In grade one, Bradley Thompson disrupted the class constantly and wasn’t performing well despite exceptional language skills. His mother, Ellen, booked an appointment with a private psychologist for testing. Within three weeks, she learned her son’s results: gifted. After a couple of years in a private Montessori class, Bradley is thriving in a Toronto public school classroom for gifted students, where his peers trade 600-page novels, whiz through the curriculum and enjoy regular field trips to museums and other outings.
Your child may be brilliant as far as you’re concerned — but no matter how bright, kids will need a formal evaluation before a school gives them the extra stimulation they need to be successful. Programs and testing vary between districts and schools, but here’s how students are assessed in two Toronto boards.
Toronto District School Board
Timeline In grade three, teachers or parents nominate students for gifted programming. If parents nominate their children, a school support team decides whether the request has merit. The gifted program begins in grade four.
Process A psychologist conducts an individual intelligence test called WISC (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children), which tests aspects of intelligence such as verbal comprehension and perceptual reasoning (testing can take from two to three hours). The psychologist may recommend modifying lessons or note a sensitivity to sound or touch that might be affecting the child’s performance. A student may have a learning disability but still qualify as gifted.
Advantage The WISC is considered a comprehensive, accurate test of cognitive ability. The psychologist spends time establishing a rapport with your child and allows for breaks between subtests.
Disadvantage Parents can wait more than a year for board-funded evaluation. Private testing may be an option.
Toronto Catholic District School Board
Timeline In grade four, all students are screened. The gifted program begins in grade five.
Process Students take a standardized multiple-choice test called OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test), which tests abilities related to school success such as following directions, defining words and establishing sequences.
Advantage It’s time-saving and economical; OLSAT can be administered in an hour to a classroom or group.
Disadvantage It’s considered less reliable than the WISC. Multiple-choice questions encourage guesswork over independent thinking. Easily distracted learners or weak readers may do poorly in a group setting.
Private testing Don’t want to wait? Private testing ranges in cost from $800 to $3,000, but it offers more detailed reporting on strengths and weaknesses and can even turn up other challenges; for example, Bradley was identified with ADHD. Look for a psychologist who is experienced with children and educational assessments on the Ontario Psychological Association’s website. Make sure your school board recognizes the testing.
Need advice? The Association for Bright Children of Ontario is a provincial advocacy group that provides support as well as information, networking and workshops. Membership is free.
Advocate for your child If you suspect your child needs enrichment to stay engaged, you can request that the teacher develop an informal IEP (individual education plan). “Trust your gut,” suggests Rosanna Del Grosso, the Toronto chapter president of the volunteer-run Association for Bright Children of Ontario. “Get in there and talk to the teacher.” If a gifted student like Bradley becomes bored, he may act out or disengage from learning entirely.