the point is that we must know what characteristics we need to assess to identify and to place students in programs where they will be successful, and that requires us to first know what it is our program is intended to do.

Q: What are some of the challenges that psychologists and diagnosticians face when attempting to identify a gifted student accurately?

CR: Regardless of the program and its goals for students, the tremendous diversity in the American schools is our greatest challenge. We have an obligation to be fair, and just, and to promote the best in all children, and that is our intention. However, no schools in any country serve the range of backgrounds and abilities such as are served in our schools. The demands upon school staff to be culturally competent in so many areas, and to devise methods of teaching and accurate measures of intelligence, academic outcomes, behavioral outcomes, and school success generally, and to understand and to motivate such a wide array of eager young minds, are just incredible and require a commitment from the school board on down to the teacher aides. Maintaining this commitment and acquiring these competencies are undoubtedly staunch challenges to us all. These challenges can be magnified in the domain of gifted education because how “giftedness” is defined and valued may vary tremendously from one cultural group to another. The biggest concerns I hear from practitioners and diagnosticians center around the lack of proportionate representation of some ethnic minority groups in GT programs and how it can change assessment practices to overcome these issues. The RIAS and RIAS-2 are well suited to assist in identifying more minority students for GT programs since the minority-white differences on mean scores on the RIAS and now RIAS-2 are smaller by about half the differences seen on most traditional intelligence batteries.

Q: A lot has been written about the idea that just because a student has been identified as academically gifted, it does not mean he or she will be successful. Identifying them is simply step one. What things do you find tend to hinder their progress in our schools?

CR: Often it is the mismatch between the program and the student. It is hard to overemphasize the importance of the match between the program goals and methods of achieving them and the students in the program and their characteristics. We simply have to get the right students into the right programs. We also have to attend to students’ motivation to achieve academically as well as focus on study skills, time management, organization skills, listening skills, and other non-intellective factors that go into academic learning. IQ generally only accounts for less than 50% of the variance on academic achievement, and that is one of the many reasons we also developed the School Motivation and Learning Strategies Inventory (SMALSI). Just because a student is bright does not mean he or she knows how to study and learn, has good test-taking skills, or is motivated to engage in school learning—we should assess these variables as well and intervene accordingly.

Come back next week for the second part of this interview!

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